Most local lawmakers support special session

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Rep. Sharon Wylie is canceling an out-of-town wedding anniversary celebration. Rep. Ann Rivers won’t be taking her family on a holiday break.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s decision to call the Legislature to Olympia Nov. 28 for a 30-day special session will disrupt lawmakers’ private lives. But a survey of Clark County legislators Thursday indicated that most support the governor’s decision to deal with a new $2 billion budget hole in advance of the 2012 Legislature. And some said it should happen even sooner.

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said if the November revenue forecast confirms the state’s deficit plight, it will be necessary to bring House members back to Olympia and keep them there for the duration of the special session.

“We will probably have to have some bills, some fairly complicated bills necessary to implement the budget, that will require us to take votes,” he said.

Moeller, who works as a substance abuse counselor for Kaiser Permanente, said he has already applied for an unpaid leave of absence beginning Nov. 28 and continuing until the 2012 Legislature adjourns in March.

“It wasn’t my idea of how to spend December,” he said. “We didn’t cause this recession, but we do have to fix it. This is a worldwide recession. It’s not because we spent money on Disability Lifeline or because we are continuing to offer Apple Health for kids. I believe revenue should be on the table. We need a balanced approach with cuts, reform and revenue.”

Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, has proposed forming a bipartisan committee to come up with a package of budget amendments on which both parties could agree between now and January. But he said Thursday he could live with the governor’s plan for a monthlong special session.

“My original intent was to have us prepared going in Jan. 1,” he said Thursday. “I realize that regardless of any agreement, it will take time to get members coalesced around a certain direction.”

The challenge, he said, “is going to be around the ability of the Legislature in that short period of time to agree to solve the entirety of the problem.”

“I’m prepared to do what I need to do,” said Wylie, D-Vancouver, who must win the seat she was appointed to in the Nov. 8 election in order to serve beyond Nov. 29. ”I’m not going to whine about it. I tend to agree that starting the process to deal with it sooner rather than later is the best way, but you do need to prepare for it. It costs money to hold a special session, and every penny counts right now.”

One problem with Zarelli’s idea for a bipartisan committee, she said, is that “you can’t assume buy-in” without more people at the table. “With the Legislature so divided, no one wants to think of themselves as a rubber stamp,” she said. “The decisions we are going to make are so critical. If we rely on our leaders totally to solve these problems, we aren’t leading our communities.”

Craig Riley, Wylie’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 8 general election, said if he wins the 49th District seat Wylie now holds, he’ll defer to leaders of the budget-writing committees to come up with a plan. But he questioned why the special session should wait until late November.

“Am I ready to go? You bet,” he said. “Is this going to be a quick fix? No. It’s not going to be pleasant.” His bottom line, he said, is that “government has to get off the back of business.”

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, agreed that action should come sooner rather than later.

“I wish we could get the budget writers to work on this immediately,” he said. His top priority, he added, is “to get Washington working.”

The Legislature could do that by speeding up permitting, suspending rule-making and providing other forms of regulatory relief to businesses, Harris said.

Rivers, R-La Center, shared the view that quick action on the budget is necessary.

“At times of crisis at our house, we sit down and address the issue immediately,” she said. “Putting it off until January would be the wrong thing to do. We should be there right now. Each day that passes, we look at $40 million in state spending.”

Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, said that being called to Olympia for 30 days will be hardest on his family. “The sacrifice is missing my wife and four kids, age 4 to 14. When I’m gone, my wife is a single parent.”

Probst said “you can read a lot into the timing” of Gregoire’s proposal to bring the Legislature back early. “What that indicates to me is that, so far, they haven’t found a solution between the Senate and the House and the governor that they can get the votes for.”

Probst noted that over the past four years, the Legislature has cut the size of state government to 1988 levels.

“The voters have to ask themselves, how much further do we want to cut?” he said.

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.