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Deal or no deal? Conflicting claims fly as state budget bickering persists
With a state government shutdown looming, lawmakers sent conflicting messages Wednesday about whether a budget deal had been reached.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — In a sign of just how dysfunctional the state Legislature has become, lawmakers Wednesday argued about whether they had completed a budget deal — or not.
The bizarre episode started shortly after noon when Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, tweeted from inside the Republican-led caucus in the Senate that “we have reached the framework for a budget deal.”
Next came an email to reporters that the Senate majority had reached agreement with House Democrats.
That was met with a barrage of denials from House Democrats and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
“No one has reported to the governor or his budget director that there is an agreement. And, in fact, the House has told us that it is still negotiating with the Senate,” Inslee spokesman David Postman said in an email to reporters.
Both sides later said the big stuff is out of the way and lawmakers are in the weeds hashing out smaller details. But some of those weeds have apparently turned into Scotch broom. They just won’t go away.
The stuff that’s reportedly been agreed to — after months of negotiations — is big indeed.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said negotiators have agreed to a $33.8 billion two-year state budget that would put an additional $1 billion into public schools and avert a government shutdown starting July 1.
Budget writers also agreed to stop higher-education tuition increases for one year, with some flexibility to do so in the second year, Hill said.
And they agreed to eliminate a tax break for residential phone service that’s projected to net about $85 million over the next two years.
And yet there remain areas of disagreement that have bogged down negotiations for days, including questions about how much fish Washington residents consume — and the subsequent impact on water-quality standards.
The state has been exploring new water-quality rules that are influenced by how much fish Washington residents eat, but the Senate has proposed a larger study that could put the rule-making process on hold.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said he wants the study to pass, since Boeing is concerned about the impact of the fish-consumption numbers.
He indicated the Senate would still pass the budget even if the study wasn’t funded. However, it wasn’t clear if the rest of his caucus felt that way.
And so negotiations continue while the state approaches a government shutdown when the current budget expires at midnight June 30, Sunday.
The governor’s office last week said roughly two-thirds of all state agencies and boards and commissions would be partially or completely closed if the current budget expires without a new one to take its place.
Thousands of notices have been sent to state workers warning them of potential layoffs if a budget is not passed in time.
Among other things, the shutdown would close state parks and could force the state to suspend state-funded programs such as medical services for the aged, blind and disabled; the kidney disease/dialysis program; and health care for children who are not in the United States legally.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.