Budget Stalemates in Olympia and Salem

Lawmakers in Washington and Oregon haven't found the answer to balancing their states’ budgets with more funding for K-12 schools. Now time is running out.The economy is improving and tax revenues are up, which should make it relatively easy to balance the budget. But Oregon and Washington lawmakers are finding it anything but easy.

The Oregon legislature, which planned to adjourn by the end of June, is bracing to grind on until July. The Washington legislature just completed its first special session, which The Columbian summarized in a tweet as "30 days, 0 bills, $77,000 in per diems."

Lawmakers in both states are hung up on how to get more money for K-12 schools. 

In Olympia, lawmakers face a court mandate to increase K-12 school funding, but can't agree how to do it.

In Salem, Democrats and Republicans have failed to reach agreement on deep enough cuts to the Public Employees Retirement System and new revenue. The Oregon Senate, which Democrats control by a slim 16-14 margin, is stymied because Senator Chris Edwards, D-Springfield, has balked at passing a large enough K-12 school budget to avoid more teacher layoffs and school day reductions.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has called legislators back for a second special session to avert state government spending cuts if a budget deal isn't cut before July, when the state's new fiscal year begins.

Oregon has a similar problem, with the 2013-2015 biennial budget set to take effect July 1.

There aren't promising signs in either state the deadline will be met.

Inslee is huddling with his cabinet officials to look for ways to avoid furloughing up to 50,000 state workers in two weeks. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has tried to persuade House and Senate leaders of both parties to accept a compromise he fashioned that would involve more PERS cuts and additional revenue. So far, the politics for the compromise haven't gelled.

The Oregon Capitol crowd attended the traditional sine die party Thursday night and long-time observers noted more than the usual late-session grumpiness. Lawmakers grumbled about being stuck in Salem until mid-July as lobbyists buzzed about the high level of "hostage taking" of unrelated bills and issues that has occurred in the final lap of the legislative session.