No agreement on budget; special session is called
With no sign of an agreement near, lawmakers will return at noon on Monday.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — The state Legislature sputtered to a finish Thursday night without agreement on how to close a $1 billion budget shortfall. Lawmakers did pass a landmark bill legalizing gay marriage this session and approved other legislation, including a measure adding improvement in student test scores to the list of factors used to evaluate teachers.
But budget negotiations stalled Thursday night with no sign of a deal happening anytime soon.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said a 30-day special session will start at noon on Monday. "I hope they will be able to finish it (the budget) next week," she said, shortly before midnight.
Democrats and Republicans were busy pointing fingers earlier in the day.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray accused Republicans of "playing politics" and trying to paint Democrats "as not being able to govern."
Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt said Democrats "are going to try to do the blame game for not getting out on time."
Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, but Republicans seized control of the budget process in the Senate last Friday, with the help of three conservative Democrats.
They passed a budget different from Democratic proposals with a 25-24 vote.
Since then, Republicans have tried to get House Democrats to negotiate a compromise, and the House has ignored them.
Instead, House Democrats decided to make a last-ditch attempt on Thursday to pass a budget that only their party likes.
The measure passed the House with a 53 to 45 vote.
Three Democrats voted against the House budget: Reps. Deb Eddy, of Kirkland, Mark Miloscia, of Federal Way, and Jeff Morris, of Mount Vernon.
Senate Democrats support the House budget but never brought it up for a vote Thursday.
The biggest sticking points between the Republican and Democratic budgets are provisions to skip or delay certain payments.
The House Democratic proposal would delay a payment to K-12 schools by a day, pushing it into the next two-year budget and saving $330 million in the current biennium.
Republicans oppose that move. Meanwhile, Democrats have refused to go along with the GOP proposal to skip a $133 million payment toward funding older, closed pension plans for teachers and state workers.
Gregoire has said she doesn't see the Legislature making much progress on the budget until a compromise is found between those two positions.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the House proposal was a start that shows "one clear document to look at, that reflects where both House and Senate Democrats are."
She said the proposal makes some moves toward Republican ideas, including some cuts to a welfare program for the poor.
The new House budget also contains no cuts to K-12 or higher education and preserves a program known as Disability Lifeline, a welfare and health-care program for unemployable adults who aren't covered by Social Security benefits.
The Senate Republican budget would make about $74 million in cuts to K-12 and higher education and eliminate Disability Lifeline.
But Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, who drafted the GOP plan, has said budget cuts are negotiable.
This story includes material from The Associated Press.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org