Democrats may share power with GOP on school funding panel

Democrats in the state Senate appear set to appoint one of their respected moderate members to lead the budget committee and to share power with Republicans on a new panel dealing with the critical issue of public school funding.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who was re-elected to a sixth term this month, could be named chairman of the Ways and Means Committee as early as today when Democrats gather in Olympia to choose leaders for committees and their caucus.

Democrats also may approve creation of a new committee focused on figuring out how to amply fund public schools as required by the state Supreme Court decision in the McCleary case.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, chairwoman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee, said last week that she suggested the idea of a new panel to Senate Majority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

But unlike other committees, leadership of this panel would be shared by a Democrat and a Republican under a proposal Murray is pushing. He is said to want to see the committee run along the same lines of an existing legislative task force on school funding which is supposed to finish its work and be dissolved at the end of the year.

The two moves appear aimed at solidifying an increasingly brittle Democratic majority in the chamber. While Democrats outnumber Republicans, their advantage may only be 26-23 when all the votes in the Nov. 6 election are counted.

Democrats could find themselves in the minority if two conservative Democrats, Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, carry out their pledge to cross the aisle and join the GOP caucus on key budget and government reform matters.

Meanwhile Murray, in a tacit acknowledgement of that prospect, sent a letter to GOP members last week urging they commit to working together in the 2013 session.

Below is his letter:

Dear Senate Republican Caucus Members,

The Senate Democratic Caucus stands ready to work with your leadership team, and the entire Republican caucus, to fulfill the Senate’s constitutional responsibility along with the Governor and the House to govern. Our own caucus has elected me as their leader and we are in the process of electing the rest of our leadership team and completing our committee recommendations. We will gladly share it with you after our caucus approves it.

In the recent past, our respective caucuses have set new standards of bipartisan cooperation. We remain committed to working with Senate Republicans in a manner that will reflect the priorities and values of our state. We are committed to finding a path forward and to working collaboratively, regardless of changes that create or dissolve majorities now or in the future.

Once you have completed your reorganizational process, which we understand to be scheduled for Nov. 28, we request Republican leadership meet with Senate Democratic leadership to negotiate a clear administrative process going forward and to fulfill your shared responsibility to govern. Our goal is to recognize the fluid nature of the Senate at present and to govern accordingly.

I personally look forward to working with you and the citizens of our state as we work for the best interests of Washington.

Respectfully,

Edward B. Murray

Senate Majority Leader

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