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WaLeg Day 95: Budget talk breakdown could lead to special session

OLYMPIA — Budget negotiations between House Democrats and Senate Republicans are currently kaput, with each side pointing the finger at the other for who is responsible.

Senate Republicans say they wanted the House to put its proposals for a new capital gains tax and some increases in the business and occupation tax to a vote, to prove they would support some $1.3 billion in extra revenue their 2015-17 operating budget would need. Without the extra money, Senate Republicans would be "negotiating against ourselves," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill said.

House Democrats insist they have the votes for those taxes, but see no reason to pass legislation that Senate Republicans have said they won't pass in that chamber so the two sides should just dig in to the details and see what sort of agreements they can reach. House Democratic Leader Pat Sullivan said they even proposed a schedule of topics from discussion, but Senate Republicans weren't interested. 

So negotiations ended without really getting started Wednesday, and showed no signs Thursday of resuming any time soon, with the clock ticking toward April 26, which by law is the last day of the regular session.

Republicans accused  Democrats of deliberately stalling in hopes of getting to a special session, where they would have an advantage. What advantage? Well, more Republicans live farther away from Olympia than Democrats, so calling legislators back is more of a burden on Republicans, they said. If a budget deal isn't reached by June 30, many state agencies would have to cut back or shut down because they wouldn't have any legal authority to spend money to do their work.

And Republicans traditionally get blamed for that, Hill said. "There is a belief that if you shut down the government, it disadvantages Republicans.

WaLeg Day 86: Would voters agree to change class size law?

OLYMPIA — House and Senate Republicans were confident Tuesday that voters would agree to trim down requirements to reduce class sizes in public schools, as approved yesterday in a bill connected to the Senate budget.

Survey results released Tuesday by The Elway Poll said the concept of across-the-board reductions remain popular. The company asked some 500 voters around the state if they would support what seems to be the Legislature's preferred alternative — limiting reductions to kindergarten through Grade 3, rather than making them in all grades — and more than half said the Legislature should find a way to reduce all class sizes.

If the Legislature asks the voters to choose between a tax increase to pay for system-wide class-size reductions or limiting the reductions to K-3, respondents were split: 48 percent said they'd likely or certainly vote no on a tax increase while 43 percent said they'd likely or certainly vote yes.

A major theme of both parties in both chambers this year has been that the state cannot fully implement Initiative 1351, which voters approved last November, without a tax increase. There's general agreement on trying to limit the reductions to K-3, which supporters say research shows is the most effective for helping struggling students. There's no specific agreement, however, on how to do that.

Changing an initiative in the first two years after voters approve it requires a two-thirds majority in both houses under most circumstances. But asking voters to approve such a change through a referendum only requires a simple majority, and the predominantly Republican Senate majority passed and sent to the House a bill that would do that on Monday

Minority Democrats in the Senate all voted no, but on Republicans essentially challenged House Democrats to come up with a better plan.

"The House hasn't passed anything related to 1351," Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Tuesday at the weekly GOP press conference. "Show us your plan in the House. Is it a two-thirds vote?"

 Schoesler discounted poll results so far before a possible election, noting that I-1351 had a large margin in the polls months before the election but passed with only about 51 percent of the vote. The results might have been different if voters had more information about the total cost or the opposition from state leaders, he added. 

Pollster H. Stuart Elway noted that the lead for I-1351 evaporated last year as opponents hammered on the cost. "This smaller lead might be vulnerable once real dollars are attached," he said.

Smaller class sizes are popular but the public is divided on costs, he added. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this post misidentified H. Stuart Elway.)


WaLeg Day 85: Senate passes class-size referendum, operating budget

OLYMPIA – Washington could be asked this fall whether they really want smaller class sizes in all public schools like they approved last November, or if they’d settle for just dropping numbers in kindergarten and the primary grades.

In an effort to construct a budget that doesn’t require a tax increase, Majority Republicans in the Senate proposed shrinking the number of students in kindergarten through Grade 3 to 17, as an initiative approved last year requires, but leaving larger numbers in Grade 4 and up. It would require fewer teachers, principals and support staff than needed to comply with I-1351 – and save the state billions of dollars, supporters said.

By making the changes in legislation that has a referendum clause that requires voter approval, the plan would also allow the Legislature to changes I-1351 with a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds majority usually required to amend an initiative within two years of its passage.

But it’s also a “high-stakes” gamble, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said. If voters reject the referendum, legislators will have an immediate hole of $2 billion in the state’s operating budget.

 I-1351 didn’t specify how the state would pay for smaller class sizes, and the referendum is just a way of going back to voters and asking them to support it if they know the cost and agree with it, Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said. “Yes, we’re going to be in a tough spot (if the referendum fails). We’ve been in tough spots before.”

Eliminating the class reductions for Grade 4 and up is like telling those students “you don’t matter” and the referendum is telling voters “we don’t like what you did,” Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said.

But concentrating on the youngest grades, where research shows small class sizes have the greatest impact, would show the Legislature believes the issue is important and “we’re making strides towards getting there,” Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, said.

The bill passed 27-22, picking up only one minority Democrat, and was sent to the House, before the Senate turned to the $38 billion operating budget to which it is linked. That allowed both parties to reprise, in shortened form, their nine-hour debate from last Thursday night and Friday morning on the two-year spending plan that would cut college tuition and put some $1.3 billion toward public schools without raising taxes.

Cutting tuition amounts to a middle-class tax cut, Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said. “No one nationally has done this.”

But Democrats said it has hidden costs, relies on shifting marijuana taxes and the approval of the class-size referendum was “a house of cards.” Several Republicans also signaled they wouldn’t vote for a final budget that rejected raises for state employees that have already been negotiated or cuts to social services like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which are part of this plan. But all members of the Majority Coalition, which consists of all 25 Republicans and Democrat Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, voted yes and all other Democrats voted no, producing the same split that existed on most amendments that failed in the protracted debate last week.

That vote means the budget process moves into the next phase, in which budget leaders try to negotiate a final bill that will pass both chambers .

House Democrats passed a much different budget last week that would require a capital gains tax and some other tax changes, but those taxes haven’t been put to a committee vote yet. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the plan that passed Monday is in a stronger position because the additional legislation it needs also has passed the Senate.

Senate GOP budget: Cut tuition, no tax hikes

OLYMPIA — In a counter to House Democrats, Senate Republicans released a budget that cuts college tuition, sends an extra $1.2 billion to public schools and has no general tax increase.

The $38 billion spending plan has less money than the Democratic proposal for raises for teachers and state employees, less for early learning programs and more for health care programs.

Almost half of the budget would be spent on public schools, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill said. It would have the first tuition cut since the 1970s, which represents a tax cut for middle-class families, he said.

It calls for the Legislature to reject contracts negotiated between the governor's office and the state employees' unions but give each worker a $1,000 raise in each year of the two-year budget cycle.

That gives a larger percentage increase to lower-paid workers, Hill said. Teachers and other school employees would get a cost-of-living increase that was approved by Initiative 732.

It would also ask voters to agree with changes to a class-size reduction law voters passed last year for public schools in kindergarten through Grade 12. The state would spend $350 million to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through Grade 3, but delay any further reductions. Research shows that the greatest impact on smaller classes is in those lower grades, Hill said.

The budget would contain a referendum clause asking voters to agree in November.

The Republican budget also would move some $300 million in tax revenue from legal sales of marijuana into the general operating budget, but research and drug prevention programs would be paid through that budget.

Washington State University would get $2.5 million to seek accreditation for a new medical school in Spokane, and the University of Washington would get $2.5 million to operate WWAMI in Spokane. But WSU would continue to offer services and operations to UW in Spokane "under the same conditions and limitations that existed prior to the dissolution of their WWAMI partnership."

House Democrats also gave WSU the $2.5 million the school estimates it will need to gain accreditation for the new school, but gave the two universities more money to increase the number of WWAMI students in Spokane and cover the costs of services and operations that WSU received over the years before UW cancelled the partnership.

WaLeg Day 79: Senate Republicans to release budget

OLYMPIA — The Senate Republican budget proposal will be released at noon, and have a hearing at 3:30 p.m. today, making for a quick turnaround on two counts.

One, House Democrats just released their budget on Friday, and had a hearing on it Monday. The Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on it today. So Senate Republicans are countering quickly with a budget that's expected to be smaller than the $38.8 billion plan in the House, and may have no new taxes.

Two, very few people will be able to study the several hundred pages of the budget before the hearing in the three and a half hours between release and hearing. Notice of the addition to the committee's schedule wasn't posted until Monday evening.

Jason Mercier, legislative watchdog and budget hawk for the Washington Policy Center, called that scheduling "unacceptable" in an e-mail with the subject line "budget transparency hopes dashed."

House Democrats had a slightly slower turnaround on their budget, with a Saturday hearing after the Friday roll out, but changed the hearing to Monday after some complaints. 

But then, it is Day 79, which means only 26 days remain in the regular session.

WaLeg Day 72: House budget coming Friday

OLYMPIA — House Democrats said today they will release their 2015-17 operating budget proposal late Friday morning, slightly more than two-thirds of the way into the regular session.

House and Senate Republicans  responded by reiterating the "show me the money" they've made before. If the expenses in the budget proposal are greater than the projected revenue coming in, they want to see legislation on higher taxes or fees to cover it.

House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter and Finance Chairman Reuven Carlyle are scheduled to unveil the budget at 11:30 a.m. Friday, which would be the 75th day of the 105-day legislative session. The budget would then be subject to hearings in the Appropriations Committee before a vote in the full House could send it to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the Senate will follow with its own budget proposal "shortly", although if the House budget proposal doesn't have all the revenue needed for the programs and other expenses it is seeking, "that makes it very hard to take serious."

Gov. Jay Inslee and House Democrats have said the projected revenue for the coming two years will not be enough to cover existing programs plus raises for teachers and state workers, and the expansion of public schools and the mental health system required by court orders. But they differ on what existing taxes to raise, new ones to impose and which tax breaks to close.

Republicans have insisted the extra revenue coming in because of the economic recovery is enough. "I still believe we can do this without new taxes," Schoesler said. 

Inslee budget to propose $1 billion in tax hikes

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee's budget proposal for the next two years will include a request for $1 billion or more in higher taxes along with some program cuts, a delay of some new school spending approved by voters and raises for state employees.

Inslee will unveil the details of his budget plans for the second half of his term over four days next week. But in a discussion Tuesday with reporters, State Budget Director David Schumacher said without some new taxes the cuts to state programs would be “horrible.”

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: Could he spend money on a new metaphor?

OLYMPIA – Someone please give Senate Republican budget writers a new metaphor for hyperbolic parsimony.

Looking at the state’s less than cheery prospects of matching income to outgo last week, the chief GOP Senate budgeteer deployed the well-worn image of personal thriftiness, the squeezed toothpaste tube.

“I’m the kind of guy who, with toothpaste, I squeeze the tube as empty as I can get it and then I cut it open and scrape out the rest and then I buy a new tube,” Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond said. “That’s the way I approach budgeting this year" . . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Inslee signs most of ‘disappointing’ budget

OLYMPIA – The ink from his signature wasn’t even dry on the Legislature's current budget before Gov. Jay Inslee was challenging lawmakers to do more on their next one.

Inslee signed the state’s supplemental operating budget, vetoing some elements such as a section that would have ended the Life Sciences Discovery Fund.

Overall, he called it a budget with “modest adjustments” in many programs and disappointing on education.

“It does not make sufficient progress on the state’s paramount duty to schools,” he said.

Legislators are also disappointed, but more with Inslee’s characterization of their final work product that passed the Senate 48-1 and the House 85-13. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said the spending plan, as a supplement to last year’s two-year budget that added almost $1 billion to public schools, was supposed to make modest adjustments.

But it keeps the state in the black, financially, through this fiscal period and the next, Braun said.

“There were a lot of tough decisions that had to be made,” he said… .

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

Supplemental budget passes

OLYMPIA — Barely six hours after it was unveiled to the public, the Legislature passed the 2014 supplemental budget and sent it to Gov. Jay Inslee.

The budget passed the House 85-13, and the Senate 48-1. For a full report, go inside the blog.

House passes budget with teacher raises

OLYMPIA — In a prelude to end-of-session budget negotiations, the House dumped the Senate's no-new-taxes budget that extended some tax loopholes for businesses, replacing it with a plan to spend an extra $140 million on education and other programs, partly by raising several taxes.

Democrats and Republicans traded charges of who was being irresponsible in making plans to raise money and spend it. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.


Senate passes budget plan

OLYMPIA – With strong bipartisan support, the Senate passed a budget plan that was described by supporters and opponents more for what it doesn't do than what it does.

It doesn't put state spending out of balance, doesn't raise taxes or college tuition, supporters said. It doesn't offer raises to public school teachers and doesn’t do enough toward meeting the court order to improve public education, opponents countered.

Both sides agreed the budget discussion will continue for the next two weeks… .


Hill: No pay raise if budget is late

OLYMPIA — Sen. Andy Hill has some ideas to speed up the budgeting process that may not endear him to his colleagues. Everyone else who waits on the Legislature to cobble together a budget might cheer them, however.

The Redmond Republican who will repeat last year's role as head of the Senate Ways and Means Committee issued his latest "Windows on the Budget" missive that suggests legislators and their campaigns should feel it in the pocketbook if they don't pass a budget in the regular session.

They should not get any raise that is approved for them by the Citizens Salary Commission if they don't pass a biennial operating budget in the 105-day session that is supposed to adopt a two-year spending plan, Hill said. They'd get their old salary, but no pay bump.

Interesting idea, considering they needed two special sessions to come up with a budget last year and an extra 30 days in 2011.  But it wouldn't have been much of an incentive in those years, because legislators' pay has been at the same level — $42,106 — since 2008.

Another suggestion might be a bigger incentive, and is based on a lesson from last year. No campaign fund-raising for incumbents until the budget is passed. . . 

Today’s highlights

Dave Smith has been hired as the new superintendent of the Newport School District. He is leaving his job as principal of Freeman High School. SR photo/Lisa Leinberger

I'm happy that it's Thursday for three reasons - it's one day closer to Friday, it's a Valley Voice Day and our 90 degree weather is supposed to come to an end this weekend. Happy day! In today's Valley Voice, reporter Lisa Leinberger has a story on the departure of Freeman High School Principal Dave Smith. Smith is leaving to become the superintendent of the Newport (Wash.) School District, the same district where he grew up and where his father was superintendent.

The Liberty Lake City Council is beginning its 2014 budget process. They will make some key decisions during a day-long budget retreat coming up, such as whether to continue a utility tax and whether to develop vacant land the city owns at Mission Ave. and Signal Road.

Mirabeau Point Park has been dubbed a "jewel" by an SCC earth science instructor who gave a report Tuesday to the Spokane Valley City Council on the unique geolocial features in the park.

Today’s fun video: Senate D’s do up budget stalemate

At some point, you've probably seen "I'm Just a Bill", a video that tries to explain to kids how a bill becomes law.

U.S. Senate Democrats have a new take on the old theme called "I'm Just a Budget" that tries to skewer Republicans for keeping the budget from going to conference. Graphics are about the same as the original, which is to say not phenomenal by 2013 standards.

It shares one other trait with the original. It's pretty simplistic. But among it's co-stars is Washington Sen. Patty Murray.

What’s in the state budget “deal”, anyway?

OLYMPIA — There was very little information on the 2013-15 operating budget that was announced Thursday, and only "broad-brush" details emerged during the day. 

Late last night, however, the Legislature got the whole enchilada up on the budget website. Plenty of time for everyone to read it before this morning's 8:30 a.m. hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Not to worry, though, Chairman Andy Hill assured folks who showed up bright and early for the hearing. The budget is really just a "compilation of bills that have already been heard in this committee" — with the exception of a couple of tax exemptions for renewable energy projects.

Lobbyists who had gathered for what is likely to be their last big committee hearing of 2012 were mostly complimentary of the latest incarnation of a spending plan, which does not remove most of the tax credits and exemptions for businesses that some legislators had targeted at the beginning of the year.

Budget agreement reached

Inslee and legislative leaders say there's a budget deal.

OLYMPIA – After 150 days of debating, posturing and negotiating legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee reached agreement Thursday – Day 151 – on a $33.6 billion spending plan to carry many state programs through the next two fiscal years.

"State government will continue to operate," Inslee said.

The deal should be passed by both houses and on his desk by 5 p.m. today, Inslee said in a brief announcement attended by a bipartisan group of 10 legislators. He released no details of the agreement, but legislative leaders later offered only some broad outlines of the deal, either in meetings with their rank and file members or to the press.

Among them:

Announcing the deal

OLYMPIA — Here's what it looked like when Gov. Jay Inslee announced they had a budget deal… just before the left without answering any questions about it

Left to right: Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, Inslee, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan House Speaker Frank Chopp, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, Sen. Jim Hargrovve, Sen. Nick Harper, Rep. Gary Alexander.

Question: What's missing from this group? 

Answer inside the blog.

Deal or no deal? Senate Majority: ‘Yes’; Gov: Not yet

OLYMPIA — The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus is telling its members a deal has been struck over the state's 2013-15 budget. 

Gov. Jay Inslee's staff cautions, however, that there is no final agreement.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, in an e-mail to members, describes it as "truly a compromise budget".  in which no one got everything they wanted but "in the end I think we arrived at a balanced approach that everyone can live with and that brings us closer to the education-first budget many of us envisioned. "

It may not  be a fully cooked deal, however, Sen. Joe Fain, the coalitions floor leader, told reporters there are still some issues to be worked out, just before leaving the House wings with Rep. Reuven Carlyle, the House Finance Committee Chairman.

David Postman, the governor's spokesman, said talk of a deal is premature: No one has reported to the governor or his budget director that there is an agreement. And, in fact, the House has told us that it is still negotiating with the Senate at this hour. We believe we are close, but as of now there is more work to be done. I’ll take it as a good sign that the Senate is anxious to make an announcement, but it is premature for anyone to say at this point that a deal has been struck. 

Inslee has a noon meeting with his cabinet to discuss contingencies in case there's a partial government shutdown next week. His staff is scheduled to give an update when that meeting ends around 1 p.m.


Parlette's e-mail is inside the blog.

Running out of ‘close’ metaphors. A good sign?

OLYMPIA — Legislative budget negotiators appear to be running out of ways to describe how close they are to an agreement without actually reaching one. 

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, described the sides simply as "so close" and unlike last week wouldn't venture a prediction as to when there would be an agreement. Lots of details to work out in a 500-page document, he said. 

"More important than expediency is getting the job done right," Tom told reporters who are channeling Howie Mandel's question of deal or no deal?

An agreement may be close enough that legislative leaders are figuring out how they would announce the broad outlines to the budget then brief their members, but no times or locations for such announcements have been announced yet.

Meanwhile, the House is scheduled to take up another hot topic this afternoon, a transportation proposal that could raise gasoline taxes to pay for some new road and bridge projects and increase maintenance on others.

Spec Sess II Day 14: No deal yet; House voting on other bills

OLYMPIA — Budget negotiators reported worked late into the night Monday — or early into the morning Tuesday, depending on various accounts — but had no deal to report at the start of the legislative day.

A new word of warning was being sounded, however: It takes time to prepare a budget of about 400 pages after an agreement is reached, including typing, printing, proofing and revising, then having it presented to the legislators, and subjected to votes in both houses where it might be amended. How much time varies a bit, depending on who is making the estimate. 

But without an agreement by Wednesday, there might not be enough time to get all of that done before midnight Sunday, when the current fiscal year ends and the new fiscal year starts. The budget is what gives the state the authority to spend money on many of its programs, and pay salaries for many of its employees in that new fiscal year. Hence the worry of a partial government shutdown.

The House is voting on a serious of bills designed to improve state transportation projects. Bills to require permits be issued faster, construction errors be reported more promptly and have the department reported major changes to the Office of Financial Management passed with huge margins.

Budget deal? Not yet

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee might be the latest player in the state's budget drama to offer an overly optimistic prediction of a possible conclusion.

Legislative sources said late Monday afternoon it seemed unlikely a handshake over a budget agreement would come by Monday night. Although some of the biggest hurdles have been jumped, some smaller details still had to be worked out, and that was pointing to a Tuesday announcement, at the earliest.

At a mid-afternoon press conference, Inslee was there was "a very, very good chance in the next few hours for an agreement." He also seemed to describe a deal as imminent — but come to think of it, what he really meant was the deal is eminent, which is to say "outstanding."

Or maybe imminent could be stretched to mean the next day, considering how long negotiations have been going. It's not quite so definitive as last week's "we should be done and out of here by Sunday" prediction from the Majority Coalition that controls the Senate.

Legislative leaders had "found a path" to the deal, Inslee said. He wouldn't describe what allowed them to the path, and what it was paved with, other than to say it was "something significant that I won't be able to share with you." 

He was going to respect the confidentiality of the budget negotiating process. And why not? The process of conducting budget talks in secret has been working so well for them over the last two-plus months.

But sources close to the negotiations say at least part of the breakthrough involves an agreement to pass a change in telecommunications taxes that equalizes the sales tax for companies that provide land line service and those that provide cellular service; the state  is facing litigation if it doesn't do that.

Revenue from what is generally know as the Telcom fix would allow additional spending on public schools to hit $1 billion — a major goal of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — rather than some slightly lesser amount the House Democrats were budgeting.

So what do caucus coalition members get for swallowing Telcom? Not clear yet, but one source hinted it could be a change in tax law that is heavily favored by the Association of Washington Business, which changes the tax rules on for something known as "paymaster services", a way of setting up an umbrella company to handle the payroll of several smaller companies with the same owners. This might not be a particularly heavy lift because the House and Senate versions of that bill have bipartisan sponsorship. 

Time will tell whether that's the last yellow brick that will let them ease on down the road, and out of town. But it would be wrong to play the old Chamber's Brothers song, "Time Has Come Today" yet. 

Inslee: Budget deal “very close”

Inslee predicts budget agreement by end of Monday.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said legislators are could reach an agreement on the 2013-15 operating budget by the end of the day.

"The current state of negotiations gives me confidence that agreement is imminent," Inslee told reporters at a 2:30 p.m. press conference. "I'm more confident than I was at 9 o'clock this morning."

Legislative leaders have come up with a "significant change", which, Inslee said "I won't be able to share with you."

But those changes have created a way the state can meet its mandate to improve public education and preserve the safety net, he said.

Inslee spoke slightly more than an hour after state agencies began sending temporary layoff notices to some employees who would be told not to show up for work next Monday if the Legislature doesn't pass and Inslee sign the 2013-15 operating budget. About 26,000 workers, out of the 59,000 or so in state employ, would be subject to layoff because the budget gives the state the legal authority to spend money on programs and salaries.

The Legislature was unable to agree on a budget during its regular 105-day session or the 30-day special session that followed. It is now on Day 13 of its second special session. In recent days, some legislative leaders have made predictions about a deal being reached that proved overly optimistic and Inslee was asked why the public should think this was any different.

"This is the first time I have said there has been very substantial progress in negotiations," he replied 

Spec Sess II Day 13: Layoff notices go out

OLYMPIA — Most state agencies sent notices to their employees around 1 p.m. about temporary layoffs that would be coming if the Legislature does not pass a budget by June 30.

If negotiators for the House and Senate reach an agreement that can be passed before then, there would be no layoffs. While legislators on both sides say the prospects of a deal at some point this week, maybe even at some point today, are good. There's no deal yet.

A source said one group of employees that has not received layoff notices are the staff of the Senate. The Majority Coalition Caucus that controls the Senate has been adamant in their view that a layoff will not happen and any talk of a shut down is, in the words of Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, "nonsense." 

Gov. Jay Inslee has said that notifying employees that they could be laid off if a budget isn't passed is prudent and contingency plans for a government shut down are required by law.

Inslee has a 2:30 p.m. press conference.

Today’s Fun Video: Senate majority puts budget stance to music

OLYMPIA — While it may seem like not much is getting done on the budget in the Legislature, negotiators have been working regularly to come to some kind of deal that will allow them to get out of town.

And those not negotiating? Well, some of them are keeping busy, too.

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, is the floor leader, which means he has the job of moving things along for the Majority Coalition Caucus, even if that's just moving to accept yesterday's journal and adjourn until the next day. He used some of his free time to put together a music video to drum up support for the caucus's stand on a budget without new taxes. 

It could use a bit more video to go with the music. But the tune is at least catchy

WA Lege: No budget deal yet

OLYMPIA – Legislative negotiators remained locked in negotiations over the state’s 2013-15 budget Friday with prospects that a final agreement could be reached this weekend.

The prospect of a partial state government shutdown seemed to be receding, although notices of a possible temporary layoff might have to be sent Monday to state employees because of labor contracts.

Those layoffs wouldn’t be necessary if the Legislature passes a budget that Gov. Jay Inslee can sign before June 30, giving the state the legal authority to spend money on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

Legislators and Inslee seemed confident Friday the shutdown wouldn’t be necessary. “We need to be prepared, just in case,” the governor said. “These contingency plans are required by law.”

Inslee said he was “very hopeful” the Legislature would also pass a multi-year plan to build new road projects and maintain existing roads and bridges through increased gasoline taxes and vehicle fees. Legislators have said the state’s two-year $32.5 billion operating budget is the main concern as they pass the tenth day of their second special session, and they may adjourn the after passing that.

The separate transportation package would give provide jobs that gives the state an economic boost, and enough work has been done on it that a bill could be done in a few days, Inslee said. But he added it was “premature” to talk about calling a third special session for transportation if a package if the second session ends without one.

Preparing for shutdown, or a budget deal

OLYMPIA — With state agencies preparing to warn many of their workers of temporary layoffs on Monday, legislators signaled they are close to a deal on a two-year operating budget.

So close, in fact, the leaders of the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus were predicting it would be "done and out of here by Sunday."

House leaders were less specific about when a deal could be reached, but Speaker Frank Chopp said a morning of what he called shuttle diplomacy had produced "a good exchange of offers."

Earlier in the morning, Gov. Jay Inslee's staff released a list of which agencies would be completely or partially shut down, and which would remain open, if the Legislature didn't pass an operating budget by July 1. The budget contains legal authority for the state to spend money on many programs and pay the salaries of state employees connected to them. In the last week, each agency was required to determine which programs get spending authority from a separate account, or would be required under separate constitutional authority, federal law or certain contracts.

In releasing the list, Mary Alice Heuschel, Inslee's chief of staff, said that while budget negotiations are continuing, the state needed an emergency plan.

"Like an earthquake… we need to have a plan in case this occurs," she said. If there's no budget plan that has been through at least some legislative action by Monday, temporary layoff notices would go out to thousands of state workers because of contract requirements.

As Heuschel and other state officials were finishing up their press conference, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, and Assistant Leader Linda Evans Parlette stopped in the room on their way to a meeting with Inslee. They left the governor's office a few  minutes later, went to Chopp's office on the House side of the Capitol, then Chopp and Hunter accompanied the Senate leaders to Tom's office on the other side of the building.

Chopp later characterized it as "a good productive conversation" but would give no details. He said it was possible that a budget agreement would be ready and have had some legislative action by Monday. Most House members are back home, but Chopp said they could be brought back to Olympia within the two days it would take to process and print a full budget, if there's an agreement.

Mid afternoon update: Before the Senate's afternoon session started, Tom said budget negotiations were moving well enough that he predicted "an agreement in principle, today or tomorrow." The biggest question in his mind was how much of the $480 million from an improved economic forecast, lower demand for state services and a change in the estate tax would go into education.

"We are going to finish on Sunday," he predicted. "There's no reason not to have it all done by then."

Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said negotiators had exchanged two different offers in three hours and that there were only "a couple sticking points" remaining. He wouldn't elaborate on what those were, but agreed it was "definitely possible" that a budget could be passed by Sunday.

The mechanics of budget writing, however, whould make that difficult unless a deal is struck Thursday. After an agreement is reached on the overall size of the budget and its major components, legislator and staff must go through the document line by line to adjust spending levels for each program in a document that usually exceeds 400 pages. Those figures have to be checked and the document printed, then introduced either as a separate bill or an amendment to an existing budget bill before one chamber can vote on it. 

Today’s highlights

Greenacres Middle School eighth-grader Zach Windhorst salutes Friday after performing with teacher Dana Hilpert and her dog Murphy. SR photo/Dan Pelle

Welcome to wet and rainy Thursday. Today is a good day to stay inside and have that second cup of coffee while checking out highlights from today's Valley Voice. Reporter Lisa Leinberger stopped by Greenacres Middle School on the last day of school to check out their annual talent show. The singers, dancers and one dog strutted their stuff in the gym.

The Spokane Valley City Council had their annual day-long budget workshop this week. The city is looking for expenses and revenues to both increase a little more than 4 percent in 2014, but there is a long list of capital projects wanting attention. First among them is the replacement of the west Sullivan Road bridge.

St. Mary's Catholic Church is celebrating its 100th anniversary this week with a special Mass and potluck dinner Friday night. Current and former church members are invited to attend.

Lisa has another great story on two Central Valley High School students who created a bench using truck tailgates and tire rims. It was such a success that Greg Van Doren and Cory Jones are looking into starting a business to sell similar items.

Government shutdown list in works

OLYMPIA — Despite a slightly better economic forecast and expectations of a budget deal among legislators, Gov. Jay Inslee's office has prepared a list of state services that would and wouldn't be available July 1 if a budget isn't passed.

The preliminary list divides agencies into three categories: No shutdown; partial shutdown and complete shutdown. Among those staying open are the state colleges and universities, the courts and those that receive money from something other than the operating budget, such as the Transportation Department, Innovate Washington, Financial Institutions, Treasurer and Traffic Safety Commission.

Some smaller agencies — the Arts Commission, Public Disclosure Commission, Eastern Historical Society, Liquor Control Board, Human Rights Commission and Indian Affairs — would be among those facing complete shutdown, as would the state Parks.

Partial shutdown is more complicated, but it includes many of the big agencies like Departments of Social and Health Services, Health, Military, Natural Resources, Corrections and State Patrol. But no, the last two don't mean the prisons doors would be thrown open or no one would be writing tickets on I-90.

For a look at the list, click here.

Good forecast could mean Lege gets outta town

State economist Steve Lerch, right, explains figures from the latest economic forecast to Rep. Ross Hunter Tuesday.

OLYMPIA — The state's economic outlook is improving, in part because of better home sales, and the state could have an extra $231 million in tax revenue over the next two years for its general operating budget.

That's the word from the Revenue and Forecast Council, which believes the March projections were a bit low by about $110 million for this biennium and $121 million for the 2013-15 biennium.

While a relatively small percentage of the state's operating budget, which tops $32 billion, negotiators who have been locked in budget talks for weeks predicted it will generate an agreement relatively soon and prevent a partial government shutdown in July.

"We'll get closer as a result of this," Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said.

"It should break one of the final logjams," Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said. . . 

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