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Originally published April 4, 2011 at 4:43 PM | Page modified April 5, 2011 at 12:04 PM

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House budget passes key test: It balances

The budget emerging from the state House Ways and Means Committee meets an important Seattle Times editorial board test: It balances

REP. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Monday released his proposed state budget for the two years beginning July 1. This page may argue with it in a few respects, just as we did with Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget. But, like her's, it meets a couple of our most important tests.

First, it balances. That is no mean feat after the previous biennial budget, which relied on $2.3 billion in emergency federal aid and still came up short because the revenue forecasts kept declining.

Falling forecasts could make hash of Hunter's proposed budget, too, though at this point in the economic cycle the chance is much less likely. The economy has hit bottom and begins to inch up.

Hunter's budget assumes a 6.6 percent increase in state revenues during the next two years. On that reasonable assumption, it is balanced.

There is no deficit spending in it. Some in the Democratic caucus wanted to borrow against tobacco or lottery money. Gregoire said this sort of quackery was not acceptable to her, and Hunter wisely did not go there.

The result is no fun for a lot of people in Washington: Enrollment would be frozen in the Basic Health Plan and all illegal immigrants ejected; annual increases in the PERS-1 and TERS-1 pension plans ended; cash grants in the Disability Lifeline program ended (and partly converted to housing subsidies); teacher raises, including "steps" up the salary schedule, suspended; the presidential primary election gone; state tourism promotion gone, and so on.

The required contribution to state employee pensions, skipped in the past, is made, and that is the responsible thing to do.

There is no big tax increase, but tuition would go up 13 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University, 11.5 percent at other state universities and 11 percent at community colleges.

Users of state parks would be required to get a $30 "Discover Pass."

About 1 percent of the budget would be funded by leasing the state's monopoly in wholesale liquor distribution. Our preference is a competitive market in liquor, with the product heavily taxed. We would rather the state take its time on liquor reform, and cut the $300 million somewhere else.

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