OLYMPIA – A $30 billion budget drafted by minority Republicans passed the Senate early Saturday morning after more than nine hours of sometimes contentious debate and parliamentary maneuvering.
That spending plan, along with a significantly different budget passed by the House, form the basis for negotiations between the two chambers and Gov. Chris Gregoire for a single plan that can pass both chambers and get her signature.
The Republican budget has no tax increase, cuts significantly more from state programs than the House budget and avoids an accounting maneuver that delayed a major payment the state will make to schools from June 30, 2013, the last day of the current biennium, to July 1, 2013, the first day of the next one. While it spends more money overall on schools, Democrats argued it cuts deeply into some school programs to avoid that shift in payments. Republicans contend the payment shift is an unsustainable accounting gimmick.
A united Republican caucus allied with three conservative Democrats to form a working majority and employ a seldom-used parliamentary maneuver to force their budget through the Senate. Tempers sometimes flared as Friday turned into Saturday and Democrats accused Republicans of “backroom deals.”
By Saturday afternoon, calm and the usual decorum returned to the chamber. Senators moved quickly through a list of bills that either had near-unanimous support to pass, or so little support they were defeated without debate.
Budget negotiations begin this week as the search continues for a way to close a gap of about $1.5 billion between what the state is expected to collect in revenues and what it is scheduled to spend over the next 16 months.
The last day of the session is Thursday. Democrats said Friday and Saturday the substitution of the alternative Republican budget makes it less likely the Legislature will finish on time. Republicans said the logjam over the budget meant they were already headed for a special session and the new spending plan could jump-start the process.