Gregoire approves new $45 billion spending package

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday authorized spending more than $45 billion to run state government, build highways and finance a construction boom over the next two years.

The main $33 billion operating budget uses a major portion of the state's tax surplus to boost schools, health care, environmental protection and higher education.

Gregoire called the budget "both compassionate and smart," and said Olympia "kept the focus on our future demands and kept our commitments to the needs of all Washington families," particularly in the area of education.

The plan, almost exclusively the work of the Democratic governor and the majority Democrats in the House and Senate, spends heavily from the state's projected $2.2 billion surplus.

It leaves $724 million unspent, part of it in a hard-to-tap "rainy day" account that lawmakers are asking voters to create this fall. The fund, essentially a forced savings account of 1 percent per year, was the only aspect of the budget that drew support from minority Republicans on Tuesday. GOP lawmakers believe Democrats overspent and set the state up for a deficit in a few years.

Gregoire also signed a $4.3 billion construction budget that spends heavily on school and college construction.

She also approved a $7.5 billion highway budget. It includes new money to get more than 400 highway projects back on schedule after the state covers nearly $2 billion in cost overruns, primarily due to soaring material prices.