Olympia Democrats: "We've blinked enough in 2013-2015 budget talks. It's your turn to make some concessions."
Olympia Republicans: "We blinked way before you did. So pass our budget and all will be peachy-keen."
And that is where Washington's Legislature stood in its budget negotiations impasse Tuesday — the last day of a 30-day special session, 44 days after the regular 105-day legislative session ended, and 59 days after both chambers finished adopting their original budget proposals.
At 9 a.m. today, a second special session begins with leaders of both sides not expecting much movement in the next few days.
The busted deadlines, so far, have been chiefly cosmetic. Now, the Legislature and Inslee are entering Dr. Strangelovian territory — school districts need to pin down their teacher budget needs by Saturday, and a partial shutdown of state government on July 1 is looming if a 2013-2015 operating budget is not adopted.
"This talk of a government shutdown is nonsense." said Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina. "It's not going to happen. A shutdown is not necessary."
Best anyone on the outside can tell, however, budget-versus-budget talks have been sidelined for most of the special session. House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said most of the special session has been tied up by the 23-Republican-two-Democrat Senate Majority Coalition Caucus insisting that the House pass some stalled Senate policy bills in return for the coalition moving on pure budget issues. The House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee insist that only budget matters be tackled in the special session, with policy bills from both sides taken off the table.
As for the Majority Coalition Caucus leader's repeated talk that a shutdown is nonsense, Sullivan said, "I believe (Tom) guaranteed at the beginning of the session (in January) that we'd be out in 105 days."
Inslee will meet with his cabinet this afternoon to figure out a contingency plan in case much of state government must close on July 1. He declined to go into any details Tuesday on what to expect. But the questions and ramifications are many.
How will public safety be affected? What do the federal government and the state Constitution require Washington to keep running in the absence of a budget? Can any contingency funds be tapped? How will furloughs and layoffs be handled? Will legislators keep their $90 per diem allowances after July 1? Will Inslee collect his salary during a shutdown?
All sides are saying they don't want a partial government shutdown. But neither is talking about giving an inch — at least in public on Tuesday.
So how did the Legislature and the governor wind up on this Highway To Hell with no visible stop signs?
First of all, there is "Olympia math."
Budget estimates and accounting maneuvers constantly change, get tweaked and reinterpreted — even when nothing substantive happens. And each side calculates its numbers differently, resulting in different dollar figures for the exact same ventures. (The figures below do not agree exactly with Democratic or Republican numbers, but they'll be close and we use them to ensure some consistency in the constantly shifting calculations.
The Senate spending proposal has grown from $33.21 billion in late April to $33.278 billion today, a $68 million increase. The Senate proposal includes one of the tax-exemption closures proposed by the House: it ends the sales tax exemption for non-residents. Closing that exemption is expected to raise an extra $47 million in 2013-2015. (Originally, the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus opposed ending any of Washington's roughly 640 tax exemptions.)
The House spending proposal has shrunk from $34.33 billion to $33.541 billion, a $789 million decrease since April. The House originally wanted to extend the state business-and-occupation tax on service firms and close 11 tax exemptions. House members have since dropped the B&O tax extension along with four of their desired tax exemptions. The seven exemptions House members still want killed include the no-sales-tax-for-non-residents one. Bottom line for this biennium: House and Senate differ on six tax exemptions worth roughly $208 million.
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