OLYMPIA -- Legislators appear close to an agreement on a budget fix and several other bills needed to get that budget passed -- so close that they are trying out different ways to describe "almost a deal" without sounding too positive after leaving an afternoon meeting with Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield: "We're on the same sheet of music, except some of the notes need to be clarified. . . It's the little things, the little differences."
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis: "It's a framework with some agreements in it...but there are so many moving pieces."
One legislator described it as trying to juggle eight balls. Asked if that was a good description, DeBolt replied: "It'd be nice if it was only eight."
Those moving pieces include a revision to the remaining 15 months in the state's current operating budget, which has a gap of about $1 billion between what the state is expected to collect in taxes and what it is scheduled to spend in programs and wages; the state's capital budget, a smaller spending plan for large construction projects, and ancillary questions over the state limit; changes to the state retirement system to close off some early retirement options for new hires; a way to bring the health insurance programs for state school employees in line with the benefits for state workers; and a way to project budgets over four years, instead of the current two years, in a way that prevents spending imbalances like the current one without requiring special sessions for small fluctuations in revenue forecasts.