By Rachel La Corte
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers adjourned their first special session Tuesday but were immediately called back into overtime by Gov. Jay Inslee to finish their work on a two-year state budget that must satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding.
The second special session began minutes after lawmakers in the House and Senate adjourned in mostly empty chambers.
“Legislators need to start making the hard decisions necessary to amply fund our schools and do so in a way that protects the ability of the state to provide for the most vulnerable among us,” Inslee said at a news conference.
While most of the 147 members were back home in their districts during the first 30-day special session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers met several times a week to negotiate policy surrounding education funding.
The state has been in contempt of court for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found that school funding was not adequate or uniform.
The court has said the state has until Sept. 1, 2018, to comply, but the details — including funding — must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.
Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said the group negotiating the education piece of the budget has been making progress.
“I absolutely believe that everyone who is there is committed to getting the job done and doing the right thing,” he said.
Both chambers passed their own overall budget plans during the regular session that ended in April — with the House budget at $44.6 billion and the Senate plan at $43 billion.
Among the differences between the proposals is how they address property tax levies. Public school districts currently pay a big chunk of teacher salaries with those levies, and the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for the salaries.
Unlike the Senate plan, which would replace school levies with a statewide uniform property tax rate earmarked for schools, the House plan would lower the local levy rate but not eliminate the levies completely.
The two-year plan put forth by the House also seeks about $3 billion in taxes that the full chamber has not voted on, including a new capital gains tax.
The Senate plan — which would lower property tax in some areas and raise it in others — also makes cuts to some state programs.
Inslee specifically called out Republicans’ property tax plan and Democrats’ plan for a capital gains tax and said neither has the support necessary to pass in both chambers.
Sen. Joe Fain, Republican floor leader, said the public isn’t hearing specifics about the negotiations, but that doesn’t mean things have stalled.
“It’s not always readily apparent, and I think that both the public and a lot of legislators are rightfully frustrated in the amount of time that this is taking,” he said.
“But I am optimistic — based on the progress that I’m hearing from those education negotiations — that we’re going to get somewhere.”
The current two-year budget expires June 30, which means the 2017-19 budget must be signed by the governor by then or the state risks a partial government shutdown.