Gov. Jay Inslee called state legislators back for a second overtime session on Tuesday with the hopes lawmakers can strike a deal on a two-year operating budget that adequately funds the state’s public education system.
The governor said lawmakers have made progress in recent days, with offers being exchanged, but they have yet to resolve their budget differences. When the Legislature fails to finish on time, it thrusts the entire state, from students to state employees, in a position of uncertainty, Inslee said.
Lawmakers wrapped up the 105-day regular legislative session in April without being able to pass an operating budget. The first overtime special session kicked off on April 21 and ended Tuesday.
The final funding package will have to be a compromise, Inslee told reporters on Tuesday, but he added he won’t sign a budget that fully funds education by slashing programs that help other vulnerable citizens, such as children in foster care.
And although overtime sessions are familiar territory for the state — lawmakers often need overtime sessions to finish their work — Inslee wouldn’t discuss the possibility of needing even more time.
“It needs to get done in 30 days,” he said several times during a meeting with the press.
The state would likely face a partial government shutdown if a budget deal isn’t complete by the first of July.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, one of the key negotiators of the school funding package, is optimistic lawmakers won’t need the entire 30 days.
“In terms of the education piece, we’re very close,” Rivers said.
State lawmakers are under a court order to fully fund the state’s public education system.
“I’m not even a little worried about a shutdown,” Rivers said.
Most lawmakers not involved in negotiations go back to their districts during a special session. Rivers said the eight lawmakers involved in negotiating the school funding proposal have been working long days every week. She said the discussions have been collegial, and lawmakers are determined to keep details out of the media until the bill is unveiled.
“We’re shooting for a bill that none of us are jumping up and down with because we thought it was perfection, but one we felt like got the job done. … The best legislation reflects when no one person is 100 percent happy,” Rivers said.
Budget negotiators are also working on a plan for the 2017-19 operating budget, which — in addition to education — funds mental health and social service programs.
Rivers said the head Senate budget writer is in on the school funding meetings to ensure the two discussions are integrated.
Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, who is also in the behind-closed-doors meetings on education funding, echoed Rivers’ optimism.
“I think we’re really close,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving pieces. It’s not easy.”