Regarding the chances of the Legislature completing its work before the deadline and avoiding a special session, Gov. Jay Inslee said last week: “I think we’d have to draw to an inside straight to get this done by Sunday night.”
No one should be surprised by the likelihood of legislative overtime, for two reasons. First, there’s history. As Jerry Cornfield of The Herald in Everett wrote last week, legislators have missed their deadlines 22 times since 1980. Special sessions, limited to 30 days each, have averaged 18 days during those years.
Second, there’s the lack of compromise. Neither party and neither chamber is more to blame than the other, but we’d like to make one strong point as Sunday night’s bewitching hour approaches: The special session should begin immediately, not after any kind of time-out. If the lawmakers can’t get their work done on time, they should not be allowed to go home or take any other kind of break.
Actually, it wouldn’t be much of a break for some of the legislators, who would use the time to pursue other political interests. State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, on Thursday told capitolrecord.tvw.org that “there are rumors that a special session might be called in two or three weeks and frankly I’ve got to say, I smell a rat. I think it’s politics that now gets involved. There are individuals that are running for other offices — mayor of Seattle, for Senate as well — and they need to raise money.” And money raising is not allowed while the Legislature is in session, regular or special.
State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, properly vows to resist such a political postponement: “If the governor is not willing to call a special session on Monday because he is interested in politics rather than finishing our work, then the Legislature should call itself into special session.” Amen! Until you finish supper, you’re not excused from the dinner table.
And there’s no guarantee one special session would be enough. Cornfield reports that some observers believe the gulf of differences between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House is too wide to close in just 30 days.
Considerable risks threaten both parties, especially if they eschew compromise. Republicans, Cornfield explained, “risk getting cast as the foot-draggers to progress. Since the coalition did succeed in carving out paths for education reforms, they’d do well to accept a small bit of revenue and passing the college aid bill in order to lay claim as the most pro-education bunch in the Capitol.”
But Democrats “have not endorsed major cuts in any government programs or services,” the Herald reporter noted. “That combination will incite loud jeering from those living outside the I-5 corridor in Puget Sound. … (With compromise), Democrats will achieve the biggest pieces of their agenda. Without one, lawmakers can count on spending a lot more time together.”
Journalists are in the deadline business. So we have to wonder how 105 days could go by without either party reaching out to the other to find meaningful ways to get their work done on time.