State lawmakers returned to the state capitol on Monday to start an overtime session needed to balance a $2.8 billion budget deficit.
Senators started the special session with a bit of housekeeping Monday by re-voting on a handful of bills that didn’t make it all the way to the governor’s desk during the just-expired regular session.
The bills included a tax break for small businesses hiring new employees and the Senate’s version of an updated state budget. The budget was approved on a narrow 25-19 margin, with several Democrats again voting “no” — including Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, the Senate budget’s main architect.
Democrats argued they cut at much as they could.
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“This is lean. It is not anywhere near the level we would like to be providing in support for our students in higher education or our K-12 schools,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
Republicans said the budget would add too much spending on new projects, and said it was backward to approve a spending plan before finding the taxes to help pay for it.
“For everything we add, we should be looking for an offset someplace else,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.
The budget heads over to the House as Democratic leaders continue their negotiations on the overall budget and tax plan.
Democratic leaders plan to use a combination of spending cuts, tax increases, federal bailouts and one-time accounting maneuvers to close the deficit. But the details are still being negotiated in closed-door sessions.
In her official proclamation calling for a special session, Gov. Chris Gregoire asked lawmakers to tackle the state’s construction and operating budgets, along with some attempts to stimulate job growth. She wants the whole thing done in a week, and she said Monday that she would veto anything that isn’t related to the state’s construction and operating budgets, or attempts to stimulate job growth.
“This is not a regular session anymore,” she said Monday. “This is a special session with a focused and targeted agenda.”
House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said negotiators have general agreement on about $400 million worth of taxes, but need to find accord on another $400 million to fill out their package. The Senate’s plan for a temporary sales-tax increase is projected to net about $315 million through June 2011, when paired with a state rebate intended for poorer taxpayers.
Kessler said the House and Senate are getting closer to agreement on the spending plan, but remain farther apart on the increased taxes needed to help pay for it.
The Senate has proposed a temporary three-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax increase, while the House is focused on a menu of shrunken tax exemptions and targeted rate hikes.