Work continues toward state budget deal

Details still being hammered out in session’s final days

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OLYMPIA -- Lawmakers continue to move toward agreement on a supplemental budget, but the Senate adjourned Friday night with the sides still split on a variety of bills.

Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman Sen. Ed Murray disappointed hopes when he said the panel would not move on a budget bill Friday night.

The committee held a public hearing on the budget bill and several others, including a controversial one dealing with health insurance for Washington’s public school employees. It ultimately approved several bills Friday, including a four-year balanced budget measure.

It also approved the health care measure. That bill would replace an original proposal to consolidate school employee health insurance under the state’s Health Care Authority with one keeping health care in the hands of the school districts. It would require the districts to provide financial and enrollment information to the state’s Insurance Commissioner, and to move toward bringing down the cost of covering workers’ family members.

The Senate was scheduled to return this morning.

The 30-day special legislative session ends Tuesday.

Lawmakers are trying to close a roughly half-billion-dollar shortfall for the two-year budget cycle ending June 2013.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has been negotiating with all parties on a regular basis since special session started March 12. Republicans have been insisting on several bills, including measures to reform the state pension system.

Democrats have abandoned their initial proposal that would have largely balanced the budget by delaying a payment to schools into the next budget cycle, and Republicans have moved away from a plan to skip a pension payment for a year. Instead, they seem to be adopting an alternative accounting maneuver in which the state would temporarily claim control of local sales taxes before they are redistributed back to jurisdictions at their usual time -- roughly a month after they are collected. A bill using that apparently agreed-upon move was also tentatively approved by the committee Friday night. The measure won’t be able to go to the floor until enough lawmakers from the committee sign on to it.

In addition to the budget, lawmakers still must pass a construction budget and several related bills.