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Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 p.m.

House Democrats: embrace reforms, finish the budget, go home

HOUSE Democrats in Olympia should join the Senate in approving the four-year balanced-budget bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, and the school employees' health-insurance bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens. These bills are two of the three needed to break the logjam on the budget.

The third bill, the pension reform proposal by Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, is a good bill and both houses should pass it.

This page has pushed hard for these bills. Our position has been called "radical," which it is not; the two Democrats named above are moderates who have a better sense of where the public is than the members flinging the rhetoric. And while Zarelli is to the right of moderate, his bill is the same as one requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire a year ago.

Also, check the floor votes. Hobbs' K-12 insurance bill, which would consolidate school employee health-insurance plans, passed the Senate 29-17, even though three supporters were absent. Note that Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, her party's expert on health care, voted for it.

Kastama's four-year budgeting bill, which would end the disreputable habit of pushing current expenses into the next budget period, passed 30-16. It had 10 Democratic votes, including Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, who is the leading candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

Some Democrats have a sense of where the public is on these issues. Those who don't may be risking their party's majority this November.

Really, the Democrats ought to get this. The three reform bills will bring the cost curve of state spending down in the future, so that the state has the money to pay for the programs Democrats want.

The same is true of the Zarelli-Gregoire pension bill, which ends subsidized early retirement for new hires. The bill doesn't touch existing public employees at all. It leaves new public employees with a defined-benefit pension, which only a dwindling minority of private employees have at all, and it allows early retirement with discounts that are actuarily fair.

Pass these measures and finish up the budget and go home.

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