Approval of $480M budget gap bill paves way for special session to end

The OlympianDecember 13, 2011 

The state House overwhelmingly approved what many called a “partial down payment” on the state’s $2 billion budget gap tonight. Approving the $480 million bill sets up the Legislature for adjournment of its special session Wednesday.

The vote was 86-to-8 in favor of House Bill 2058, which relies on less than $200 million in actual cuts to spending. Four lawmakers were absent; sSeven of the eight no votes were Republicans, and the lone Democrat against was Rep. Marko Liias of Mukilteo.

The biggest pieces in the budget bill are fund shifts and new revenues – including $82 million in unspent money from the previous biennium and another $50.6 million from quicker conversions of unclaimed property by the Department of Revenue.

Yet another $38.4 million comes from additional federal welfare aid allocated to the state, and $752,000 saved from limits that will end “over-the-counter” replacement of electronic-benefits cards for welfare clients.

Also, $22.6 million would come from a three-year delay in the law changing when people mental-health disorders are detained or committed involuntarily.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed its version of the budget-gap bill this evening, setting up a late Wednesday morning or afternoon vote on the Senate floor. Republican Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla said Majority Leader Lisa Brown had agreed to work as late as needed to finish up Wednesday.

Sen. Ed Murray, the Seattle Democrat in charge of the budget in the Senate, said he anticipates all budget-related measures can be passed. It was not immediately clear how many of the aerospace-related education bills sought by Gov. Chris Gregoire are in line for quick approvals.

The debate on the House floor over the partial budget solution was a replay of the battle this morning in House Ways and Means. Republicans led by Rep. Charles Ross of Naches tried to attach an amendment to strip the operating and transportation budgets of funding for a commute-trip reduction program that pays public employees to carpool.

Rep. Ross Hunter, the Democrat in charge of the House budget writing, said the funding can be revisited after lawmakers return Jan. 9 for a regular, 60-day session to close the remainder of the budget gap. Hunter said budget leaders had agreements with the Senate on a bill that did not include the amendment.

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