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Special session likely in Olympia

OLYMPIA — The Washington Legislature is unlikely to finish work in nine days, making a special session all but inevitable, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.

At her weekly press briefing, the Spokane Democrat said the Senate was likely to debate the 2011-13 general operating budget next Monday, and will likely pass some version of it that day.

But the Senate’s budget is different from the budget the House passed last week, and the two different versions will have to be reconciled in a compromise plan that both will pass and Gov. Chris Gregoire will sign. The two chambers must also pass the same transportation budget and capital projects budget, and all the legislation needed to make the general operating budget work.

“Many of the cuts need to have bills associated with them spelling out how you do things,” Brown said. “It’s getting pretty close to inevitable” that can’t be done in the remaining nine days.

Asked what went wrong in the legislative process that resulted in time running out before a budget was passed, she replied: “The economy went wrong. The economy went really down in the biggest recession since the Great Depression”

The Senate and House also pursued different paths for writing a budget. The Senate’s budget was a bipartisan compromise that may get votes from members of both parties. Republicans proposed an alternative to the House Democratic budget, and the final House spending plan passed with no GOP votes.

There are differences between the two plans on the amount spent on Basic Health, Children’s Health and the Disability Lifeline. The House budget also assumes the state will collect $300 million that it can spend on services and salaries by selling or leasing its wholesale liquor distribution system. The Senate budget does not call for that change, but it does call for 3 percent salary cuts for teachers and other public school employees, a $250 million reduction not in the House proposal.

The Legislature will likely work through late next week, possibly through Good Friday, Brown said. If it has not finished the budgets and other needed bills, the Legislature will likely adjourn for Easter weekend with a decision on when to return for a special session. That could start up as soon as Monday, she said.

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