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March 15, 2012 at 12:46 PM

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Republicans and Democrats agree on no cuts to education

Senate Republicans rolled out what they called a compromise state budget Thursday morning that contains no cuts to education.

That's the single biggest compromise in the GOP budget, compared to the Democrat's proposal. But the Republican budget still has several provisions that Democrats don't like, including social service cuts and a proposal to skip a pension payment.

Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli, the architect of the GOP budget, said he's responding to concerns about his original proposal raised by Democrats and others.

The Democratic budget, for example, has no cuts to education and the party had criticized the original GOP plan for making about $74 million in cuts to K-12 and higher education.

"What we've tried to do is draft a compromise approach here," Zarelli said.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate said they view the GOP proposal as movement toward the Democrats, but note that big obstacles remain.

"It's an important step in the right direction. It signals a willingness to move toward a solution to Washington's budget challenges," Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said in the statement.

But they added, "We are disappointed Republicans still insist on eliminating food assistance and Disability Lifeline, and cutting services to families and children. The budget they rolled out today - which was again drafted in secret, not the negotiating table - also fails to fund the bipartisan jobs package that could help more than 20,000 Washington's get to work."

Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, however Republicans seized control of the budget process in the Senate earlier this month, with the help of three conservative Democrats. They passed a budget different from Democratic proposals with a 25-24 vote.

Negotiations on how to close a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall have gone nowhere since then. The regular session ended March 8 and a special session started Monday to continue work on the budget, although only legislative leaders have been in town.

The new GOP budget was able to eliminate cuts to education, in part, by leaving less money in reserves. The original Republican budget left about $500 million in reserves. The new one leaves $440 million.

Differences over whether to skip or delay certain payments remain the biggest sticking points in negotiations.

The Democratic proposal would delay a payment to K-12 schools by a day, pushing it into the next two-year budget and saving $330 million in the current biennium.

Republicans have opposed that move while Democrats have refused to go along with the GOP proposal to skip a $133 million payment toward funding older, closed pension plans for teachers and state workers.

The Republican pension proposal contains other provisions the party argued would save the state money over the long term.

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