Washington lawmakers work to finalize budget agreement

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and top lawmakers labored for a final agreement Monday night that would end months of stagnation in the state Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said leaders and budget negotiators had agreed on the framework of a final deal Monday night. But Democratic Senator Jim Kastama, who has been siding with Republicans in the latest talks, said the fine points of that broader agreement remain in flux.

The special session is set to end Tuesday, and Monday’s flurry of meetings caps months of negotiations over how to close a roughly half-billion-dollar shortfall for the two-year budget cycle ending June 2013. A Republican-led coalition in the Senate will not take up the budget until lawmakers approve a series of policy changes in state government.

A Gregoire spokesman said the governor had offered a “go-home” proposal that addressed three issues that have kept lawmakers at odds: pensions, a balanced budget measure and altering health insurance benefits for public school employees.

Democrats hold power in the House and have been unwilling to embrace the GOP bills that passed the Senate Saturday, one that would require the state’s two-year budget to be in line with anticipated revenue over a four-year period and another to alter health insurance benefits for K-12 employees.  (AP)

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