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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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OLYMPIA — After 141 days of regular and special session, the most important day for the 2013 Legislature could be Tuesday.
That's when the June economic forecast will be released, and good numbers on increasing revenue coming in and decreasing demand on services could be enough for the House and Senate to settle on a budget.
In an interview Monday, House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, wouldn't go so far as to say he was optimistic that the forecast would be that good. But he was, in a word, hopeful.
“I'll deal with whatever it brings,” he said.
Early indications are the state could see $90 million in savings from lower projected costs for services, known as the caseload forecast. Tax revenue could also be higher than predicted in March. Whether that will quiet House Democrats' calls for closing some tax loopholes to generate extra money for the 2013-15 operating budget, isn't clear. And Chopp wouldn't be pinned down on hypotheticals.
“Let's just wait until we see the revenue forecast,” he said.
Without the need for tax increases from House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee, the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate has little leverage for reforms. Last week Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said the group was willing to give up on two reforms it passed in the closing days of the first special session: one that tied growth in non-education spending to a formula that includes inflation and population growth and another that would allow school principals to reject teachers assigned to their schools.
The Senate has already passed another set of education reforms that could be more palatable to the House.
So that left the third reform, some changes in the workers compensation system's rules for structured settlements to injured workers. That's still a no-go in the House, and Chopp argues there's no deficit in the system that needs to be addressed at this point and the best way to save money quickly is to get injured workers back sooner, like in the state program that provides incentives for companies that bring them back in different jobs with lighter duties while they recover.
If the Legislature reaches a quick agreement on the 2013-15 operating budget, there is a question about whether it will pass two other priorities set down by Gov. Jay Inslee at the start of the first special session: a package of new transportation projects and increased maintenance for existing roads and bridges, funded by new gasoline and vehicle taxes; and tougher penalties for repeat drunk drivers.
Both are important, Chopp said. Legislative leaders are trying to work out the timing on the transportation package and still in discussions over drunk driving laws.
But the operating budget is the thing “we need to have done.”
The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
This is just a reminder that the Spokane Valley City Council will host their annual budget workshop Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague Ave. The public is welcome to attend the meeting, which will focus on planning and the 2014 budget. I plan to be there, so don't expect any activity on the blog tomorrow.
OLYMPIA – The Legislature closed for about 17 hours overnight Tuesday – the amount of time between its ineffectual first special session and a second special session that some say could bring the state to a fiscal cliff.
Gov. Jay Inslee criticized the largely Republican Senate majority for pushing ideology over budget compromise as he issued the proclamation for a second legislative overtime period Tuesday morning.
“The budget is our primary duty. That’s where our focus should be,” Inslee said. “They need to come to a common-sense position, so that we can fulfill the obligation to our kids”. . .
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OLYMPIA — Two days.
That's what's left in the oh-so special session. With each chamber having passed a budget in the last several days we all know the parameters of a possible deal. So the thing to watch for will be some sign of movement from each side on both the budget and the policy or “reform” bills.
Can they be done with everything by midnight tomorrow? Only the great Karnak could say for sure. But if one were betting this like a football game, Spin Control would offer its standard advice on the length of legislative sessions.
Always bet the over. Never bet the under.
OLYMPIA – Among the bromides passed off as great wisdom during this special session of the Legislature is that budget negotiators should not – nay, absolutely must not, and therefore do not – negotiate a budget in the media.
This has been mentioned at various times by players, from the governor to the leadership of the Senate and House to the negotiators themselves as though the admonition were cast in stone, or at least referenced through an asterisk on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai and clear for anyone who read the next few verses in Deuteronomy.
Let’s get the office Bible down and check. Ah yes, here it is …Shalt not covet thy neighbor’s whatever. Shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. Shalt not negotiate budgets in the media.
The media, it should surprise no one, thinks this is a silly commandment… ,
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OLYMPIA — Leaders of the coalition that controls the Senate say they have made a counter offer on the budget to the House Democrats, who yesterday announced a $33.6 billion spending plan for 2013-15.
It's a “comprehensive” offer, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina said. It spends more than $1 billion extra on public schools.
So what's in it and how is it different from House Bill 1057?
“We're not going to negotiate in the press,” Tom said at a press conference the Majority Coalition Caucus called, ostensibly to say they had countered on the budget.
Told that the House Democrats plan to spend about $1 billion extra for schools, too, Tom said the budget really only has $700 million. It relies on closing a list of tax credits to raise money beyond that level for schools, and that's not a reliable solution.
“It needs to be dependable funding,” Tom said. “Going out to the voters, by nature is not a dependable source.”
There's no guarantee the voters will say yes, he added. “This is not the Soviet Union where you can guarantee a vote.”
But the House tax package does not have a referendum clause, its author, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said. It is expected to have an emergency clause, making it unlikely the taxes could be placed on the ballot by a signature campaign.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Democrats chief budget negotiator, declined to say whether the Senate Majority Caucus, which includes 23 Republicans and two Democrats, had presented a comprehensive counter offer.
“We're moving a budget so we have a vehicle,” Hunter said. That process is public, but negotiations are in private. “I'm not going to characterize those private offers.”
Rep. Ross Hunter explains a point in the new House budget proposal, flanked by other Democrats from the Senate and House.
OLYMPIA — House Democrats offered to trim back spending and drop many proposals on taxes as part of a compromise they say would allow the Legislature to pass a 2013-15 operating budget before time runs out in the special session.
The $33.6 billion plan for the next biennium spends an extra $700 million on public schools in an attempt to meet a state Supreme Court mandate, although less than their leaders proposed at the beginning of the year.
It closes fewer tax exemptions and preferences and would not extend a business and occupation tax surcharge or higher taxes on beer that are scheduled to expire at the end of the month. A separate proposal would close or reduce seven tax exemptions, raising an estimated $256 million. That money would be dedicated to specific programs in public schools or colleges if they pass as separate legislation…
OLYMPIA — House and Senate Democrats will release their latest 2013-15 operating budget plan this afternoon, with a press conference at 12:15 p.m. and a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee at 1:30 p.m.
Whether it's a budget that can pass both houses in the week that remains in the current special session remains to be seen. Leaders of the majority coalition in the Senate said Tuesday they were still opposed to higher taxes, so if it relies on closing tax exemptions or extending temporary taxes, it could be in for tough sledding in the Senate.
And the coalition is back to an actual 25-vote majority this morning with the swearing-in of Republican Steve O'Ban to the seat left open by the death of Sen. Mike Carrell.
Inslee criticizes Senate plan to change estate tax.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee, clearly frustrated over a lack of progress in budget negotiations and a plan to fix a problem with the estate tax, accused the Senate today of hurting school children to help multi-millionaires…
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OLYMPIA — A rare public work day for the Senate's budget writers, who reportedly have been meeting privately — albeit unsuccessfully to this point — on a compromise for the state's 2013-15 operating budget.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee has a hearing this morning on an array of topics, including tougher laws for repeat offenders of driving under the influence, lower tuition at the state colleges and universities and a change in the state's estate tax law.
Most members of the Senate and House are elsewhere. The morning's Senate pro forma session lasted a few minutes longer than normal when Sen. David Frockt, D- Seattle, used a point of personal privilege for a call to redouble efforts so the Legislature can finish by June 11 and not need a second special session.
Along with the 30-day limit on the special session, the Legislature is also looking at an even bigger day on the calendar: July 1. That's when the state's new fiscal year starts, and it's unclear how the state would proceed with all services and salaries if it doesn't have a budget in place to provide the authority to continue them.
OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives returns to the floor this morning, with members expecting to vote on a bill involving the state's estate tax.
After a work schedule that might charitably be described as light, that may seem a heavy lift, considering the bill just passed the House Finance Committee yesterday. But it could be a significant piece in completing the jigsaw puzzle that is the 2013-15 operating budget, so there is some urgency in at least airing it out.
The vote would be the first significant floor action on legislation since the special session began on May 13. It's scheduled to end (or require a second overtime session) on June 12.
House session started at 10 a.m. with a moment of silence for Mike Carrell, who served in that chamber before moving to the Senate. Then they went into caucus, which could take minutes or hours before the actual debate and vote occurs.
The Senate has a pro forma session at 11 a.m.
Andrea Gasser, a Central Valley High School junior, represents Israel at the International Economic Summit on Tuesday at the school. Students from CV and East Valley High School came together to display their research about the culture and economy of various countries around the world. Wearing a costume of some kind and serving a traditional food was optional. SR photo/Jesse Tinsley
Happy Thursday, everyone, though I confess I thought today should be Friday. But since it's not Friday yet, it's time for some Valley Voice highlights. Reporter Lisa Leinberger recently stopped by an economic summit hosted by the marketing classes at Central Valley High School and East Valley High School. The students researched different countries and then presented what they learned during the summit. Some students went as far as wearing traditional costumes or bringing food samples.
The Spokane Valley City Council is preparing to make changes to the 2013 budget to pay for several new projects. They are providing funding for new carpet in City Hall, a yearlong advertising campaign, designing the Appleway Trail, developing the Balfour Park expansion and buying business route signs.
Lisa also has a story on the University of Idaho's performance group called DancersDrummersDreamers, which is performing at University High School Friday. The performance will include students from the high school.
Pass an operating budget. Pass a new package for transportation projects. Toughen penalties for those who drive drunk or high.
At a press conference on the opening day of the 30-day special session, Inslee acknowledged that three other things he listed as priorities two weeks ago might not get done.
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OLYMPIA — The House passed a $34.2 billion budget for most state programs that would add money to public schools and assumes a jump in some taxes on businesses and consumers.
In a mostly party-line vote, House Democrats the two-year spending plan that their budget chairman, Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina, described as “a responsible budget that invests in our education obligations responsibly.”
Republicans described it as a budget that will cost the state jobs. “My taxpayers and my businesses are not happy about this budget at all,” Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the ranking Republican on the budget committee, said.
The 54-43 vote, in which all Republicans and a single Democrat voted no, was merely the next step in the political dance between the House, the Senate and Gov. Jay Inslee, moving the state's biennial operating budget into negotiations among all those groups. Inslee also proposes changing some tax preferences to increase revenue; the Senate spending plan which passed last week has no tax increases, although some members who voted for that plan said they expected it to come back from the House with some “loopholes” closed.
Those negotiations will start Monday. The session is scheduled to adjourn on April 28, but a special session will be called if a spending plan isn't hammered out by then.
The House legislation that would actually end or revise those exemptions and extend temporary taxes on some business services and beer has not yet had a committee hearing.
The House budget reduces class siizes for young children in public schools, pays for all-day kindergarten in some of the state's poorest districts and adds money for school supplies and transportation. It also increases spending on early learning programs and all
“We all face the same problems. We choose different solutions,” Hunter said. The Senate plan relies on gimmicks and unrealistic assumptions the House plan doesn't use. “We don't give everybody everything they want. We fix broken stuff.”
But with state revenues expected to grow by $2 billion over the next two years and some $900 million in other changes that both sides support, the state shouldn't have raise taxes, Alexander said: “When do we say enough's enough? At what point do we say government needs to live within its means.”
Countered Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington: “This is the only budget I've seen today.”
Friday’s four-hour budget debate in the Senate was mostly about programs that get cut or taxes that don’t get raised. But there were brief detours into other topics, including cigar lounges and Spokane Indians baseball. . .
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OLYMPIA – For the next three weeks, at a minimum, legislators will be throwing around the word “sustainable” more than a bunch of organic farmers hectoring an executive from Archer Daniels Midland.
It is the go-to cudgel for anyone who doesn’t like a budget proposal, and as Friday’s budget debate in the Senate showed, even when people help write a budget admit there’s plenty in it they don’t like. . .
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OLYMPIA — The state budget office is questioning some parts of the 2013-15 operating budget proposal released earlier this week by the leaders of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The budget uses some assumptions that may not be legal, and others that don't have enough information to say whether they are realistic, David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, said in a letter to Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, the ranking Democrat.
“There are significant concerns with the structure of this budget, such as reductions to local government programs and our state's safety net,” Schumacher says at the top of a four-page list of questions about proposed decisions on education, health and human services, natural resources, general government and “non-specific savings.”
The committee passed the budget on Thursday and moved it to the Senate, where it could come up for a debate this afternoon.
Sen. Andy Hill describes the budget proposal with Sen. Jim Hargrove waiting nearby in the State Reception Room.
OLYMPIA — Leaders of a Senate committee released a $32.5 billion operating budget that spends more on education, less on programs for the poor and doesn't raise taxes. They acknowledged they don't know if it has the support to pass that chamber, let alone become the actual spending plan for the next two years.
It differs significantly from recommendations from Gov. Jay Inslee last week, but meets four goals Senate budget writers set at the beginning of the year, Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond said: It doesn't hurt the economy by raising taxes; increases spending on education programs ranging from pre-kindergarten through graduate school; it preserves some services for “the most vulnerable” and it was crafted by members of both parties.
The budget adds about $1.5 billion to the state's public school system, with about $1 billion of that going to basic education costs. The state is under a Supreme Court order to meet the constitutional requirement to make education its top priority.
It adds about $300 million to the state's universities, colleges, community and technical colleges, and orders a 3 percent cut in tuition.
It relies on some $303 million in federal money for fully participating in Medicaid expansion from the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. It cuts money for such programs as Temporary Aid to Needy Families, childrens nutrition and aid to the disabled.
With the Senate divided 25-24 between a majority coalition made up of all 23 Republicans and two disaffected Democrats, and the remaining 24 Democrats, Hill emphasized the budget was drafted as “a true collaboration.”
But the ranking Democrat, Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, said he was only sure of two votes for the budget, his and Hill's. Other Democrats may want to restore money to some social programs and look for tax increases or close tax loopholes to pay for it, he said.
“We'll have to wait to see the floor vote” to see if it has bipartisan support in the Senate.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Jay Inslee called the Senate budget proposal “deeply flawed,” and said it relied on “short-term fixes and budget tricks” while cutting social services to pay for schools.
A hearing on the Senate budget proposal was scheduled for about three hours after the spending plan was released. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to release it's own budget in the coming days.
Gov. Jay Inslee explains his budget as students from Seattle's Cleveland High School look on.
OLYMPIA — The state should make temporary tax increases on beer and some business services permanent, cancel a variety of other tax breaks and spend an extra $1.2 billion on public schools, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.
Standing in front of a group of Seattle high school students involved in a program to boost science and math skills, the governor released his first budget proposal. It’s a plan for expanded programs from pre-kindergarten to high school, designed to satisfy a state Supreme Court order to adequately fund public schools.
“We must do hard things. It’s the right thing to choose education over these tax breaks,” he said at a press conference to announce his spending plan for the 2013-15 budget cycle.
The proposal met quick resistance from Senate Republicans, who will likely release the first full budget in the Legislature next week. It will not propose tax increases or ending the tax exemptions Inslee proposed, Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, the Senate Republican leader, said. . .
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House Speaker Frank Chopp buys cookies and a brownie from Kate Hunter and Maureen Bo, who were manning the table of a “bake sale” for seniors and the disabled in the Capitol.
OLYMPIA — The Legislature has a pretty full day of hearings on this Maundi Thursday, but most attention will be on Gov. Jay Inslee as he releases his budget recommendations for the 2013-15 biennium at 11 a.m. today.
Before Inslee announces his spending plan, a group of seniors in the basement of the Capitol is holding a “bake sale”, with plans to turn the money raised from cookies and brownies over to House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom as a way of signaling the state isn't spending enough on seniors and the disabled. Other groups are gathering for the budget unveiling in the governor's conference room.
Spin Control will have details from the press conference. In the meantime, the complete list of committee hearings can be found inside the blog.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, emphasized substance over style in the upcoming budget and immigration policy talks Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Addressing the media with other conservative members of Congress, Labrador said he was encouraged by the ideas behind a budget plan set forth by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to balance the federal budget within a decade. He stressed that policy decisions should flow from that benchmark and urged the Republican party to make policy commitments, rather than simply passing the Ryan budget which has no force of law.
“Some people in this caucus believe that the plan is just to pass the Paul Ryan budget,” Labrador said, adding his goal is not to pass “a meaningless document by itself, unless we actually implement the policies that will get us to a 10-year balanced budget.”
Ryan’s budget is just one of competing visions for a federal government spending plan. Last week, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., released her own spending bill that roundly rejected several of the Republican House’s key provisions. The Ryan plan calls for no increase in taxes and complete reduction of the deficit by 2023 through reforms to Medicare and repealing the Affordable Care Act. Murray’s budget, on the other hand, calls for nearly $1 trillion in tax increases targeting the wealthy, additional stimulus spending and no fixed date for a balanced federal budget.
Both plans are working their way through Congress. President Barack Obama, also required to release a spending plan by law, has delayed doing so since February, to the ire of many Republicans. The White House now expects to release its budget next month.
Labrador is widely hailed as the prominent figure in a potential bipartisan immigration reform deal. Last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the freshman congressman reiterated his stance that there should be no new path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in any reform legislation. He called instead for enforcement of existing laws and granting “legal status” to those who entered the country illegally, without the possibility of citizenship.
He responded to comments made earlier in the week by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in favor of immigration reform. Paul called for a legal status approach in line with his own beliefs, Labrador said, rather than media reports that said he was pushing a path to citizenship. He expressed support for plans to fix what he repeatedly called a “broken system,” including several ideas offered by Paul.
“We’re talking about a minor issue,” Labrador said of the pathway to citizenship proposal. “The real issue that we’re dealing with is immigration reform. Let’s fix it.”
Labrador blamed labor unions for defeating legislation put forward in the Senate in 2007. That law would have allowed for a new type of temporary visa available to undocumented workers. A bipartisan group in the Senate released a set of principles to guide reform in January that included both a new “tough and fair” pathway to citizenship and admitting more workers into the country.
Any immigration reform legislation in the House would have to be vetted by the Judiciary Committee, said Labrador. He said the window for real reform would probably close in December, when campaigning for the midterm elections would begin in earnest.
Avid archer and hunter Jake Hodge holds the tension on his bow and checks the sights after they were adjusted at Spokane Valley Archery Friday. The large shop, with a small indoor range and large outdoor range, is a destination for archers looking for technical experience in the shop and a place to shoot, alone or in a league. SR photo/Jesse Tinsley
We've got a bunch of good stuff for you in today's Valley Voice. Reporter Lisa Leinberger stopped by Spokane Valley Archery, which is seeing an increased interest in archery after it was featured in some popular movies recently. The business offers indoor and outdoor shooting as well as lessons and equipment rentals.
Lisa also has a story on the upcoming Millwood Daze. The annual event includes a fun run, parade, car show, art festival and lots more. It all takes place Aug. 25 at various locations in Millwood. Check her story for more details. She also has a report on the Central Valley School District budget. For the first time in years, the budget does not include cuts. The sports participation fees will continue, however.
The Spokane Valley City Council is considering a changed proposal from the Spokane County Library District that includes a smaller library as part of a proposed partnership with the city. The council also heard details on the proposed 2013 budget, which sets aside $2 million for street preservation after pulling money from other funds that was intended to be spent on other items.
Spokane Valley Fire Department Commissioner Monte Nesbitt announced his resignation this week after the firefighters union raised concerns about his residency. Nesbitt's resignation will be effective Dec. 31.
People who have a question of a comment or a question on the City of Spokane budget could get a chance to phone it in Tuesday night.
That's when the city is holding a Telephone Town Hall on the budget from 6 to 7 p.m. The phone number is (855) 296-4484. Or you can get to the online link by clicking here.
“Everybody has to give. Everybody has to get,” Gov. Chris Gregoire says of the final budget deal.
OLYMPIA — Some state spending that legislators approved shortly before dawn Wednesday as part of a package deal to end the session may not survive the veto pen.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she would sign the major reforms which were part of a negotiated package of legislation that came together in the closing days of one special session and needed a few hours of yet another special session to pass a bleary-eyed Legislature.
That package includes changes to state employees' early retirement system for workers hired after June, an attempt to equalize health insurance plans for public school workers and state employees, and an effort to project out four years to get state spending and revenue to match up.
But legislators stuck special projects into the supplemental budget “at a fevered pitch” in the final discussions, she said, and she's having staff comb through the 280-page document.
“I didn't agree to every dotted “i” and crossed “t” in that budget,” she said. “I'm sure there are things in there that I will veto. I want more in the ending fund balance.”
In her budget proposal, Gregoire called for an ending fund balance, which serves as a cushion against further economic downturns, of about $600 million. The budget passed Wednesday morning has a balance of just over half that, about $320 million. She doesn't have an estimate of how much she might cut, but said there's no way to trim out $300 million.
The reforms that Republicans were demanding in return for a vote on the budget, however, were carefully studied, she said. Those include:
* A change to the early retirement system for new state employees. Any new employee would be able to retire before age 65 after 30 years in state service by accepting a reduction of 5 percent for each year under 65. A 2000 law allows existing workers with 30 years service a 3 percent per year reduction between 65 and 55, and a 2007 law and 2007 allows for full benefits at 62.
* A review of the public school employees' health insurance systems — which vary from district to district — and incentives for the districts to offer plans that are in line with plans available to state employees, including plans with high deductibles and health savings accounts. One of the key elements of that legislation is to encourage districts to offer plans in which family insurance premiums that are no more than three times the cost of an individual's plan.
* Requirements that the Legislature adopt a four-year budget plan, rather than the current two-year plan, for the state General Fund that projects that scheduled expenses won't exceed projected revenues, and provides an ending balance that's in the black. The law also adds the state treasurer to the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which produces the revenue outlook that becomes key to legislative budgeting.
Those reforms were key to Republicans and some conservative Democrats voting for the budget. For weeks, Republicans demanded reforms before they'd consider any decision on taxes or vote on the budget. Democrats wanted a commitment on searching for more revenue, particularly the closure of a tax exemption for first mortgages written by large, multi-state banks. The stalemate that developed near the end of the regular session carried over into the special session. Last weekend, Gregoire and her staff put together a package that included all elements and began working with legislative leaders and budget experts on a way to make that work.
They ran out of time on Tuesday, and she called another special session, one that legislative leaders agreed would only last until they voted on the package of bills, and told them to stay until it was done.
She denied reports that one side wanted negotiations to fail, and doubted that it could have happened any faster.
In the end, Democrats got a budget very close to what they had proposed in the Senate but couldn't pass because three of their members lined up with the 22 Republicans to pass a different spending plan. The final budget had no cuts to public schools or state colleges, saved the Disability Lifeline and the Basic Health plan. Republicans got the reforms they said were needed to make the budget “sustainable.”
“They all got something critical. They all gave,” she said. Everyone was tired of cutting programs, she added.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, who represented GOP Senate leadership in the negotiations, agreed with Gregoire's assessments on negotiations and the final package.
“I think it was a package deal. The governor is exactly right: We're all tired of cuts,” Parlette said.
But Gregoire's comments that she'd have staff go through the final budget for things she might veto that were added at the last minute struck one government watchdog as odd. Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center questioned why it was alright for the governor to say she didn't have enough time to review the final product when legislators had to vote on it without having time to study it, and the public never saw the final product before it was passed into law.
OLYMPIA — A summit between legislative leaders, their top budget writers and Gov. Chris Gregoire took a break about 3:30 p.m., but is scheduled to resume at 4 p.m.
Legislators came out saying they'd been told by Gregoire not to talk about the details of the proposal she's put before them. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, did say that most of the time is not being spent on the budget, but on a package of reforms tied to the budget.
Those reforms include separate bills that would revise the health insurance system for public school employees, change early retirement options for state employees, and require the Legislature to create a budget that balances not just this biennium, but the next biennium as well.
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders and their top budget writers were given a proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire that represents her “go-home” proposal, her staff said.
Democrats and Republicans met separately on the proposal — which includes a version of the K-12 insurance reforms, pension reforms and four-year balanced budget requirements — then returned to for another meeting with the governor.
A spokesman for Gregoire said her package was aiming for “a middle ground…one that would not make anyone happy.”
No details on what they are proposing and counterproposing. Anything they work out will have to be shown to the separate caucuses to see if it can pass.
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders and budget writers of both houses began huddling with the governor about 12:30 p.m., looking for a way to wrap up business before the clock runs out on the special session at midnight tomorrow.
On the plus side, everyone was quite chipper as they passed the time in the governor's waiting room, chatting about things like their Easter weekends.
On the minus side, the math says there's less than 36 hours left to do everything that needs doing — an operating budget, a capital budget, some version of the reform bills circulating.
As Gov. Chris Gregoire came out to motion legislators in, one of the ubiquitous tours of school children filed in to look at the portraits on the wall. Gregoire took the opportunity to greet them and explain what was going on.
Later in the day, she said, legislators might go on the House or Senate floor, “and you'd be able to see something.”
That brought some derisive chuckles from the assembled press corps, which had gathered on the waiting room couches to stake out the meeting and are already bracing for another special session.
“Hey! Hey!” Gregoire admonished the reporters in her sternest teacher tone, then told the students not to pay any attention to crew on the couches.
“We need to see if maybey we can get done with out jobs by midnight tomorrow,” Gregoire told the students as she left to start the meeting.
House Ways and Means Committee's hearing on several reform bills was postponed until 3 p.m. because of the leadership meeting.
OLYMPIA - Less than 48 hours left in the extra special session and both houses expect some work on 'reform' bills.
The House Ways and Means Committee has a noon hearing on bills that passed the Senate on Saturday: new requirements for community supervision of recently released inmates, a new system to require budgets that balance over four years rather than two, and a major change to the health benefit programs for public school employees.
The Senate may vote on changes to the state pension system that end early retirement options for new state employees. That bill is reportedly a precedent to any Senate vote on the operating budget.
The big questions still remain, however. Will the House pass the 'reform' bills, and will the Senate pass the House budget?
OLYMPIA — A bit of drama this afternoon before the Senate broke for lunch, with plans by Democrats to go “at ease” in the afternoon while the Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing on the budget and reform bills connected to it…and possibly come back for votes in the evening or Saturday.
After the motion to go at ease, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, made a motion to recess until Monday. The difference: under the latter, no votes could be taken through the weekend.
Several Republicans had already headed home for the holiday weekend, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is recovering from surgery. Some Republicans were concerned about orders to return to the Senate on Saturday or Sunday to vote on the budget, and with Hewitt missing, even if they all made it back they could face a 24-24 vote, with Democrats holding most of their members but the three breakaway Ds from an early budget vote casting their lot again with the Republicans.
In case of a 24-24 tie, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, would cast the deciding vote.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown argued passionately against recess. The bills that Republicans had been pushing for could get through the committee and be available for a vote Friday or Saturday, she said. If the Legislature has a chance of getting done by Tuesday, they'll need to move that legislation to the House as quickly as possible.
“This is not about the illness of one member. This is about getting the business of the state done,” Brown, D-Spokane, said. “If necessary, I will personally take Sen. Hewitt's vote on that bill.”
There's no problem with holding the hearing, Schoesler said. But the threat of being called back on Saturday or Sunday is a problem with some members already home with their families.
“The threat of a call of the house with a holy holiday coming is a very serious issue,” he said.
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said her 94-year-old mother was being baptized as a Catholic on Saturday in Yakima, and “I hope to heck we get to go tomorrow.” Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said one of her relatives was also being baptized on Saturday. (Note: Catholics traditionally baptize new adult members during their Easter Vigil service.)
Not to be out religious-ed, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the Democrats two Jewish members had agreed to stay as late as necessary Friday night, which is the beginning of Passover, “willing to forego their very holy day in order to get the business of the state done.”
In the end, Owen ruled that the motion to go in recess came first, took precedence, and called for a vote on that. It passed. Unknown yet whether there will be votes late into the evening Friday, Saturday or Sunday.