OLYMPIA -- The Legislature slid toward a second special session today with all sides agreeing they couldn't finish negotiating and adopting a two-year operating budget before time runs out in the first special session Tuesday at midnight.
Both chambers have passed an operating budget, but the two plans are so different that they would be difficult to reconcile even if there was general willingness to compromise and ongoing negotiations.
There isn't, and there aren't.
At the end of the regular session six weeks ago, Gov. Jay Inslee described the House and Senate as "light years apart." Today House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the gap has closed, but not nearlyl enough.
"We're still somewhere out in space," Sullivan said of the differences.
Looking beyond Tuesday's special session deadline to another date on the calendar, the start of the state's fiscal year on July 1, the House passed a "bare bones" measure to continue work on existing capital construction projects. Without it, Capital Budget Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said, those projects would run out of money on July 1 and work would stop.
There were charges of Washington, D.C., style politics -- about the worst insult one legislator can hurl at another in Olympia -- as the two chambers dug in for an unknown number of days beyond Tuesday. It wasn't strictly partisan; some criticism involved members of one chamber dissing the other.
"The other chamber wants to take us right off a cliff," Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said during debate on the capital budget stop gap measure.
"There is no tolerance for shutting down the government. Let's don't play politics," Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton said before voting for the same bill. Smith was forced to cut her speech short when Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, ruled her comments about playing politics went too far for the debate rules of the House.
In the afternoon, the Senate Ways and Means Committee held hearings on eight bills, including several tax proposals that would be necessary to pay for a wide range of education and social programs in the coming two-year fiscal period. Normal rules of the Legislature wouldn't allow those bills to move through both chambers in the day remaining in the current special session, so they offer discussion points for the next special session.
After hearing public testimony on the eight bills, the committee recessed until Tuesday morning to decide whether to pass them to the Senate floor, but not before Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, wondered aloud what Republicans who make up most of the Majority Coalition Caucus had in mind.
"It would be fairly helpful to know what the plan is," Nelson said.
Inslee has said he will call a second special session to start Wednesday if legislators didn't pass an operating budget, a plan to improve the state's transportation system and toughen drunk driving laws in the first special session. None of those three has passed.