By Rachel La Corte Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A special session of the Washington Legislature started Monday, but only a handful of lawmakers were in town while Democratic and Republican leaders try to come to an agreement over the supplemental budget.
Gov. Chris Gregoire met with party leaders from both the House and Senate on Monday morning and was expected to meet with them again Tuesday.
“The goal is to move as quickly as we can,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, after the meeting with the governor. She said legislative leaders were going to discuss a list of ideas suggested by the governor with their budget writers, and then would return with specific feedback for Gregoire.
Gregoire said that she was encouraged by the meeting because the four caucus leaders “were open and listening to each other at the table, and they were working together.”
“We absolutely have to get this done,” she said.
It’s likely to be a “pro forma” session for much of the week, with no floor votes or committee action taking place until there’s at least a framework of an agreement.
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.
“There a way out, the question is can we get enough people to support that way out,” House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said of any potential budget deal.
The budget drama began last week once Senate Republicans established a philosophical majority in the Senate after three conservative Democrats stood with them on a GOP-crafted budget plan that then passed the Senate but stalled in the House. That chamber passed an alternate plan agreed to by majority Democrats in the House and Senate.
The main sticking point between the two sides, Gregoire said, is Republicans plan to delay a pension payment by a year, and Democrats plan to delay a $330 million payment to school districts by one day.
It will be the second special session for lawmakers to deal with the supplemental budget. They spent nearly three weeks in a special session that ended mid-December, weeks before the regular session started in January. Lawmakers initially had been looking at a $2 billion budget problem but addressed some of it in December. They were later helped, in part, by a forecast in February that showed a slight uptick in revenue, and additional savings from a drop in demand for state services, or caseloads.
In addition to the supplemental budget, lawmakers still need to pass a construction budget and several bills tied to the budget.