OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said today that a special session to deal with the state’s budget shortfall is inevitable, and she gave lawmakers a Thursday deadline to present her with a date to hold it.
Gregoire said that if lawmakers don’t have a plan for her by Thursday afternoon, she’ll pick a date for them, but said that it will happen before the Christmas holiday.
“I need them to take action now,” she told reporters after the meeting.
Gregoire announced the deadline after meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
“We’re prepared to go to work whenever we have to,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said after the meeting.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Senate Democrats will push for a Friday start, with work to continue through the weekend. She noted that lawmakers are already in town for prescheduled committee meetings that will last all week.
“It makes more sense than going home and coming back at some point,” she said.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, hasn’t yet offered up a suggested start date, but issued a statement saying that leaders are “making good progress toward an agreement that will significantly address the shortfall in the current operating budget.”
Gregoire has been in talks with legislative leaders for weeks on ideas to patch the current state budget, which covers general spending through June 2011.
Gregoire made across-the-board cuts to many programs earlier this year, but the deficit recently grew to more than $1 billion because of slow growth in tax collections.
Gregoire said that she’s not asking lawmakers to come up with a supplemental budget in a special session, but to instead agree on taking early action on things that can be done now “so we can advance the ball dramatically so when they come back in January, they can finish the job.”
Brown told reporters today that her caucus will likely be looking at $400 million to $500 million of reductions in the current budget that they can get immediate agreement from their House counterparts and Republicans, some of which may be part of the cuts ordered by Gregoire.
She said she wasn’t sure they would be able to get to the $650 million mark that the governor had hoped they could reach.
“I don’t think that our goal is a number, I think our goal is early action that can be done in a five-corner way so all caucuses participating can set the tone for a more bipartisan process as we go forward into the much tougher two-year problem,” Brown said.
Gregoire has already put forth some budget-balancing options, including elimination of the Basic Health Plan and raiding federal education dollars.
Brown said that budget negotiators would be meeting Tuesday to discuss potential areas of agreement.