OLYMPIA – With tens of millions of dollars for school districts hanging in the balance, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she plans to call lawmakers back to Olympia in May to finish critical budget bills.
“I am convinced now that we do have to have a special session,” Gregoire said.
When the 105-day legislative session ended early Monday morning, several key bills died. Among them: a bill that would let more than 70 school districts – including Spokane’s – collect millions of dollars in voter-approved tax levies. That money’s now out of reach because it exceeds a state property tax limit.
The state budget includes $1.1 million less than expected for schools and teachers. With districts starting to send out layoff warnings, Gregoire said, she wants to do anything she can to ease those cuts.
“The biggest reason for them to come back is the school levy issue, because I want to avoid layoffs of teachers if at all possible,” Gregoire said.
Special sessions can last a month. But Gregoire said she wants a short, simple session focused solely on a few key budget bills. This isn’t the time to try resurrecting other proposals, she said. She vowed to veto any surprises.
“I’ll tell you candidly what my goal is: They come in in the morning and they leave that day,” she said.
Gregoire also warned that the state’s budget picture could worsen. Tax and other revenues last month came in $50 million lower than expected, she said. She’s calling on lawmakers to come up with a “backup plan” for more budget cuts if the situation deteriorates.
Gregoire also wants lawmakers to avoid cutting tens of millions of “levy equalization” dollars in state aid for poor districts.
That cut – which proponents say would be initially offset with federal stimulus dollars – is also part of the levy bill.
Many rural lawmakers in both parties are unhappy with the change, which was part of balancing the budget.
“I’d like to see if we can find a way to put the money back into levy equalization,” Gregoire said.
But where those tens of millions of dollars would come from, she said, remains to be seen.
“That’s why I haven’t called a special session yet,” she said. “I’m working on that.”