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March 29, 2012 at 2:38 PM

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Budget deal could solidify, or go nowhere, in next 48 hours

With the Legislature past the half-way mark in the special session, budget negotiators still appear stuck.

"We're not done. In the next 48 hours we could have an agreement. In the next 48 hours things could fall apart," Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a news conference on Thursday. "That's just a fair assessment of where we are."

Progress has been made, she said, but not enough to clinch a deal.

The governor would not discuss the sticking points but said there are half-dozen major issues being negotiated.

The Legislature went into a 30-day special session on March 12 after lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on how to close a roughly $1 billion budget shortfall during the regular session that ended March 8.

Major issues being debated at the start of the special session included a proposal to eliminate early retirement options for new employees in the state's open pensions and legislation that would consolidate the purchase of health insurance for K-12 employees.

Budget negotiators have seemingly moved past a dispute about whether to skip a pension payment or delay funding to K-12 education in order to free up money in the current budget. A third option, which involves boosting the general fund balance with local use and sales tax dollars, has apparently resolved that debate.

Gregoire said her goal is to wrap up the budget by next Friday, adding, "I find the idea, the concept, the rumor, the suggestion that we'd have another special session abhorrent."

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