By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
No one walking the halls of Olympia is surprised Washington’s 147 lawmakers and governor will need a special session to finish their work.
When it will begin and how long it will run is anyone’s guess.
“Hopefully it will be a short session,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters Wednesday, adding he’s talking with party leaders about the timing.
It’s a good bet once the overtime period begins it will last for most or all of the 30 days allowed by law. Twenty-two times since 1980 legislators could not finish without at least one extra session and, on average, those ran 18 days.
One extra session may not be enough for the 2013 Legislature.
Some veteran members worry two overtimes will be required because the gulf between Democrats controlling the House, the Republicans running the Senate and the rookie governor is so deep and wide
Numerous disagreements exist including how to balance the next state budget, come up with another $1 billion for public schools, raise revenue for transportation improvements, keep repeat drunken driving offenders off the road and allow children of undocumented immigrants to receive state aid for college.
Whether it’s one or two extra sessions, another question comes to mind: will the House Democrats, Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition or governor pay a price — or maybe reap a reward — from them?
Let’s start with Inslee, who thus far is more skilled at communicating in cliche and metaphor than securing success for his priorities.
He’s had a huge learning curve coming from Congress where he could spend an entire year without passing a budget let alone a significant bill. As governor, there’s 105 days to do both. That’s in odd years. Next year it’s only 60 days.
Lawmakers in both parties use the politest terms in describing the arms-length he’s kept from the process — except when he tried to twist arms on a gun-control bill. Inslee insisted Wednesday everyone is zeroing in on the short list of policy and budget disputes to resolve.
Should extra time bring a transportation revenue package and laws to curb the number of drunk drivers on the road and, yes, background checks of gun purchases from private sellers, Inslee can earn a pretty good score for this session. Without those, it could be costly.
For the Senate Majority Coalition, this session is about proving they can stick together. At times, the 23 Republicans and two breakaway Democrats sound prouder of that than of any vote they’ve taken.
They’ve dug in hard against raising new revenue for schools and new money for transportation. They’ve tied the hands of moderate members who sponsored bills dealing with abortion insurance and college aid for children of undocumented immigrants.
In the special session, something must give or they risk getting cast as the foot-draggers to progress. Since the coalition did succeed in carving out paths for education reforms, they’d do well to accept a small bit of new tax revenue and passing the college aid bill in order to lay claim as the most pro-education bunch in the Capitol.
For House Democrats, the road ahead will be bumpy. They’ve banked on raising $1.2 billion in new tax revenue for the state’s public schools. They’ve called for hiking the gas tax a dime for the state’s transportation system. They’ve not endorsed major cuts in any government programs or services.
That combination will incite loud jeering from those living outside the I-5 corridor in Puget Sound. While House Speaker Frank Chopp can’t tune it out, he will need to use it to steer his caucus toward a compromise. With one, Democrats will achieve the biggest pieces of their agenda. Without one, lawmakers can count on spending a lot more time together.
Don’t be surprised if June arrives before they depart Olympia.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take a look at the Legislature’s history of special sessions since 1980 at tinyurl.com/WaLegeSpecial.