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Originally published Sunday, March 4, 2012 at 6:00 PM

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Senate earthquake should change state budget landscape

After three Democratic senators joined Republicans to pass a budget out of the Democrat-controlled Washington state Senate, negotiations should move more toward budget sustainability.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Editor's note: Monday's lead editorial was omitted from some editions because of a production error. We are running it again today, because we really, really mean it.

THE passage of a Republican budget out of the Washington state Senate, which has a majority of Democrats, amounts to a political earthquake not seen in 25 years. Events like this do not happen without cause and cannot be talked into going away.

Democratic leaders in Olympia proclaim the budget illegitimate and say they won't accept it. Not surprising. Friday's insurrection was against them, and their egos are tender.

But the revolution was not undemocratic. The Senate's majority ruled. It was simply a different majority, and on this issue it was, and is, the only majority. The 22 Republicans plus Democratic Sens. Jim Kastama, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon did what Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and her team could not do — pass a budget with 25 votes. Their work deserves the same respect as any other budget — more, if anything, for the sheer bravado.

The Democratic senators who suddenly found themselves in a new minority complained that the budget was sprung on them without hearings. But it was written by legislators who had been through all the same hearings, and had all the same information.

This Senate's new budget has more cuts, principally to social programs, and fewer gimmicks than the plan that was rejected. Disappointingly, it cuts K-12 and higher education. The new budget skips a payment into state pension funds, which is not good. But the rejected Democratic budget was a buffet of procrastination, starting with the postponement of a $330 million bill for public schools. In total, the rejected budget would have left the state to start the next biennium $1 billion in the red.

The Legislature has been in denial since 2008, dreaming of the swift economic upturn that hasn't happened. The private sector has had to adjust, but the Legislature and governor have done so only partly, resisting the tough decisions. Rather than bring state employee wages and benefits in line with those of their private-sector constituents, they prioritized them over other important spending.

The earth has shifted. Bruised egos must be set aside. This is a leadership test also for Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, and for Gov. Chris Gregoire, who in her last year in office can still make a difference.

Indeed, the Republican takeover might well send the Legislature into a special session. But as Sen. Tom said, lawmakers were not elected to get out of Olympia on time. They were elected to do the best work for the people of Washington.

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