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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Third special session called likely

Rivers optimistic about education, budget talks; Democrats frustrated

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: June 14, 2017, 6:05am

Sen. Ann Rivers, a key negotiator on the education funding plan being discussed in Olympia, is a self-described “cup-half-full kind of gal by nature.” She said Tuesday she’s confident the state will not enter shutdown territory.

It does seem likely, however, that Washington lawmakers will need a third overtime session to reach a deal on the education funding plan and the budget. Lawmakers have until midnight June 30 to sign an operating budget before facing a partial government shutdown.

“I’m confident we won’t see a shutdown and we will be done by June 30,” said Rivers, R-La Center. “We are very near (the) conclusion of our work in the education funding group and other negotiations are ongoing.”

The state’s fiscal year starts on July 1, and expenses are paid out of the new year’s budget. Without an authorized budget, state activities would need to be curtailed.

The state has never been forced into a partial government shutdown, but it’s come close, including in 2013 and 2015. Both years, the governor signed the budget on the last day of June. Should a partial shutdown take place this July, about 26,000 state employees would receive temporary layoff notices, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

As the negotiations continue behind closed doors, other local lawmakers reacted to the news that a third special session is likely after the current session expires a week from today.

“Of course, I am disappointed we have been in session for as long as we have, but I do appreciate a thoughtful and deliberate process, and good negotiations don’t come easy,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver. “Our budget team has been working diligently and in good faith for months now. I’m quite optimistic we will get the job done by the end of the month, so I’m not worried about a shutdown.”

The budgeting process is made more difficult by a court order to adequately fund the state’s public schools, known as the McCleary decision. Most lawmakers return to their district during special session except for key budget and education negotiators, including Rivers.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said it’s too bad special sessions have become “business as usual” in Olympia.

“I support the (Republican) budget negotiators who are holding the line on new taxes,” Pike said, adding she’s willing to extend the special sessions for as long as it takes to prevent raising taxes. “Olympia has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” she said.

Local Democrats expressed more frustration.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, called “shutdown politics” the worst kind, something that belongs “in the other Washington, not here.”

“Unfortunately, Senate Republicans are not engaging in comprehensive … budget negotiations and instead are insisting on their budget proposal consisting of devastating cuts and a massive property tax hike,” Cleveland said.

Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, described the negotiators she’s chatted with as “frustrated but optimistic.”

“I am hearing words of mutual respect between some of the parties and I know they are working hard and long hours,” Wylie said.

Columbian Political Writer