OLYMPIA – They’re going into overtime.
The Legislature finished its 60-day session without reaching an agreement on how to plug a $2.8 billion hole in the state’s operating budget, and adjourned temporarily, returning Monday.
In the meantime, legislative leaders will meet this weekend about the budget and try to find common ground on spending cuts and tax increases that at least a simple majority of Democrats in both houses will support. They will also try to pass a “jobs package” with funds for infrastructure projects.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was calling them back for a session she hopes will be done in seven days.
“This 60 days has gone very quickly,” Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane said. “We know we still have our big task of balancing our budget. We’re not that far apart.”
Negotiators were “splitting the difference” on many disagreements over spending and taxes, she said. Until agreements are reached, however, it wasn’t possible to say what the levels would be.
Before leaving, the Legislature did settle one other issue Gregoire said she wanted done before they could go home – education reform and funding.
Despite a session that was marked by bitter debate over taxes, spending and who was most responsible for ignoring “the will of the people,” legislators finished the 60-day session with the standard display of good feelings.
Legislators who had been exchanging verbal blows for the past 60 days shook hands, patted backs and chatted amiably. They invited friends, family and staff onto the floors to cheer the ending, and watched the gavels come down in the other house on TV images projected onto the front and back walls.
But camaraderie has its limits. The Republican caucus issued a news release saying the need for a special session is “costly and embarrassing” for Democrats.
“They control every aspect of state government but still couldn’t reach agreement among themselves and with the special interests that pull so many of the strings in Olympia,” Republicans said in a press release sent out by Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.
Speaker Frank Chopp said the Legislature has managed to avoid overtime for seven of the last eight years. Even when they get out on time “they basically always say negative things at the end of the session.”
Gregoire said she was giving legislators a much-needed weekend off, but wanted them to hold to the seven-day time period.
“They’re tired,” Gregoire said.