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Gregoire says special session a possibility

Tue., March 9, 2010, 11:49 a.m.

Governor says school reform is required

OLYMPIA — With lawmakers racing to negotiate a budget and tax package, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday it’s possible she’ll need to call a special session to extend the talks beyond Thursday’s deadline for adjournment.

Gregoire said majority Democrats in the House and Senate still have a lot of work to do, and she won’t know until Thursday whether they’ll be close enough to finish before midnight, the scheduled adjournment time.

“What’s more important to me is that they get the job done, and they get it done well,” she said.

The House and Senate have both passed budget proposals and tax packages, but now must reconcile differences while solving a $2.8 billion deficit in the state budget through June 2011.

On Tuesday, the House approved a $680 million tax package that would shrink exemptions, collect more money from smokers and service businesses, and extend sales tax to new types of purchases.

It was significantly smaller than the $890 million tax blueprint approved by the Senate.

The House package also avoids a general sales tax increase.

The Senate has called for an increase but Gregoire said, “it’s the wrong time in an economic recovery to assess a sales tax.”

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, acknowledged it will be tough to meet the Thursday deadline “unless we come to some pretty quick agreements on substantively different revenue packages.”

“It’s going to be hard,” she said.

Gregoire also doesn’t want lawmakers to go home without resolving their debate over school reform associated with the federal Race to the Top competition for increased funding.

“We’re going to have to be able to make that happen, not only for Race to the Top, but even more importantly to me, for the success of the children,” Gregoire said. “That will be an essential piece before anyone goes home.”

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