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Wash. lawmakers to start special session Saturday

Thu., Dec. 9, 2010, 4:46 p.m.

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers will convene a weekend special session to substantially cut the state’s $1.1 billion budget deficit, Gov. Chris Gregoire announced today.

The bipartisan agreement will reduce the state’s revenue shortfall through June by about $784 million, Gregoire and legislative leaders said. The special session will start Saturday morning with a goal of wrapping up work in one day.

“If all goes well and the creek don’t rise, we’ll go home Saturday night. Who knows what hour, but Saturday night,” Gregoire said.

About $200 million of the total savings will come from capturing some of Gregoire’s previously ordered across-the-board spending cuts. Roughly $200 million more will come from federal money intended to boost education jobs.

Details on the balance of spending reductions were not immediately available, but leaders said the plan would include suspension of K-4 class-size payments and reductions in the state’s Basic Health Plan and Disability Lifeline programs.

Tax increases of any kind won’t be part of the solution because voters last month approved Initiative 1053, mandating a nearly impossible two-thirds majority vote for the Legislature to raise taxes.

“These are difficult decisions, but we have to live within the revenue box that we have,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.

Legislative leaders were forced to cobble together the emergency savings plan after last month’s state revenue forecast showed an unexpected drop in near-term tax collections. That pushed an already strapped state budget back into the red and prompted Gregoire to call for a special session.

The Legislature, led in both the House and Senate by Gregoire’s fellow Democrats, is not scheduled to return for its normal 105-day session until Jan. 10. Lawmakers also have to fix an estimated $4.6 billion deficit in the upcoming two-year state budget, which goes into effect July 1.

Gregoire praised the efforts of lawmakers who met in drawn-out negotiating sessions this week to build the budget agreement. While it doesn’t solve the entire near-term deficit, it makes significant progress toward that goal, she said.

“They have worked hard under very difficult and strange circumstances to advance the ball, so when they come back in January they can finish,” Gregoire said.

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