Yesterday was the first time since Monday that the Senate floor was active. Most Senators returned to Olympia for a brief floor session to concur on a handful of House bills. The House did not take any floor action.
Of most interest was the action the Senate took on Senate Bill 6143 (revenue tax bill). The Senate rejected the House’s amendments to SB 6143 and formally asked for an official Conference Committee.
In the meantime, the leadership of both chambers continue behind-the-scenes negotiations on a tax package to fund the 2010 supplemental operating budget and take action on a 2010 supplemental capital budget.
Lawmakers remain deadlocked over how to raise this revenue, the primary dividing point being the implementation of a sales tax. The Senate still supports a temporary general sales-tax increase and the House does not.
The ongoing divide between the two chambers has opened the door for “what if” conversations about concluding the session without the adoption of a budget. The state’s budget for 2009-11 is already in place (i.e. the budgets that passed at the end of the 2009 session) and a supplemental budget is not required.
These conversations, which can be recognized as still too-early conversations at this time, fail to address the state’s remaining $2.8 billion budget problem. As you may recall, State Treasurer McIntire publicly stated earlier this year that Washington is at risk of running out of “cash” by fall 2010 without new revenues or reductions in budget expenditures. At that point, Governor Gregoire would have the authority and legal obligation to implement across-the-board cuts. An option she has been public about in the last few days but does not desire.
An across-the-board reduction of state funding is not appealing to many policymakers. It is believed that such action could be as high as 20 percent to close the $2.8 billion budget gap. Some believe that yesterday’s move by the Senate to move Senate Bill 6143 to conference may be a small and optimistic sign towards the passage of a supplemental budget, only time will tell.
As for now, the bills needed to implement a 2010 supplemental operating budget, 2010 supplemental capital budget, and increase revenue remain where they were this weekend, with the execption of SB 6143 which has gone to conference. In addition, the bills that Evergreen is tracking this special session also have not moved further in the process.