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State GOP still hopes to take control

State Republicans on Wednesday held onto hope they might yet take control of the Senate, as the margin between candidates in one Snohomish County legislative district remained razor thin.

Statewide tallies put Republicans within one seat of seizing power.

Preliminary election results reported by Secretary of State Sam Reed on Tuesday night showed Republicans likely picking up six seats in the Senate. That would whittle the Democrats' 31-seat majority in the 49-member body down to 25 seats.

On Tuesday, a mere eight votes separated Republican challenger Dave Schmidt and incumbent Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs in the 44th Legislative District, which covers Snohomish and Lake Stevens. And with ballots still rolling in, Republican leaders held out hope a national GOP wave had turned their own tides.

"The way the late ballots have been breaking, they've been coming in on the conservative side the last couple of (election) cycles," said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. "It's looking rather good right now."

By Wednesday night, Hobbs' lead over Schmidt had grown to 93 votes, but Reed's office estimated 85,000 ballots were yet to be counted by the Snohomish County auditor, based on projections voter turnout would be about 66 percent.

On the House side, Republicans appeared to have picked up five seats based on preliminary election results -- six if they count the defeat of Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, by Republican challenger J.T. Wilcox. Campbell does not caucus with House Republicans and is considered a Republican in name only by leadership.

A five-seat Republican pick-up shifts the balance in the House from a 61-37 Democratic majority to 56-42.

That could become 55-43, though, as Republicans also were poised to pick up the 25th District seat held by incumbent Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup. Preliminary Pierce County results put Republican Hans Zeiger ahead of Morrell by just 124 votes, which is within the margin for an automatic recount, according to guidelines published by Reed's office.

But with voters having repealed a recently enacted tax on candy and soda pop and reinstating a requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes, whichever party has control will have a tough row to hoe in writing the next biennial budget.

Hewitt said lawmakers are being told they face a $4.5 billion deficit for the 2011-13 biennium. The Legislature will write a budget for that period when the next session starts in January.

Hewitt urged lawmakers to start work on a budget now to get reductions in place that will save money in the long term.

"We've asked for this type of early action approach to our budget crisis for a long time," Hewitt said. "Now that the election is over, there is simply no excuse for delay. The Legislature will be in Olympia in early December for committee meetings and could easily act on agreed-upon budget savings that will help the taxpayers of this state right away."

Senate Republicans have collected some of their budget ideas on their Reset Washington website at src.leg.wa.gov/reset/about.htm.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he's also been working on ideas for the budget that he's collected into a policy paper posted on his website at rosshunter.info.

He said the paper lays out some of the tough choices lawmakers will face.

Among them are the loss of hundreds of millions from the repealed tax on candy and soda pop, and the possibility of further drops in state revenues.

Hunter said the revenue picture is the same regardless of which party writes the budget.

"The makeup of the Legislature doesn't affect too much the amount of money available," Hunter said. "There is no new revenue, and I don't think there would have been any new revenue (from taxes) anyway. We have to make a balanced budget with the revenue we've got now."

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