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News / Northwest

No budget deal yet in Washington special session

By WALKER ORENSTEIN, Associated Press
Published: March 15, 2016, 12:48pm

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers in Washington’s politically divided Legislature continued working toward a supplemental budget deal on Tuesday, but have yet to reach an agreement nearly a week into an overtime special session.

Budget negotiations have been mostly private since leaders from each chamber revealed their original proposals in February. But the Republican-led Senate on Friday made the most recent public offer, one that moved closer to the initial budget proposal of House Democrats.

The Senate’s main budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said the chambers negotiated over the weekend and have been exchanging offers behind closed doors.

“I would certainly hope we could reach a handshake deal this week,” he said. “But, of course, it takes everybody involved wanting to get there.”

The new Republican plan would alter the $38 billion two-year budget approved in 2015 by $178 million. It would also now use around $190 million from the state’s emergency fund to pay for costs of last summer’s wildfires while dropping some money-saving measures that elicited resistance in both parties, such as merging the pension plans of some firefighters, teachers and law enforcement.

Dems’ priorities

Democrats have said they don’t want to negotiate the budget in public, and have offered few specifics about the remaining differences between parties.

But Democrats have advocated for measures not in the Republican budgets, such as raising the state’s portion of a teacher’s minimum beginning salary to $40,000 a year to help alleviate the state’s teacher shortage. They also proposed using about $60 million from various state accounts, including $37.5 million from the emergency fund, to reduce homelessness.

Democrats did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The main House budget writer, Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said last week that while the latest Republican offer had some good things, it was also missing measures Democrats want such as addressing the teacher shortage.

Gov. Jay Inslee called the special session immediately after the regular 60-day session ended on Thursday, and vetoed 27 bills because lawmakers didn’t make a budget deal before the deadline.