Signs of progress, but no firm budget deal

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democratic and Republican lawmakers negotiated for hours Monday in hopes of reaching agreement on a balanced budget and government reforms before time runs out in the special session.

It remained unclear late Monday if the marathon talks resulted in a deal lawmakers could approve Tuesday, the last scheduled day of the extra session.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said shortly after 8 p.m. that party leaders and budget writers had a framework to resolve differences which have stalemated the Legislature for much of the 30-day special session that ends Tuesday.

However, a half-hour later, Republican leaders from the House and Senate left the negotiations to speak with their caucuses without confirming what Brown said.

When Senate Republicans emerged from their caucus around 10:15 p.m., members were adamant no agreement was in hand.

“We don’t have a deal. I don’t know of any deal,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “It’s not out of reach. It just hasn’t happened yet.”

Meanwhile, the House adjourned just after dinner while senators remained at their desks anticipating they would be voting on bills at some point. Frustration ran high among Democratic senators.

“If we don’t get it tonight, it’ll be another 30 days,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

Without an accord, Gregoire would have to decide soon whether to bring legislators back or proceed with across-the-board cuts in spending by state agencies to plug a projected $500 million budget gap.

Prospects of a third special session to solve a festering shortfall in the two-year budget appeared to motivate party leaders in the House and Senate and the governor Monday. They began meeting in Gregoire’s office at 12:30 p.m. and negotiated into the evening, taking breaks for food and to brief members of their respective caucuses.

Gregoire initiated the talks by offering what her staff described as a possible ‘go-home’ proposal.

“Good compromise,” Brown said hours later, adding it appeared to have enough support in all four caucuses to get it through.

While party leaders and budget writers huddled behind closed doors, many House members awaited word at or near their desks on the floor.

“We’re hoping. We’re staying,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. “We’ll be here around the clock if there’s hope.”

Optimism has been in short supply in the overtime session that began March 12 after lawmakers failed to agree in the 60-day regular session on how to re-balance the budget and make major reforms in several government programs.

Solving the budget problem has vexed lawmakers for some time. Gregoire called them into special session in late November to confront what was then a $2 billion deficit. With cuts and transfers they erased about a fourth of the shortfall.

In mid-February, better-than-expected revenues and a drop in demand for state services left lawmakers facing a $500 million hole plus whatever they set aside in reserves.

Since then, lawmakers have been stuck.

House Democrats, who hold a 56-42 majority, passed a budget plan while 22 Republicans and three Democrats united to pass a much different version in the Senate. This coalition of senators also insisted several major reforms be approved before it would be willing to act on a new budget and House Democrats opposed most of them, creating a stalemate Gregoire sought to break Monday.

By Monday, the list had been narrowed to three: eliminating early retirement options for state workers hired after July 1, a consolidation of health insurance plans for public school employees and a requirement that lawmakers balance the state budget for up to four years at a time.

“The longer people are talking, the better,” said state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, one of the three moderate Democrats aligned with Senate Republicans on budget and reform matters.

The state Senate did make some progress Saturday by passing versions of two of the reforms sought by Senate Republicans and moderate Democrats.

On a 29-17 vote, senators approved a bill aimed at improving health insurance coverage for all public school employees.

Presently, health insurance plans are offered on a school district-by-school district basis for teachers and classified workers. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, authored a bill to consolidate the number of plans and push most of the workers into a state-run system.

However, the bill passed Saturday allows school districts to continue offering coverage for their teachers and classified employees under certain conditions. For example, the plans must establish employee premiums for full family coverage that are at most three times the cost of premiums for individuals.

Districts that fail to comply with the different requirement could have their employees placed in the existing health insurance program for state workers.

Also Saturday, senators approved legislation to require the state’s two-year budget to be in line with anticipated revenue over a four-year period. This measure, championed by Kastama, cleared the Senate on a 30-16 vote.

What didn’t pass Saturday was a bill to eliminate early retirement options for some state employees. After a rancorous debate, senators deferred action.

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

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

N3054V accident site. (Alaska State Trooper Photo)
Lake Stevens pilot, who lived ‘Alaska dream,’ died in Fairbanks crash

Former Snohomish County lawyer Harry “Ray” Secoy III, 63, worked as a DC-4 pilot in Alaska in the last years of his life.

Air and ground search and rescue teams found Jerry Riedinger’s plane near Humpback Mountain on Monday. (WSDOT photo)
Remains of pilot recovered near Snoqualmie Pass after Arlington flight

Jerry Riedinger never made it to Ephrata after departing the Arlington airport Sunday. Investigators have not determined the cause of the crash.

Federal prosecutors say the two men shown here outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, are Tucker Weston, left, and Jesse Watson. (U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia)
Lynnwood roommates sentenced for roles in Jan. 6 riot

Tucker Weston was given two years in prison Thursday. Jesse Watson received three years of probation in August 2023.

Lynnwood
Lynnwood firm faces $790K in fines for improper asbestos handling

State regulators said this is the fifth time Seattle Asbestos of Washington violated “essential” safety measures.

A truck towing a travel trailer crashed into a home in the Esperance neighborhood Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (South County Fire)
Man seriously injured after his truck rolls into Edmonds home

One resident was inside the home in the 22500 block of 8th Avenue W, but wasn’t injured, fire officials said.

Ferry workers wait for cars to start loading onto the M/V Kitsap on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Memorial Day holiday weekend travel nightmare is upon us

Going somewhere this weekend? You’ll have lots of company — 44 million new BFFs — on planes, trains and automobiles.

Bothell
Bothell family says racism at Seattle Children’s led to teen’s death

In February 2021, Sahana Ramesh, the daughter of Indian immigrants, died after months of suffering from a rare disease.

Boeing Firefighters and supporters have a camp set up outside of Boeing on Airport Road as the company’s lockout of union firefighters approaches two weeks on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Union firefighters reject Boeing’s latest contract offer

The union’s 125 firefighters on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected the offer, which included “an improved wage growth” schedule

A “No Shooting” sign on DNR land near Spada Lake is full of bullet holes on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, along Sultan Basin Road near Sultan, Washington. People frequent multiple locations along the road to use firearms despite signage warning them not to. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
County pumps the brakes on planned Sultan shooting range

The $47 million project, in the works for decades, has no partner or funding. County parks officials are reconsidering its viability.

Suzan DelBene, left, Rick Larsen
Larsen, DelBene request over $40M for projects in Snohomish County

If approved, Congress would foot the bill for traffic fixes, public transit, LED lights and much more around the county.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.