By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
Washington lawmakers are entering the state of testiness.
And that’s a good thing.
Increased incidents of finger-wagging and verbal jabbing between House and Senate members are signs they are edgy and want out of Olympia.
Unfortunately, it may not come next week when the 2013 session is supposed to conclude.
You will be hard-pressed to find a representative, senator or lobbyist not expecting or preparing for a special session when this one concludes April 28.
Even rookie Gov. Jay Inslee seems to be of this mindset.
On Tuesday, he told reporters it would take “a thousand conversations over the next several weeks to come up with a budget” which accommodates the costs and policies in his proposal for combating drunken driving.
He laughed when asked if that meant a special session is coming. “Strike that last comment. The calendar is getting ahead of me. Until the end of the first session. How’s that?”
Lawmakers must reach agreement on several significant matters in order to wrap up on time. Here are some of the largest issues.
The budget: The Republicans controlling the Senate and the Democrats running the House have been engaged in a stare down rather than negotiations since passing their respective budgets days ago.
Senators want to see the House approve $1.2 billion in tax measures it needs to pay for its spending plan. Representatives want to see senators to pass bills which cut social service programs and provide savings counted on in the Senate plan.
Tuesday night, the House approved two measures generating $270 million a biennium.
If the Senate acts on policy bills soon, serious negotiations should follow.
Taxes, tax breaks: House Democrats and Inslee are pushing a laundry list of tax-related measures, all of which the Senate majority has publicly dissed.
But those few Democratic senators who voted for the Senate budget did so convinced that their GOP colleagues would eventually agree to include revenue from a few of the sources on the list. Which ones are anyone’s guess, though those two measures passed by the House are good candidates.
Early on, odds favored making permanent a tax hike on professional services including those of lawyers, accountants, beauticians and janitors rather than let it expire in June. This could gross $534 million. Heavy lobbying may be turning the tide on this one.
School reforms and revenue: Lawmakers in both parties and the governor agree on putting an additional $1 billion into public schools for basic education programs. They disagree on the exact distribution of those dollars.
Republicans want a big chunk invested in remediation and learning assistance programs. Democrats and Inslee prefer gobs to shrink the size of classes in kindergarten through third grade, and expanding full-day kindergarten to more schools.
Meanwhile, several GOP school reform bills are creeping along in a compromised state and could reach the governor’s desk with bipartisan support if Democrats bend where some of the billion dollars go.
Roads and bridges: Time to fish or cut bait on a Democrat-hatched proposal to raise billions of dollars for maintaining state highways and building new roads, ferries and bridges.
Predictably, there is bickering on what projects taken off the list. The real fight is on where the money will come from — higher gas tax and car tab fees — and the inclusion of $450 million for constructing a new bridge on I-5 over the Columbia River connecting Washington and Oregon.
Senate Republicans are likely to block the effort if the bridge is part of the deal. Take it out and it might advance. An alliance of business, labor and environmental groups badly want lawmakers to pass some sort of transportation package and may need to choose sides in the Columbia River Crossing debate before all is done.
Drunken drivers: Dealing with this issue was not on the must-do list until the governor put it there this week. Inslee’s heartfelt appeal and an 80-page bill combining tougher punishment and broader state-funded treatment may catalyze lawmakers to act at an uncomfortably fast speed for them.
It’s either that or the governor’s gaffe may prove true and lawmakers will need “several weeks” of conversations to finish.
At that point, testy will be a nice way for describing their mood.
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.