By Jerry Cornfield
They needed an extra 30 days and seven-and-a-half hours but state lawmakers concluded their work for 2012 early Wednesday then headed home for rest, relaxation and, for some, a re-election campaign.
Working in fits and starts Tuesday, the last day of a month long special session, lawmakers plugged away at a stack of bills to rebalance the current state budget and make reforms aimed at putting state finances on a more even keel in the years ahead.
When that overtime ended at midnight, they labored on as Gov. Chris Gregoire proclaimed another special session and said it would last no more than one day.
She was right. They adjourned just after 7:30 a.m.
“The reason I got them to agree to one day is so you would embarrass them if they went beyond one day,” she told reporters just after midnight.
Lawmakers depart Olympia following a historic 60-day session highlighted by enactment of a law making it legal for same-sex couples to marry.
The session also will be remembered for a political earthquake which struck the Senate on March 2. On that day, 22 Republicans and three moderate Democrats united to seize control of the chamber from majority Democrats in order to pass a GOP-crafted budget and several reforms.
But the alliance immediately found itself at odds with House Democrats, who passed their own much different spending plan and whose liberal members didn’t embrace any of the reform ideas.
A stalemate ensued, pushing lawmakers into a special session that began March 12 and didn’t produce a comprehensive deal covering budget and related bills until just before dinner Tuesday.
Toiling all night, they adjourned at 7:30 a.m. having passed a budget which plugs a $500 million hole and sets aside $320 million in reserves as well as a capital budget which will steer several hundred million dollars into construction projects around the state.
For the coalition, the most important tasks completed were passage of bills to require lawmakers balance spending over a four-year period, curb early retirement options for future state workers and change the structure of premiums and benefits of health insurance plans for teachers and classified school employees.
In an interview late Tuesday, Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said the dramas this year may prove to be a coming attraction should Republicans gain a majority in the Senate.
“What happened in the Senate changed things,” Liias said. “This is the kind of gridlock that comes from divided government. That’s not a criticism. It’s a reality. Divided government takes longer.”