Since it has been more than 10 years since Olympia has seen a real operating budget conference committee, there is very little that can be visually observed during the waning days of session to give outsiders much sense of how things are really progressing. All of the negotiations are done behind closed doors and in an age of email and spreadsheets, there are few face-to-face neogiations. Offers are sent, received and responded to without legislators having to actually meet much and discuss much. Quick, painless but a little antiseptic.
Intelligence on budget matters is gathered by popping in to visit with staffers, pigeon-holing members as they pass in and out of their chambers and of course, the ever popular lobbyist rumor mill which too often has all the credibility of the latest Wikipedia entry.
David Postman, the Seattle Times chief political reporter noted in his blog today that the Governor this week informed House and Senate budget negotiators of her most important priorities and not surprisingly, the constitutional Rainy Day Fund has emerged as the biggest roadblock to a timely budget resolution. As Postman reports, both the Governor, the Senate and a majority of members in the House favor passage of a constitutional amendment to establish a Rainy Day Fund reserve which would annually set aside 1% of general state revenues.
Rep. Helen Sommers (D-Seattle), chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, however, remains opposed to the measure and did not include the proposal in her budget which was released several weeks ago. House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler (D-Hoquiam) has all but promised the House will deliver a Rainy Day Fund bill, but so far, there has been no official annoucement that an agreement has been reached with the House Appropriations Committee chair.
Sources on both sides have indicated that until the logjam is broken on the Rainy Day Fund, negotiations will continue to proceed at their current slow and deliberate pace.