This week in Washington, legislators are pinching pennies and educators are licking chops. About the only budget idea upon which state senators and representatives agree is that public education must receive more funding.
And now that the Legislature's special session has begun, we reaffirm our agreement with that goal. It's one of the easiest stances to take, for a couple of reasons, the first being statistics. Test scores are too low and dropout rates are too high. But secondly, and more compelling for the politicians, the state Supreme Court has left them no other choice, having issued a mandate to make significant progress toward fully funding public education.
Such urgency was nowhere to be found Monday in Olympia. Attendance was optional for legislators, and only a few cursory chores were undertaken before adjourning for the day. That's not unusual, though, for the first day of a special session.
A bigger, more valid complaint can be lodged against legislators of both parties who were supposed spend the two-week break ironing out budget differences between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-directed House.
Erik Smith of the Washington State Wire wrote on Monday that "House and Senate teams delegated to negotiate the budget have little to show thus far. … The House questions some of the assumptions in the budget written by the Senate Majority Coalition, requiring part-time state workers to obtain their health insurance through the state Health Exchange, for example."
That's a great idea, as we see it. In fact, we wonder why part-time state workers even receive health insurance (many workers in the private sector do not), and we wonder even more vigorously why they would complain about having to obtain it through the state Health Exchange.
Smith also reported that "the Senate points out that the House budget is out of whack from the start, because it doesn't provide enough in new tax revenue to pay for all the programs it authorizes."
And speaking of new revenue, consider this possible source that would not require a new tax increase: more money for the state as a result of the rebounding economy. That's the good news; the discouraging news is following this strategy would require significant, aggravating dawdling by lawmakers. The next state revenue forecast will be issued on June 18, which Smith explains is one week after the current special session would end. Many legislators are talking about waiting, and hoping, for more revenue to show up in next month's forecast.
That's a gamble, of course. But, as far apart as the two parties (and the two chambers) are on budget matters, we wouldn't put it past them to yawn their way through this first special session and then pick up the pace in a second go-round. As Smith pointed out, the "real deadline is June 30. Lawmakers must pass a budget by midnight on that date or the world of state government might come to an end."
Remember when many folks hoped their legislators would agree on a budget during a 105-day regular session? Now, by contrast, many suspect they won't even get it done in the first special session.