OLYMPIA -- The first test of whether the Legislature can wrap up its special session by Tuesday's deadline comes this afternoon, when the House will vote on its version of a revised operating budget.
House members have been given until noon to propose amendments to the spending plan, which is trying to close a gap of more than $1 billion in what the state expects to collect in revenues and what it is scheduled to spend on programs and salaries through June 2013.
The budget will go to the Senate if it passes the House. But Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman, said the real issue in that chamber isn't the spending plan but the package of reforms surrounding it. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans and the three Democrats who joined them to pass a much different budget, said they haven't seen enough give on those reforms to vote for the House budget.
Murray, who may be the most optimistic person in the Capitol, said different groups of senators are working on the key sticking points: a change in health insurance for teachers, reforms to the state pension system, dropping a state initiative required reduction in public school class sizes and language on balanced budgets -- that could address the Republicans' issues. With those agreements, the disagreements over spending or cuts in the budget could be easily resolved, he said. It's as little as $150 million in a budget of nearly $31 billion.
"We could be done by midnight (Friday," Murray said. Senators who are Jewish had agreed to skip Passover dinner with their families, if necessary, to vote on bills.
Done with just the budget, or done with all the bills needed to make it work, also, and thus done with the special session? he was asked.
"Done, done," he replied.
That scenario, however, depends on the House passing a budget that can either be moved through the Senate Ways and Means Committee or directly onto the Senate floor for a quick vote. Both of those require agreement by Senate Republicans.