OLYMPIA — The Legislature’s constitutionally mandated final day of this year’s 105-day session is April 28. But with a $1.2 billion budget disagreement between the GOP coalition in the Senate and the Democrats in the House, many legislators are wondering if a special session will be needed.
Democrats want to generate $1.2 billion in additional revenue from a continuation of taxes set to expire and the closing of tax loopholes. Republicans claim generating revenue in that way constitutes a tax increase, and instead proposes to balance the budget with spending cuts and funding transfers.
Unlike the federal government, which can and does run a deficit, the law requires the state budget to be balanced.
Disagreements between the two parties have caused the Legislature to enter into special session every year since 2010, but not all lawmakers believe a special session is going to be called this year.
“If I had to bet, no, it’s not going to,” said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver.
Moeller, House speaker pro tempore, said he feels there are distinct differences between this session and the past few years. “We knew earlier on certain things were not going to fly with the budget,” Moeller said.
Moeller believes a point of friction between the parties will be interpreting how much money should go to education this year as mandated by the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling that the state must fully fund basic education. However, since both parties have committed to increase education funding, the issue should be much easier to resolve, according to Moeller.
“I’m sensing there will be closure in the last few days, especially if the weather gets nice,” Moeller said.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said she’s also hopeful the Democrats and the Republican-leaning majority coalition in the Senate can pass a budget.
“I feel strongly that we have been sent here to work in a collaborative way,” Cleveland said.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said it’s a 50-50 chance the Legislature could see a special session.
Republican Representative Paul Harris of Vancouver said he felt pleasantly optimistic until he saw the budget differences.
“The majority coalition’s plan is pretty cantankerous for my Democratic House members,” said Harris. “There is definitely going to have to be some fixing to get the Democrats in the House on board.”
Though Harris said he agrees with “living within our means” and not raising taxes, he believes a majority of Democratic House members want to generate more revenue.
Democrat leaders as well as the governor have insisted that closing tax loopholes and extending temporary taxes does not equate a tax increase.
Harris said a special session didn’t make sense to him, given the early date that the governor and the Senate released their budget proposals.
“But if we do go into it, it won’t be long,” he predicted.
A special session can last up to 30 days, or as few as one.
“I’ll know more in a week, but I can tell (House Democrats) are not happy,” he concluded.
Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, said it is too soon to say whether a special session will be needed.