In Our View: Foot-Dragging is New Normal

Legislators likely have waited too long to avoid a special session this year

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Perhaps Washington legislators should add "lexicographer" to their job description; they're redefining the word "special." This could be the fourth straight year that a special session is required in Olympia. As we suggested last year, a better term would be "agonizingly familiar session."

This year several factors add to the possibility. First, despite frequent serenades about harmony among the politicians, the chambers are more polarized than last year. Democrats still control the House, but in the Senate the defection of two Democrats has created a Republican-controlled "Coalition Majority." Plus, there's the court mandate this year to fully fund K-12 education, not to mention a new Democratic governor's campaign promise not to raise taxes, accompanied by a fierce argument about how to define a tax increase. Another factor is the $1 billion-plus budget shortfall. Finally, don't forget the requirement that separates our state's government from Congress. Here, the budget must be balanced.

Special-session predictions vary among local legislators who were interviewed for a Tuesday Columbian story. State Rep. Jim Moeller said that, if he had to bet, there will be no special session, "sensing there will be closure in the last few days." Good luck on that. We're not buying, and we'll explain our stance why later in the editorial.

State Sen. Annette Cleveland sounds hopeful, if not optimistic, that there won't be a special session. State Sen. Ann Rivers says there's a 50-50 chance. State Rep. Paul Harris says he was optimistic until budget differences started emerging. State Rep. Sharon Wylie says it's too soon to tell.

We predict a special session, and our source is the politically astute website crosscut.com, which says the Legislature already has wasted too much time to avoid overtime. "It took the Legislature 80 days to announce its first full-fledged preliminary budget, out of a 105-day session," according a story by John Stang on the website last Friday. Note the word "preliminary" hanging onto the word "budget" like a bureaucratic barnacle. That's because observers expect massive differences between the House and Senate budgets, with scant wiggle room in either.

That leaves "just about three weeks to fight over complicated accounting moves, budget cuts, possible tax increases, which Peter to rob to pay which Paul, and behind-the-scenes bragging rights," Stang explained.

One other reason for the slow pace: The quarterly revenue forecast doesn't come out until March (March 20 this year, the 66th day of the session); crosscut.com suggests an earlier forecast, perhaps late February. Still, all of the fragile, fluctuating forces of politics — subject to elections and economic variations — require a more judicious, more collaborative work ethic than what has become the standard in Olympia.

Therefore, Stang proclaims: "There's no way that the Legislature will adjourn by April 28, the deadline for a 105-day session." And with so much work to be done, in so little time, by such a contentious group of politicians, we see no reason to disagree with him. "Special" session? More like an ordinary extension.