Legislature to adjourn Friday; special session Wednesday

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

Inslee said he informed House and Senate leaders of his decision on Thursday and will issue a formal proclamation on 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.

Legislative leaders had already agreed to adjourn the regular legislative session on Friday, two days earlier than originally scheduled. However, Republicans wanted lawmakers to return on 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 a state Supreme Court 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 that the state is already scheduled to give a progress report to the court on its efforts on 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 read.

Lawmakers hit an impasse last week on budget negotiations after House Democrats said they were given an ultimatum to pass tax bills related to their budget proposal before negotiations could move forward. GOP budget writer Sen. Andy Hill, however, said he offered to consider a smaller amount of revenue as a starting point for negotiations and only told Democrats they’d need to pass their revenue bills after they refused.

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 beings, lawmakers will have up to 30 days to get their work done or risk being called back yet again, which occurred two years ago. That year, the two-year state operating budget was signed into law just hours ahead of a deadline that would have triggered a state government shutdown.

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