OLYMPIA – Opening a session expected to be marked by fights over the state budget, legislators agreed Monday to make it easier to change the budget and possibly easier to compromise on it.
The state Senate repealed a 96-year-old rule that required supermajorities for many budget amendments.
The rule change allows an amendment to the general operating budget, the state’s main spending plan, to be approved with a simple majority in the 49-member chamber. Rules dating back to 1915 had required supermajorities, originally two-thirds but since 1983 a 60 percent approval.
The change means all members have an equal chance to shape the budget “as we write possibly the most difficult budget we have ever had to write,” said state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of Senate Ways and Means.
Economic forecasters believe the general fund budget – which covers programs including education, colleges, social services and corrections – has a gap of about $4.6 billion between the amount the state can expect to collect in taxes and fees, and the cost of all the programs currently in place.
Legislative leaders from both parties have said they disagree with some of the cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing, but they have not yet offered alternative spending plans.
Although Democrats hold a 27-22 edge in the Senate, they rarely vote as a bloc on budget matters.
State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said the change could create a coalition budget, and save time.
“We may be saving ourselves and the taxpayers at least one special session,” Sheldon said.