Washington Legislature adjourns regular session; special session starts Wednesday

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OLYMPIA, Washington — The Washington state Legislature adjourned Friday night, ending its regular session two days early, but only because lawmakers were already set to return for a special session to finish their work on a two-year operating budget.

Gov. Jay Inslee has called for the special session to start Wednesday, with budget negotiators from the House and Senate scheduled to resume talks Monday.

In a statement earlier this week, Inslee said he considers the operating budget and education funding the top priority of the upcoming special session, but he is also asking lawmakers to finish work on other issues, including a transportation revenue package and a capital construction budget.

He has also called for legislators to pass a series of environment-focused bills during the extended session.

Once the special session begins, lawmakers will have up to 30 days to get their work done or risk being called back yet again, which occurred two years ago. That year, the two-year state operating budget was signed into law just hours ahead of a deadline that would have triggered a government shutdown.

In a written statement Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said lawmakers should complete their budget negotiations before May 15 so school districts have more certainty about budget decisions as they make staffing decisions.

"Delay is bad enough," Schoesler wrote.

But a key budget writer in the House said that it would be hard to get a deal done within the next few weeks.

"We're pretty far apart," Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said. "We have to come to some accommodation on a lot of complicated issues."

Lawmakers this year are tasked with writing a new two-year operating budget for the state under the shadow of the Supreme Court's McCleary decision, which mandates that more money be spent on education.

The politically divided chambers have different ideas on how best to do that, with Democrats seeking more revenue and Republicans saying new taxes are not needed.

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