Spin Control

Legislature adjourns. Must come back Monday

OLYMPIA -- Sine die adjournment ceremony in the Senate, with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, in the foreground at the rostrum, senators, staff and lobbyists on the floor and the video from the House and Senate ceremonies projected on the wall. (Jim Camden)
OLYMPIA -- Sine die adjournment ceremony in the Senate, with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, in the foreground at the rostrum, senators, staff and lobbyists on the floor and the video from the House and Senate ceremonies projected on the wall. (Jim Camden)

That's all folks...the gavel comes down in the Senate on the 2012 regular session. The Legislature returns Monday for a special session.

OLYMPIA -- The Legislature adjourned at midnight Thursday without passing a new general operating budget, and Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered them back to work Monday.

"They haven't gotten the job done," Gregoire said after issuing a proclamation for a special session, which can last up to 30 days. She added that she hoped they would finish much quicker.

"They need to go  home and get away from each other,'' the governor added. "Tensions are high. People are tired. It's hard to get them to focus."

After legislators return for the noon Monday start, most can leave while leaders try to come up with a way around what's largely been described as a logjam over sources of revenue to make the $30 billion budget balance. (Editor's note: an early version of this story had the wrong time for the start of the special session.)

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Throughout Thursday, Democrats made one last-ditch try to pass a budget they liked through both chambers.
Republicans dismissed the effort  as a “juvenile attempt” to avoid negotiating with them. While they waited on the general operating budget, legislators passed some smaller bills, including renewed tax credits for some motion pictures filmed in Washington and reforms to squelch Medicaid fraud. They killed others, such as an end to the exemption that some out-of-state residents get for sales tax.
But the big issue, a bipartisan deal to fill the gap in the state’s General Fund budget, eluded the House and Senate leaders.
“Our only hope to get out of here on time just went down in flames,” House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said as the Democratic budget moved through the House on its way to the Senate, where it was expected to fail if it came to a vote.
Capping off a week of partisan maneuvering over the budget, House Democrats essentially gutted a Senate spending proposal that was pushed through the upper chamber in a parliamentary coup last weekend, when three Democrats sided with Senate Republicans on for a more conservative budget than most Democrats were backing.
Using what’s known as a striking amendment, House Democrats on Thursday replaced that plan with one more in keeping with a budget Senate Democratic leaders favored but couldn’t get the votes to pass.
One of the biggest sticking points in all these spending plans is a disagreement over whether the state should delay a $332million payment to school districts a few days, shifting it from the end of June 2013, to July 1, 2013.
Democrats contend the shift would allow them to spend that amount on a variety of education, health and social programs; Republicans say it means spending less overall on public schools in the biennium.
It’s not a cut, said state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said, because the school districts get the same amount of money in their fiscal year, which runs on a different calendar. “The school districts aren’t concerned. They’re more concerned about (school program) cuts.”
Republicans dismissed it as a “felony gimmick” that would land a business owner in jail.
“This is the great divide of this Legislature,” said state Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, who insisted a budget document is “a moral document. If we short-change kids right now, all we’re doing is short-changing our future.”
House Republicans tried to amend the Democrats’ amendment with a budget of their own, which did not delay the payment to schools, but made deeper cuts in state programs. It failed on a mostly partisan 55-43 vote, with one Democrat joining all Republicans.
House Democrats then passed and immediately sent to the Senate, a budget that included the delay in the apportionment payment to schools and fewer cuts to state education, health and social programs. It passed 53-45, with three Democrats siding with all Republicans against the budget proposal.
But state Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, was confident the working majority the GOP formed last week for its budget will hold against this proposal, which he said was negotiated solely by the Democrats in each chamber.
“We haven’t had one conversation; we wasted six days,” Zarelli said. “It’s a little juvenile, and it’s posturing. It’s like hanging up the phone on somebody you don’t like instead of talking it out.”
But state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said Republicans would be given a chance to offer their amendments when the plan came up for a vote.

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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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