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New State Budget: Holiday Gifts from Gregoire to Middle Class

December 20, 2006

Seattle, WA - Those who work around the statehouse will spend at least some of the holiday season dissecting Governor Gregoire's new budget, unveiled this week in preparation for the new legislative session in January.

For the most part, the budget focuses on education, job creation and health care. It also proposes the modest state surplus be put in a new "rainy day" savings fund. John Burbank of the Economic Opportunity Institute says overall, this budget seems solidly aimed at protecting Washington's middle class.

"Its beneficiaries are the vast majority of Washington citizens, not just the few very wealthy or the few very poor."

The lion's share of the budget goes to education in grades K-12, but there's also more money for preschools. Jon Gould of the Children's Alliance is pleased with the figures.

"The governor really, truly said we need to take a 'birth to age six' approach. We can't just put more money into kindergarten, because that isn't going to help children who aren't even ready for kindergarten in the first place."

The health care budget includes insuring more low-income children, but it also picks up the tab for prescription co-pays not covered by Medicaid for low-income senior citizens. Lauren Moughon of AARP is optimistic that will end up saving the state millions of health care dollars in the long run.

"The fact that she is stepping up to the plate and catching these people as they fall through the federal safety net is a very, very big deal to seniors."

The governor approved pay raises of 3.2 percent for most state workers next year. Tim Welch of the Washington Federation of State Employees says they're happy about that, but still concerned about the safety of mental hospital workers and the high caseloads of children's services workers.

"She is proposing some additional children's services workers and some workload studies; we would press her and the legislature to do much more there to get to manageable caseload sizes more in line with national standards."

Governor Gregoire says her $30 billion budget makes "changes that families can count on." The legislature will tackle the budget in January.

Chris Thomas/Eric Mack, Public News Service - WA