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Originally published Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 4:08 PM

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State budget deal a triumph of the middle

The Legislature hard-fought budget deal and the reform bills are a triumph of the middle.

Seattle Times Editorial

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IN the end, the coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats in the state Senate achieved much of what they needed to slow the growth of future state spending. The mainline Democrats saved most of the spending they wanted for now. The end was a triumph of the middle, assisted over the last several days by Gov. Chris Gregoire's necessary intrusions.

This page has argued for months that the budget should make no more cuts to schools and higher education. We also said the state should not raise broad-based taxes and not skip a pension payment or push expenses into the next budget period. The Legislature avoided all of those options.

The coalition pushed for four reforms this page supported. First was the repeal of Initiative 728, a school-spending measure passed in the frothy optimism of the dot-com boom. The Legislature has often suspended I-728, but lacked the courage to repeal it. This year it did, acting on a bill by Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland.

The second reform was a statewide consolidation of health insurance for school employees. The bill proposed by Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, was watered down, but it will shine a spotlight on health-insurance contracts and makes statewide consolidation more likely.

The third reform was the proposal by Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, to offer public employees less-generous terms for early retirement. For a new employee who eventually retires at 55 after 30 years' service, the bill offers a monthly pension of 50 percent of what the employee would get by working until 65. It has been 80 percent. The bill also calls for more money to be paid into the fund, which will reduce the risk that the fund will fall short.

The fourth reform was the four-year budget bill proposed by Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup. The effect of the bill is to make it difficult to balance one period's budget by pushing costs into the next period.

The legislators who sponsored these bills deserve the public's appreciation. So do Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who, with Kastama, stood with the Senate Republican caucus in the unusual coalition.

The coalition held, through browbeating, recriminations and orchestrated leafleting, and it achieved much of what it needed to achieve.

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