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Originally published March 3, 2012 at 7:20 PM | Page modified March 3, 2012 at 8:33 PM

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State Republican senators pass own budget proposal

Senate Republicans in Olympia, with the help of three conservative Democrats, seized control Friday and passed their own budget proposal — one far different from the majority party — by a 25-24 vote.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — Democratic leaders on Saturday treated the GOP takeover of the Senate budget like a bad dream.

Senate Republicans, with the help of three conservative Democrats, seized control Friday and passed their own budget proposal — one far different from the majority party — by a 25-24 vote.

The GOP argues Democrats should set aside hurt feelings and negotiate a compromise. "It's the responsibility of all of us to talk about how we can find a way home together," said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the chief architect of the Republican budget.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, as well as the governor, said they're not interested. For now, at least, they're giving Republicans a cold shoulder and negotiating among themselves.

"I'm quite confident that the Senate Democrat budget is a better budget," said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

It appears their plan is to wait a few days, let public reaction build and then see if they can bring one of the crossover Democrats back into the fold.

This puts the Legislature, which is supposed to wrap up its 60-day session by Thursday, in a waiting game.

Republicans hope Democrats will cool off and bargain, while Senate Democrats hope they can regain control of the budget.

The Senate Republican proposal closes a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall, in part by reducing state spending more than the Democrats' proposal. Net cuts include $44 million to K-12 schools and $30 million to higher education, according to nonpartisan staff.

The Democratic budget contained no education cuts.

The GOP plan also would eliminate a program known as Disability Lifeline, a welfare and health-care program for unemployable adults who aren't covered by federal Social Security benefits.

Republicans also would not delay a $330 million payment to school districts to help close the shortfall and avoid cuts. And they'd leave more money in reserve, $502 million compared to the $369 million proposed by Democrats.

The three Democratic senators who voted with Republicans on the budget — Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Jim Kastama of Puyallup — are still caucusing with their party.

Kastama said all three agreed with each other to provide the votes needed to take control of the budget, but nothing more. Which means Democrats, who hold a 27-22 majority, still retain control of the Senate for most business.

When it comes to the budget, Zarelli expressed confidence he has the votes needed to retain control. "We have 25 people who are committed to a set of principles who are going to guide our perspective on the budget," he said.

That control, however, rests with the Democrats working with his party.

Sheldon is a conservative Democrat who often sides with Republicans and has repeatedly voted against his party's budget. He also voted against the gay-marriage legislation that was approved earlier in the session.

Tom, who used to be a Republican before switching parties in 2006, helped write the Senate Democratic budget in 2010 — and then voted against it.

Kastama said this isn't the first time he's voted against his caucus' budget in the 16 years he's been in the Legislature, but that it's a rare event. Both Kastama and Tom voted for the gay-marriage legislation.

All three lawmakers on Saturday said they remain committed to working with the GOP on the budget. "We're committed to ... being at the table and having sufficient strength to be a key negotiator," Kastama said.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8267 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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