OLYMPIA -- Republican leaders of the Legislature said a special session is now a certainty, with the only real question when it will start.
"I don't believe therre's any way for us to get done. There's no physical way," Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said after a meeting of all four legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire that was designed to "find a path out of here" on the state's general fund budget.
So, did they find a path? No path, no blueprint, he said.
Democrats and Republicans have yet to agree on the amount of money they will have to spend, let alone how it will be spent. Republicans said they are holding firm to their belief that the state should not delay by one day a payment of $330 million to the school districts, an accounting maneuver that shifts that amount into the next biennium and frees up money for more programs.
"We're still firm on sticking with our principles," Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said.
Today is day 59 of the 60-day session, so the regular session can go no longer than midnight tomorrow. A tentative agreement on a budget would only be one step in the process. That budget would have to be printed, introduced in one of the houses as an amendment to one of the two budgets that have already passed. A budget written by House Democrats is currently on hold in the Senate, and a budget written by minority Republicans which picked up support from three Democrats and passed early Saturday morning after a parliamentary maneuver, is now in the House.
One option is to start the special session on Friday to keep any budget talks going. Hewitt and Zarelli said it would be better to start it next Monday or Tuesday, giving most legislators the weekend with their families and a "cooling off period."
"Some folks need a few days to ponder," Zarelli said.
Before leaving on Thursday the Legislature might pass a separate Transportation Budget that covers road, bridge and ferry projects. But it probably will not pass a Capital Budget, which covers other big construction projects like the construction of the medical sciences building in Spokane.
"The capital budget and the operating budget go together," Zarelli said.