State lawmakers adjourned their 103-day session at 4:07 p.m. Friday, but they’ll be back at work soon after Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that a special session begins Tuesday morning.
The session’s primary focus is finding agreement among the House, Senate and governor on an operating budget for the two-year period that begins July 1. But there’s a small warehouse of work to do, and it promises to be busy. Lawmakers might need the full 30 days allowed by law.
The House and Senate are within $250 million of each other on a $32 billion spending plan, but differences are major on key pieces such as pay cuts for public school teachers and cuts in money for schools and health care. The House plan was approved by majority Democrats; the Senate has passed a plan co-written by Democrats and minority Republicans.
Asked if 30 days is too little to finish the job, Gregoire said, “I hope not, but you know – ‘never say never.’”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the Senate has scheduled hearings for the next two weeks to consider budget bills. The Senate also plans to pass bills off the floor that had stalled during the regular session and need to be re-approved.
Gregoire said legislative leaders of both parties agreed to narrow their special-session work to the budget, related bills and issues such as workers’ compensation reform, consolidation of agencies, changes to the Guaranteed Education Tuition program and higher-education bills.
The overarching issue is finding compromise on a $32 billion budget that requires cuts of $4.4 billion to $4.8 billion. Some cuts are relatively easy, such as accepting 3 percent pay reductions for most state employees and suspending initiatives that would cost more than $1 billion to pay for cost-of-living pay adjustments for public-school teachers.
There are 40 to 60 budget-related bills, and some reflect complicated policy choices. Also, Gregoire wants to push a contentious fight to limit state-backed debt for construction projects. A House-Senate dispute on that has stalled passage of a capital budget that could put 51,000 people to work over the next two years.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said it was not yet clear if proposals heard Thursday in committee to raise $140 million in new revenue by closing tax exemptions for banks and purchasers by out-of-state shoppers will be addressed in the special session.
The Service Employees International Union 775 Northwest already has at least eight initiatives filed to cut off select tax exemptions, but if lawmakers do not act, it is not yet clear if SEIU or labor allies will push any revenue measures to the November ballot.
Selling off or leasing out the state’s liquor warehouse and sales system has been suggested for raising $200 million to $300 million, enough to close much of the gap between the Senate and House budgets.