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Special session gets going

Tue., March 13, 2012

Focus is on cutting $1.5 billion; leaders, governor meeting first

OLYMPIA – With no fanfare and few lawmakers present, the Washington Legislature began its special session Monday to find a way to fill a hole of about $1.5 billion in the state’s operating budget.

The session opened at noon in the Senate with only two senators, Tacoma Democrat Debbie Regala and Ritzville Republican Mark Schoesler, on the floor. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate, received a few official messages, then accepted Regala’s motion to adjourn until today.

Across the rotunda in the House, a similar scene played out with Democrats Laurie Jinkins, of Tacoma, and Roger Goodman, of Kirkland, on the floor for a quick open and close until Wednesday.

It was a stark contrast to the opening of the regular session, for which all legislative seats were occupied, honor guard details of Washington State Patrol or National Guard personnel in crisp uniforms marched the U.S. and state flags to the rostrum, a detachment of troopers twirled rifles in the aisles and speeches laid out each party’s hopes and goals.

Earlier in the morning, the Republican and Democratic leaders of both chambers met with Gov. Chris Gregoire one floor below to discuss the budget. There were no breakthroughs, but they’ll meet again today, sources in the leadership and governor’s offices said.

The state’s General Fund faces a gap between what economists project it will collect in taxes and other revenues and what it is scheduled to spend for programs, policies and salaries. To close that gap and leave the state with a budget reserve, Gregoire has asked the Legislature to cut about $1.5 billion from General Fund spending, which was about $32 billion when the two-year fiscal period started last July 1.

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