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Originally published Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 3:58 PM

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Wash. state budget dispute spills out into public

The simmering dispute over how to fix Washington's budget shortfall spilled into the public Wednesday as both sides in the lengthy quest tried to spin public opinion in their favor.

Associated Press

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"Rodney Tom, one of the three Democrats working with the GOP on the budget, said... MORE

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

The simmering dispute over how to fix Washington's budget shortfall spilled into the public Wednesday as both sides in the lengthy quest tried to spin public opinion in their favor.

Negotiations have largely been operating behind the scenes for months. But with the end of the latest special session looming early next week, Democrats and Republicans alike held news conferences in which they touted the concessions they've made throughout the process.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said it was frustrating that a GOP-led coalition in the Senate has been focused on policy issues.

"We haven't had the ability to actually negotiate the budget itself," Sullivan said.

Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli argued that the latest Democratic proposal in some ways moved the two sides further apart because it made the budget less sustainable over the long term. He argued that his side had conceded plenty in the negotiations.

"We've moved significantly, but we're not going to just fold the tent and go home," he said.

House Democrats, in unveiling their latest budget volley, did abandon their initial proposal that would have largely balanced the budget by delaying a payment to schools into the next budget cycle. Instead, they are adopting an alternative accounting maneuver in which the state would temporarily claim control of local sales taxes before they are redistributed back to jurisdictions at their usual time - roughly a month after they are collected.

The plan includes a two-year balanced budget measure that would require an outlook for a four-year budget. Republicans had wanted a four-year requirement in statute, not just an outlook.

The proposal also eliminates some - but not all - early retirement benefits for state employees hired after July 1.

Sen. Rodney Tom, one of the three Democrats working with the GOP on the budget, said the latest pension proposal from House Democrats was not viable because it still left public sector retirement benefits very different from the private sector.

"The public's not going to go for that," Tom said. "You need a level playing field."

Democrats hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, but last month, Republicans established a philosophical majority in the Senate after three 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.

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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