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Originally published Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 4:11 PM

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Senate rule change signals serious intent on state budget

The Seattle Times editorial board salutes the Washington state Senate for changing a budget rule, and commends ideas offered by Gov. Chris Gregoire, Democrat, and Sen. Joe Zarelli, Republican.

ON Monday, the state Senate changed one of its long-standing rules in a way that suggests seriousness about the state budget. It repealed a rule that once a budget was voted on to the Senate floor, a 60 percent vote was required to amend it. For the first time since 1915, a floor amendment can be done on a simple majority.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, called the move "an opportunity to pass a coalition budget." What is notable is not that Sheldon said it — he is the Democrat most likely to cooperate with Republicans — but that his colleagues went along with it, passing it in a voice vote.

The Senate Democrats do not want exclusive property of this budget. That is fine; let each side put its stamp on it. The important thing is to do it right.

Gov. Chris Gregoire set the right tone in her State of the State speech Tuesday. "We must transform government into a leaner, 21st-century organization that is more effective and efficient," she said.

That means some big reforms have to be on the table. The governor immediately named one: that automatic benefit increases be removed from the older state employee pension plans.

The Republicans' budget leader, Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, has named another: require the recipients of social programs to verify their income and assets every six months.

Gregoire also said the Legislature needs "to recognize that government cannot do it all" — that is, that some programs have to be cut out entirely. No doubt that is so.

And remember, there is more than one budget. There is a supplemental operating budget for the period ending June 30. This one needs to be tackled within the next few days. There is an operating budget for 2011-2013, which is the big one. And for 2011-2013 there is also a capital budget — a Christmas sock funded by borrowing and traditionally stuffed with political goodies.

This year, all three of them will have to be lean.

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