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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Budget clock ‘running out,’ Inslee warns, as third special session starts

OLYMPIA – The Legislature slid out of its second special session and into a third Wednesday without any visible sign of a deal on the operating budget.

Gov. Jay Inslee criticized lawmakers for failing to do the one thing they are required to do, and vowed to veto any attempt to pass a temporary spending plan if they can’t reach agreement on the full budget by June 30, which is the end of the state’s fiscal year.

“The clock is running out,” Inslee told reporters at a news conference where he used a wide range of sports analogies to underscore the seriousness of the situation.

It would be the first time in state history a Legislature failed to pass a two-year budget before the end of the fiscal year, he said. Legislatures in 2013 and 2015, however, came close, passing budgets on June 30, requiring him to sign them before midnight.

“We won’t get there without a lot of compromise on both sides,” he said. “It’s time to stop digging in on things that simply don’t have a chance of passing both chambers.”

A one-month “stopgap” budget, which Inslee said Republicans have floated as a backup if the full budget isn’t finished, was unacceptable and as reckless as a shutdown, the governor said.

“I do not intend to give them more time,” he said, adding when pressed he would veto such a measure if it passed the Legislature.

Without a new budget, the state loses the legal authority to spend money on many programs and employee salaries on July 1. Notices of a potential temporary layoff will go out later this week, as required by state law.

Effects of a partial shutdown would include state prisons refusing to accept new inmates sentenced by county courts, shutdown of state fish hatcheries for critical species, no meal services to about 50,000 seniors and state parks being closed the weekend before July 4, Inslee said. He scheduled a conference call with legislators on Thursday to go over the details.

Legislative leaders said they have made progress on the budget and its biggest element, a major revision to the state’s public school system mandated by the Washington Supreme Court. But neither are finished, or at the point where they would reveal details about compromises that have been made.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said he had “every expectation” the budget would be ready for a vote by June 30.

“All of these issues will be resolved next week,” Fain said between running through the steps to close the second special session and open the third in a mostly empty Senate chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he and GOP budget negotiators were working to “close the loop” on the budget and the school changes. He expected a budget compromise to be ready for a vote next week but acknowledged Republicans have discussed options if that’s not possible.

“They’re just what-if things. You always have what-if things,” he said, adding that negotiators were concentrating on meeting the June 30 deadline for a two-year budget.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said negotiators were getting closer on the amount of money to be spent on education improvements, which would be key to deciding whether new taxes are needed, and if so, how much and which ones.

“We are willing to come to the middle,” Sullivan said as the House prepared to open the third special session.

If an agreement on education policy is reached soon, Sullivan would like to get comments from the school districts and other groups that would be affected by it.

The new policies and programs negotiated by different committee leaders, and the budget to pay for them, will have to be settled by the middle of next week to have enough time to be turned into legislation that can pass by next Friday, he said.

“I’m hoping we can get everything done by Friday,” Sullivan said.