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Originally published May 23, 2011 at 9:07 PM | Page modified May 23, 2011 at 9:40 PM

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State budget OK still in doubt | Legislature 2011

In Olympia, votes for the state budget have been tied to legislation changing the state workers' compensation system, passed Monday, and also a proposed constitutional amendment to reduce spending on debt.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

quotes Hans Dunshee obviously is extremely confused. Government does not exist to give jobs to... Read more
quotes However, labor groups have opposed the idea, as does House Capital Budget Committee... Read more
quotes Dunshee wants to keep spending us into more debt. He also wants to kill the Initiative... Read more

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Legislative leaders say they have a tentative deal to close a $5.1 billion budget shortfall. But how that agreement gets through the Legislature wasn't yet clear Monday.

Details on the cuts will be released Tuesday morning. They are expected to include spending reductions for K-12 schools, higher education, social-service programs and state-worker pay.

"The public has seen every single item in this budget," said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, one of the lead negotiators. "There are no surprises."

Votes for the budget have been tied to two other issues: legislation changing the state workers' compensation system and a proposed constitutional amendment to reduce spending on debt.

A deal was reached over the weekend on workers' compensation, and the House and Senate passed the legislation Monday. But the two chambers are still fighting over whether to limit spending on debt.

Senate Republicans say they won't vote for the operating budget unless the Legislature addresses the debt issue as well. And it's not clear if Democrats, who control the Senate, have the votes to pass a budget without GOP help.

A bipartisan group in the state Senate wants to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that, if approved, would gradually reduce spending on debt.

Debt payments will approach $2 billion in the next two-year budget, roughly 6 percent of all state general-fund spending.

However, labor groups have opposed the idea, as does House Capital Budget Committee Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.

Dunshee says the proposal would tie the Legislature's hands and cut spending on construction at a time when builders could use the work.

Gov. Chris Gregoire met with lawmakers during the day and into Monday evening, seeking a compromise on the debt-limit amendment. Constitutional amendments need two-thirds votes in both chambers, and voter approval, to become law.

Speculation emerged that lack of an agreement on the debt-limit measure could jeopardize passing a capital budget this session. The capital budget pays for public construction projects such as schools, university buildings and prisons. It doesn't include highways or other transportation projects, which are paid for from a separate budget.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said Monday that the lack of a capital budget should not keep the Legislature in town.

"The only thing we have to get done in order for us to finish our work is the operating budget," he said, adding later that "there doesn't necessarily have to be" a capital budget.

Marty Brown, the governor's budget director, said lawmakers have been discussing a capital budget of up to $1.5 billion over the next two years.

That would require approving more than $1 billion in bonds, which would need a 60 percent vote of lawmakers in both houses.

With a simple-majority vote the Legislature could pass a capital budget that doesn't include financing projects with bonds. But that would limit spending to around $300 million, Brown said, and would delay a lot of construction projects.

Lawmakers have two more days to figure this out. The special session is scheduled to end Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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