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Lawmakers headed toward the exits?

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on May 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm with No Comments »
May 24, 2011 1:37 pm

Now that a budget deal has been reached, can lawmakers wrap up their work on schedule Wednesday?

As of last night, the two major obstacles were a debate over the debt limit and the proposed Enterprise Services Department.

At 5:30 a.m., some kind of tentative accord was reached on debt. “We have an agreement,” Senate budget chairman Ed Murray said.

But he didn’t say what that deal is or whether it involves asking voters to change the state constitution.

The Senate wants a ballot measure to lower the constitutional debt limit of 7 percent. Senators have said they won’t pass a capital budget until they get it. And Senate Republicans also threatened to withhold their votes on the $32 billion operating budget released today unless they see enough progress on debt and contracting out of state work through Enterprise Services.

There are reasons to doubt that a deal on debt is set in stone. A few minutes ago the Senate’s two negotiators on debt, Democrat Derek Kilmer and Republican Linda Evans Parlette, said they were still working on the issue, as they speed-walked into the office shared by House Speaker Frank Chopp and Majority Leader Pat Sullivan.

And Senate Republicans were noncommittal this morning about whether there’s truly a deal or whether they are ready to cast their votes for the budget they helped write. GOP budget negotiator Joe Zarelli told reporters a couple of pieces still need to be resolved.

Sullivan said negotiators made “really significant progress on the debt limit issue” in their late night session.

The contracting-out issues remain up in the air. After midnight today, the House budget committee approved its own version of the Enterprise Services agency. Unlike the Senate version, it wouldn’t have to seek bids on privatizing back-office functions, and it wouldn’t be exempted from rules that allow employees to compete for contracted work.

Budget writers insisted they are still pushing to finish in the next day and a half.

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