OLYMPIA — With most legislators still at home, their leaders continued meeting Tuesday with Gov. Chris Gregoire in search of a solution to the state's budget problems
They reached no agreements on a key sticking point. Gregoire told them to set those disagreements aside and come up with at least $200 million that members of both parties, in both houses, might accept.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said the goal before the next meeting — as yet unscheduled — is to find that money through some source of revenue, “something that's not spending cuts.”
The hangup right now is what the two parties want to say is an available resource in the General Fund budget to spend on state programs. Democrats want to delay a payment of some $330 million to the state's school districts by a few days, shifting it from the end of June to the beginning of July 2013 which means it happens in the state's next fiscal biennium. Because the schools would get it in their same fiscal year — the calendars are different — they argue it's merely an accounting shift with no real consequence.
Republicans, however, say that's bad budgeting, and even worse accounting that shifts the debt into the next biennium. They want to skip a payment to some state pension plans, then make several reforms to the way pensions are structured. They admit skipping a pension payment isn't a good practice, but contend the long-term savings are worth the $150 million that would leave in the budget.
Democrats say that plan isn't actuarially sound, and the savings might not be all that Republicans estimate them to be.
Once they decide on the amount to spend, budget writers will start working on how to divide that among programs. A budget written by Senate Republicans differs from one passed by House Democrats on a wide range of education, college and social programs and those will still have to be negotiated.
“It could potentially result in more cuts,” Brown said. “That's what moving to the middle's all about.”