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State GOP displeased with budget slashing amendment

OLYMPIA - Lawmakers from the 15th Legislative District made themselves available for a conference call yesterday (Wednesday) to reporters and explained why their budget amendment would have helped reduce the state budget deficit more than what the Democrats proposed.

The budget amendment is aimed at trimming $600 million in spending to close up a gap in the state's two-year biennium budget.

The partisan proposal in the house called for cutting spending by $222 million. The Republicans countered with a proposal put forth by Rep. Gary Alexander that would have slashed spending by $251 million. The amount in spending is minor but Republicans say the difference is where the cuts are being taken from.

The Alexander proposal was rejected by the majority Democrats and their proposal was passed by a vote of 55-43.

Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) told the Daily Sun News the Republican proposal would have cut more from DSHS spending than the Democrats proposed, with the main difference being the elimination of the disability lifeline program.

This program provides state funds and other assistance to low-income adults without dependents who cannot work due to a physical and/or mental impairment that is expected to last at least 90 days. Formerly known as general assistance, it is one of the oldest safety net programs dating back to the 1950s.

There are several different groups in the disability lifeline program. One group is adults who are physically or mentally incapacitated and expected to be unemployable for at least 90 days. Another group includes people who are expected to be disabled for 12 months or more and are likely to qualify for federal disability aid.

A smaller group includes individuals who are elderly, blind or disabled. The typical disability lifeline client is a single white male, ages 25-54.

Chandler said the program was designed to be temporary and that people who are enrolled in the program stay longer than it is designed for. Furthermore, he said, people on the disability lifeline program that get taken off are still eligible for federal programs. Republicans, Chandler said, want to end duplicitous programs.

Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee) took issue with the Democrats' proposal on cutting funding for K-12 education. Cuts to the public schools make up 27 percent of the Democrats' proposal. The Republicans cut more from DSHS but left schools relatively alone. Republican cuts to public schools make up only 7 percent of their proposal.

Taylor is also unhappy with the Democrats' proposal to cut nearly $2 million from research funding at Washington State University.

"If we don't fund research we might not be able to take care of some of the problems our farmers are facing," Taylor added.

He's also unhappy with the budget amendment proposal by Democrats because it retroactively takes away K-4 enhancement money from basic education. That money, Taylor said, has already been spent for the most part and it is unfair to punish schools for acting responsibly and passing a balanced budget.

Chandler said the Republicans' proposal eliminated programs instead of suspending them. He said if money comes available later the House could debate whether to bring back certain programs. But to just suspend them with no money available is short-sighted, he said.

"It's time for them (Democrats) to fish or cut bait," he said.

Chandler, Taylor and other House Republicans might get another chance to have their say. The budget amendment passed by the House is now in the Senate and that branch is expected to make its own changes. This will force the proposal back into the House.

Either way, both Chandler and Taylor said they would like to see a balanced budget. Every month, Chandler said, the cuts don't take effect, costs the state $250 million in savings.

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