By Jerry Cornfield Herald Columnist
This is the 11th day of the special session, and lawmakers still have no deal for plugging a $500 million hole in the budget.
In case you’re wondering, you didn’t miss much in those first 10 days aside from a bit of posing, posturing and pointing fingers.
Here are a couple snapshots from an extra session with not much to see so far and possibly 19 more days to go.
Subsistence for serving: The state Senate didn’t meet a single time in the first week, yet plenty of senators are getting per diem checks for all seven days.
Payouts totaling $15,570 are being made this week to 31 senators for the period of March 12-18, according to information from the Secretary of the Senate’s Office. Senators can opt out of per diem by request. Eighteen members requested not to be sent money.
Senators are entitled to $90 a day for “session subsistence,” which covers such things as food and lodging. It can be collected for any day including weekends. Reimbursement for mileage is covered under a different Senate account.
Records show 19 senators received the maximum for one week of $630 with 12 taking smaller amounts.
Not surprisingly Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, and the lead budget writers in each caucus, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, received a week’s worth of per diem.
Three of the seven senators hailing from Snohomish and Island counties collected money with only Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds putting in for $630. Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, requested $360 and Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, sought $270.
Chase said she’s paying rent in Olympia and coming into the office every day.
“Just because we’re not on the floor does not mean we’re not working,” she said Wednesday.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens; Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds; Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell; did not request per diem payments.
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island didn’t realize she was slated to get a check for $630. When she became aware Wednesday, she said she notified the accounting office to tell them to keep the money.
State representatives are eligible for per diem, too, but those records won’t be available until the end of the month.
I am not powerless: Gov. Chris Gregoire tried to light a fire under the butts of lawmakers last week by threatening to veto bills if they didn’t start negotiating seriously.
A week later, the only red ink flowing around her office is in the budget. Nary a drop has been spilled from her veto pen since she threw down the gauntlet.
Still, Gregoire insisted Tuesday her words did generate a response as there’s been “significant progress” toward an agreement. And she pointed out she’s continuing to apply pressure by not rushing to put her signature on many pieces of legislation.
If she is looking, one veto target might be House Bill 1860, a nifty piece of legislation sought by the state’s Democratic and Republican parties. It ensures the cost of electing their respective precinct committee officers will continue to be paid by taxpayers.
Basically the bill requires in even-numbered years, when two or more people are vying for the same precinct post, a county must put the contest on the primary ballot or a separate ballot. And then they must tally up the totals.
It is estimated that passage of this bill could cost King County about $125,000 to $140,000; no estimate was given for Snohomish County.
A veto would tweak the political parties, ease the workload of county election offices and save taxpayers a little dough. Most folks would call that a win-win-win.
When asked Tuesday if she might veto it, she said, “I don’t know the answer.”
And it’s one, two, three, what are they fighting for? As it’s been for a couple of weeks, the budget battle is over accounting tricks.
Budgets crafted by Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate suffer a similar weakness — they each spend more on services and programs than they can afford. Their authors need to come up with money to balance the books.
House Democrats do it by not making a scheduled $330 million apportionment payment to schools on June 30, 2013. They write the check one day later, freeing up a wad of money now and paying the bill in the next budget.
Senate Republicans do it by not making a $133 million payment into one of the state’s closed pension plans. That gives them the extra bucks they need now without requiring repayment by a certain date.
The two sides don’t like the other’s idea maneuver. As a solution, they are seeking enough money from another source to ensure the school and pension payments can be made.
They’ll probably wind up with a different gimmick everyone can live with.
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.