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Lawmakers say deal on budget close

Temporary layoff notices readied for state workers

OLYMPIA – With state agencies preparing to send temporary layoff notices to some workers Monday, legislators signaled they are closing in on a deal for a two-year operating budget.

So close, in fact, leaders of the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus were predicting they would be done and able to adjourn before then.

“We are going to finish on Sunday,” Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, predicted. “There’s no reason not to have it all done by then.”

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

Earlier in the day, 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 that budget by July 1.

Ten days into its second special session, the Legislature is still without a budget of about $32.5 billion to cover many state programs and wages for the two-year fiscal period that begins 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 past 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 even though budget negotiations are continuing, the state needs to be ready if there’s no deal.

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

As Heuschel and other state officials were finishing their press conference, Tom and other Senate leaders 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.

Offers continued to be exchanged behind closed doors throughout the rest of the day. Before the Senate started an afternoon session, Tom said budget negotiations were moving well enough that he predicted “an agreement in principle” by today.

At one point, 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 only “a couple sticking points” – which he wouldn’t describe – remained.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the work would be done “as quickly as possible” but emphasized there was no deal yet.

“We have made progress toward an operating budget proposal, but we have a lot of work to do before we have a final agreement,” Sullivan said in a prepared statement.

Senate Democrats used the lack of a deal to jab Republicans in control of that chamber as they passed several bills that change government procedure while the budget remained in doubt. Sen. Nathan Schlicher of Gig Harbor, an emergency room physician, likened it to taking a patient who’d been bit by a Shih Tzu rather than the patient with a gunshot wound to the chest.

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