House Republicans: No sales tax hike in budget

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) House Republicans on Friday released a supplemental budget proposal that makes nearly $840 million in cuts to state programs and doesn't include a sales tax increase for voters to consider, as suggested by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Majority Democrats, who ultimately decide what the budget will look like, are expected to unveil their plan next week. But Republicans said their proposal was "a model" that they hoped their Democratic colleagues would follow.

The plan includes the elimination of the Basic Health Plan, which provides health insurance for the poor, and Disability Lifeline, a welfare and health care program for unemployable adults who aren't covered by federal Social Security benefits. Democrats in the House oppose those eliminations.

In total, about $230 million would be saved by eliminating 51 programs, including one in which state agencies pay for their employees to carpool to work.

House Republicans also called for the elimination of three tax exemptions that would save nearly $36 million, including a tax break out-of-state banks are able to claim on first mortgages. Under the Republican plan, nearly $651 million would be left in reserves as a buffer in case the economy underperforms.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, in her budget proposal in November, suggested sending voters a temporary sales tax increase in order to "buy back" cuts made to areas including education and public safety.

"I'd like to show everyone it can be done without a tax increase," said Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the Republican lead on the budget in the House.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said that while "there were some good ideas" in the budget, he said that the overall budget proposal would not fare well in the House.

"What you're seeing there is a political statement because he does not have the votes to pass that budget," said Ross, the key budget writer for the House Democrats.

Republicans say their plan prioritizes funding for basic education, as well maintains money for the most vulnerable populations including the disabled, elderly and children. Alexander also said that there would be no early release or reduction in community supervision of criminals.

"It is a budget that is based on priorities," he said.

Alexander said that they were helped in part by some good news from Thursday's revenue forecast, which showed $96 million in extra revenue. That was in addition to about $340 million in savings from less reliance on state services, reducing a roughly $900 million shortfall to about $500 million.

Alexander said that helped them add money to the reserves and make tweaks to their proposal.

Republicans' plan also counts on $160 million in unspent agency money being returned to the state's general fund, $63 million in fund transfers, and $26 million from the sale of surplus state property.

Their plan reduces the amount of money in monthly grants that are given to people through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The grant averages $373 per month and would be reduced to $354 under the Republican proposal. The time limit for recipients of the grants would also be reduced from 60 months to 48 months.


AP writer Jonathan Kaminsky contributed to this report.