Inslee calls for special session to start Wednesday

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday called for a special session to start April 29 in order for lawmakers to finish work on a two-year state operating budget, but said that he wants budget negotiators in his office Monday to get a head start.

Inslee said he informed House and Senate leaders of his decision Thursday and will issue his formal proclamation Friday, when lawmakers plan to adjourn.

“It is time for all sides to compromise, and on Monday I hope to hear openness to that and acknowledgement that the House and Senate will have to move toward each other in order to get the people’s work done,” Inslee said in a written statement.

The statement said that while Inslee considers the operating budget and education funding the top priority of the upcoming special session, he is also asking lawmakers to finish work on other issues, including a transportation revenue package and a capital construction budget.

Legislative leaders had already agreed to adjourn the regular 105-day legislative session Friday, two days earlier than it was originally scheduled to end. However, Republicans wanted lawmakers to return Monday, and had sent Inslee a letter Thursday saying so, noting that school districts need certainty about budget decisions as they make staffing decisions.

Inslee’s decision came following a meeting with House and Senate Democrats.

After the meeting, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan wouldn’t give a date that Democrats asked the governor to consider, saying that different people prefer different days. But he said that they shouldn’t come back before there is a thaw in talks between the two sides.

“Coming back and staring at each other doesn’t benefit anyone,” he said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler wanted a Monday special session start, saying: “If there’s no pressure to do anything, nothing happens.”

Lawmakers this year are tasked with writing a new two-year operating budget for the state under the shadow of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which mandates that more money be spent on education.

The politically divided chambers have different ideas on how best to do that, with Democrats seeking more revenue and Republicans saying new taxes are not needed.

Schoesler and Senate Republican Caucus Chair Linda Evans Parlette sent Inslee a letter Thursday noting the state is already scheduled to give a progress report to the court on its efforts Monday.

“The Legislature should be in session that day, with budget negotiators at work toward a plan that will enable a progress report capable of satisfying the court — not waiting for a special session to begin at a later time,” the letter reads.

Lawmakers hit an impasse last week on budget negotiations last week after GOP budget writer Sen. Andy Hill told House Democrats that they’d either have to pass their tax bills related to their budget proposal — which includes a capital gains tax — to prove they have a balanced budget plan or consider a smaller revenue amount as a negotiating starting point before negotiations could move forward.

Since then, though, Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter and Hill, the key budget writers for each chamber, have been having regular meetings, even though formal negotiations have halted.

“It’s not like we’re not continuing to talk, it’s just the big issues are at a standstill,” Hill said.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Inslee said both parties in both chambers have done “a lot of good work” but that much compromise remains.

“I understand I won’t be getting everything that I have proposed. And I’ve told lawmakers that they each need to now recognize that they need to start moving toward each other’s position. The House is going to have to find a way to reduce spending, and the Senate will have to add revenue.”

Once a special session begins, lawmakers will have up to 30 days to get their work done or risk being called back. Two years ago, the state operating budget was signed into law just hours ahead of a deadline that would have triggered a government shutdown.

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