House and Senate GOP leaders, in a meeting with reporters, said too much time has been spent on hot-button issues from gay marriage to plastic bag bans to abolishing the death penalty. The legislative session is nearly a quarter of the way complete and there is no timeline on when a draft budget will be circulated, they said.
"I do not want to get to the end of the 60-day session potentially looking at a special session and then just wasting more taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Linda Evans-Parlette, R-Wenatchee. "So let's get to work."
Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Jan. 9, tasked with addressing a projected budget deficit of about $1 billion through June 2013. Gov. Chris Gregoire wants a buffer of several hundred million dollars in case the economy underperforms, meaning legislators will have to make about $1.5 billion in cuts or find new revenue. The Democratic governor has also asked the Legislature to send a temporary sales tax to the November ballot to help offset those pending cuts.
The contentious non-budget issues -- including a measure to legalize gay marriage that is expected to pass the Legislature -- threaten to inflame passions and harden resolve ahead of what already promise to be difficult budget negotiations, said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.
"We've never seen a fiscal crisis like this in a supplemental year, ever," Hewitt said. "We need to stay focused on getting that resolved."
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, had met earlier Wednesday their Republican counterparts to discuss the budget. Brown said Murray, a leading budget writer, the Senate GOP's lead on budget issues are negotiating.
Brown said that the Senate Democrat plan is to release a budget soon after the next revenue forecast, which is scheduled for Feb. 16
"I don't see us as being delayed," she said. "I think we're on track."
Murray, who is sponsor of the gay marriage measure, disagreed that Senate Democrats are distracted by other issues, saying that 90 percent of his time has been spent working on the budget.
"I think this is more about politics than reality," he said of Republicans' complaints.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that House Democrats time frame to release their budget proposal is about the same time as the Senate. He said that there's a possibility they could do a joint release with the Senate, but "we have a little work to do before we get to that point and make that decision."
Gregoire spokeswoman Karina Shagren said the governor wants the budget "to be wrapped up as quickly as possible."
"The longer we wait, the larger the problem," Shagren said.
The legislative session ends March 8.
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