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June 3, 2010 at 2:31 PM

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$480 million in federal aid for state on the line next week

Posted by Andrew Garber

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray says she'll push again next week for a federal Medicaid match that's worth $480 million to the state of Washington.

Washington isn't the only state that needs the dough. Thirty states want the Medicaid match -- worth about $25 billion overall -- to help balance their budgets.

The federal aid, which has the support of the president, has been included in various bills that have passed the House and Senate in the past, but never in the same bill.

Murray wants to include the money in a bill that, among other things, would extend unemployment benefits. It passed the House and is now in the Senate.

"On Monday, when we get back, we're going to be taking up the package that the House passed. I've been talking to a number of other senators about trying to see if we can get the 60 votes to get this back in. It is really critical," Murray said in a phone interview Thursday.

She wouldn't give odds on the likelihood of success. "Sixty votes in the Senate is never easy," she said, but noted there are a lot of states that need the money "which I think will help us get to the votes we need."

If the attempt fails next week, there will be other opportunities. "But the further down the road it gets ... the less certainty there is and, as we know, in an election year it's not easy to pass anything."

The governor's budget office said that if the federal money doesn't come through this year, it would essentially wipe out the state's reserves. Still, if tax collections don't drop the state can probably wait until the Legislature returns in January before adjusting the budget, said Marty Brown, the governor's budget director.

But if the federal money fails to come in and tax collections drop, there could be a need for a special session to deal with the shortfall.

"If the forecasts go way in the toilet -- which I'm not anticipating -- it wouldn't be just (the federal aid) that we're worrying about," Brown said.

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