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Sen. Zarelli wants bipartisan panel to propose state budget fix
Posted by Andrew Garber
Republican state Sen. Joe Zarelli says the state should ditch the idea of a special session this fall and let a bipartisan panel find solutions for the state's ongoing budget problems.
His proposal, sent Wednesday, got mixed reactions from Democrats. Although the idea of a special session has been tossed around in recent weeks, there's been no serious talk of holding one soon.
Tax collections have been coming in below projections and lawmakers expect the revenue forecast next Thursday to be down substantially. Gov. Chris Gregoire has ordered state agency directors to prepare for additional cuts of up to 10 percent -- or $1.7 billion.
Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. He played a key role in crafting a budget earlier this year that cut billions in state spending.
But the economy has not recovered as quickly as anticipated, which means lower than expected tax collections. That in turn creates yet another hole in the state budget.
Last year, the Legislature did hold a one-day special session in December to trim state spending.
Zarelli contends that won't work this time. "The fact is that with a budget problem of this scope the Legislature could not hope to quickly reach agreement on more than a small portion of the deficit," he said in a statement.
"I propose that the Legislature convene a bi-partisan group to begin undertaking a close examination of the workings of state government and make comprehensive detailed recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 1."
Zarelli proposes a nine-member panel to include eight lawmakers from both parties and a non-voting chairman.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said he's open to the idea of a bipartisan panel of budget leaders, but said "the people who negotiate have to be people who can deliver votes," he said.
However, House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said budget writers from both parties should just hash out a budget proposal on their own, without creating a panel.
"I don't see a need to do this crazy big process thing," he said.
Murray also noted that while he plans to work with Republicans to craft a budget as was done in the past session, he told Zarelli he wants to send voters a tax package that could bring in additional money to support state programs.
Zarelli said he would not support sending voters a tax package.
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