Spin Control

Special Session is a wrap. Budget passed, legislators head home

OLYMPIA -- Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, hug while other senators including Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley (left) applaud as the gavel comes down to adjourn the Legislature's special session. (Jim Camden)
OLYMPIA -- Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, hug while other senators including Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley (left) applaud as the gavel comes down to adjourn the Legislature's special session. (Jim Camden)

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla hug and other senators applaud as the gavel comes down to adjourn the special session.

OLYMPIA -- Unable to find $2 billion in savings over 30 days, the Legislature agreed to about a fourth of that -- $480 million -- in 17 days, and called it quits for now.

The Senate approved a $480 million budget adjustment this afternoon that uses a combination of budget transfers, accounting maneuvers and cuts to state programs or departments. The rest of the savings, and possibly more if the state's economic outlook doesn't improve, will have to wait for a 60-day regular session.

That starts in less than three weeks.

Like the House on Tuesday, the Senate gave overwhelming and bipartisan support to the changes to the General Fund budget, known by some as the "Early Action Package" and by others as a partial downpayment. Those who are disappointed because the savings aren't greater right now can blame him, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.It's not particularly helpful to cast blame, he said. "But I'm willing to take that responsibility. Then, let's move on."

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate budget panel, called it "a good start on a huge problem." While Gov. Chris Gregoire was able to name $2 billion worth of cuts in the two months after a bad revenue forecast in September, she only had to get one vote for those choices, he said. Hers.

In the Legislature, "you've got to move these things back and forth," Zarelli said. "I'm happy that we're getting something done."

One of the things in the budget fix is a nine-month delay of payments to school districts for school bus maintenance and depreciation. That saves the state about $50 million, at least on paper, but could leave schools strapped for cash if their buses break down. Murray said the Legislature will set up a contingency fund for hardship cases when it returns in January.

Among those voting no were Republican Sens. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane and Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley.

Baumgartner called the budget "the lowest common denominator" of what budget negotiators could agree to. "I think a lot more could've been done. It's still Wednesday, Dec. 14. There's no reason we couldn't work through this process some more."

Padden said the budget fix relies on too many gimmicks, like the bus depreciation. "That's not real savings," he said. "It's not some of the real reforms we should've been looking at."




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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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