Gregoire: Legislative session her most difficult

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday the recently concluded legislative session was her most difficult, but she was happy with the bipartisan budget that lawmakers approved.

The negotiations were tough, but lawmakers “kept their eye on the ball and they all got something critical and important to them. They all gave,” Gregoire said.

“At the end of the day, it was a bipartisan legislative session with success all around,” she said.

Gregoire said that while no one got everything they wanted, the resulting budget “reflects what everybody wanted to come out of this legislative session.”

Lawmakers adjourned their double overtime session Wednesday, closing a roughly half-billion dollar shortfall and passing several bills making changes to how the state handles pensions, health care and future budgeting.

Gregoire said she wishes there had been more money available to lawmakers to do things such as providing better funding for basic public education.

“You can’t look away from our responsibility now,” she said, noting that a recent state Supreme Court ruling said the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to pay for education. “We have to step up to it. We have the roadmap of what to do, we don’t have a dime to pay for it.”

She noted that there are likely things in the budget that she may veto once she goes through it thoroughly. She said she’d have to carefully look at things that “were just thrown in there in the end.”

“It’s not a perfect product,” she said.

Gregoire also said she would like more money in the ending fund balance, though she couldn’t say yet how much. Lawmakers planned to leave some $320 million in reserves.

The road to the budget was a long one, with the Legislature first holding a special session in December, followed by the regular session in the opening weeks of this year. That wasn’t enough, so Gregoire called them back for a 30-day special session that ended Tuesday.

By midnight, lawmakers still weren’t done, so the governor had to call one more special session to finish things off.

“It has been my most difficult legislative session,” Gregoire said. “I had hoped that we would conclude business with the special session and the regular session but that was not meant to be.”

The newly passed budget cuts $300 million in state spending, largely in the social services sector. It doesn’t make any cuts to education and protects programs that provide medical care and assistance to people who are disabled — something Republicans had initially proposed to eliminate.

Negotiators balanced the budget by relying heavily on an accounting maneuver, valued at $238 million, in which the state would temporarily claim control of local sales taxes before they are redistributed back to jurisdictions at their usual time — roughly a month after they are collected.

The budget includes some targeted tax increases, raising $14.5 million by eliminating a tax deduction for some large banks and $12 million by changing rules on roll-your-own cigarettes.