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Originally published Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 12:48 AM

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Gov. Gregoire calls special session

Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for another special session as the current 30-day special session ended before lawmakers could pass all the bills they needed as part of their budget deal.

Associated Press

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Seems to me these legislators have been on a deadline since November..and they still... MORE


OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for another special session as the current 30-day special session ended before lawmakers could pass all the bills they needed as part of their budget deal.

Even though any special session can run up to 30 days, Gregoire said early Wednesday that lawmakers have agreed to a one-day session.

"The intent is for folks to continue working through the night until the job is done," she said.

Lawmakers had been passing bills tied to the budget right up until the deadline, but weren't able to move everything before time ran out.

"If I let them go home, the air will be out of the balloon again," Gregoire said. "They know they need to keep working. They know they're on a deadline."

Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who is the main budget writer for Senate Democrats, said negotiators have essentially completed their work. Staff is now busily preparing all the bills and supporting documents, he said.

"We need a few more hours," he said, adding he believed they will finish early Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, lawmakers announced they had reached a tentative deal, and they started moving bills. However, at various points, action came to a halt as negotiators worked out details on bills that were still in question.

Gregoire said a key sticking point was over a bill to alter health insurance benefits for K-12 employees, but that they were still working on compromise language.

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

Part of the agreement was around a bill addressing early retirement benefits for future state employees. That measure had been a key sticking point between Democrats and Republicans.

A Republican-led coalition in the Senate had insisted on several reform-related bills, including the pension one, before taking up the budget.

Senators approved the measure Tuesday by a margin of 27-22, clearing a major hurdle in the quest by lawmakers to complete their work. The state House passed the plan shortly before 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, finalizing a deal that had eluded lawmakers for months and delayed final action on the state budget.

State workers who retire before the age of 62 already have scaled back pension benefits. Under the new bill, pension benefits for workers retiring at the age of 55 would be reduced by as much as 50 percent. The changes only apply to workers hired starting in May 2013. The plan would save the state an estimated $1.3 billion over 25 years.

The Senate also passed other budget-related bills off the floor Tuesday night. On a 42-5 vote, the Senate approved an accounting maneuver in which the state would temporarily claim control of local sales taxes before they are sent back to jurisdictions at their usual time, roughly a month after they are collected. That plan is estimated to increase the state's general fund balance sheet by some $238 million. That measure passed the House last week and now goes to the governor for her signature.

Also Tuesday, the House passed a measure that would require the state's two-year budget to be in line with anticipated revenue over a four-year period or 4.5 percent growth per year, whichever is greater. The measure, another bill that was part of the budget negotiations, was passed on a 79-19 vote and was then passed by the Senate, and now heads to Gregoire for her signature.

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said Republicans weren't going to rush the process and concede on their main issues - changes he says could save the state a lot of money in the long-run.

"If we have to spend an extra day or two, it's well worth it," Carrell said. "We've got to do this right."

Lawmakers still need to pass several bills, including the health insurance one, the budget and a construction budget.


Associated Press writers Mike Baker and Jonathan Kaminsky contributed to this report.

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