A preview of the special legislative session

PoliticsBudgets and BudgetingDemocratic PartyInterior PolicyPension and WelfareRepublican Party

When you are dealing with billions of dollars, there are a lot of things that people can disagree on. But you can boil the recent state budget impasse down to two big items -- items that many are calling gimmicks. They will clearly be the focus when the special legislative session starts Monday.

The state House budget, drafted by Democrats and supported by the governor, delays a big payment of $330 million to schools. That would push it into next year’s budget.  The hope is that the economy will get better before the bill is due.

“Schools run on a school year, we run on a fiscal year,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina.  “We can make an adjustment that makes our budget work better and their budget be essentially the same.”

But Republicans strongly object to the tactic.  “Those are not good accounting principles,” said Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.  “If you do this in the private sector, people go to jail over this.”

The state Senate budget, written by Republicans and supported by three moderate Democrats, has a gimmick of its own. It would skip altogether  next year’s $130 million payment to the state pension program. 

But Democrats aren’t swayed. “You may save $130 million this time,” said Gov. Christine Gregoire. “It will cost us $400 million over time, and I don’t want to put off til tomorrow costs for our future.”

One of the defecting Democrats argues that this move needs to be seen in the context of other policies. “On that night we passed the budget, we also passed a bill that does reform pensions,” said Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup.  “It’s a savings from that reform that allows us to get that money in the budget.”

So, how might this divide be bridged between the House and the Senate?

Possible solutions include: 

  • Split the difference.  The House could agree to a smaller delayed schools payment, and the Senate could agree to a smaller skipped pension payment.
  • The House could agree to more human service and education cuts, especially higher education. 
  • The Senate could agree to hold less money in reserve so that more can be spent.
  • Increase revenue, though that would require a two-thirds vote of lawmakers
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