Local news

Sluggish session frustrates governor

Vote on state budget unlikely before Sunday

OLYMPIA – As the Legislature crawled through its fourth day of a special session without a solution to its budget problems, Gov. Chris Gregoire was among those expressing frustration with the progress, or apparent lack of it.

The session could be done by Sunday, which would be the absolute last day Gregoire said she wanted them to spend in this legislative overtime.

“I thought I was giving them a couple days extra time, just in case,” she said at a press conference called to tout the state’s growth in environmentally friendly jobs. “To talk about going another week, to me, is inexcusable.”

Now it looks like Sunday could be the earliest the budget business is wrapped up.

Gregoire predicted “movement” in the next day or two on some key sticking points, including furloughs – forced unpaid time off – for state workers.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have reached some agreement on how much to cut and how much to retain in the state’s supplemental budget, but they don’t agree on the programs in and out to reach that dollar figure, said one source familiar with the discussions. A bigger sticking point is what taxes they would raise to fill the remainder of the hole in the state’s budget, which is estimated at $2.8 billion if nothing were to be cut and no taxes were to be raised.

“I don’t have 25 votes in the Senate for something short of a sales tax, and I don’t have 50 votes in the House for something with a sales tax,” Gregoire said, adding she continues to oppose a sales tax increase but won’t promise to veto a tax package that has one.

On Wednesday, minority Republicans, who have been largely shut out of negotiations, contended the lack of progress was a result of poor planning and worse communication by Democrats. Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, noted that a committee scheduled hearings on bills before they’d been been referred to the panel .

“Either you’re going to do these things or you’re not,” Schoesler said. The committee also held a hearing on a bill before it was even introduced and referred to the panel.

The cost of the special session is estimated at $18,300 a day, but that’s only if all 147 legislators accept the $90 per diem they can claim for food and lodging expenses. So far 21 senators and 26 representatives have said they won’t take that payment, and another 23 representatives say they won’t take it on certain days.

That would lower the daily cost at least to $14,000 and on some days drop it to $12,700.

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