If Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature knew how much alike they look, they’d be embarrassed. Members of both parties have been bullies and victims in the budget-writing process. Conservatives and liberals alike have broken vows of transparency and abused public-hearing rules for the sake of partisan political gain. Both parties have refused to legislate in a timely manner (Democrats by dawdling, Republicans by calamity). As a consequence, several good bills appear to have died under the crush of a deadline. The session is scheduled to adjourn Thursday.Almost like twins, both parties say they have had no other recourse. And each side seems more intent on attacking the other than serving the voters who sent them to Olympia.
Democrats have only themselves to blame for the Republican coup that erupted Friday night and allowed the near-impossible to happen: A minority Republican budget miraculously passed in the majority Democrat state Senate. Now granted, collaborating with R’s was too much to expect of the D’s in this year’s toxic legislative environment, but the D’s couldn’t even keep their own team members in line. “Roadkill caucus” members Rodney Tom of Medina, Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch shockingly sided with Republicans to not only reverse control of the Senate but then to pass the GOP’s Senate budget.
The incident, described by The Seattle Times as “a political earthquake not seen in 25 years,” was detonated not so much by Republicans but by what Democrats allowed to happen in their own party.
Republicans are not without culpability. Their Friday night massacre no doubt impressed their base, but their Senate budget has no chance of passing. The R’s say this chaos is intentional, and that the D’s left them no other choice.
Here’s an example of that chaos. Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said “K-12 education alone would get $251 million more in this budget than what Senate Democrats proposed.” But Publicola.com reported Monday that, according to the nonpartisan Ways and Means committee staff analysis, the D’s budget “actually adds $38.6 million to K-12 education while Zarelli’s budget cuts $43.8 million … The GOP claim comes from the fact that (the Democrats’) budget delays … a $220 million payment to local school districts, pushing the payment into the next biennium.” Zarelli, though, has correctly called that tactic a gimmick by Democrats, one that adds to the next biennium’s deficit.
A Seattle Times editorial astutely described the crux of this multiyear budget problem in the face of an economic crisis: “The private sector has had to adjust, but the Legislature and governor have done so only partly, resisting the tough decisions. Rather than bring state employee wages and benefits in line with those of their private-sector constituents, they prioritized them over other important spending.” How true, and in this regard, majority Democrats have assiduously devoted their public service to public unions instead of to the public at large.
Predictably, compromises were being tossed around frantically on Monday, but Zarelli told The Herald in Everett “there’s no way we get done by Thursday,” and a special session seemed almost a certainty in the afternoon.
Even if a special session is avoided, it will mean a budget will be written in haste; that’s no way to serve the public. And if a special session is needed, it will mean a budget will be written in the aftermath of the worst partisan revolution in two decades; that, too, is no way to serve the public.