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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Is Tuesday D-Day for the budget?

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.

The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.