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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Adjourn Without A Budget? Overtime Session? Both On Table In Olympia

Washington Legislature
House Appropriations Committee Chair Hans Dunshee, left, and Senate Ways and Means Committee Vice Chair Bruce Dammeier

A fight over the state budget could send Washington lawmakers into overtime. Or, the legislature could adjourn without updating the state’s current two-year spending plan. The lead budget writer in the Washington House raised both of those scenarios Thursday.

If Democrat Hans Dunshee had his way, the state would increase spending in the current budget by about $500 million. As chair of the House Appropriations Committee, he wants to boost beginning teacher pay, put more money into mental health and address homelessness.

Senate Republicans would mostly hold the line on spending -- increasing in some places, cutting in others. But even a compromise right down the middle holds little appeal for Dunshee.

“For us it might be better to just stay with the existing budget and leave,” Dunshee said.

By leave he means go home next week without updating the budget. Dunshee is quick to say he’s not actually advocating this and notes there are some must-do budget items like paying for last year’s wildfires and higher-than-anticipated healthcare costs.

That raises the next scenario: a special session to hash out a deal. Dunshee doesn’t rule that out either.

Spending levels aren’t the only thing that could bog down negotiations. A fight is brewing over whether to dip into the state’s rainy day fund. House Democrats say “yes”, Senate Republicans say “no”. If the rainy day fund is tapped that suspends a requirement that the budget balance over four years.

That doesn’t sit well with Republican Bruce Dammeier, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“The House budget, besides spending $500 million more, is kind of does it have that fiscal discipline going out four years,” he said. “And that’s a big philosophical difference.”

A difference lawmakers have until next Thursday to bridge. That’s when the current 60-day session ends.

Dunshee and Dammeier spoke with Austin Jenkins on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."