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News / Northwest

Legislature to begin second special session

Inslee orders budget talks moved to his office

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: May 27, 2015, 5:00pm

Washington lawmakers are headed into double overtime.

On Thursday afternoon, the governor called the state Legislature back for another special session starting Friday.

Gov. Jay Inslee also announced he will play a bigger role in helping lawmakers break the budget impasse this time, telling them he wants them to move their face-to-face budget negotiations to his office.

Since the 105-day regular session kicked off in January, the narrative coming from Olympia has barely shifted.

“There is a group that feels like we have to raise taxes and a group that feels like we do not need to raise taxes,” said Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver. “That’s really the quandary.”

Lawmakers ended their first 30-day special session Thursday. The governor called them back for another 30 days beginning Friday at 9 a.m.

A recent state economic revenue forecast showed an increase of more than $400 million through the middle of 2017, with $327 million for the 2015-17 budget. Republicans said the new revenue bolsters their argument that no new taxes are needed. Senate Republicans released a revised budget offer Thursday, but the two sides could still not agree on a two-year operating budget. Republican Senate budget writer Andy Hill said his side of the aisle is making concessions and continues to wait for the House Democrats to do the same.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said Democrats are wasting taxpayers’ dollars by keeping lawmakers in Olympia longer.

“There’s just one thing standing in the way of a deal — the House Democrats’ unreasonable insistence on raising taxes solely for the sake of raising taxes,” Benton said in an email.

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House Democrats will unveil another budget proposal Monday. Democratic leaders said although the uptick in the economy helps, the state is recovering from years of cuts and still needs revenue to meet education, mental health and state employee salary demands. Democrats are advocating for a capital gains tax.

Inslee said the boost in revenue will help, but lawmakers shouldn’t have “Pollyanish” thinking that all the state’s problems could be solved with “twinkle dust.”

It takes “real dollars to run state government,” Inslee said.

Although lawmakers could strike an agreement on a two-year operating budget without using all 30 days of the extra-special session, Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, isn’t optimistic.

“I don’t sense there’s a great deal of frustration at this point,” Moeller said, adding “people have anticipated this.”

Harris said part of the problem is lawmakers are in a so-called rolling session, where only the leaders come back to Olympia to hammer out deals.

“I think when everyone stays, we get work done — and when everyone leaves, the pressure is off,” Harris said. “Everyone hasn’t been here. I know it’s more expensive to have us all here, but I truly believe when everyone is here it creates a different atmosphere. Nobody likes to sit and do nothing.”

Lawmakers did pass on Thursday a transportation budget that will keep the state’s ferries running and other transportation projects moving. They have yet to reach an agreement on a transportation package that would fund new state projects.

If legislators can’t strike a deal on a two-year operating budget by the end of June, they could face a government shutdown.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said she’s optimistic lawmakers won’t let it reach that point.

Plus they are facing another deadline: the U.S. Open golf tournament will be held in the area on June 11.

“There won’t be any hotel rooms here,” Rivers said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Columbian Political Writer