The state’s budget debate has come down to the wire. Wednesday is the last day of the session and lawmakers have promised to work through the weekend. They're still crunching the numbers on how to fill a $5 billion gap, but both sides admit policy issues are also keeping them from a final deal.
Thursday was the 24th day of the special session and it appears progress is slow. The House didn’t meet on Thursday. In fact, the chambers have been dark on that side for several days during the session.
Democrats say it’s a money-saving move, while they continue to negotiate behind closed doors. Republicans say they’re more frustrated than ever.
"We should have [done] been a long time ago," Rep. Gary Alexander (R) said. "We should have been able to resolve these issues within the regular 105 days we had."
Representative Hans Dunshee (D) said they’ve spent hours working on the numbers.
"If we could just do the budget we'd be done by now," Dunshee said. "The Republicans in the Senate have a list of demands."
While there is plenty of finger-pointing in the House; the Senate has shown a stronger sense of cooperation. Senate Republicans gained seats in the last election and said it has helped bring the two sides together.
Senator Mike Hewitt (R) admits problems in the House have hindered progress.
"The House hasn't been here as much as we would have liked to have seen," he said. "The senate chose to stay here and work."
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D) said they are hopeful a deal will be worked out by Wednesday, the last day of the session. The House called back their members for a 5-day marathon session that will start Saturday morning. The Senate plans to meet at the same time.
Lawmakers say the sticking points remain Republican demands for changes to workers comp and other long-term financial reforms, like lowering the state’s debt service.
"Our goal is to end up with $800 million in reserves when we leave next Wednesday," Hewitt said.
The lack of progress on the budget doesn't mean lawmakers have been idle. Since the special session started, they've introduced more than 20 new pieces of legislation. Some are budget-related; others, like one that would extend Seattle stadium taxes or another to privatize liquor sales, have raised eyebrows.
The tax issue was voted down by the Senate Thursday night and it’s not clear if others will make it to the Governor’s desk.
Governor Chris Gregoire said she’s so concerned about lack of progress, she has begun preparing for the possibility of a government shutdown. That’s never happened before and lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, said they don’t think it will happen this time.
If they don’t pass a budget by the end of June, all non-essential state offices could close. Public Safety services like the Washington State Patrol would probably remain open.
Lawmakers say they’re hopeful the budget will be on its way to the Governor next week. Everyone agrees, there won’t be much to celebrate when it gets there.
"I don't think it was a very productive session and I think the public should be concerned about that," Alexander said.