Following the Washington Legislature’s multiple sessions is a lot like following the Portland Timbers’ eight soccer ties: Lots of yelling and kicking, but not much to show for it.
Yes, the blamestorming in Olympia has been extended into a second special session. Each political party blames the other and, of course, both are to blame. This year’s legislators have blown through three deadlines and are facing a fourth one that’s even more important, as The Seattle Times editorialized Tuesday: “… the end of the 105-day regular session, a self-imposed June 1 deadline and … the end of a 30-day special session” plus “the end of the fiscal year on June 30.” At which time, no budget means no state government, although House members have passed a stopgap measure that would keep some essential departments functioning.
This abiding intransigence has everyone looking ugly, including Gov. Jay Inslee, who indicated he would become more active in the first special session. If that influence ever materialized, it must’ve been clandestine. Inslee called a second special session that started Wednesday.
So divided are the state Senate and state House, there’s even division over how divided they are. Inslee said before the first special session that the two sides were “light years apart,” and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said after the first special session: “I would say we’re still somewhere out in space.”
But in the context of a $33.5 billion budget, they’re only about $300 million apart, which the Times says is “remarkably close in bottom lines,” and which the Spokesman-Review of Spokane describes as “no excuse for paralysis.”
To the gargantuan size of the budget, factor in also the challenges of a $1 billion shortfall, plus another $1 billion or so in education spending that the state Supreme Court says is necessary, and on which both parties seem to agree. To be this close makes us wonder what budget negotiators have been doing during these negotiations.
Two possible answers come to mind. Democrats have been busy trying to convince Republicans that more revenue is needed, but that argument has fallen on deaf ears. Republicans, especially in the second special session, have emphasized policy bills, notably three: capping noneducation spending at inflation plus population growth; allowing principals to veto transferred teachers; and allowing more lump-sum buyouts in the state’s workers’ compensation system. Those arguments, of course, are shunned by Democrats who want to focus on enhancing education and preserving social services.
Although neither side appears willing to agree with the other, we suspect both parties share hope for positive news that could arrive on Tuesday when the next budget forecast is due. Even if the prediction includes more revenue for the state as a result of an improving economy, there’s no indication these lawmakers will ever compromise.
So the game of chicken continues, and as each side squints and blames the other, both parties present themselves poorly in the eyes of voters.
At least a soccer tie is not behind closed doors.