By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — State election officials learned Wednesday they won’t be getting an extra $1 million to cover the costs of a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee.
Lawmakers did not include any money in the state budget they passed Wednesday before adjourning and heading home.
House and Senate budget writers of both parties discussed adding a proviso into the budget to cover some or all of the estimated expenses but couldn’t reach agreement, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“It was a last-minute thing. It was the last day,” Murray said. “It was a large number and there was no time to scrub it.”
When a 30-day special session ended at midnight Tuesday, lawmakers still had not finished work on a slew of budget and reform bills. It was nearly sunrise Wednesday when the House and Senate approved a supplemental budget that relied on a mix of cuts, transfers and a little new tax revenue to plug a $500 million hole.
Secretary of State Sam Reed had requested $770,000 to cover costs incurred by the three counties in which ballots will be cast. He also sought $225,000 for a campaign to educate voters about the election. He envisioned sending information-filled postcards to voters.
“It’s not surprising they didn’t open up the budget for this purpose,” said David Ammons, Reed’s spokesman.
The $1 million price tag has emerged as an issue in the race for governor between Inslee, a Democrat who resigned to campaign for the job, and Attorney General Rob McKenna, the leading Republican candidate.
Leaders of their political parties dueled this week on the tab. The GOP demanded Inslee pay for it all while Democrats contend the figure used by Reed, a Republican and strong McKenna supporter, is too high and the actual costs will be far less.
Murray said those politics didn’t factor into the final equation.
“There were a lot of questions and a lot of opinions,” he said. “It wasn’t a partisan thing.”
The decision means funds to pay the bills of Snohomish, King and Kitsap counties later this year must be taken out of other agency accounts, he said. Election officials can then ask lawmakers in 2013 to reimburse those accounts, he said.
In the meantime, Reed will team with auditors in the three counties on getting information to voters before the Aug. 7 primary and Nov. 6 general election, he said.
“We’re looking at a variety of options that will hopefully explain the situation,” he said.
The special election will appear on the same ballot as the regular elections. That means several hundred thousand voters will cast ballots for two seats in Congress; for some in King County it will be the same 1st Congressional District seat Inslee vacated.
Voters in the current 1st District will elect a person to complete Inslee’s unfinished term. The winner would represent south Snohomish County and portions of King and Kitsap counties from roughly Dec. 6 to Jan. 3, when the new Congress is seated.
At the same time, an election will be held within the new boundaries of the 1st District with the victor earning a full two-year term as Inslee’s successor. Eight candidates are competing in the district, which stretches from Medina to Canada, passing through rural parts of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said she figured lawmakers would set aside funds to repay the county’s estimated $100,000 costs for the primary and general elections then punt on the voter education part.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if they pushed that cost down onto the counties but I am surprised they did not put funds to reimburse the counties in the budget,” she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.