Local legislators cool to fine proposal

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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While state Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, said he's frustrated with how long it took state lawmakers to pass a budget this year, he said Sen. Rodney Tom's idea to fine sluggish lawmakers is the wrong approach to solving the problem.

"That proposal could have some real pitfalls," Vick said Tuesday.

He said Tom's proposal to fine each legislator $250 a day during overtime legislative sessions could hasten fiscal negotiations and lead to half-baked budgets. Legislators had a lot

of budgetary challenges this year, Vick said, and the extra legislative time resulted in a mostly bipartisan plan that minimized tax increases and boosted the state's education system by $1 billion.

Tom's proposal also could give another key player in budget talks, Gov. Jay Inslee, more bargaining power because Inslee could threaten to keep lawmakers in Olympia longer, subjecting them to the fine, Vick said.

"If you (had) a threat of a fine" this year, Vick said, would Republicans "have capitulated? Would we have raised taxes?"

State Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said Tuesday that the fine is a bad idea because it would unfairly burden state lawmakers who don't make a lot of money in their other jobs. Washington state has a part-time Legislature, and most state lawmakers earn an annual salary of $42,106.

"We are a citizen Legislature, and it's important that people who are working class … have just as much access to being legislators as people who are independently wealthy," Stonier said. Stonier, who works as a teaching coach for Evergreen Public Schools, also said she had to take months of unpaid leave in order to work in the Legislature, and "if that were the case all the time, I don't know if people like me could even afford to run for office."

However, Stonier and Vick said they see merit in suspending a legislator's $90-a-day per diem during special sessions. Per diem covers lawmakers' meals and lodging expenses while they are in Olympia.

Stonier said she did not accept per diem during the special sessions this year because taxpayers shouldn't have to pay when lawmakers don't get their work done on time. The regular legislative session was scheduled to last 105 days this year, counting weekends and holidays. Instead, special sessions extended the Legislature to 153 days.

Stonier also said Tom, D-Medina, and the Senate's majority caucus, which was made of 23 Republicans and two conservative Democrats, were "greatly responsible" for the legislative overtime.

State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said that even in good years, agreeing to a budget "is a difficult thing to do." He also saidTom's proposal seemed politically motivated.

"I think it's a great tool for the rich to again screw the poor and middle class," Moeller said. "All they have to do is run out the clock. What's the incentive for them to get done when they have their own personal wealth to see them through?"

Tom, who has a real estate background, lives off investments and owns a $5 million waterfront home, The Seattle Times has reported. Moeller works as a chemical dependency counselor, and Vick helps manage his family's landscaping business.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com