Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inslee calls special session starting Wednesday; budget negotiations to resume sooner

OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature will go into overtime to handle key issues, including the $38 billion budget needed to keep the state running for two years starting July 1.

Legislators will wrap up their regular session, which could have gone until midnight Sunday, sometime this afternoon. Gov. Jay Inslee will call them back into special session starting Wednesday for as many as 30 days.

“It’s time to compromise,” Inslee said at a morning news conference. “I understand I won’t be getting everything I proposed … The House is going to have to find a way to reduce spending, and the Senate is going to have to find a way to raise revenue.”

Inslee said he was giving legislators a few days off to be “respectful of legislators wanting to see their families for a couple days.” But he’s asking budget leaders to return Monday to restart negotiations on the 2015-17 operating budget, which broke down last week. The predominantly Republican Senate majority said they wanted House Democrats to put the tax increases needed for their budget to a vote before considering it; otherwise, they argued, the House spending plan was out of balance.

House Democrats countered that Senate Republicans already had said they wouldn’t consider a vote on those taxes if they came over from the House, so why bother? They wanted to go through the two budgets section by section to find agreements and possible compromises.

The operating budget must be approved before going home for good. Without it, the state doesn’t have the authority to spend money on many programs and salaries after June 30. Failure to pass a budget could prompt a partial government shutdown July 1. The budget must also try to satisfy a state Supreme Court order that the Legislature provide more support for basic education expenses in public schools. Also tied up in that budget are court orders to improve treatment and facilities for some mental health patients; possible expansion of other social service programs; pending union contracts with raises for state workers; and statutory raises for teachers.

Legislators can tackle any issue they want in a special session, just as they can during a regular session, and they are likely to continue negotiations over a transportation package that would raise the gasoline tax by 11.7 cents over three years to pay for a long list of new road and bridge projects.

Inslee said he also would like them to complete work on a compromise of different oil transportation safety proposals that have passed each chamber and enact legislation on reducing carbon pollution, a topic he’s championed but hasn’t gained much traction in either house.

In 2011 and 2013, the Legislature needed two special sessions to reach an agreement on an operating budget. Legislative leaders from both parties have said they want to avoid that and would like to reach a budget deal by mid-May so school districts will know how much the state will send them as districts plan budgets for the upcoming school year.