Deadlock continued in Olympia Thursday.
"We're closer. But there're still significant issues (to resolve)," said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, prior to entering another negotiating sessions with the Senate's majority leaders late Thursday afternoon.
"We've been going back and forth with the House with offers and counteroffers for what seems like years now," said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina and leader of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
Meanwhile, the Senate majority alliance of 23 Republicans and two Democrats revived five non-controversial bills Thursday — passing them overwhelmingly and sending them to the House Thursday.
If signed into law, the five bills would increase regulations on child care businesses, have some state agencies review their rules every five years, establish closer monitoring of the state's effort to create a "one-stop" place for businesses to deal with permits and other regulations, creates stricter monitoring on some federal money used by the state, and improve evaluations of early childhood education.
The Senate had previously overwhelming passed four of those bills in early March and one in mid-April, but this legislation never went anywhere in the House. The five have floated in the background during the 53 days of closed-door talks between the Republican-oriented Senate and the Democratic-controlled House, but apparently never became serious bargaining chips.
All open bills become dormant when the regular legislative ends. Their chamber of origin must revive them on the floor in order to send them to the other chamber during a special session.
Senate Democrats protested that special sessions — the Legislature is now in its second one — are supposed to concentrate on budget matters and not on peripheral bills. But that protest was mild.
Meanwhile, the House's rank-and-file members stayed home Thursday and are scheduled to do the same today while their leaders continue negotiations with the Senate.
Looming over the talks is the fact that many state functions will shut down on July 1 if no 2013-2015 operating budget is passed by then. Here an overview of the closure plan. If no action on the budget occurs in the Legislature by Monday, the first notices of layoffs or furloughs will go out to state employees.
Earlier this week, the majority coalition leaders said that they would drop all of their sought-after policy bills from the budget talks if the House Democrats stop seeking $208 million, which would come from closure of six tax exemptions. The key bills for the Senate majority include increasing the amounts and interests allowed to be charged in payday loans, putting a cap on non-education funding increases, requiring teachers and principals to agree whenever a teacher is assigned to a new school, and lowering the eligible age from 55 to 40 on potential lump settlements on workers compensation claims.
Democrats have not publicly replied to that offer.
Stances on another proposed tax exemption closure bill are fuzzier. The House wants to repeal a landline phone tax exemption as a preventative measure to head off cellular companies and other telecommunications firms from filing lawsuits seeking the same exemptions. Verizon has already filed such litigation earlier this year. A successful lawsuit in 2014 could lead to a refund of about $430 million in fiscal 2015, plus the loss of about $430 million in 2015-2017 revenue and another $673 million in 2017-2019
The Senate's last public 2013-2015 operating budget proposal called for spending $33.2 billion, while the House's last public proposal called for $33.5 billion. Even if the Democrats and Republicans close in on the basic size of the 2013-2015 budget, they are still far apart on how that money should be spent.
The majority coalition wants to significantly cut health and social services to funnel the extra money to education while keeping tax increases and exemption closures to a minimum. Democrats contend the Republicans' non-education cuts are too drastic, and extra revenue is needed so education can be improved without crippling other programs. Also, each side questions how the other put together its budget, focusing on the various accounting moves.
For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.