Long special session could put stimulus dollars at risk

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by DREW MIKKELSEN / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on March 26, 2010 at 7:02 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. - If state lawmakers cannot reach an agreement on a budget by the end of the special session, the state could lose out on billions of federal stimulus dollars.

Governor Chris Gregoire, D-Washington, has said if the House and Senate don't have a deal when the 30-day session ends next month, she will call for 20 percent budget cuts across state government.

That could leave 20,000 Basic Health Plan patients without coverage and could eliminate 57,000 slots for college students.

Those cuts could disqualify the state for $3 billion in federal stimulus funding because the state would no longer meet minimum federal standards.

"I think that's rather overstating the case," said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

Senator Brown said lawmakers are not going to be rushed into coming to an agreement.

The Senate and House are at odds over how to raise new taxes.

Senators back a sales tax increase, but Representatives will not vote in favor of that.

Senator Brown said the two sides need more time to find another source of new revenue.

"This is the biggest deficit any legislature has ever faced in a short session," said Sen. Brown.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said lawmakers are well aware of the implications if a deal is not reached.

"We can't afford those kinds of cuts," said Chopp. "We're working to resolve this thing as soon as possible."

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