- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - After days of closed-door meetings with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, budget negotiators from the House and Senate are getting closer to an agreement on how much money should be spent under a new two-year state operating budget, the governor’s budget director said Thursday.

David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, says that negotiators are still trying to reach an agreement on how much spending should be involved in the budget that would take effect July 1. After their fourth straight day of meetings at Inslee’s office, Schumacher said that they’re “close enough that it’s optimistic.”

But, “they’re not quite there,” he noted.

Lawmakers need to write a new two-year operating budget under the shadow of a court-ordered requirement to put additional money toward the state’s education system. They also need to decide what to do about a voter-approved initiative to reduce class sizes that is projected to cost $2 billion for the next two years.

Lawmakers ended the regular legislative session at the end of April and after spending the first 30-day special session at a standstill were forced into a second overtime session. Within the past few weeks, both chambers have released revised proposals that draw them a little closer, but still leaves room for more debate over the issue of taxes. Democrats have said some new revenue is needed; Republicans have insisted that recent revenue forecasts that brought more money into the state show additional taxes aren’t needed. They’ve been meeting daily in the governor’s office for the past several days but have been tight-lipped about progress.

The most recent House proposal was a $38.5 billion budget compared to the Senate’s $37.9 billion plan.

Schumacher says once they reach agreement on the spending levels, negotiators can move to addressing differences they have on specific programs.

“It’s always the hardest part of a budget negotiation,” he said. “How much are we going to spend?”

Schumacher said that Inslee is currently acting as referee until the spending size is set, and then will weigh in on specific areas.

Officials from the governor’s budget office have already released a contingency plan on what state offices may have to close completely if a budget isn’t signed into law before July 1, when the current two-year budget ends.

Washington state has never had a government shutdown, but the Legislature has taken its budget talks to the brink before, including two years ago, when Gov. Jay Inslee signed a budget on June 30.

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