House and Senate Republicans shied away from outlining a full budget to avoid tax increases earlier this year. But they are letting their ideas bounce on the table now that the governor has laid out the $1.1 billion budget problem – and possible cures –through June.
Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County sent Gov. Chris Gregoire a letter that expresses support for raising state employee health-insurance premiums to 26 percent – on a sliding scale with lower-paid workers paying 14 percent, high-paid workers 26 percent and the median payment 20 percent – in January.
Gregoire has proposed 26 percent in union negotiations by her labor representatives.
Alexander released his letter after today's "five corners" meeting between Gregoire and legislative leaders of both parties. In it he says he also supports ending the Basic Health Plan, the Disability Lifeline (temporary medical and cash help) and ending extra payments for all-day kindergarten. (Five corners refers to the four legislative caucuses and governor's office.)
Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, also released a list that would end the Disability Lifeline but not eliminate the BHP. He suggests he could scale back costs in Basic Health by making participants prove they are legal residents and thinks his ideas could cut $850 million.
But neither Republican likes the 25th-month "gimmick" Gregoire has floated. This would use July revenues – a 25th month – to help pay for some state education costs owed through June, which is when the two-year budget cycle ends and a new one begins.
Democratic Sen. Ed Murray, the incoming Senate Ways and Means chairman of Seattle, said his caucus needs to talk over cuts options when members meet in Olympia next Monday through Wednesday; they are coming to town for committee week activities to prepare for the regular legislative session. Murray said it was too early to say what the caucus might support and whether a special session can take place as Gregoire and minority Republicans have hoped but Democrats have balked at.
Here is Gregoire's letter to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
"We're going to talk tomorrow and Friday and Saturday," Murray told the throng of statehouse reporters that gathered this afternoon outside Gregoire's office to learn what was decided between Democratic and Republican leaders. "When we reach agreement, we'll meet."
Incoming House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, appeared to back off of past comments that House Democrats want to address the shortfall early in the regular session. But he said Democrats need to talk over options when they have committee meetings next week from Wednesday through Friday.
Prognosis: Special session is no longer dead but going on life support (an improved status, in other words).