Washington legislature starts special session on Monday
OLYMPIA – Overtime starts Monday for the Legislature, which failed to pass a general operating budget by midnight Thursday and was called back for a special session.
After issuing a proclamation for the special session, Gov. Chris Gregoire was emphatic that she wants it devoted to budgets and any laws that might need to be passed or changed to make the budgets work.
“I don’t want to bring up every random conceivable bill in the world,” she said at a late-night press conference. She and the four top legislative posts, the majority and minority leaders from the House and Senate, will have to agree on any nonbudget bill or “they need to get ready for a veto.”
Democrats and Republicans deadlocked over the right way to close a projected gap of more than $1 billion in the state’s general fund, which covers many state programs, from education to health and welfare programs, and the agencies and workers’ salaries that provide them. But the operating budget, as it’s often called, is not the only spending plan still in limbo after the 60-day regular session.
The much smaller capital budget, which covers a wide array of construction projects paid for by state-backed bonds and other state-related funds, did not pass either.
The capital budget, which Democrats refer to as the “jobs now” bill because the lion’s share goes for construction jobs, is the vehicle to finish the Spokane medical school. The project, officially the Washington State University Spokane Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, received $35 million last year from the capital budget to begin construction and needs about $37 million more for completion.
The state is paying for that first year of work with construction bonds repaid from the general fund. The House Capital Budget Committee initially proposed building the second half with bonds repaid over 20 to 25 years by building fees that are part of WSU students’ tuition. University officials, however, warned that could draw down the building fees fund lower than they wanted. The most recent version of the capital budget divides the debt between state construction bonds and bonds repaid by building fees.
While the general fund budget moves through the Legislature on a track separate from the capital budget, the two are linked because money from the former is used to pay off the bonds that support the projects in the latter. Construction projects can be removed from the capital budget to reduce the amount of money the state will devote to bond payments, or can be added in as part of negotiations to gain support for the general fund budget.
Money to finish the medical school had strong support during capital budget hearings, among both parties and in both chambers. It gets close attention from Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, of Spokane, whose district is home to the Riverpoint campus.
But until legislative leaders resolve the impasse on the general fund, the capital budget is unlikely to pass on its own.