A prominent local Democrat described the mood in Olympia as resigned and several Southwest Washington lawmakers expressed disappointment when it was confirmed Thursday that lawmakers would need a 30-day special session to balance the budget.
“In my opinion, the compromise would be the same on Sunday (the official end of the 105-day regular session) as it would be at the end of June,” said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who is speaker pro tempore of the House. “We might as well do it now and save the taxpayers some money.”
Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Thursday lawmakers would be called back to the statehouse April 29 for a special 30-day legislative session.
Negotiations on the two-year operating budget broke down last week. On Thursday, lawmakers announced they would adjourn today and return the following week to tackle the budget and a transportation package. The governor said he’s hoping lawmakers will also reach a compromise on an oil-by-rail safety measure and address carbon pollution. Lawmakers are under a court order to adequately fund education and could face sanctions from the state’s top court if they fail.
Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said she was “disgusted” lawmakers weren’t finishing on time.
One of the main sticking points appears to be disagreement over whether new revenue is needed.
Democrats have called for raising taxes to meet the state Supreme Court’s mandate to fully fund education, while Republicans believe there is sufficient revenue. Pike took issue with the governor’s role in budget negotiations.
“The fact the governor is not being a leader in this and not helping us mediate the budget impasse is part of the reason we’re going into special session,” she said.
The governor said on Thursday he’s tried to accelerate the discussion and he’s worked to engage the public in the discussion.
“I have the role of encouraging compromise and conciliation … If it gets close to the deal, to try to close that deal in the last couple of yards,” Inslee said at a press conference.
Later, in a press release, Inslee said it’s “time for all sides to compromise.”
Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said he’s pleased lawmakers will be back at the Capitol soon after adjournment, rather than taking a longer break.
“When we leave here, work tends to stop,” he said.
“We need to look at taxation and anything that would impact the budget; those are the issues we need to address,” Harris said, adding policy issues should be avoided unless they have a budget impact.
Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, noted the special session was expected, but that doesn’t mean anyone is happy it’s happening.
“Most of us will be at home ‘on call’ while leaders negotiate and that (means) many legislators will not be able to continue their jobs and family plans,” Wylie said. “Most of us do not take per diem when not required to be in Olympia. That said, many here are optimistic that the focus of a special session with a limited agenda will result in a budget compromise fairly quickly.”
Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, a freshman lawmaker, said although she has nothing to compare it to, she was told it was an unusual legislative session.
“We were excused nearly every weekend, and even more unusual, we adjourned early in the day, every day this week. Normally, there are days upon days that we are working hard, until midnight or later. I personally would like continue with the momentum that we currently have, knuckle down, and finish what the voters have asked us to do — balance the budgets and pass the budgets,” Wilson wrote in an email.