April 7, 2012 in City

Budget impasse testing tempers

Parties take turns blaming each other for lack of progress
By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – With no budget agreement and time running out in an extended session, tensions boiled over Friday evening as Senate leaders of both parties accused the other side of playing politics.

After a Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting that stretched through the afternoon on Good Friday, Democrats tried to pass reform bills they said they’ve been told Republicans want before any vote on the budget.

But one bill, which would equalize public school employees’ medical insurance systems with the state employees’ system, went through so many amendments and revisions that Republicans questioned its value. It’s a “work in progress” that should be voted out of committee and sent to the Senate floor where Republicans could offer amendments, Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said.

“To move paper for the sake of moving paper … is a waste of time,” said Sen. Joe Zarelli, of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the committee. “We’re not getting our day or our due.”

Democrats were just “wrangling over pieces” in the bill to satisfy political allies, he contended.

It’s Zarelli and other Republicans playing politics, Murray countered. They could delay long enough and “push us into another session to say (to voters), ‘They can’t govern,’ ” he charged.

The health care revisions have been discussed before, but never received the needed 25 votes to pass the Senate, Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said. If Republicans think they have a better version, they should offer it as an amendment and see if they have the votes. But to do that, the bill has to move out of committee and onto the Senate floor, she said.

Republicans want the health insurance bill, a requirement that the state balance budgets for four years rather than two, and reforms to the state pension plans before allowing a vote on the budget. That’s what the committee was trying to do, Brown said.

“It’s time for this to stop. It’s time to move these things forward,” she said.

The final day of the 30-day special session, which was called to fill a gap of more than $1 billion in the state’s $31 billion operating budget, is Tuesday.


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