By Jerry Cornfield
As expected, Gov. Chris Gregoire called lawmakers back into special session this morning to pass a revised budget and reform bills aimed at stabilizing state finances in the years ahead.
She said Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate caucuses agreed they could finish up everything within 24 hours.
“They know they are on a deadline. That’s the way you get things done around here,” she said. “I’ve now been through enough special sessions unfortunately that you see that the bulk of the special session where little goes on then you see this sprint to the finish line. The sprint took a little bit longer than we wanted them to take.”
State law allows lawmakers to go as long as 30 days and Gregoire cannot stop them. So why does she think they will be done in 24 hours or less?
“The reason I got them to agree to one day is so you would embarrass them if they went beyond one day,” she said.
Indeed, they appear to want to get home badly. When the special session ended at midnight Tuesday, lawmakers labored on with hopes of finishing before sunrise.
On Tuesday, lawmakers on Tuesday could not complete the Herculean task of approving the number of controversial and complex pieces of legislation that lay before them.
Erasing a $500 million shortfall in the state budget stood out as the primary task of the 2012 regular and special sessions.
Democratic and Republican budget writers reached consensus on how to plug the gap without cuts in funding to public schools and colleges and set aside a reserve of around $320 million.
Attached are highlights of the budget agreement provided by Senate Democrats.
Also ahead this morning will be a vote on a $1.1 billion supplemental capital budget with hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending. Its authors say those dollars will fuel creation of up to 20,000 jobs.
But under a deal reached among caucus leaders Tuesday, votes on those budgets would not be held until each chamber approved bills to put a requirement for balanced budget into law, curb early retirement options for future state workers and improve health insurance offerings to public school employees.
While those three reforms don’t save money for the two-year budget running through June 2013, a coalition of Republican and moderate Democratic senators demanded their passage as a condition of voting on the budget. They argued throughout the 60-day regular session and month long extra session that those measures will help the state save billions of dollars and ensure future budgets are sustainable.