OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers adjourned their 105-day legislative session Sunday without coming to an agreement on a new two-year budget, and Gov. Jay Inslee quickly called them to return again in two weeks to complete the work.
Along with a budget, Inslee said he wanted lawmakers to also address some policy issues that stalled in the Legislature, including laws to address gun violence, a transportation funding package and new rules related to abortion insurance. Inslee said he wants lawmakers to come back May 13, giving them time to work on some negotiations in the meantime.
“The parties are not miles apart at the moment, they are light years apart at the moment,” Inslee said.
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said his caucus is focused on jobs, education and budget issues. He said he didn’t expect issues such as the abortion insurance bill to pass in the special session, since it didn’t get through the Senate during the regular one.
The abortion insurance measure would make Washington the first state to require insurers to cover abortions.
“I’m sorry if the governor is distracted from the budget,” Schoesler said.
Inslee insisted that the “central responsibility is the budget.”
“Our primary responsibility here is a budget that will allow education of our kids and transportation improvements,” he said.
Lawmakers are tasked with patching a projected budget deficit of more than $1.2 billion for the next two-year budget, not counting additional money needed for a court-ordered requirement that they increase funding to basic education.
The House and Senate have taken different approaches to balance state spending and increase funding for education, with the biggest difference centered around whether to raise revenue from extending taxes or eliminating tax breaks.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said state lawmakers could have concluded their business on time if Democrats did not propose tax increases, and if the governor had stuck to his campaign promise of not raising taxes.
“We are more serious about the governor’s campaign promises than he is,” Rivers said Sunday. She added that the Democrats’ “budget has a long way to go.”
Inslee has said he is sticking to his campaign promises because he only proposed to close tax loopholes and make some temporary taxes permanent.
Democrats have a 55-43 majority in the House. The Senate is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats.
Negotiations have continued throughout the week, but Senate Republican budget writer Andy Hill told TVW on Sunday that the current situation is one where “the budgets are very far apart” and that the votes do not exist in the Senate to raise taxes.
Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray of Seattle said that he’s been frustrated by the majority’s seeming resistance to negotiate on the topic of increasing revenue.
“There has to be some willingness to compromise,” Murray said.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said she hopes the final operating budget is a true compromise between the two proposals on the table. She also said a tax package aimed at funding transportation projects, including the Columbia River Crossing, would go a long way to creating jobs for the state.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that he believed lawmakers would be able to finish their work within one special session, but said he knows it will be a tough negotiation.
“I said from Day 1 that I thought this was going to be one of the toughest budgets we’d have to put together,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “We’ll have to come together. It’s somewhere in the middle, we all know that, it’s just a matter of getting there.”
Sullivan said he is not opposed to non-budgetary issues being raised during the special session, but said that will not be the primary focus of House Democrats.
“Our focus has to be on the budget,” Sullivan said. “If there are other issues that come up and we’re able to get settled, that’s great. But the focus has to really be on the budget.”
Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, acknowledged on Sunday the task ahead: “We have a lot of work to do before we reach an agreement.”
AP writers Mike Baker and Jonathan Kaminsky, and Lucas Wiseman of The Columbian and the Murrow News Service contributed to this report.