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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington state budget negotiators still wrestling with budget spending level

OLYMPIA – Legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee met twice Thursday trying to settle a key point in budget negotiations that have dragged into a second special session.

But after meetings at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the governor’s conference room attended by legislative leaders, top budget writers and their staffs, no agreement was reached on the total amount of money that will be in the 2015-17 operating budget. They did, however, have what House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called “a hard conversation about big issues.”

After the morning meeting, David Schumacher, Office of Financial Management director, said the sides are getting closer.

“The first thing they’re trying to figure out is the spending level they can all agree to,” Schumacher said. “They got really close to the same number.”

Sometimes referred to as “the box,” the spending level is not a given because it changes if the amount of tax money the state collects goes up or down, if some existing tax exemptions are closed or new ones are approved, if the need for particular services rises or falls, or if more kids enroll in public schools. More controversially, it will change if new taxes are approved or money is taken from other accounts and placed in the general fund.

Both sides have to agree on what steps the state would take to get to a particular spending level, Schumacher said.

Disagreement on the size of the budget is where negotiations bogged down in the regular session, and continued through the first 30-day special session.

It was “quite possible” legislators could reach an agreement on a spending level by today, Schumacher said. That could set the stage for more detailed discussions on how much to spend on particular departments or programs, and a budget proposal that could be put to a vote by late next Friday.

Right now, Inslee is acting as a referee in the talks, not taking sides, Schumacher said. That keeps discussions cordial among legislators who have been publicly sniping at each other’s budget plans.

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