Callaghan: Budget harmony elusive amid cacophony of rhetoric




Everyone knows that if Gov. Jay Inslee really wanted the state Legislature to finish its work quickly — especially passing a two-year budget that boosts funding for public education — he should have brought them back into special session immediately.

It’s always better to hold their feet to the fire, keep their noses to the grindstone, strike while the iron is hot. I mean why would we have such clichés if they weren’t true?

The last thing Inslee should have done is let them go home for two weeks and hold fundraisers. Better to have followed the lead of former Gov. Chris Gregoire, who one year consulted legislative leaders before deciding to bring lawmakers back the day after their regular session expired.

They were so close to finishing that any sort of break would cause them to lose momentum, they told the governor. And she believed them.

Seven days should be plenty, Gregoire proclaimed.

That’s the best strategy. Except when it isn’t. That seven-day session Gregoire called for instead lasted the entire 30 days permitted by the state constitution.

OK, so I guess everyone is wrong. I guess the better strategy to bring lawmakers to a quick conclusion is to wait a few weeks to allow a cooling-off period and give leaders and budget writers time to reach some deals.

That allows the rhetoric to fade away. Decision-makers can do their deciding without the constant glare of the newsies, without the pressure from special interests, without giving the rank and file an opportunity to meddle with the details.

Ready? Not

Maybe this Inslee guy had it right after all when he declared that the special session would come two weeks after the 105-day regular session ended in finger-pointing and blame-casting. As lawmakers come back ready and rested (and this year, even tanned), they can rapidly finish their work.

Except, of course, when they’re not. Not ready, that is.

Other than a few neckties, Monday’s first day of the first special session of 2013 looked a lot like the previous 14 days. Finger-pointing and blame-casting remained in vogue. It doesn’t really accomplish much, but it sure feels good.

Leaders are now saying that most of the rank and file can stay home until they are needed. Daily sessions are listed as pro forma, which is Latin for going through the motions.

Inslee, ever the optimist, sees progress because at least the two sides — Democrats in the House and the 23 Republicans and two Democrats who make up the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus — are using the same numbers for what things cost.

“We’re singing off the same songsheet as far as the basic data, finally,” Inslee said last week.

If you can call that singing. Because there will be no budget harmony until two groups with very different views on state spending and taxes can find a deal that lets both claim they won.

Since that also requires both sides to lose, the leaders have to make it appear that they fought to the end and got what they could.

And the end is now 28 days away.

Maybe there isn’t a foolproof method for getting the Washington state Legislature to act. Calling them back right away? Calling them back after a break? It’s all the same to these folks.

Seattle Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle has seen the Legislature from both sides now — as a caucus staffer in the ’80s and as an elected member since 2009. This time a budget session is less a negotiating opportunity and more a breath-holding contest. House Speaker Frank Chopp is well-known for being able to hold his breath longer than anyone.

“I remind them,” Carlyle told, “Frank Chopp has no lungs.”

I know that makes me breathe easier.