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Wash. Legislature Adjourns; Special Session Starts Monday

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington legislature has adjourned. But not for long. Late Thursday night, Senate Democrats failed to muster the votes for a plan to re-balance the state budget. That means Washington lawmakers will return to the Capitol to finish their work.

Before there was disharmony at the Capitol, there was actually a little harmony.

Four House Republicans serenaded Governor Chris Gregoire and her staff with a barbershop rendition of "I'll Fly Away."

Representative Bill Hinkle said that with all the acrimony in the Capitol in recent days, it was time to lighten people’s hearts. That acrimony dates back to last Friday when Republicans and three dissident Democrats seized control of the Senate. They quickly passed a budget no one had seen. This was how Democrat Tracey Eide reacted that night.

“You know this is extremely rude. I don’t know what’s in this bill. I don’t know what the hell I’m voting for,” Eide declared.

Republicans responded that they were merely using Senate rules to break a logjam over the budget. Flash forward a week to the 60th and final day of the regular session and the budget was up against a new logjam. House Democrats refused to negotiate with the leaders of the Senate insurrection. Instead, they cut a go-home deal with only their fellow Democrats in the Senate. A deal that spared public schools further cuts, but still relied on a controversial delayed payment to K-12 districts.

“I believe a reasonable set of choices in very difficult times,” said House budget chair Ross Hunter. He brought it to the floor with just hours left in the session.

“I hope someday to be standing in front of you with a pile of money to spend and be able to make everyone in this room happy. Today is not that day,” Hunter told his colleagues.

One person who wasn’t happy was Republican budget leader Gary Alexander. He urged a ‘no’ vote on the budget and quoted something Representative Hunter is known for saying repeatedly.

"The good gentleman from the 48th district always says that the budget should have 50 votes in the House and 25 votes in the Senate. I don’t think this bill has 50 votes in the House and 25 votes in the Senate so I’m not sure why it’s even here tonight,” Alexander says.

Alexander’s premonition proved correct. The House passed the Democrats’ budget-balancing plan. But it was dead on arrival in the Senate. Democrats there couldn’t muster 25 votes for it. Just after midnight, the final gavels fell on the 60-day session and the partisan recriminations began.

Legislators and staff celebrate on the Senate floor after adjournment. Photo by Austin Jenkins
Legislators and staff celebrate on the Senate floor after adjournment. Photo by Austin Jenkins

“We’re talking about one percent of the entire state budget that we’re in disagreement on. This could be solved in a short period of time if people are actually willing to put offers on the table that show compromise,” said Democratic budget chair Ed Murray.

But Republican leader Mike Hewitt said: “Well, it’s clear that the majority party was in denial. We had 25 votes in the Senate to pass out a bipartisan budget. And the Speaker of the House just refused to negotiate with us. He did not recognize that we passed a bill out.”

Governor Chris Gregoire has already called a 30-day special session. She may also have to play the role of conductor to orchestrate some kind of harmony around a deal to re-balance the budget.

On the Web:

Gov. Gregoire's statement on end of session:

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.