With no budget pact, special session next for Legislature

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers wrapped up their regular session Sunday evening then learned they are due back May 13 for what promises to be a grueling special session to end lingering disputes on spending, taxes and a batch of social policies.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who set the date over objections of Republican leaders, said he wanted most legislators away from Olympia while he and a handful of House and Senate members engage in “vigorous” negotiations on an operating budget.

He said he hopes to make “substantial progress” in the next two weeks so when the session begins lawmakers “can move forward on an expedited basis.”

In the Senate, Republican members of the majority coalition pushed for the extra session to start Monday. They worried an extended break could exacerbate existing conflicts between the two chambers.

“It wasn’t our preference. But we don’t get to pick it,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

While Inslee wants lawmakers focused on the budget, it’s only one of many issues he’s asking them to act on in the extra session that, by law, can last up to 30 days.

He said he wants the Legislature to pass a plan for raising billions of dollars for transportation improvements and enact a slate of school reforms. He also called for votes on controversial bills that deal with abortion insurance coverage, college financial aid for undocumented immigrants and background checks on private gun sales.

And he expressed confidence a bill to crack down on repeat drunken driving offenders will get through, saying it’s about “95 percent” complete.

Beyond that, he said he’s been told Senate Republicans and House Democrats plan to bring up additional subjects for consideration.

It’s a lengthy list, yet the governor is convinced disputes that paralyzed the Legislature through the 105-day regular session can be settled in 30 days of overtime.

“I think we will have plenty of bandwidth to get this done,” he said.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, expressed confidence the differences on the budget can be overcome by the two chambers, which will be a linchpin to settling other matters.

“We’re not that far apart,” he said. “We’re talking about a couple hundred million dollars in revenue. We’re talking about a couple reforms. Once they sit down and figure out what we’re going to accept on each side, I think we can get out of here quickly.”

Inslee sized up the distance on the budget quite differently. “The parties are not miles apart. They are light years apart,” he said.

Much of the divide is on taxes.

The House passed a budget that spends roughly $1.1 billion more than the budget approved by the Senate. The difference is the amount of money House Democrats want to raise by extending an expiring business tax and eliminating tax exemptions, two moves opposed by the Senate Majority Coalition.

Inslee also strongly backs erasing exemptions and using the new tax dollars for schools. He told reporters Sunday night that Republicans need to “get over their ideological fixation” against taxes.

But moments later he admitted deals won’t be reached on any subject unless all the parties and he compromise.

“My side of the table is going to have to come to the table and make some concessions,” he said.

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

Online:

Washington state Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov

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