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Originally published Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 4:10 PM

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Editorial: Lawmakers must focus on one thing — the budget

In any special session, the Legislature should focus on the budget and not refight other battles.

Seattle Times Editorial

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GOV. Jay Inslee insisted Wednesday that the Legislature pass bills on gun control, drunken driving, abortion insurance and undocumented students. With the 105-day session ending Sunday, the time has come and gone for these bills. All these are issues this editorial page has strongly supported and will again — next year.

Any special session needs to focus on the budget, which will take some work. On the crucial issue of revenue, the two chambers are $900 million apart.

Each of their proposals has flaws.

The Senate has offered a no-new-tax budget that increases spending by more than 6 percent, the expected increase in revenue from existing taxes. Normally, that would be enough. The problem this year, however, is the Washington Supreme Court’s order to increase state support of public schools and the urgent need to strengthen state support for colleges and universities.

The Senate Majority Coalition’s budget fixes these problems by grabbing school-construction money from the timber trust fund, which may be unconstitutional, and by shorting other things. It cuts functions that shouldn’t be cut any more, such as the courts. Also, Senate budget writers have left an ending balance of one-tenth of a cent on every dollar, which amounts to an ill-advised gamble that all luck will be good.

House Democrats have passed $900 million in taxes. These include the closing of some tax preferences that ought to be closed, such as the sales tax exemption for bottled water and an exemption of landlines from a telephone tax.

The House planned to extend a temporary tax on beer but backed off after the beer industry demonstrated against it, but there was no equivalent protest by service providers, and a temporary tax on them will be extended. This will hurt the service industry, which has been a creator of jobs.

This new money in the House budget allows the state to escape almost all the Senate’s cuts, some of which are good.

In aid of spending, the House also drains $575 million from the state’s emergency fund. Because current conditions do not qualify as an emergency, this would require a 60 percent vote of both chambers, which the proposal is unlikely to get.

These are big issues, and reaching a reasonable compromise will take time. Legislators need to get to it. They should not allow themselves to be distracted by issues that stir passions but can wait until next year.

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