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March 8, 2012 at 12:10 PM

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Democrats and Republicans no closer to budget agreement

House and Senate Democrats are rushing toward an uncertain end on the final day of the legislative session.

Democratic leaders say the House will pass a budget this afternoon that represents a unified position between House and Senate Democrats.

But it's not clear if the bill will even be voted on in the Senate. The governor expects the Legislature to go into a special session.

While Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, Republicans have seized control of the budget process in the Senate, with the help of three conservative Democrats, and say the House budget will fail if brought up for a vote.

"The last six days have been spent between Senate Democrats and House Democrats figuring out what kind of budget they would support," said Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli, noting Democrats have not directly negotiated with the GOP.

Zarelli, who drafted the Senate Republican budget, said that from his perspective the new Democratic proposal makes no progress. "We've just gone nowhere," he said.

House and Senate Democrats still propose delaying a June 2013 K-12 payment until July 2013, which would put the expenditure into the next two-year budget cycle. That move would save around $330 million in the current budget, which means lawmakers would not have to cut that much from state services.

Republicans oppose the delayed payment, while Democrats refuse to go along with the GOP proposal to skip a $133 million payment toward funding older, closed pension plans for teachers and state workers.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said she doesn't see the Legislature making much progress on the budget until a compromise is found between those two positions.

Neither side appears ready to back down.

The new House budget also contains no cuts to K-12 or higher education and preserves a program known as Disability Lifeline, a welfare and health-care program for unemployable adults who aren't covered by Social Security benefits.

The Senate Republican budget made cuts to K-12 and higher education and eliminated Disability Lifeline. But Zarelli has said budget cuts are negotiable.


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