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Originally published Monday, September 3, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Dems miss mark claiming McKenna supported education cuts

Truth Needle: Democrats miss the mark when they contend Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna supported $74 million in proposed K-12 and higher-education cuts contained in a budget passed by state Senate Republicans earlier this year.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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The claim: Democrats contend Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna supported $74 million in proposed K-12 and higher-education cuts contained in a budget passed by state Senate Republicans earlier this year.

What we found: Mostly false.

This claim dates back to March 3 when Senate Republicans, with the help of three conservative Democrats, briefly took control of the Senate to pass their version of a state budget.

That budget did contain $74 million in education cuts. The Senate GOP later revised its proposal and removed the proposed reductions in spending.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee and the state Democratic Party have repeatedly stated McKenna supported the proposed education cuts.

In April, Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said, "Rob McKenna showed his true colors when he embraced the Republican attempts to slash $74 million from education."

And during a debate last Tuesday, Inslee said, "I've heard my opponent talk a lot about giving money back into education. But the first time, the first time the Republicans had control of the state Senate awhile back, you know what they did — supported by my opponent? ... They cut $74 million out of the education budget and $30 million out of the college fund that would make it more difficult to keep tuitions low."

The state Democratic Party has made a similar claim.

Democrats are relying in part on a post in March by the Seattle-based political blog PubliCola.

The website quoted a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, Dan Sytman, as saying, "Legislators deserve the credit for reaching across the aisle, finding areas of consensus and passing a budget."

McKenna is the state attorney general.

Democrats have interpreted that statement as support for both the budget and the education cuts. But Sytman, in a recent interview, said he wasn't trying to say that McKenna supported everything in the budget as proposed by the GOP.

Rather, he said he was responding to a question from PubliCola about whether McKenna's staff had a role in securing votes for the GOP budget takeover — a rampant rumor at the time.

"That was what I was trying to answer when I said 'Legislators deserve credit,' " Sytman said. "I tried not to characterize the budget one way or the other."

Josh Feit, who wrote the blog post for PubliCola, said he had interpreted Sytman's statement as a reference to the budget itself. "Sytman was crediting legislators for a budget deal that cut more than $70 million from education," Feit said.

That issue aside, there were no news releases from McKenna or his campaign at the time the budget passed, or other statements from McKenna, that specifically praised or supported the cuts to education.

In addition, McKenna issued a statement three days after the GOP budget passed that called for a compromise budget, saying it "should be built on a few key principles: public education should be the first priority funded as we cannot continue to underfund basic public education or prolong the trend of cuts to our institutions of higher learning."

Since then, he has repeatedly said he disagreed with the proposed education cuts in the original GOP budget.

Smith, in a recent interview, maintained McKenna should have immediately criticized the education cuts after the Senate GOP budget passed and not waited several days to address the issue.

However, Democrats have attacked McKenna for supporting the cuts, not for being silent.

For his part, McKenna was stretching things in last week's debate with Inslee when he said the GOP budget passed in March "was a bipartisan budget proposed by Republicans and Democrats. I applauded their bipartisanship."

Only three Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the Republican budget.

McKenna did not make it immediately known he opposed education cuts at the time the Senate GOP budget was approved, which raised questions about his position. And the Attorney General Office's statement on the budget is murky — given the disagreement between Sytman and Feit.

However, we can find no evidence that McKenna specifically supported the proposed cuts to education.

For that reason, we find the Democrats' statements to be mostly false.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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