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Originally published Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 4:12 PM

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Senate budget writers agree: No education cuts

Top budget writers in the Senate are now in agreement that the state's spending can be balanced without cutting education, as a Republican-led coalition touted its vision Thursday to overhaul pension rules.

Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Top budget writers in the Senate are now in agreement that the state's spending can be balanced without cutting education, as a Republican-led coalition touted its vision Thursday to overhaul pension rules.

Senate and House budget writers have been unable to broker a final budget agreement, and Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli said the latest proposal was designed to find some common ground. Democrats had balked at an initial Republican-led budget plan that would have cut some $43 million from K-12 education and $30 million from higher education.

"What we've tried to do is draft a compromise approach here," Zarelli said.

Democratic Sen. Ed Murray said he was pleased to see the Republican budget move in their direction, as his initial plan also avoided cuts to education, and he called the remaining differences "clearly resolvable." The Democratic proposal did so by delaying a payment to schools by one day into the next biennium - an accounting maneuver the GOP dislikes.

Republicans acknowledged that they had not shown the budget to Democrats even though both sides have been meeting to try and find an agreement.

"The governor's had them in their office again and again and again," Murray said. "And as of yesterday they did not tell her they were writing a budget and they were unwilling to make any offers to her, so this is a little bit of political games going on here."

Gov. Chris Gregoire said there was no reason that the GOP budget plan couldn't have been brought up in negotiations and discussed in good faith. She said she is going to withhold her signature from bills the Legislature has passed and threatened to veto some of them to get the attention of lawmakers.

"I have been restrained, I have been complimentary, I have negotiated in good faith," Gregoire said. "Time's up. Time is up. My frustration level is as high as it gets. Time for us to get a budget to the table, bring me a budget."

The revised proposal released Thursday relies heavily on changes to the state pension system, such as skipping a $140 million payment - something Gregoire deemed a gimmick. That is offset in the long term by ending early retirement for future state employees.

The new plan also keeps less money in reserves, leaving $440 million instead of the $502 million in the initial Senate-passed bill. It includes more cuts to social services than the Democratic approach.

Republicans are also pushing several structural changes to state government, including a requirement that budgets be balanced over a four-year period and a consolidation of health insurance plans for education employees. They also want passage of a charter schools bill that Democrats largely oppose.

The Washington Education Association criticized the health plan consolidation and the charter schools idea. Gregoire said she would veto the charter schools plan.

The budget plan has the support of three Democrats, providing the GOP enough votes to pass the measure through the Senate. Democratic Sen. Jim Kastama said the new plan takes the previous bipartisan bill and makes it better.

"We've proved the cynics wrong when it comes to putting partisan politics ahead of our duty to govern," Kastama said.

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AP Writer Jonathan Kaminsky contributed to this report. Mike Baker can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP .

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