June 26, 2013 in City

Legislature edges closer to finalizing budget deal

Deadline to avoid shutdown is Sunday at midnight
By The Spokesman-Review
Associated Press photo

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, one of the House budget negotiators, sits in the wings of the House chamber during a special session of the Washington Legislature on Tuesday in Olympia.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – Budget negotiators inched toward an agreement Tuesday on Washington’s $32 billion two-year spending plan, reaching a point where staff looked for new ways to say “close.”

But not close enough to say “done,” and no agreement was announced by the end of the day.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, described the sides as “very close” but declined to estimate when the agreement would be reached.

“More important than expediency is getting the job done right,” said Tom, who last week had predicted a deal could be reached and passed by the Legislature by last Sunday.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who had predicted Monday a deal would be reached that day, made no predictions Tuesday.

Agreements reportedly had been reached on major issues, such as the overall size of the budget, the amount that would be spent on public schools and whether taxes on phone services would change.

What was unresolved, sources said, were smaller issues, including how much fish people eat.

Measuring fish consumption is a contentious environmental topic in Washington state because it helps determine pollution standards for streams and rivers where businesses and communities discharge treated waste and sewage. Native American tribes that historically have eaten large amounts of fish believe the current average is too low and underestimates the health effects of toxic chemicals they may be consuming. Some businesses and local governments fear raising that level will mean they won’t be able to treat wastewater without expensive new technology.

The original Senate budget set aside $9 million for a study of fish consumption rates among different population groups in the state, to be reviewed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the state Department of Agriculture, the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission and other entities. The original House budget didn’t have that provision.

An operating budget must be passed and signed before midnight Sunday. On Monday, the state’s new fiscal year starts; without a budget it wouldn’t have authority to spend money on some programs and pay some employees’ wages.

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