Special legislative session appears likely -- again

OLYMPIA -- State lawmakers have until Sunday to reach a budget deal and pass it or else they will have to go into a special legislative session.

All signs are that the sides are just too far apart at this point to pass a compromise. Even after  three months of talk and negotiation, there are still big differences in the budget proposals.

“The House Democrats and the governor are hell bent on raising taxes,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Mason County, a member of the conservative-led coalition in the state Senate. “That’s just not going to make it through this session.”

For the past four years, lawmakers have gone into overtime to get a budget done, and it always seems to come down to the same sticking point:  raising revenue versus cutting spending.  This year, the script is pretty much the same, with about $1 billion separating the two sides.

Sheldon supported the Senate-passed budget proposal, pushed by the Republicans, that holds the line on taxes. He believes a special session will be necessary to continue to press that point.

“We have some real serious problems about spending money on projects that are not giving us results,” Sheldon said.

The primary thrust of the House-passed budget proposal is that more taxes are needed to help meet the recent state Supreme Court McCleery decision that mandates at least $1 billion more for K-12 education.  Among the sources of that new revenue: a charge on bottled water and a requirement that non-residents pay sales tax, something from which they are now exempt.

“I don’t see how we meet our McCleery requirement without revenue,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “How important is a tax exemption that has been determined to not be necessary versus funding for education?”

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who was voted into his majority leader position by the Republicans, argues that lawmakers can find $1 billion more for schools without raising taxes and jeopardizing the economic recovery.

“We’ve shown that we can hold the line and still be strong on the priorities that people want,” he said.  “Obviously, we’re a ways off on a lot of these key issues.”

Gov. Jay Inslee will make a decision about a special session in the next few days. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn its regular session on April 28 -- Sunday.

A special session could start as soon as Monday, or Inslee may choose to give legislators a break and simply have leaders stay in town until a deal is reached.  Lawmakers would then be called back later to vote.