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Legislative tax agreement still ‘a few days’ off

OLYMPIA – The Legislature entered its third week of a special session to settle budget matters with no resolution in sight, but leaders of the Senate and House insisted Monday they have made progress toward an agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp appeared at a press conference to celebrate passage of the national health care reform law, which could provide some money for the state’s beleaguered operating budget.

But their two chambers remain split on another part of the Democrats’ budget solution: what taxes to raise to accompany program cuts and federal money, thus bridging a $2.8 billion budget gap.

Although Democrats in both houses have agreed to raise about $800 million in taxes, the sticking point is $200 million of that total.

Senate Democrats have the needed 25 votes for a tax plan that raises about $200 million with a sales tax. House Democrats don’t have the 50 votes needed in that chamber to pass a plan with a sales tax, and have a menu of other taxes to get that money. Senate Democrats don’t have 25 votes for that package.

“We’re still working on what the final agreement will look like,” Brown said. She added Gregoire’s threat last week of having to cut 20 percent off everyone’s budget if the Legislature burns through the special session without a decision on cuts and taxes was just “a worst case scenario.”

The Legislature has 30 days, and Monday was day 15, although most members have returned home waiting for an agreement to be reached. That could take “a few days,” Brown said.