OLYMPIA – The Legislature will go into double-overtime in an effort to reach a deal on how to spend some $38 billion on state programs, agencies and salaries over the next two years.
On Thursday, the last day of a special session called primarily to reach a budget deal, Senate Republicans released their latest spending proposal, the first they’ve made public since April. They passed it out of committee without a hearing and sent it to the Senate.
House Democrats said they will study and counter with a proposal to be released Monday, and hold a hearing Tuesday after the public has had a chance to study it.
Monday will be Day 4 of the second special session, which Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday will start at 9 a.m. today.
He commended Senate Republicans for moving toward the middle on some spending issues, but said they need to move off their no-new-taxes stance, and was looking forward to seeing the Democratic counter.
“The most important thing now is to help people find a middle ground,” he said at an afternoon press conference that announced the long-expected second special session.
After House Democrats release their proposal Monday, he’ll have all budget leaders in his conference room at 10 a.m. to start daily budget negotiations. Asked why he didn’t require such meetings when the first special session started 30 days ago, Inslee replied the sides were too far apart then. Now, they are “in a place where we can see success.”
But taxes still could be a sticking point.
Neither Inslee nor Democratic leaders would say how much more revenue – generally speaking, higher taxes or fees – would be needed to cover programs they want to add or accounting “gimmicks” they want removed from the Senate GOP proposal. Nor would they name a preferred tax system.
“We can’t be Pollyanna-ish and think we can do this with twinkle dust,” Inslee said.
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said Democrats need to reduce their spending requests. The need to raise taxes “went out the window” with a new forecast last week that estimates the state will collect an extra $400 million in revenue over the next two years and any argument to the contrary is just “taxes for the sake of taxes,” he said.
“That’s just silly,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, responded a few minutes later. The Senate GOP budget still relies on shifting money out of other accounts, special one-time expenditures and unspecified reductions in certain programs, he said.
The Legislature did have one budget success before adjourning Thursday. They approved a plan to spend some $5 billion the state will collect in existing transportation taxes and fees for the next two years. A more difficult decision that would require lawmakers to raise gasoline taxes by 11.7 cents for new transportation projects might be made in the second special session.