State lawmakers still talking and working

The Associated PressJune 4, 2013 

With just over a week left in an overtime legislative session, negotiations on the state budget continue, but without a deal in sight and limited activity at the Capitol, one lawmaker on Monday said the possibility of a second overtime session was more and more likely.

Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said that the next 24 hours are crucial.

“If there isn’t some break, it’s inevitable we’re heading toward another special session, and I believe that will drive us over a fiscal cliff,” he said.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler said he was going to “focus on the positive.”

“We’re still talking,” he said. “We’re still working.”

Lawmakers are in the midst of a 30-day special session that began May 13 and is set to end next Tuesday. They face a $1.2 billion budget shortfall for the two-year cycle that ends in the middle of 2015. That doesn’t count an additional approximate $1 billion that lawmakers are seeking in response to a court-ordered requirement that the state spend more on its basic education system.

Budget negotiations have been taking place for weeks between the Democratic-controlled House and the Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats.

The original House and Senate budgets were about $1 billion apart, with House Democrats seeking new revenue by extending taxes and eliminating tax breaks, and the Senate majority looking to balance the budget without new taxes, relying on cuts to social programs and fund transfers.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that while logistically it is possible to get an agreement and budget passed by next week, he’s still worried about what happens if lawmakers haven’t agreed on a spending plan before the start of the fiscal year July 1.

“I’m very concerned it will have a dramatic impact on our ability to provide services,” he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement late Friday saying that he’s become “increasingly concerned about the pace of budget negotiations.”

“All sides need to realize that it is time for significant compromise,” he said in the prepared statement.

The only public activity Monday was a floor session in the Senate for senators to share their remembrances of Sen. Mike Carrell, who died at age 69 last week from complications related to treatment for a blood condition.

With his death, the Senate is in a tie, with 24 Democrats and 24 members of the Majority Coalition Caucus. The Pierce County Council could choose a replacement for Carrell as early as Tuesday.

Another deadline lawmakers face is dueling bills in the Senate and House on how to address a Supreme Court ruling that found some married couples could avoid the estate tax if they used a certain trust. The House last week passed a bill requiring the tax to be paid on the value of the estate above $2 million, regardless of marital status.

The Department of Revenue says it has already received 70 refund requests totaling between $40 million and $50 million from estates that had paid the taxes prior to the court ruling. Spokesman Mike Gowrylow said the department started processing checks Monday, and that the first checks could be sent out next week unless a legislative fix occurs before then. The state has said that without a fix, it could cost the state $160 million over the next two years, including refunds, canceled assessments and future lost revenue.

A bill put forth by Senate Republicans would address the refund issue, as the House bill does, but lower tax rates and phase in raising the value of estates to be taxed from $2 million to the federal level of $5 million.

Inslee blasted that version Friday, saying it “would take us in the wrong direction.”

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