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Governor signs Discover Pass bill; two-vehicle covered starting today

PUBLIC LANDS — A Washington Discover Pass — required for parking in state parks and most other state lands — is valid for two vehicles starting today, according to legislation signed this afternoon by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The change took effect immediately. Holders of previously issued annual Discover Passes may enter a second vehicle license number on their existing pass.

The rule making the $30 annual pass valid for only one vehicle was largely criticized by consumers after the state recreation land pass was enacted in July 2011.

Pass transfer between two vehicles also applies to vehicle access passes (VAPs) issued free with purchases of annual fishing and hunting licenses for access to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recreation lands and water- access sites.

Read on for more details from Washington State Parks.

Hewitt to have surgery

OLYMPIA — Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt will undergo surgery Monday to remove a tumor from his thymus.

Senate Republicans announced this afternoon that Hewitt will have surgery in Seattle for the recently discovered tumor. With the Legislature still struggling to solve a problem with the state's operating budget, Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville will fill in for Hewitt in leadership discussions and Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield will continue as the chief negotiator on the budget.

"Although I will be recovering, if I need to be at the Capitol for a critical vote, I will be there," Hewitt, of Walla Walla, said in a prepared statement announcing the surgery.

Earlier today, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hoped legislative leaders could reach an agreement on a budget package by Tuesday, so the technical aspects of it could be ironed out, the bill language drafted and votes could be completed before next Friday. That's Good Friday and the beginning of Passover.

The special session of the Legislature can't go past Tuesday, April 10.

Special Session Day 18: Bill signings yes; budget deal, maybe

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire lifted her self-imposed boycott of bill signings Thursday and said legislators could be close to reaching a deal on cuts to the state’s operating budget. Or not.

“In the next 48 hours, we could have an agreement,” she said. “Then again, in the next 48 hours, it could all fall apart."

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Gregoire to sign boatload of bills

OLYMPIA — In the lists of possible inducements a governor can offer to legislators to break a deadlock, "I won't sign your bills" might rank pretty near the bottom.

Or so it would seem today as Gov. Chris Gregoire prepares to sign 112 of the 177 bills on her desk in a signature scribbling marathon. She'll start at 1 p.m., and finish sometime after 7 p.m.

Considering Gregoire said less than a week ago "no budget, no bills" one might infer that means there is a deal to break the logjam over the state's operating budget, which is some $1.5 billion out of whack. But one would be wrong.

Although the governor was in meetings with legislative leaders this morning, her staff said, there was no deal in the works when the signings were scheduled. Actually, the schedule was starting to be sent out before the meeting, so folks happy that one or more of these particular pieces of legislation could make plans to smile for the cameras as Gregoire attaches her John Hancock to the appropriate line.

And the other 65 bills? Staff says they aren't sure yet. If not vetoed by midnight Saturday, those bills become law without the governor's signature.

Special Session Day 16: Signature clock ticking

OLYMPIA — The Legislature's special session continues apace, which is to say there are no public meetings or hearings and nothing to tell whether there is any progress on solving the budget problems.

We have crossed into the second half of the session with nary a hearing or floor debate. Although the last possible day of activity is April 10, there is another more pressing deadline approaching this weekend.

Saturday, March 31, is the last day for Gov. Chris Gregoire to sign or veto bills from the regular session. Anything not signed or vetoed by 11:59:59 p.m. Saturday automatically becomes law,. That's probably not a bad thing if you support the prospective law, but a bummer if you wanted to stand around smiling after the governor signs it and everyone poses for the official picture. Or if you wanted one of those nifty pens she gives out.

Special Session Day 15: Halfway over?

OLYMPIA — Today is Day 15 of the Legislature's 30-day Special Session, so we are at the midway point of…what?

Top budget writers reportedly continue meeting behind closed doors to look for a way to craft a budget that doesn't spend more than the state takes in and leaves something in the bank when the fiscal period ends.

Legislative leaders have been told to abandon two of their favorite ways to make the books balance, a delayed payment to school districts, which Democrats support but Republicans won't accept, and a skipped payment to the state's pension system, which Republicans support but Democrats won't accept.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hasn't heard "No" from the two parties on what's behind Door No. 3, a change in the way the state accounts for local sales tax payments that come into the state then go out to the cities and counties a couple months later. It would "free up" $238 million that could be added into the budget. Unlike the other two accounting maneuvers, the state treasurer does not call this a "felony gimmick" but a "modernized business practice.

Therer's no way of telling whether we are halfway to the end of anything at this point.

Of planes and automobiles

OLYMPIA – Jet planes may someday fly on fuel made Eastern Washington grain, cars will sport license plates celebrating 4-H and rhododendrons and drivers licenses will last longer but be more expensive under bills signed Friday.

A $100 fee for electric cars, an easier alternative to tire chains and a $938 million spending plan for state highways, bridges and ferries also were signed into law.

To read more about the transportation bills signed Friday, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Health exchange bill signed

Gregoire signs Health Insurance Exchange bill.

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire and other Democratic officials marked Friday’s second anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act – which Republicans prefer to call Obamacare – with a signing ceremony of their own.

Gregoire signed legislation to help set up health insurance exchanges in Washington, a system that would help individuals and small businesses shop for medical plans by 2014. . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog

Budget idea not a gimmick, gov’s office says

OLYMPIA — A proposal to free up about $238 million for the state's troubled operating budget reported earlier today isn't a gimmick, it's a "business modernization proposal" that is made possible by the change of technology from hand-written account books to electronic funds transfers.

Basically, it's a result of the state collecting sales taxes every day, setting them aside in separate accounts, and paying them out to the cities and counties on a monthly basis.

Rather than try to describe the accounting ins and outs ourselves, we've posted the explainer the governor's office sent out inside the blog. Click here to read it.

Gregoire signing bills. Is budget deal near?

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire will sign more than two dozen bills tomorrow. Considering the gov has been using not signing bills as a figurative cattle prod to get legislators to come up with a budget, could this be a sign they are close to a deal?

"I wouldn't read too much into it," Karina Shagren, her spokeswoman, said today.

Most of the bills are connected to the transportation budget, which already passed, and Gregoire supports. She has a ceremony at a local Group Health facility to sign the health care exchange legislation, which she also supports, and coincides with the two-year anniversary of the federal health care reform act.

There has been some progress, but no budget yet, Shagren said.

As for the prod, there are still scores of bills still awaiting a signature.

Spec Session Day 11: New budget gimmick on table

OLYMPIA — The budget negotiations remain in an ice jam, but the political temperature in the Capitol may have gone up to 33 degrees with a new accounting maneuver — some may dare call it "gimmick" — on the table.

It involves the state holding onto money that eventually goes to the cities and counties just a little bit longer, but making sure those local governments get their payments on time. Further details might make 99 percent of our readers' eyes glaze over, but for those who want more details, Jordan Schrader of the Tacoma News Tribune has them here.

On the plus side, State Treasurer James McIntyre, a Democrat whom Republicans are fond of quoting when they don't like a payment delay in the Democrats' budgets, is OK with this bit of accounting legerdemaine under the right conditions.

On the minus side, some of the true budget hawks are already savaging it. Bob Williams, former legislator, one-time GOP gubernatorial candidate and current president of State Budget Solutions calls it just another gimmick. Time to go back to the priorities of government process used in 1993, he says.

Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center allows as  how the move might make sense from a cash management standpoint, but doesn't really help the underlying problem: "The charge for lawmakers has not changed: Adopt a balanced budget within the revenue forecast that is sustainable and gimmick free."

Everything today is being conducted behind closed doors, but if anything leaks out, we'll let you know.

Marshallese could be caught in food aid “limbo land”

OLYMPIA – For 15 years, Washington has helped thousands of people the federal government wouldn’t, providing food assistance to legal immigrants struggling to survive in America.

That includes residents of the Marshall Islands who come to this country seeking jobs and medical care after the U.S. military used their nation as a nuclear test zone.

"We trashed their homeland, and they’re here trying to work," Linda Stone, of the Children’s Alliance, said.

But that aid could all end as the state looks at ways to trim its budget. . .

To read the rest of this story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Special Session Day 10: No budget agreement yet

OLYMPIA — Discussions between the Legislatlure's top budget writers are "going good," one of the participants said Wednesday, but don't get your hopes up for a compromise soon.

"We haven't reached an agreement," Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said before Senate Democrats gathered for an afternoon caucus meeting."The conversations are more constructive this week. I've seen movement this week."

Murray, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said budget writers are looking at options that use neither a delay of a $330 million payment to schools,which Democrats support and Republicans oppose, nor the skipping a $140 million payment to the state pension systems, which Republicans support and Democrats oppose

He said he couldn't reveal those options yet, to avoid negotiating in the news media. But he encouraged the public to contact legislators about state programs they want continued.

An umbrella group for social service, health, children and religious groups tried to turn up the pressure a few hours earlier with a press conference to support a wide array of programs that would be cut under a budget proposed last week by Senate Republicans and three Democrats who create a working majority on budget matters in that chamber.

People who rely on such programs as Disability Lifeline, State Food Assistance for legal immigrants, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Working Connections, called them investments in the future rather than handouts.

To pay for the programs, they suggested the state close some tax exemptions and consider delaying the payment to schools. 

As a countermeasure, Republican legislative staff left a stack of editorials and guest columns on a table near the door of the press conference that praised GOP-crafted budgets — which cut many of those programs and don't end tax exemptions or delay the school payment.

Wednesday marked the 10th day of the 30-day special session, but most legislators were absent. The House and Senate had brief pro forma sessions, which open and close in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, then recessed until Friday.

Special Session Day 9: Progress but no budget

OLYMPIA — Legislative budget writers were making "good progress" on coming up with a spending plan for the next 15 months, but still don't actually  have one, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday.

"Making good progress is not the budget," she said when questioned by reporters after signing several bills.

But clearly, Gregoire is beginning to plan for certain possibilities that involve something other than her preferred scenario of budget writers and legislative leaders coming to an agreement, bringing the rest of the Lege back for a quick passage of a compromise.

She said she warned Senate Republicans against bringing their latest budget plan up for a vote with a tactic similar to the one they used about thee weeks ago. Known as the 9th Order of Business, it allowed the 22 Republicans and three disaffected Democrats to form a majority, force their budget onto the floor and pass it over the objections of the remaining Democrats.

If they tried such a move, Gregoire said she told them "Get ready for multiple sessions. I think it would blow the place up."

She also has at least begun to consider the prospect the logjam will not break before time runs out on this 30-day special session. Another one would be needed, she said, because the only other option is for her to implement across-th-board cuts for all state agenices and "I can't make it work."

She'd call them back, but not necessarily right away. And she cautioned against any plan to wait for the June economic forecast, in hopes that state revenues might show some kind of uptick. They might also take a hit if gasoline prices continue to go up, she said.

Gregoire: Don’t threaten me

Tribal members gather in the Capitol Building after a bill signing.

OLYMPIA — Legislators unhappy about her refusal to sign many bills should take their concerns up with their leadership, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday.

"I don't take threats from legislators," Gregoire said, responding to a press release issued late last week from a Republican legislator who accused her of "playing politics" with bills.

Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, said supporters of bills to help the developmentally disabled and bils to crack down on human trafficking should contact Gregoire and urge her to sign them. The governor said she was  holding off on signing most bills until legislative leaders break their logjam over the budget.

"They don't deserve to have these bills held hostage just because the governor hasn't gotten her way on the budget," Delvin said in his press release.

One of the bills Delvin mentioned, which gives people with developmental disabilities help in after they enroll in an employment program, was signed Monday, but another, which involves assessing juvenile offenders for developmental disabilities when they are placed in a county detention center, remains on hold. 

Gregoire signed about a dozen bills Monday, including one she proposed to create collaboration between state colleges' education departments and struggling public schools. She also signed a bill that returns control over local courts systems from the state to Native American tribes, which brought more than 100 representatives of various tribes to the Capitol.

After the signing ceremony, many of the tribal members, some in traditional clothing, gathered outside the door of the Senate to sing.

Bills that have large numbers of supporters who must plan trips to Olympia will be scheduled and signed. But "by far and away the vast majority of bills" won't for the time being, Gregoire said: "I am not signing the majority of their bills. No budget, no bills."

Budget leaders met Monday morning with the director of the Office of Financial Management and Gregoire made individual calls to House and Senate leaders. Both parties will have to give up a key element of the budget strategy, the Democrats their plan to delay the state's payment to schools by a few days to free up $330 million to spend in this biennium, the Republicans their plan to skip a payment to the state pension system to free up $150 million for spending. Both options have become "toxic," Gregoire said.

If Delvin or other legislators have complaints, they are "free to go tell the leadership," she said.

They don’t negotiate in the media, unless they do

OLYMPIA – “I’m not going to negotiate in the news media.”
Politicians at all levels of government love to utter that sentence – when it’s to their advantage.
But let’s get real. If they think it will help their cause, their legislation or their budget, they like nothing better than to negotiate in the media. If they get angry, frustrated, boxed-in or closed out, they negotiate in the media.
  

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Gregoire signing some bills

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a  handful of bills this afternoon, refining her threat from Thursday she  hopes will get the Legislature to come up with a passable budget.

She's signing the bills that are important to her, she said, and that people had come a far distance to participate in the ceremony. So she signed bills that increase penalties for driving drunk with kids in a car, that make it easier for military spouses to get work when they are transferred to Washington, criminal ID checks for entities providing emergency shelter or transitional housing.

But bills that are important primarily to lobbyists and legislators will wait, she said. If either group inquires about when their bill might get signed, they're told to work toward getting a majority in both houses for a budget she can sign. She hasn't found any yet that she's definitely going to veto, and "I hope I don't have vetoy any of them."

She did, however, repeat her promise to veto any legislation calling for charter schools, should it come out of the special session. That's a reform listed in the latest budget crafted by Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies. One of those Democrats, Sen. Rodney Tom, is a big fan of charter schools; Gregoire is not, and calls them "a 20-year-old, failed idea."

Budget discussions were on hold today because one of the key budget writers was unable to attend, she said. More talks are scheduled for Monday morning, she said.

New GOP budget: ‘Game changer’ or ‘waste of time’?

OLYMPIA – For the first three days of the special session, everything involving the state’s troubled budget was done behind the closed doors. That went by the wayside Thursday.
Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies released a new budget proposal at a morning press conference that they said moved closer to Democratic plans to spend more on public schools and higher education. They used terms like fabulous, honest and “game-changer” to describe their new plan.
 But they hadn’t produced it in closed-door negotiations among budget writers just an hour before, and Gov. Chris Gregoire accused them of “wasting time” by unveiling a new budget proposal that has little chance of making it through the Legislature.
“This will not get us out of town,” a clearly angry Gregoire said. “The antics of today do not advance the ball.”
  

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

New state budget pushed into the fray

OLYMPIA — In an effort to break a budget logjam, Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies unveiled a new  spending plan Thursday morning that would spend more on public schools and state colleges.

It also offers more money for child care for working families and has no new taxes. But it does skip a $140 million payment to state pension systems in exchange for other changes to pension plans that would save money in the long run. 

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called it a "compromise approach" to the differences between the budget passed in a parliamentary takeover two weeks ago in the Senate and a significantly different plan passed by House Democrats on the last day of the regular session.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said it was a better plan than the one he joined with Republicans to pass. "It's a budget that can bring the special session to a close."

Senate Democratic leaders, who only saw the proposal at the same time Republicans released it at a morning news conference, said it has "some very good movement," because it restores money for public schools and higher education that Republicans proposed cutting two weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she was still concerned that the proposal cuts money for the Disability Lifeline, but "I feel great about the moves that were made on the spending side."

The public release of a new budget proposal, signaled movement over talks which have essentially been at a stalemate for two weeks. But potential roadblocks quickly surfaced.

Democrats said they still have concerns about skipping the $140 million pension payment, because the cost of that grows over time. Republicans acknowledge the long-term cost of that is about $400 million over 25 years, but they estimate the savings from ending early retirements for new state employees would be $2 billion over that period, and that money could be used to shore up the pension funds.

The Legislature has skipped or delayed pension payments in six times since 2001, in budgets written by Democrats and Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire had asked legislative leaders to come  up with a budget that doesn't skip the pension payment, which Republicans favor but Democrats oppose, and also doesn't delay a $330 million payment to schools by shifting it from the end of this biennium to the first day of the next. Democrats favor that approach but Republicans call it unsustainable budgeting.

The new budget proposal doesn't do that. It also calls for the state to spend $780,000 to set up 10 charter schools, while cutting $1.5 million Democrats proposed for "collaborative schools".  Charter schools, which can be set up by a public school and parents to try new methods and avoid some state requirements, would need new legislation to be passed along with the budget. Collaborative schools, a plan to pair the Education Departments of the state's colleges with troubled schools, has already passed.

Sen. Rodney Tom, another of the three Democrats who voted with Republicans on their Senate budget, is a strong supporter of charter schools. The budget would pay for 10 next year, in "persistently failing schools." But Gregoire and other Democrats regard charter schools as taking money from the existing schools; the governor proposed the collaborative school program as a way to bring innovation into classrooms without setting up charter schools.

Special Session Day 2: No budget deal in sight

OLYMPIA — With most legislators still at home, their leaders continued meeting Tuesday with Gov. Chris Gregoire in search of a solution to the state's budget problems

They reached no agreements on a key sticking point. Gregoire told them to set those disagreements aside and come up with at least $200 million that members of both parties, in both houses, might accept.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said the goal before the next meeting — as yet unscheduled — is to find that money through some source of revenue, "something that's not spending cuts."

The hangup right now is what the two parties want to say is an available resource in the General Fund budget to spend on state programs.  Democrats want to delay a payment of some $330 million to the state's school districts by a few days, shifting it from the end of June to the beginning of July 2013 which means it happens in the state's next fiscal biennium. Because the schools would get it in their same fiscal year — the calendars are different — they argue it's merely an accounting shift with no real consequence.

Republicans, however, say that's bad budgeting, and even worse accounting that shifts the debt into the next biennium. They want to skip a payment to some state pension plans, then make several reforms to the way pensions are structured. They admit skipping a pension payment isn't a good practice, but contend the long-term savings are worth the $150 million that would leave in the budget.

Democrats say that plan isn't actuarially sound, and the savings might not be all that Republicans estimate them to be.

Once they decide on the amount to spend, budget writers will start working on how to divide that among programs. A budget written by Senate Republicans differs from one passed by House Democrats on a wide range of education, college and social programs and those will still have to be negotiated.

"It could potentially result in more cuts," Brown said. "That's what moving to the middle's all about."

Special Session Day 1: Don’t blink…

The special session opens.

…Or you'll miss it.

The Special Session of the Legislature opened and quickly adjourned for the day. Total elapsed time: About one minute.

In the Senate, Sens. Debbie Regala, D-Regala, and Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, were on hand to see Lt. Gov. Brad Owen bring the gavel down to open for special session, accept a few messages from the governor or the House, and adjourn until Tuesday.

Over in the House, Reps. Laurie Jinkins. D-Tacoma, and Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, were the on the floor for a similarly brief open and close to the day's "business."

Opening day for a special session is in sharp contrast to the opening of the regular session, which features all legislators in their seats, flags being escorted in by Washington State Patrol or Washington National Guard personnel in spiffy uniforms, maybe a display of rifle twirling in the aisle, prayers and speeches.

The special session was called late Thursday night, the final day of the regular session, when it became clear the Legislature would not reach an agreement on changes to its General Fund operating budget.  Gov. Chris Gregoire said she wanted to legislative leaders to meet to decide on a budget framework, then budget writers to work out the details. 

She suggested all legislators should come back for Day 1, then go home until a deal was struck. "The last thing anybody wants to see is the full Legislature sitting up here with nothing to do."

Apparently the Legislature was happy to oblige at least on the second part of that suggestion.

For the sake of comparison, here's a photo taken about midnight Thursday for sine die adjournment of the regular session.

Special Session Day 1: Noon start

OLYMPIA — The special session of the Legislature starts at noon today, but don't expect big announcements quickly on the budget.

The agenda for the Senate says "pro forma" session which is Latin for something like "not much will happen."

For those keeping track at home, this is the fifth special session of the Legislature since January 2010: The 2010 "short" session was extended to finish the budget; another one-day session was held that December. The 2011 "regular" session was extended to finish the budget, and legislators were called in at the end of last November to get a jump on the budget problems; they made some cuts in the budget then went home in mid-December with talk of having made progress toward resolving the rest of the budget problems.

Didn't quite work out that way. So they're back.

By law, a special session can last up to 30 days.  In calling them back last Thursday night, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hoped they'd be done this week, or next week at the latest.

When it comes to special sessions, one should note that Gregoire is ever the optimist.

Sunday Spin: We love the bizarre in the last week. Honest

OLYMPIA – One of the hallmarks of the closing days of a legislative session is that people say and do bizarre things.
Make that more bizarre than normal. The marbled halls and floors of the Capitol Building don’t protect against the weird; they just dress it up a bit.
But after the Legislature tied itself into a Gordian knot over the budget with a week to go, partisans on both sides seemed to go farther into the deep than normal. Not that I’m complaining.
As most people with any interest in state politics know, Senate Republicans pulled off parliamentary coup of historic proportions over the state’s operating budget. Some think it was roughly on par with the tactics the Spartans holding off the Persians at Thermopylae about 2500 years ago, it’s unclear yet if they will fare better in the end than King Leonidas and company…
  

Capital Budget, money for med school, in limbo, too

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 non budget bill or “they need to get ready for a veto.”

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
  

Legislature adjourns. Must come back Monday

That's all folks…the gavel comes down in the Senate on the 2012 regular session. The Legislature returns Monday for a special session.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature adjourned at midnight Thursday without passing a new general operating budget, and Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered them back to work Monday.

"They haven't gotten the job done," Gregoire said after issuing a proclamation for a special session, which can last up to 30 days. She added that she hoped they would finish much quicker.

"They need to go  home and get away from each other,'' the governor added. "Tensions are high. People are tired. It's hard to get them to focus."

After legislators return for the noon Monday start, most can leave while leaders try to come up with a way around what's largely been described as a logjam over sources of revenue to make the $30 billion budget balance. (Editor's note: an early version of this story had the wrong time for the start of the special session.)

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Gregoire: Keep the pressure on

Gregoire to Legislature: Everyone's tired. Get over it

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire again tried to avoid saying the words "special session" while acknowledging it's clear the Legislature will not finish by midnight, even with a new budget proposal available for a vote in the House.

That plan is "a good step forward", but she's still waiting for legislative leaders to bring her a different compromise that bridges the big gap between Democrats and Republicans on key revenue questions.

"I want a conceptual agreement by the end of the day," she said. If the Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers can agree to that, the budget writers can spend the time needed to work out spending details.

A key disagreement between the two parties involves which payment to avoid. Democrats want to delay a $323 million payment to schools from the end of June 2013 to July 1. That shifts it into a different biennium, so on paper the state has more money to spend. Republicans want to skip a $133 million payment on state pensions if the Legislature will pass reforms to the retirement systems that they say will save money in the longrun.

Gregoire said she'd rather delay the school payment than skip the pension payment, but told legislative leaders at a morning meeting to come up with other budget options to avoid doing either.

"I'm not going to pretend it's a love fest in there. Tensions are high but nobody's dug in," she said.

To suggestions from some legislators that they take a few days off to give members a cooling-off period before returning to budget discussions, Gregoire said she wouldn't do that without a working plan for a budget.  "I'm tired, too. Tough. Get over it."

Scroll down to read previous posts on today's budget discussions.

House to vote on new budget; will it pass Senate?

OLYMPIA — With time running out on the regular session, House Democrats are poised to vote on another general fund budget plan sometime today, a compromise between the budget they passed more than a week ago and the Senate Democratic budget that never came to a vote in that chamber.

Senate Republicans, who passed their own budget with the help of three breakaway Democrats, seem confident that it won't pass the Senate.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged shortly before noon that he doesn't have the 25 votes to pass the bill if it comes to the Senate. "Not yet," he added.

Details of the spending plan are available here.  It contains one of the main sticking points between the two parties, a delay of a $323 million payment to schools, which Democrats support and Republicans oppose. It does not skip a pension payment worth about $133 million, which Republicans favor and Democrats oppose.

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, was confident the working majority the GOP formed last week for its budget will hold against this proposal, which he said was negotiated between the Democrats in each chamber.

"We haven't  had one conversation, we wasted six days," Zarelli said. "It's a little juvenile, and its posturing. It's like hanging up the phone on somebody you don't like instead of talking it out."

Murray said that if the House passes the revised budget as expected, it would come to the Senate where Republicans could offer amendments to add or subtract things they want for a compromise. That amended budget could then go back to the House for final passage.

"We could be done by midnight," Murray said, adding that was a goal. "Once you go into special session, everybody wants to bring up everything."

The 60-day session is scheduled to adjourn sine die by midnight tonight. 

WA Lege: The final day or final daze?

OLYMPIA — On the legislative calendar, this is Day 60 of a 60-day session. The two chambers are scheduled to adjourn for good no later than midnight tonight.

Whether they'll go until 24:00:00 or not is unknown. What is known, however, is that they'll be back. They'll need more time to finish the budget. See previous blog post for more details.

It's not clear yet when, or how long a special session will take place. There might be some hints around noon, when Gov. Chris Gregoire signs a bill that revises the state's teacher evaluation rules. There's no connection between teacher evaluations and the special session, but after the governor signs legislation, she takes questions from reporters. First question is likely to be something like:

"So governor, about that special session…"

Stay tuned. We'll keep you updated.

2 cars per Discover Pass bill goes to governor

PUBLIC LANDS — It's a wish coming true for Washington State Parks visitors.

The Washington state Legislature has passed a bill allowing one Discover Pass to be shared among two vehicles.

House Bill 2373 passed the House this afternoon by a vote of 60-37, with most Republicans voting in opposition. Having earlier passed the Senate, it goes next to the governor.

The Discover Pass is a $30 annual state parks parking pass created by the Legislature last year to raise funds to keep parks open as well as contributing to state wildlife lands. Bill supporters say allowing two cars per pass will make it more affordable and may encourage more people to buy it.

According to the Associated Press, opponents objected to a provision in the bill expanding an optional $5 vehicle registration fee to mopeds, off-road vehicles, buses and trucks, saying the fee’s opt-out nature may fool people into contributing the money against their wishes.

Legislature heading into overtime

OLYMPIA – The Legislature is headed into overtime over its troubled budget, although like most things this year on how much the state has to spend and where to spend it, there are significant disagreements on the whats and whens of a special session.
Will it be a set period of time, like basketball overtime, sudden death like football, or an indefinite period of extra innings like baseball?
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who for days pushed for the Legislature to finish by today, acknowledged Wednesday that's not possible. She shifted the goal to having some kind of agreement on the budget by tonight, then coming back for a day or two to do “technical work” on that spending plan and pass it.
“They can’t procedurally get it done,” Gregoire said, although she refused to use the “S” words. “The minute I say special session, they’ll go to sleep, they’ll stop working". . .