Budget clears Legislature after all-night session

The Washington State Legislature adjourned Wednesday morning less than eight hours into a special session where the House and Senate finally passed a supplemental budget proposal.

On Tuesday night, Democratic and Republican leaders announced they had reached a budget agreement. Legislators worked late into the night to try to pass the necessary bills, but time ran out as that session expired.

Gov. Chris Gregoire then called the 24-hour session to give lawmakers time to iron out the details.

There had already been two long special legislative sessions held in an attempt to end a months-long impasse over a budget deal needed to fix a nearly $1 billion deficit.

The House first passed the proposal with a 64-34 vote. The Senate then decisively passed it with a 44-2 vote.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, was relieved that an agreement had finally been reached.

“It’s taken longer than I would have liked to reach this point. Much of the difficulty and expense of the past special session could have been avoided. But if the price of protecting our students, seniors and vulnerable neighbors was a month of difficult negotiations, it was well worth it,” Murray said.

He and other legislative leaders spent most of the day in and out of meetings in the governor’s office. By early Tuesday night, they had reached broad agreement on a deal. 

The budget proposal will put more than $1 billion towards economic development projects designed to create thousands of new, in-state jobs.

“Acknowledging the difficult challenge our lawmakers faced, I commend them for coming together to balance our budget and agree to important government reforms,” Gregoire said. “Additionally, lawmakers approved a significant capital budget that will improve our infrastructure while supporting 18,000 jobs.”

The package will create new construction jobs and is also designed to generate 8,000 long-term positions.

One sticking point had Republican leaders insisting that three reforms, including scaling back early retirement benefits for government workers who are hired after May 1, 2013, be part of any deal. On Tuesday night, the Senate passed a version of the pension reform plan, with seven Democrats in support.

They also agreed to pass legislation requiring the state budgets be balanced over a four-year period instead of the current two.

Negotiations became heated in mid-March when three conservative Democrats joined minority Senate Republicans to give them control of the budget process. 

State Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, was one of the Democrats who voted with Senate Republicans. Kastama pushed for reforming the budgeting process to include a four-year timeline instead of the current two year timeline. A version of his plan became part of the final deal. 

“By taking that hard stand, I think for the first time in years we’re looking at the consequences of our actions in the future and I think that’s very positive” he said.

Gregoire indicated that she is pleased with the budget and will approve it.

“Our job isn’t done,” she said. “Implementing this supplemental budget won’t be easy, but I’m confident we’ve developed a solution that protects our state’s financial future while preserving critical programs that Washingtonians rely on.”