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Special session starts Tuesday in Olympia

Sat., April 23, 2011

Gregoire sees ‘tough work’ on finalizing state budgets

OLYMPIA – The Legislature will go into extra innings Tuesday morning after finishing its regular session Friday with major decisions still to be made.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who called a 30-day special session to finish work on the budget and other related fiscal issues, said she was disappointed the Legislature didn’t reform the state’s education system but not overly critical that it needed more time to write its budgets.

“The Legislature has come together and done significant work on behalf of the people,” she said Friday afternoon. But differences between the House and Senate over a $32.5 billion operating budget must still be negotiated, a $3 billion capital projects budget must be passed, and a long list of bills that will change laws to reconcile the budget with billions of dollars worth of cuts must be passed.

“We’ve got tough work ahead,” she said. But legislators should not consider it “Round 2,” with a wide-open charter to discuss all topics, she said.

Standing with the Republican and Democratic leaders of both chambers, Gregoire said the session will be narrowly focused on the three major state budgets – general operating, capital projects and transportation – and changes to state law needed to make those budgets work. Those changes may need as many as 60 separate pieces of legislation to pass, and some of them involve “tough policy decisions.”

The proclamation calling the special session describes its limited scope, and bills not related to the budget won’t come up unless Gregoire and the four legislative leaders agree. Asked if the Legislature will take the full 30 days available under the state constitution, she replied: “I hope not, but never say never.”

Some Republican lawmakers were critical of the need for a special session. Sen. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, said legislators knew the general scope of the state’s fiscal problems in November, and even though it is expected to have more money in the coming biennium than it has now, it was disappointing they couldn’t finish in the allotted time. Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, called it frustrating.

“This is beyond frustrating, it’s ridiculous,” said Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy. “It’s like they gave up.”

One of the budget pieces fell into place Friday, hours before the regular session adjourned. The House passed and sent to the governor a $9 billion transportation bill that includes money for roads, bridges and ferry projects for the next two years.

Included in a 47-page summary of projects the bill will cover are $72 million to continue work on the North-South freeway and $15.7 million for Interstate 90 corridor improvements in the Spokane Valley. It sets aside $12 million to replace the 67-year-old ferry at Keller, although much of that comes from sources other than the state.

The list of projects, which total about $5.6 billion, also calls for the state to spend $32 million to finish construction of a 64-car ferry for Puget Sound, and spend another $124 million to begin work on a new 144-car ferry. Ferry riders will face a 2.5 percent increase in rates in each of the next two years.

It sets aside money to shore up slopes, resurface state highways, renovate rest stops, improve rail lines and ferry terminals and handle runoff.

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