Gov. Chris Gregoire says state lawmakers aren't likely to finish budget negotiations before the legislative session ends at midnight Thursday.
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers, for the third year in a row, appear headed into special session to negotiate a state budget.
Gov. Chris Gregoire acknowledged Wednesday that lawmakers need more time to finish their work, saying it’s not technically possible to get everything done by the end of the regular session on Thursday.
But Gregoire added that lawmakers should work to reach a budget deal Thursday so they can come back and pass it quickly in special session.
“Anybody who says time out, we’re not going to do anything between now and midnight tomorrow night, shame on them,” she said. “Their job is … to get it resolved.”
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Senate Republicans have been saying for days that a special session will be needed to sort things out.
However, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, maintains it’s possible to finish on time. “I think we can still get this done and get a budget passed by midnight tomorrow,” he said Wednesday.
Budget negotiators have been struggling for months to agree on the best way to close a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall.
Matters got more complicated after Republicans took control of the Senate last Friday and, by a 25-to-24 vote, passed a GOP budget with the help of three conservative Democrats who crossed party lines.
Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt said the governor should let lawmakers have a long weekend before calling them back to work on the budget, noting that majority Democrats are still upset with the GOP.
“We seriously need a cooling-off period,” Hewitt said. “It’s still very tense.”
Unless Senate Democrats find a way to peel off one of their wayward members, or a Republican, completing a budget means finding a compromise between the Senate GOP budget and Democratic proposals.
There was little indication of movement on Wednesday, with lawmakers in both parties blaming each other for dragging their feet.
The Republicans’ plan makes deeper cuts to state programs than either House or Senate Democrats’ original plans do, especially in health and human services programs and K-12 education.
However, one of the biggest differences between the Republican and Democratic proposals is the use of delayed or skipped payments to help close a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall.
House and Senate Democrats proposed delaying a June 2013 K-12 payment until July 2013, which would put the expenditure into the next two-year budget cycle. That move alone would save around $330 million in the current budget, which means lawmakers would not have to cut that much from state services.
Senate Republicans would not delay any payments to schools, but their budget calls for skipping a $133 million payment toward funding older, closed pension plans for teachers and state workers.
Democrats say skipping the pension payment is unacceptable, and Republicans say the same about delaying school funding.
Gregoire said leaders need to get past these dueling issues before they can make meaningful progress on the budget.
“Inside the budget, I am convinced that there is absolute means to reach an agreement,” she said. “But they can’t reach an agreement until we resolve this impasse. More cuts don’t work. So they’ve got to come up with a third alternative.”
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or email@example.com. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.