OLYMPIA -- Stop us if you've heard this one: Legislative leaders and the top budget writers huddled with Gov. Chris Gregoire this morning, looking for an agreement on the state's operating budgets and reform issues connected to it.
OK, so we've written that a few times lately. Here's the new part of it. It's the last day of the special session for them to come up with that agreement, get it printed and passed by both houses of the Legislature.
Leaders of the two parties in the two chambers, as well as the budget writers continued their marathon meetings with Gregoire around 10:10 this morning. Yes, the meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m., and there were some comments about invited guests who were not present, making everyone else wait.
The last participant, Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, ranking Republican on Senate Ways and Means, arrived a few minutes after everyone else, reportedly because he'd been huddling with committee staff.
Prognostications for an deal ranged from the very optimistic -- members in both chambers were advised to be ready to work until midnight -- to the very pessimistic by those who question how it is physically possible to produce the needed legislation, should an agreement be reached, in the time remaining.
Back in the day, legislators could fudge the end of a session, by stopping or covering the clock, and go past midnight on the final day to push through a bill or two. With computers and automatic time stamps, that's not really possible any more. When the clock strikes midnight, the special session turns into a pumpkin (or some other vegetable, take your pick).
One sign of an alternate plan: A bill was introduced in the Senate giving the governor discretionary authority on what to cut in the operating budget to close the estimated gap of more than $1 billion between projected revenue and scheduled expenses. Under current law, a governor can only cut across-the-board, so all programs suffer equally.