- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Negotiators in the House and Senate have reached a tentative agreement on how much money should be spent under a new two-year state operating budget in Washington state, but they need to get approval from their respective caucuses, the governor’s office said Friday.

David Schumacher, Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget director, said lawmakers have gotten past the first hurdle, but “that leads you on to the next round of difficult things.”

Schumacher wouldn’t say what the number was, other than it was “about halfway between” their previous proposals. The most recent House proposal was about $38.5 billion budget compared to the Senate’s $37.9 billion plan.

Schumacher said that once a firm agreement occurs on the size of the spending plan, lawmakers can start to negotiate specifics.

Lawmakers are tasked with writing the 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 are currently in the midst of a second overtime special session.

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 June 30.

To avoid getting down to the wire yet again, budget writers and caucus leaders have been meeting daily all week- sometimes twice in a day - with Inslee and staff.

On Friday, after the initial morning meeting, Republican Sen. Andy Hill and Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter met separately with Inslee in his office. Neither would comment after the meeting.

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