Pridemore ‘disgusted’ with special session’s lack of action

He expects lawmakers to make minimal cuts and postpone more until regular session

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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State. Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, expressed disgust Friday over reluctance by the Legislature’s leadership to take decisive action on the budget during this month’s special session.

“I’m disgusted with the special session,” Pridemore said Friday. “It’s a problem in the leadership and in key positions: They are not interested in coming up with something. They didn’t want the special session, and now they’re not doing anything. It’s bad, because you need to have the desire to get something done.”

Pridemore’s comments Friday after a Lunch with the Lawmakers event by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce at the Vancouver Community Library echoed sentiments among Clark County’s representatives in the House.

During the special session, which began Nov. 28, lawmakers have been charged with approving a budget that would offset a $2 billion revenue shortfall. Gov. Christine Gregoire has proposed slashing spending primarily in public education, public safety and human services, some of the few spending areas not dictated by federal law, contracts and the state constitution.

Pridemore said he expects lawmakers to make minimal cuts and postpone the remainder of difficult decision-making until the regular session, which begins Jan. 9.

The Ways and Means Committee is expected to unveil a partial budget deal Monday for part of the needed cuts. A public hearing on the proposal in the Senate is set for 3:30 p.m. Monday. Live footage of the hearing is available at http://www.tvw.org. This is lawmakers’ first concrete budget proposal but falls short of the goal for the special session.

Pridemore said political will favors sparing K-12 public education from the weight of the budget ax.

“K-12 is the one we are going to hold as harmless as we can because that is the political priority,” Pridemore said. “Unfortunately, that means mental health is going to be whacked even more.”

“We want to improve the educational outcome, but we are sending all these kids with these problems into the schools and expecting teachers to be social workers,” he said.

Gregoire has said school levy equalization funds would not be cut if voters agree to approve a half-cent sales tax hike. Levy equalization funds help balance out differences in taxable property values in school districts and go primarily to rural and low-income districts, such as Evergreen Public Schools.

Pridemore said he opposes linking the two because failure of the ballot measure would mean untenable cuts to public education.

“Most of the (levy equalization) money goes to rural, low-income parts, which typically also are the most conservative, and (Democrats) want to get the support of those parts of the state,” Pridemore said. “That’s what our hurdle will be.”

Convening the Senate for a special session costs about $7,200 per day, excluding the cost of travel, said Brad Hendrickson, deputy secretary of the Senate. The cost is slightly less in the House, though exact figures haven’t been calculated yet because paychecks are distributed on a two-week cycle, said Bernard Dean, House deputy chief clerk. Dean said the cost during May’s special session was $6,300 per day.

Pridemore, a former Clark County commissioner, represents the 49th Legislative District. The district includes Vancouver west of Interstate 205 and expands north to Hazel Dell. He plans to run for state auditor in 2012.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://www.twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://www.facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.