House and Senate finalize amendments as legislative clock winds down
Some last minute wrangling over budget issues has resulted in 34-13 vote in the Washington Senate to pass its own version of House Bill 1087, the 2011-13 Operating Budget.

The final vote came in final few hours of the 2011 legislature’s Special Session, just a day after announcement of an agreement between House and Senate budget leaders.

 The agreement allocates $32.2 billion from the general fund and related accounts for the two years starting July 1 and settles differences between the budgets proposed by the House and Senate during the first half of April.  

 The bill passed the chamber unamended and now heads to the governor’s office to be signed into law.

With most pieces now set in place, the legislature adjourned just before 10:30 p.m. tonight, before the midnight deadline.

 “As lawmakers, we have an obligation to balance the budget – and we have. But we also have an obligation to our communities to ensure a high quality of life for all Washingtonians,” said the chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.  “Thanks to the bipartisanship found in the Senate, we have achieved both these goals.”

Among the other eleventh hour issues - a bill that passed both houses allowing privatization of the state's liquor distribution system.

Senate Bill 5942 passed the House with an amendment that added an emergency clause to the measure, allowing the state  to accept RFP’s, or Requests For Proposals, from vendors for the next 120 days.

So both houses have now passed the bill and it’s headed to the governor’s office.

Another bill headed to the governor’s desk is Senate Bill 5891, which cuts 86 corrections officers from the payroll of the Department of Corrections.  It also allows close to 2,100 low- to moderate-risk offenders to go without being monitored.

 Lawmakers are also working on changes in the state's Basic Health Plan to remove undocumented adults from the system.  Democrats and Republicans alike have nixed the governor’s proposal to eliminate medical care for some 27,000 undocumented children.

Another of the governor’s proposals, to create one state Education Department to oversee preschool through college level instruction, has gained little support in either house.

 

After adjournment of the legislature, Gov. Chris Gregoire issued the following statement:

“This session was no doubt the most difficult in recent memory. But we’ve turned a corner in Washington state. With a new spirit of bipartisanship, we’re significantly transforming Washington state government to help move us beyond the worst economic downturn in 80 years.

“We’ll walk away from this session with a stronger sense of partnership and cooperation – as well as a balanced budget that ensures we have the financial resources to provide core services now and into the future. And we developed that balanced budget with no new revenue, with no short-term fixes and with no budget gimmicks. We did it by tackling long term costs, by making government leaner and more efficient and by implementing innovative reforms that ensure the state can continue to provide critical services like health care, education and public safety.

 “Additionally, we passed major legislation to spur job creation and strengthen our economic recovery. At the state level, we passed a transportation budget that will put 30,000 people to work. Our capital budget sustains another 15,000 jobs. And we passed major reforms to give our businesses the confidence they need to start hiring again – including significant changes to our workers compensation system, and a reduction in unemployment insurance rates. To help our families during these tough times, we provided a temporary increase in unemployment benefits to 70,000 Washingtonians.

 “Along with the many needed changes, we also made cuts that will touch real lives. The decisions we made required deep, painful reductions to programs in every area. Some were eliminated entirely.

 “No area of our budget was left untouched. Everyone shared in the sacrifice that these times have called for. Our state employees gave, our teachers gave, our retirees gave and I thank them. They have been part of the solution.

 “I commend our lawmakers – especially Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Minority Leader Richard DeBolt – who worked tirelessly to reach this point. We know we have more work to do, but we’re moving forward with a new spirit of bipartisanship to enact reforms that ensure Washington state gets through this crisis – and more importantly lays the foundation for a more sustainable future.”