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Originally published Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 3:42 PM

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The clock ticks down on Wash. special session

Senate and House leaders met throughout the day with Gov. Chris Gregoire as they tried to strike a budget deal Tuesday before the clock runs out at midnight.

Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Senate and House leaders met throughout the day with Gov. Chris Gregoire as they tried to strike a budget deal Tuesday before the clock runs out at midnight.

"We're getting close," said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, as she headed into the governor's office in the afternoon.

The flurry of activity Tuesday started the previous day and was the culmination of months of fruitless negotiations over how to close a roughly half-billion dollar shortfall for the two-year budget cycle ending June 2013.

A Republican-led coalition in the Senate will not take up the budget until lawmakers approve a series of policy changes in state government.

Gregoire had offered a full package proposal Monday afternoon to address the budget and other sticking points such as pensions, a balanced budget measure and altering health insurance benefits for public school employees. She said shortly before midnight that talks veered from cordiality to anger during 11 hours of negotiations.

Democrats hold power in the House and have been unwilling to embrace GOP bills that passed the Senate Saturday, one that would require the state's two-year budget to be in line with anticipated revenue over a four-year period and another to alter health insurance benefits for K-12 employees.

Sen. Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat who voted with Republicans on a budget proposal last month, had been out of town this week in California and not expected to return until Wednesday, after the special session ended. However, he was seen in the Senate wings Tuesday, having returned a day earlier than expected.

When asked whether they'd be able to finish on time, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt said, "It's gonna be tough."

The main sticking points remain three bills that Republicans and a handful of Democrats have demanded action on before taking up the budget. Those are bills altering health coverage for K-12 employees, eliminating early retirement options for some public employees and implementing a four-year balanced budget requirement.

"We're still working on some of the reform bills," said Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee. "There's agreement in concept, but I can't say there's agreement in language."

Earlier in the day, key lawmakers announced that they reached a deal on the capital budget.

House Capital Budget Committee Chairman Hans Dunshee, a Snohomish Democrat, said the agreed-upon $1.1 billion supplemental capital budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending.

However, the capital budget, which is for building and construction projects, would not be passed until after the operating budget, however, and no operating budget deal has yet been struck. The current special session ends Tuesday.

Parlette said both parties agreed to spend more on projects now, while the economy is struggling and costs are low. She said she expects next year's capital budget to be more modest.


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