April 28, 2009 in City

Gregoire to call lawmakers back

Several bills unfinished at grueling session’s close
Richard Roesler Staff writer
 
RICHARD ROESLER photo

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, stares at his computer during a late night last week in the Statehouse. Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday she’ll reconvene lawmakers in a special session.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday she intends to call Washington lawmakers back into a special session to finish budget-related bills left undone when midnight struck Sunday night, ending the 105-day legislative session.

But the governor said she first wants wrung-out lawmakers to get a break to decompress. She met with legislative leaders shortly after midnight Sunday to gauge their mood.

“What I saw last night was ‘Go home, relax, reconnect with your family,’ ” she said. “They need to be thoughtful about how we do this.”

Some Democrats were frustrated Sunday night that several bills didn’t pass. One – opposed by Republicans and some rural Democrats – would cut school levy equalization dollars, which help poor districts that cannot raise much in tax money. It would also allow dozens of districts to collect voter-approved dollars that a state limit now places out of reach. Another unfinished bill involves sentencing reforms, including more deportation of noncitizen criminals.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Sunday night that she wants to hold a special session. “We believe these are important bills that fit within the budget,” she said.

Brown said a session could be short and might give lawmakers time to revive a couple of other key bills. Among them: a cap-and-trade bill involving greenhouse gases and a revamp of voter-approved renewable-energy requirements for utility companies.

House Democrats were more lukewarm on a special session, saying that nothing critical had been left on the cutting-room floor.

“Usually when you have a special session, there’s something you can’t live without,” said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. “That isn’t the case here.”

Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said Monday that he’d be open to a special session. But he suggested it might be better held later this year, if at all. The amount of money involved in the unfinished bills, he said, is “tiny” compared with the multibillion-dollar budget. And many of the levies, he said, wouldn’t be affected until next year.

One potential wrinkle, however, is that the levy bill also affects how many levy dollars school districts can ask voters for. With the state spending hundreds of millions of dollars less than expected on schools and teacher pay, districts will see their levy limits lower unless lawmakers change the limit. That, Chopp said, might make a special session necessary.

“I’m sure it will all work out,” he said.

Minority Republicans – many of whom would be happy to see the cut to levy equalization die – called a special session a terrible idea.

“I am dumbfounded at the mismanagement that brought us to this point,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, who said reconvening the Legislature would cost $20,000 a day. “They wasted time, then tried to jam everything through in the final two days and failed.”

Chopp dismissed that criticism, saying that Hewitt “likes to complain.” Chopp pointed to the three major budgets that lawmakers passed, as well as a long list of reform bills.

“We effectively got the job done on time,” he said.

Gregoire also defended lawmakers, saying they did “an unbelievably good job” in the highest-pressure session in decades. Lawmakers had to grapple with billions of dollars in cuts, the effects of which will play out in the coming months.

“They did not make decisions they liked or wanted to make,” Gregoire said. “They did not want to vote for that budget. At all.”

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or at richr@spokesman.com. For more news from Olympia, go to www.eyeonolympia.com.

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