Budget: Surplus brings out wish lists

Lawmakers tend to fight the most when there's a shortfall in the state budget to fix, or a large surplus in tax revenue they can spend.

This year, for the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks, legislators have a surplus. It's projected at $1.4 billion and could grow more, depending on the economy.

The governor and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate say they want to sock most of it away to take care of rising costs when the Legislature puts together its next two-year budget in 2007. But that won't stop people from asking for more money.

Gov. Christine Gregoire wants to spend about $500 million of the surplus and save the rest for next year.

Her proposed supplemental budget covers increased costs for social services and K-12 enrollment. She also proposes millions of dollars for new programs and to help fill a hole in the state pension system.

The state works on a two-year budget cycle. Last year, the Legislature passed a $26 billion operating budget for 2005-07. If Gregoire's supplemental proposal is approved, the 2005-07 budget would represent a 15 percent increase over the last two-year budget.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate will come out with their own supplemental budget proposals in the next few weeks.

Key legislators on the budget

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton: chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
(360) 786-7616 or www1.leg.wa.gov/senate/prentice

Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle: chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
(360) 786-7814 or www1.leg.wa.gov/house/sommers

Key interest groups

State Labor Council: (206) 281-8901, www.wslc.org

Washington Education Association: (253) 941-6700, www.washingtonea.org

Association of Washington Business: (360) 943-1600, www.awb.org

Building Industry Association of Washington: 1-800-228-4229, www.biaw.com