Gregoire’s prodding doesn’t lead to deal on budget

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire wasn’t ready Tuesday to give up on the idea of lawmakers reaching agreement on a budget in time to adjourn on schedule.

But today she may be faced with the reality that a special session is inevitable.

“No question about it, if we don’t have significant movement by the end of the day it will be very difficult to get out by midnight Thursday,” Gregoire told reporters Tuesday morning. “I am one of those people who will fight until the end to get out on time.”

When asked what would constitute “significant movement,” she said she would know it when sees it.

“I am not interested in a special session,” she said. “I want to get the job done.”

She said she’s meeting with lawmakers and knows conversations are going on “across the aisle with respect to the Senate and across the dome with respect to the House.”

As the evening approached, there were no signs of the kind of breakthrough required to reach a compromise on how to erase a roughly $500 million hole in the current budget and create an ample reserve.

Right now, there are two proposed budgets in play — one written and passed by the Democratic majority in the House and one crafted by Republicans and approved in the Senate with the aid of a handful of Democrats.

There are a couple of big differences gumming up the works.

For example, the House delays a $330 million apportionment payment to public schools by one day, effectively pushing the expense into the next budget. Senate Republicans call it a gimmick they don’t want to see in a final deal.

On the flip side, the Republicans’ reliance on skipping a payment into one of the state’s pension plan seems a nonstarter for many Democrats.

House Democrats are primarily working toward a deal through Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who is the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and author of a budget that didn’t come up for a vote in the Senate.

Murray is serving as a conduit for ideas and offers between Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, architect of the House budget and Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the primary author of the GOP spending plan. Murray is also negotiating directly with Zarelli on possible changes in the Senate-passed budget.

“We are talking. We are having triangular conversations,” Zarelli said Tuesday. But, he said, there’s been no movement toward dropping the delayed payment option and that’s a must-have for his caucus.

Murray said Tuesday he’s hoping all the exchanges going on will get the Legislature in position to act by Thursday night.

“By this time tomorrow, we’ll have a better idea,” he said.

Hunter, like Zarelli, fully expects lawmakers will need another special session.

“It takes three days to write a budget bill. It’s too big. It’s too late,” he said. “You should not do these things in a hurry.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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