Republican leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee began reciting the same mantra Wednesday: All budget and legislative differences between the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-oriented Senate will be resolved by Sunday, which is the end of the 105-day legislative session.
Nobody believed them. Not even themselves.
"We'd have to draw to an inside straight to get this done by Sunday night," Inslee conceded.
"I'm not a gambling man. I wouldn't bet on it,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
"I'm concerned we'll be further apart (on Sunday) than closer," said House Republican budget chief Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia.
So a 30-day special session is assured. However, Inslee has declined to say whether he will call for it to begin Monday or to start after a short break.
Odds are that the special session to accommodate the House-Senate budget talks will go the full 30 days.
That's because the House Democrats and the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus have been playing "chicken" for the past 103 days. Neither side has publicly budged from a "my-way-or-the-highway" stance on all budget and non-budget bills that they disagree on. Preliminary negotiations have just begun.
It's been legislative machismo on steroids. It's likely that only the embarrassment from having no compromise in this duel by the end of May will pressure the two sides to move toward the middle.
"People are going down multiple tracks, and now these tracks are coming together," Inslee said.
The gulf between the two sides is huge.
The House proposes a $34.33 billion operating budget for 2013-2015. The Senate wants a $33.21 billion budget.
The House wants to repeal 11 tax exemptions and extend a business-and-occupations tax for service firms to raise $1.169 billion to pay for education improvement called for by a Washington Supreme Court ruling. The Senate says that's a deal breaker — every single piece of it. The Senate contends the Supreme Court improvements can be met with $1 billion and with no new revenue. The House replies that the Senate lives in a financial fantasy.
The Senate wants to dramatically cut social and health services to make the budget's parts fit together. The House wants to trim those services only a little.
Each side claims that the other's budget proposal is based on bogus assumptions that cannot materialize.
The House budget depends on removing $575 million from the state's emergency-related "rainy day fund." The accounting requires approval of 60 percent of the House — 59 votes out of 98. The House Democrats number 55, meaning they have to convince four Republicans to cross the aisle from a caucus that has extremely strong party discipline. And the Republican caucus is salivating at the chance to trip up the more powerful Dems, whom the House GOP constantly portrays as bullies.
Also, Senate Majority Coalition Caucus leaders say that House rainy-day-fund vote must occur prior to serious negotiations so the House Democrats can prove they can back up their budget. House Democrat leaders say they will negotiate first, and then conduct a House rainy-day-fund-transfer vote.
The Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus budget depends on a $166 million shift from a school construction fund to an operational fund. Democrats say that move is unconstitutional. Republicans say it’s perfectly legal. Each side has attorneys citing different sentences in the Washington Constitution. Also, the Majority Coalition Caucus wants to use $321 million in teacher cost-of-living raises to fund other school improvements in its $1 billion education fix-it plan. Democrats counter that the $321 million is make-believe money from a cache that is currently not funded. The GOP replies that the Dems have perhaps been doing too much personal research into Initiative 502, the marijuana legalization measure.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, noted that the 30-18 Senate approval of the $33.21 billion dropped to 25-23 when the bill containing the $166 million and $321 million shifts was voted upon. Several Democrats crossed party lines on the 30-18 budget vote due to various agreements they felt honor-bound to keep. But the 25-23 vote on the shifts needed to implement that same Senate budget was almost along party lines.
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