Lawmakers begin marathon session to come up with budget



Posted on May 21, 2011 at 7:41 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Lawmakers are trying to craft a budget before the special session ends on Wednesday.  Since they're facing a more than $5 billion shortfall, lawmakers say a 3 percent cut to teachers salaries is on the table.

Teachers rallied outside of a Chase Bank in Seattle Saturday morning. They say if corporations like Chase didn't get tax breaks the state would have more money, hence less cuts to education.

“Simply under the circumstances we know there will be cuts in each functional area of government,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, (D) House Majority Leader.

The major issue stalling the budget is workers compensation. Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Senate want to pay lump sums to workers injured on the job so the claims don't exhaust the system and drive premiums up for businesses.

“By keeping the cost downs, with those sorts of settlements, you don't have those built in the system any longer so you get the savings,” said Sen. Mike Hewitt, (R) Senate Minority Leader

House Democrats are not on board. That's why the governor came up with what she called a compromise. Disabled workers could get a set amount of installments instead of a one-time payout.

"If there is a lump sum settlement that an injured worker who might fear losing his home, might fear losing his car, has issues with his kids, might settle for something they normally wouldn’t settle for. By breaking it up into a structured settlement over time, that’s less tempting,” said Sullivan.

The Washington State Labor Council calls the whole thing a contrived crisis, saying the state has one of the strongest workers comp system in the country and is concerned settlements will lead to private insurers coming into the state.

"They're arguing over the same level of dollars, so this is a ruse, this is not an issue that should hold up the budget, and those doing that right now are irresponsible,” said Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council

The looming question is can lawmakers get this issue resolved and approve a budget in the next few days? Lawmakers say yes.

The governor has made it clear she will not call another special session. That means if a budget isn't passed by Wednesday, it's likely the state government will shut down by the end of its fiscal year, that's June 30. This special session has cost taxpayers roughly $300,000.