Progress, plans and pressure – no panic – as lawmakers approach end of special session and close of fiscal year

When the second special session began in late May, we wrote of reports of progress and optimism that a budget deal was in sight. In mid-June, with the second special expiring June 21, progress and optimism are still in play, but joined more often by exasperation and frustration.

The Seattle Times reports that school funding advocates worry that a compromise budget won’t boost funding as much as they’d like. 

As a handful of state lawmakers toil away in closed-door talks over how to fulfill court-ordered school funding, some education advocates fear that an eventual compromise won’t put enough money into the schools.

It’s a familiar tension. Lawmakers have a difficult challenge with competing budget demands. And advocacy groups aren’t typically in the compromise business. The governor’s office points out that things are still in flux.

Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said it’s too early to pass judgment on the McCleary efforts in Olympia.

“It’s too soon; we haven’t seen the final budget,” Lee said. “Negotiations are still happening.”

Still, in a press conference yesterday, Gov. Inslee said, again, that negotiating time is getting thin. 

Gov. Jay Inslee said he met with leaders from each of the four caucuses on Monday to insist that they start face-to-face negotiations on the overall budget, something he said they agreed to do, starting on Tuesday.

“I appreciate the complexity of this challenge,” Inslee said at a news conference. “If there was an easy way to do this, indeed it would have been done already.”

… Inslee said that while lawmakers may indeed need a third special session to complete his work, he said he would not accept a temporary short-term budget to get them through the next month.

Legislative leaders continue to express optimism. No panic yet.

Meanwhile in a press release, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, painted a more optimistic picture, expressing confidence in resolving all budget issues by June 30.

“We are pleased that we’ve made as much progress as we have and we’ll happily continue working with our Democrat counterparts to do right by the more than 1 million school children in Washington. Everyone has been negotiating in good faith, despite what folks might have heard, and we expect to be done before the end of this month,” Schoesler said.

And,

Senate budget chair John Braun said [agreement] by June 30—the end of the fiscal year—is realistic.

…Braun’s counterpart in the House, Democrat Timm Ormsby, agreed.

“We’ve got some ground to cover, but we’re both confident in getting done,” he said.

Meanwhile, educators around the state are dealing with the need to warn employees of potential layoffs and the state must make plans for a partial shutdown should lawmakers miss the hard June 30 deadline.

We’ll stick with optimism.