[nfbwatlk] Little to show for 105 days on job at Capitol (The Olympian, April 28)

Mike Freeman k7uij at panix.com
Sun Apr 28 20:28:42 UTC 2013

Little to show for 105 days on job at Capitol 

State budget negotiations will continue with or without rank-and-file
members, but House, Senate still far apart

BRAD SHANNON | Staff writer . Published April 28, 2013 Modified April 27,

BRAD SHANNON The Olympian 

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The politically divided Washington Legislature winds down its 105-day
regular session today without a two-year state budget and with few marquee
bills to show for laboring in Olympia. 

The Republican-steered Senate and Democrat-controlled House are miles apart
on the central question of the day: whether to raise taxes to improve school
funding and ward off further cuts in the social safety net.

Gov. Jay Inslee hasn't said when he'll call the recalcitrant parties back to
town to settle differences in a special session. The first-year Democrat
could bring back budget negotiators and let rank-and-file members stay home
until there is clearer progress in talks that have really just begun after
months of work to write and pass rival budget plans in the two chambers. 

Inslee has been clear that he hopes to put at least $1 billion of new money
into public schools in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last year in
the McCleary case, which said the state was not adequately paying for basic
education. To do that, Inslee would continue a tax surcharge on service
businesses and close tax breaks for select industries including oil
refineries - which Republicans in both houses say are bad ideas that could
cost jobs.

"Our paramount duty in this state is to kids - not to tax breaks," Inslee
told a cheering crowd of more than 1,000 teachers and other members of the
Washington Education Association during a rally Saturday on the Capitol

Republicans aren't interested, and leaders in the Majority Coalition Caucus
that controls the Senate say their 23 Republican and two maverick Democratic
members have been clear that new taxes are not needed to get new resources
into schools.

A new budget is needed before the next budget cycle begins July 1.

"Once you start talking, you're making progress. Not talking is a sign of
lack of progress,'' Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville
said Saturday, declining to get into details of talks that began in recent
days. "You know there are significant differences. That's no secret. But the
people are meeting . that's a fact. And I think they all have good

"We have a long way to go. This process is just getting underway,'' House
Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said. "The fact we're all in that
room together - that's progress.''

Inslee's budget director David Schumacher acknowledged the distance, saying:
"We're not within five days of a solution."


Top differences boil down to the size of the budget and the need for taxes.

So far, only Democrats favor the plan that passed the House. It spends $34.5
billion from the state's main checkbook - known as the general fund and
related accounts - that pay for daily state operations, public schools,
universities, prisons, courts, parks and some health programs. But that plan
requires $1.1 billion or more in taxes to balance the books.

Republicans favor the $33.35 billion Senate plan that had no new taxes but
relied on savings assumptions and efficiencies that are far from proven -
and which Democratic leaders believe are a fantasy after years of repeated
cuts to agency operations.

The GOP plan also makes a controversial raid of school construction funds
and borrows money through bonds to refill the school building accounts,
which even House Republicans don't like. It also cuts again into social
welfare programs that help disabled people awaiting Social Security

Inslee has been convening the meetings in his office and expects to keep
doing that, according to aides. The governor's sights are set beyond the
current two-year budget, knowing the state needs to raise its public school
investment in each of the next three budget cycles because of the McCleary

"We're looking for what is achievable. We want to make sure we get to a
reasonable McCleary number, knowing that whatever we don't do this biennium
makes next year that much harder," budget director Schumacher said. "This is
a multiyear problem that doesn't go away.''

But how Inslee decides to manage the upcoming negotiations is undecided - in
terms of when to bring lawmakers back to town. Schoesler - whose Majority
Coalition Caucus has kept united in its opposition to taxes so far - says a
large number of its members need to be involved in the budget calculations.
And that means they want Inslee keeping everyone in town and starting the
special session right away.

House Democrats have not laid out such a firm position, and Senate
Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle said he has members who have
postponed medical procedures and could use a break to get them done.

"It doesn't matter to me when the governor calls back the full Legislature.
I will continue to work on the budget every day until the Legislature comes
to some resolution," said Republican Rep. Gary Alexander, the top House GOP
budget negotiator.


A budget is not the only thing still left to do. The House and Senate were
poised today to finish passage of an $8.8 billion, no-new-taxes
transportation plan, and talks on a gas tax package for major projects will
be part of a special session.

Inslee also has been trying to keep alive a handful of bills that keep
repeat drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel of a car, keep guns out
of the hands of those who are unstable, ensure that abortion is a choice
women have in insurance plans, and let undocumented students brought here by
their parents at a young age qualify for college financial aid.

Republicans want to block tax increases, boost education funding, and
further cut the size of a state government that is already so slimmed by the
Great Recession that it is staffed at late-1990s levels.

The GOP also wants changes that cut the costs of doing business - whether in
workers' compensation or regulations. Schoesler said the Senate also wants
to pass a bill that would let the state's never-implemented
paid-family-leave law expire in four years if no funding source is found for

"The only thing we have to get done is the budget and anything needed to
implement that. We have to focus on that," House Majority Leader Sullivan
said. "The more items you throw into the mix, the harder it is to get done.
. I think we should focus on that budget and not get bogged down on other

Some people are hunkering down. "I think it'll be a long time" to get to a
solution, said Nick Federici, who lobbies for human services groups and has
testified several times this year in favor of higher taxes and fewer
spending cuts. "This is my 19th session lobbying, and I don't think I've
seen them so far apart on so many things so late in the year." 

Special sessions are not unusual - and history over the past 30 years shows
they are common when financial crises loom or when the Legislature is
divided between the parties.

Divided government and financial squeezes both are in play this year. That
is why after the Majority Coalition Caucus formed in January, veteran
observers knew early on that the Legislature would never get done on time. 

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon at theolympian.com 


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