Washington lawmakers race the clock to pass a new budget

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington lawmakers are preparing to be briefed Thursday on details of a bipartisan compromise on a two-year state operating budget as staffers race to finish the lengthy bill.

Legislative leaders had initially said that the budget and other related documents would be posted publicly at noon Thursday, but later had to amend that, saying they won't be available until Thursday night. Democratic Rep. June Robinson, who has been part of the budget negotiations, said that exhausted staffers are trying to get the complicated bill done as quickly as possible in time for a vote Friday.

"It's an incredibly complex document to put together," she said. "We want to make sure that what we put out is accurate. They are working as fast as they possibly can."

The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate have been struggling for months to find compromise on a budget that addresses a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding. They reached agreement on the budget after overnight negotiations that ended Wednesday morning. They are in the midst of a third overtime session, and if a new budget isn't signed into law by midnight Friday, a partial shutdown starts Saturday.

Contingency plans for a potential shutdown have been ongoing for weeks, and notices went out last week to about 32,000 state workers warning them they will be temporarily laid off if a budget is not in place by the deadline. A partial shutdown would affect everything from community supervision of offenders on probation, to meal services to the elderly to reservations made at state parks.

"We all wish that we could have been done a long time ago," Robinson said. "It simply is a matter of the challenge of building an operating budget and all of the policy and working of funding K-12."

The state has been in contempt of court since 2014 for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 high court ruling that found that school funding was not adequate.

Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies. Senate Republicans and House Democrats have disagreed on several areas, including whether or not new taxes are needed.

On Wednesday, Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said that he was certain the budget compromise would satisfy the court.

"No longer will a student in Washington be funded on their zip code," he said. "The quality of funding across this state will be better."

In addition to the state operating budget, lawmakers still need to address the capital budget that deals with projects across the state. Legislative leaders acknowledged they may need additional time to finish work on that and other lingering bills.

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