By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers finished their scheduled 60-day session Thursday night but they are not done for the year
They’re scheduled to be back in special session beginning at noon Monday, working toward adoption of a spending plan and tax package to eliminate a $2.8 billion shortfall in the state budget.
Gov. Chris Gregoire decided to give lawmakers the weekend off before launching into overtime. She said she’s giving them seven days to get an agreement.
Gregoire, flanked by House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said that should be enough time for Democrats, the majority in both chambers of the Legislature, to settle their differences on the budget.
Gregoire met with Democratic leaders in the two chambers several times Thursday, pressing them to at least agree on what amount of money they want to save through cuts, raise through taxes and set aside in reserves to erase the deficit. They can focus on how to get to those levels in the extra session.
“We’re not miles away. It’s solvable,” said Rep. Mark Ericks, D-Bothell, who as vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is involved in budget negotiations. “We’ve had a couple of offers going back and forth.”
Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said he thinks all the work can be wrapped up quickly and hoped they launch into special session today.
“If you define a week as seven days, we can get it done in less,” he said. “If I was governor, I’d say don’t let us leave town and get it done by Sunday.”
Republicans criticized Democrats for not steering the Legislature to finish on time. Members of the majority party said they weren’t going to be rushed by the calendar.
Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said the Legislature had a “mammoth task” of re-balancing the budget.
“These are complex and difficult decisions,” he said. “I think the public wants us to come down here, do a good job and leave when it’s finished. This time it didn’t happen in 60 days.
Special sessions have been a rarity in recent years.
Lawmakers returned for one day in 2007 to reinstate a voter-approved cap on property tax increases tossed out by the state Supreme Court.
In 2003, legislators didn’t have a budget deal when the 105-day session ended. Then Gov. Gary Locke sent lawmakers home for two weeks while negotiations took place between leaders of the Democratic-run House and Republican-controlled Senate.
When they returned, they held a 30-day session plus two additional days later in the year.
Special sessions cost taxpayers about $18,000 a day with roughly $12,000 for the House and $6,000 for the Senate. Most of that money is for the $90-a-day per diem legislators receive.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.