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Originally published Friday, December 2, 2011 at 9:21 PM

Legislature slower on budget than Gregoire wants

Despite a budget crisis and a governor anxious for action, state lawmakers returned to Olympia this week with no signs that the emergency is translating into urgency.

The Associated Press

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OLYMPIA — Despite a budget crisis and a governor eager for action, state lawmakers returned to Olympia this week with no signs the emergency is translating into urgency.

Gov. Chris Gregoire wants the cuts to be finished by Christmas, but top budget writers are already saying they aren't likely to complete their work until sometime in the new year. There was no public progress toward an agreement this week.

Democratic Sen. Ed Murray, of Seattle, said negotiators have been in daily meetings, going line-by-line through the spending, and he didn't see how it was possible for lawmakers to rush through and finish their work in December.

"I think it would be irresponsible if we did that," Murray said.

Gregoire said she's not willing to accept the Legislature can't finish in December because she has been sounding the alarm about the budget for months, telling agencies to prepare for deep cuts in August.

By September, Gregoire already had called for the special session, and lawmakers said they would be working on budget ideas. She laid out specific budget options in October, and then two weeks ago brought forward an official all-cuts budget plan that included dozens of revenue options lawmakers could choose from.

She expressed frustration with the lack of progress.

"Every day they fail to act, it becomes a bigger problem," Gregoire said.

Murray had been planning to be in Seattle on Friday to participate in a political event criticizing Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna but said it was canceled because of a newly scheduled budget meeting.

The delays may also cause other issues. Gregoire and many Democrats are interested in putting a tax package before voters to buy back some of the cuts. But the Secretary of State's Office says a plan needs to be finalized by the end of December to allow enough time to logistically prepare for the vote.

Lawmakers did begin public hearings on the budget, drawing protesters who jeered talk of potential cuts.

Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli, of Ridgefield, said it's very difficult for the Legislature to squeeze out a budget in a few weeks when it requires coordinating dozens of lawmakers who may want to protect or reject various programs.

He said that although negotiators have been talking for several weeks, the opening days of the special session were still about laying a foundation.

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