State lawmakers working toward adjournment
Legislative Democrats may have passed a two-year budget dealing with a massive deficit, but they can't go home just yet. Several other controversial bills are in limbo and could complicate plans to end the 105-day legislative session by midnight Sunday, as scheduled.
OLYMPIA — Washington's Legislature staggered toward final adjournment Sunday night, pushing past a staredown between Senate and House Democrats that threatened to derail the 105-day session at its very end.
The political brawl was centered on proposed changes to a voter-approved clean-energy initiative, a bill being pushed by Senate leadership. Initiative 937 directs utilities with more than 25,000 customers to get 15 percent of their power from new sources such as wind or solar by 2020.
House lawmakers from the Tacoma and Vancouver areas wanted to give homegrown utilities more leeway in meeting the initiative's standards for renewable energy. Without those changes, they refused to support some other critical measures, putting adjournment at risk for a time Sunday evening.
But the impasse was broken late Sunday, when the clean-energy bill appeared to be dead in the House.
The Legislature also was expected to approve a construction budget and take up a grab bag of other policy measures on its final night, including a reduction of unemployment-insurance taxes for business, particularly The Boeing Co.
A day earlier, the Legislature granted final approval to the two-year operating budget that cuts heavily into projected government spending, including money for education, health care and social services. There are no general tax hikes in the budget, but college tuition and other fees will be increased.
The $35 billion, 2 ½-year budget — unveiled publicly just Friday morning — moved quickly through the legislative process, with the House passing it Friday night and the Senate passing it Saturday. Gov. Chris Gregoire's signature is next.
It bridges a $9 billion gap between expected spending and revenue, with about $5 billion coming from federal bailouts and other one-time fixes, and some $4 billion through spending cuts.
Those reductions have ticked off plenty of the Democratic majority's leading supporters. Some 40,000 people will lose coverage under the Basic Health Plan for the poor, 9,000 college slots will go without state support, and some 8,000 government jobs could be lost.
Other remaining policy initiatives were mostly cleared up Sunday afternoon, including approval of a plan to replace Seattle's aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel and a tolling plan for the State Route 520 bridge across Lake Washington between Seattle and its eastern suburbs.
The Legislature also approved a $7.5 billion transportation budget, including money for new ferries, statewide road paving, and some financing to replace "megaprojects" like Seattle's viaduct.
The purchase of four ferries is queued up over the next four years. Three will be 64-car ferries, and the fourth will be either a 64-car or 144-car vessel, depending on how much money's left.
Many of the transportation budget's road projects will begin this summer, part of a plan to spend about $5 billion on what lawmakers are calling the state's most ambitious construction season, creating 49,000 jobs.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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