Midway in legislative session, budget pact elusive
OLYMPIA – For weeks, the main sticking points to a state budget solution have been a Democratic plan to delay a payment to schools by a day, and a Republican plan to skip a pension payment.
Once those logjams were broken, lawmakers indicated, the rest could fall into place fairly quickly.
Gov. Chris Gregoire recently said those issues are off the negotiating table – but there’s still no sign that lawmakers will reach an agreement before the 30-day special session ends April 10.
“We’re trying very hard to work out a deal,” said the House Democrats’ chief budget writer, Rep. Ross Hunter, who said that he wouldn’t discuss specifics of the negotiations. “We’d all like to have a sustainable budget plan that we can agree on.”
Sen. Joe Zarelli, the Senate Republicans’ leader on budget issues, said there’s no one specific stumbling block, though pension reform is something he and other Republicans have been seeking.
Zarelli said that in addition to overhauling the pension system, “it’s the reserve fund, it’s spending level, and all those things are kind of on strings together, and they’ve all just got to fit.”
The special session is now more than half over, and legislative action thus far has been “pro forma,” meaning no floor votes or committee meetings have taken place, and most of the lawmakers are not at the Capitol.
Most of the action has between leadership and budget writers, who have been working behind the scenes and having regular meetings with the governor and her budget director in efforts to strike a deal.
If lawmakers aren’t able to reach a deal, there are two options: Gregoire either calls them back for another special session or she decides instead to make across-the-board cuts to state programs, something she has repeatedly said she won’t do because of concerns about deep cuts – especially in areas of public safety.
If lawmakers get called back again, it would be the third special session for lawmakers to deal with the supplemental budget. They spent nearly three weeks in a special session that ended mid-December, weeks before the regular session started in January.
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