Will the state Legislature approve a budget before the clock strikes midnight, which ends the 30-day special session called by the governor to give lawmakers more time to iron out their differences? Or will someone simply stop the clock so legislators can continue debate into the early morning hours?
The clock trick has been used more than once. But that's not the only gimmick in the Legislature's arsenal of rule-bending illusions.
And, frankly, this is exactly why state government is in this current financial mess.
No, the problem isn't in procedural stunts like pulling batteries from clocks, but more serious deceptions such as lawmakers pretending tax revenue will magically increase over the next years so it's OK to delay paying all the bills now.
That's an illusion that might work -- as in fool folks -- once, but it's not sustainable over time. At some point, lawmakers need to accept the reality that the economy has slowed and tax revenue has slowed with it. A red-hot economy isn't likely this year, next year or anytime soon.
The lawmakers should accept that reality before midnight and make difficult reductions in spending to cover the $1 billion hole in the current budget. This will make it more likely future budgets can be balanced without deep cuts (or grand David Copperfield-like illusions).
Gov. Chris Gregoire's staff met on Monday afternoon with legislative leaders and budget writers to go over a new proposal on the budget and government reforms. The Tacoma News Tribune reports a new deal could include compromises on government pensions and health benefits and budgeting techniques, the sticking points that are dividing Democrats and Republicans and keeping the Legislature in session late.
The buzz in the Capitol this morning is a deal could be close. Then again, a deal was said to be close a month ago.
Democrats and Republicans can share the blame for the current budget impasse as both have held firm on their ideological and political stands. Leaders of both parties, in their own way, are willing to bend rules (and, at times, common sense to varying degrees) to obtain the result they want.
A month ago, when this special session started, we envisioned a budget being approved that would be disliked by Democrats and Republicans.
We added that it can't be about political ideology; it's got to be about doing what's right for the residents of Washington state.
Nothing has changed in 30 days -- the state simply does not have the money to pay for it all. Make the tough cuts to spending today so even deeper cuts won't have to be made in the near future.