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Republican leaders release GOP version of state budget

OLYMPIA - The state GOP budget proposed by Rep. Gary Alexander (R-Olympia) and published last Friday on the House Republican website would fully fund levy equalization and a 180-day school year, provide new funding for gang prevention and fully fund reimbursement rates for critical access hospitals, all without raising the sales tax.

However, the budget would cut money for a variety of public school programs, including Building Bridges and Bullying Prevention Workgroup. Also, the state's Basic Health Plan would be eliminated, leaving about 36,600 low-income individuals without health coverage. Funding to the Department of Ecology would be cut 14 percent.

The "all-priorities budget" focuses on education, public safety and the most vulnerable in society, according to the GOP. With the crunch on the budget this year, difficult choices had to be made in what programs to cut and what to save.

Using $160 million in unspent agency funds (known as "reversions") and $840 million in spending reductions, the GOP budget does not raise sales taxes and will leave $651 million in reserves.

The GOP budget provides $580 million more to education than the governor's proposed budget, and $40 million more to public safety. Much of the savings in the budget comes from streamlining administration in a variety of agencies, including the legislature.

While the budget fully funds basic education, it cuts funding to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education by 10 percent. In addition, all certified and classified staff in public schools would face a salary step freeze.

In higher education, the GOP budget would cut the state-need grants by $75.8 million by altering requirements and reducing the time students qualify to use the grants.

The Community Services and Housing Division is hit hard in the budget, with the elimination of several programs, including the housing and essential needs program for low-income individuals receiving state-funded medical assistance.

The budget would increase caseload ratios for Children and Family Services at the DSHS, but less than the governor's budget would have. Across the board, the DSHS would be better off under the GOP budget than the governor's budget, said GOP leaders, with most of the cuts going to administration and not to programs.

The GOP budget saves $2.9 million from the legislature by consolidating support services and voluntary reductions in salary from legislators. Cuts to the judicial system add another $12.5 million, with the majority coming from the elimination of the truancy program.

The budget does not save money through early release of prisoners. The governor's budget reduced criminal supervision funding by $26.4 million and saved $12.3 million with the early release of offenders. The GOP budget adds $2.6 million for prison safety and upgrades prison guard equipment. It reduces funding to treat chemical dependency among prisoners.

The Department of Agriculture's food bank funding would be the only department of Natural Resources to not be cut severely under the GOP budget. It would cut $33.1 million from various natural resources programs, compared to $8.2 million in cuts in the governor's budget. The Department of Ecology and the Department of Fish and Wildlife would be the hardest hit.

The Washington State Patrol would eliminate vacant staff positions to the tune of $2 million in savings.

The budget would also institute 24 days of furlough for all state employees for $124.2 million in savings.

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