State lawmakers say they have final budget deal

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington lawmakers reached a long-sought accord on a new state budget Thursday and hurried to schedule votes that would avert a widespread state government shutdown.

Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news conference, flanked by lawmakers from both parties, that the Legislature is hoping to approve the measure before state employees leave work Friday. Political leaders declined to discuss details of the plan and declined to make the $33.6 billion spending proposal available for public review, as it was still being drafted Thursday afternoon.

"The deal reached today makes it clear that state government will continue to operate," Inslee said.

Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter, the top negotiator in the House, said he and Republican Sen. Andy Hill finalized the new spending plan Thursday morning and shook hands on an agreement. Budget negotiators said they were confident the measure would swiftly make it through the Legislature, although Hunter indicated lawmakers were simultaneously discussing a variety of peripheral issues.

"It's a delicate agreement," he said.

Hill said the final plan puts an additional $ 1 billion toward the state's basic education system in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that determined lawmakers weren't adequately funding schools. He also said it provides no tuition increases over two years.

"I do think it's a budget that has broad appeal," Hill said. "Everybody is excited and glad to be done."

Lawmakers didn't immediately release the full details of the proposal.

Much of state government would shut down - and more than 25,000 workers would be temporarily laid off - if the Legislature fails to approve the new budget by Monday, and political leaders believe it's particularly important to finalize the plan before state employees leave work for the weekend.

Sen. Rodney Tom said the Senate passed a bill that would ensure that the budget forecast be completed a month earlier next year.

He said he proposed legislation that would take away lawmakers' per diem if they go into special session, and even fine lawmakers $250 for each day they go over. He is doubtful those "talkers" would be passed this session.

Washington state has never had a government shutdown but the Legislature has worked close to the end of the fiscal period before. In 2001, lawmakers finished the budget on June 20; in 1991 then-Gov. Booth Gardner signed a budget just moments before midnight on June 30.

This year, a new Senate majority controlled by Republicans and two conservative Democrats pushed a no-tax message and policies that would overhaul government rules to aid businesses. Democrats who control the House and Gov. Jay Inslee have pressed for more tax revenue and opposed many of the Senate policy plans.

The Senate has talked about revisiting returning to those policy matters next year, such as an overhaul to the state's workers' compensation system. Democrats have said the tax issues will also return again next session, since lawmakers will still need to add more money to the education system in the coming years.

"This is a good budget," said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan. "However, it doesn't address the underlying questions we need to answer before we can honestly say we've met our long-term commitment to education in our state."