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Originally published Monday, April 2, 2012 at 4:29 PM

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McKenna criticizes House Speaker over bill votes

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna strongly criticized House Speaker Frank Chopp on Monday, saying the Democratic leader is blocking votes on key bills that lawmakers are considering in budget negotiations.

Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna strongly criticized House Speaker Frank Chopp on Monday, saying the Democratic leader is blocking votes on key bills that lawmakers are considering in budget negotiations.

At a press conference in Olympia, the attorney general said Senate Republicans "haven't seen one inch of compromise from the speaker's office, in that he won't allow any vote on a reform bill."

McKenna mentioned bills requiring a four-year balanced budget and changes in the pension system, including one ending early retirement benefits for future state workers.

McKenna said it was "highly unlikely" his comments would derail the negotiation process.

"I think the speaker is managing to derail it all by himself, by refusing to allow a vote, even on reform bills that have bipartisan support," he said.

Lawmakers are nearing the end of a 30-day special session to address the budget. They are trying to close a roughly half-billion dollar shortfall for the two-year budget cycle ending June 2013.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has said that if they aren't able to reach a general agreement by Tuesday, it will be difficult for lawmakers to get everything done by the April 10 end of the 30-day special session.

Lawmakers are expected back in town Wednesday, though it's unclear whether there will be a budget deal for them to vote on.

Democrats hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, but last month, Republicans established a philosophical majority in the Senate after three conservative Democrats stood with them on a GOP-crafted budget plan that then passed the Senate but stalled in the House. That chamber passed an alternate plan agreed to by majority Democrats in the House and Senate.

Gregoire has been negotiating with all parties on a regular basis since special session started March 12.

McKenna encouraged Republicans to stick to their insistence that overhauls are part of any negotiated deal.

"They shouldn't back down on things that clearly make sense," he said.

On Monday, McKenna also unveiled several other long-term budget ideas, including increasing the Legislature's power in being able to amend or suspend state union contracts during a fiscal emergency, introducing managed competition for state services, continuing to shrink the size of government.

McKenna and Democratic former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee are vying to replace Gregoire, who is not running for a third term.

If lawmakers aren't able to get a budget deal by the end of special session early next week, it's possible they could get called back again. If that happens, it would be the third special session for lawmakers to deal with the supplemental budget. They spent nearly three weeks in a special session that ended mid-December, weeks before the regular session started in January.

In addition to the supplemental budget, lawmakers still need to pass a construction budget and several bills tied to the budget.

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Follow Rachel La Corte on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly

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