Budget impasse continues at special session

  • Tue Mar 13th, 2012 6:14pm
  • News

By Jonathan Kaminsky Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire met with key lawmakers on Tuesday in a continuing effort to broker a deal on the state budget impasse, but no breakthrough has yet been reached.

In the second day of the special session, the main sticking points remain a Republican plan to skip about $130 million in pension payments and a Democratic plan to delay a $330 million payment to school districts by one day.

The Republican plan is tied to broader changes the GOP envisions for the state pension system, which House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, says are unacceptable.

Aside from the differences over school and pension payments, there is a good deal of common ground, Sullivan said.

“I just don’t think we’re that far apart,” he said. “There are a couple key components that still need to be worked out.”

Lawmakers are looking to close a budget gap of about $500 million through the end of the two-year budget cycle, ending June 2013. They also hope to leave several hundred million dollars in reserves.

Lawmakers couldn’t agree on a supplemental budget plan before the regular 60-day legislative session ended at about midnight Thursday.

Both Sullivan and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said that while they don’t want any cuts to K-12 and higher education spending to help plug the budget hole, such cuts remain a possibility.

The Republican budget proposal that passed the Senate with the support of three Democrats includes about $74 million in education cuts over the next year.

For their part, Republicans have been firm in their insistence that the payment to schools not be shifted into the next fiscal year — and into the next two-year budget cycle.

They decry this as an accounting gimmick that would allow lawmakers to avoid passing a truly balanced budget.

“We want to put the best budget we can together with the least amount of gimmicks, and we don’t want to be focused on a bunch of new taxes to do it,” said House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

Gregoire is scheduled to meet with Senate Republican leaders Wednesday for further budget discussions.

“We’re trying to find a way to get out of here,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla. “We’re a ways away.”