Budget Agreement Reached Threat Of Special Session Motivates Lawmakers To Come Up With Deal On Supplemental Funding
Lawmakers cut a deal Wednesday night on a supplemental budget, expected to be adopted as soon as today - the final day of the legislative session.
Hours earlier, Gov. Mike Lowry gave the stalled budget talks a jump start, declaring he wouldn’t let legislators go home without a budget.
“I think there’s still a chance this Legislature could get a good report card,” Lowry said.
The threat of being called back into special session, particularly in an election year, helped get the legislative sausage-maker grinding again. “People thought, hey, we want to get out of here,” said Sen. Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, Senate Majority Leader.
“There are a lot of people who want to get on the campaign trail. And there really weren’t that many differences that needed to be worked out.”
Lawmakers were so happy to reach agreement they erupted in roaring cheers in their closed-door caucus meetings. Rep. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, was even offering cigars.
The supplemental budget makes adjustments to the two-year spending plan adopted last year. It sticks within the $17.6 billion biennial budget, a key victory for House Republicans determined not to push spending ever higher.
“We did what we said we were going to do. We held the line,” said Rep. Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
House veterans said it was the first budget they could recall that didn’t notch up spending.
“It’s one of the best budgets that’s ever come out,” said Rep. Jean Silver, R-Spokane.
Lawmakers still had $170 million in new money to spend from savings generated from lower welfare caseloads and school enrollments. They fought for the past three weeks over how to divvy it up.
The agreement reached Wednesday night provides $54.7 million for a high-tech communications system for the state’s public schools and higher education institutions, with $15.3 million of it paid for with bonds.
An additional $10 million was also earmarked for technology grants, which all school districts may compete for. The grants were included to smooth over a dispute over how all school districts could get a crack at the high-tech pie.
Another $14 million was provided for higher education, allowing an additional 2,040 students to attend four-year schools; 740 students to attend two-year schools.
Lawmakers also tucked money in the budget they hope will satisfy the governor’s demands for children’s services, including an independent ombudsman on children and family issues at the troubled state Department of Social and Health Services.
The waiting list for child-care assistance for the working poor was cut in half. The Legislature also set aside $2.2 million to pay for a range of social service and street-kid programs in Spokane and three other cites.
Lawmakers had been deadlocked on the budget since Sunday, when negotiations broke off in acrimony. Negotiators started out holding their meetings in open session. When things got dicey Monday, lawmakers retreated behind closed doors.
For days, the chances of actually passing a budget seemed so dim, lawmakers adopted a fall-back plan, called “Budget Lite,” to address only bare-bones needs, including a state match for federal flood relief.
That’s when Lowry jumped into the process, saying lawmakers were too close to agreement to give up.
“The governor was smart to say ‘You’re going to stay here until we have a budget.’ It would be silly to do all that work for nothing,” said Rep. Dennis Dellwo, D-Spokane.
Lawmakers haven’t yet set the amount of tax relief they want to grant in the budget.
Some hope to find the money for a property-tax cut, which would put the level of tax cuts at about $224 million, and leave more than $300 million in reserve.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer Staff writer Tom Roeder contributed to this report.