Another week, another special legislative session. As Dorothy Parker wrote, “What fresh hell is this?”
Gov. Jay Inslee called the Legislature back for round two, as unmovable partisans, passionately unmoved, spit out competing statements. The McCleary decision and bolstering K-12 is the nonpartisan denominator. Getting there is, for now, the unbridgeable divide.
What gives? The economy is on the rebound. Voters embrace divided government, a plus for the Senate’s majority coalition. There’s a new governor, angling to prove himself.
The meme is that D.C.-style gridlock has infected Olympia. Perhaps. The salient difference between Olympia and the other Washington, however, is money. Republicans and Democrats agree that the McCleary mandate requires more funding for K-12. Good. The question is whether we get there through closing loopholes — a de facto tax, but a wise course — or through cutting to the marrow.
In exchange for limited new “resources” (the senate majority’s euphemism for taxes) Democrats need to yield on several unrelated policy bills, including a cap on all non-education spending and a workers comp bill.
“Education trumps ideology,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee. “We ought to just get our damn jobs done.” Dunshee, chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, navigated a stopgap capital budget to underwrite projects already approved. June 30 is the drop-dead date. No budget, no government.
Republicans are incredulous. “I don’t see any scenario that calls for a shutdown of state government,” said Rep. Gary Alexander, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
Unspool the session’s history to reveal leadership’s feeble thread. Republicans need a Dino Rossi, someone who understands politics as the art of the possible. Democrats need a governor who tamps down the partisan speech and attempts to referee. (Inslee prefers to be a player, he says. Ideally he can blend arbitration with red-meat politics.)
Higher ed and transportation, touchstones for conservative politicians for decades, have fallen away. While lawmakers fret, Boeing and major employers look askance. The consequences are real. Consider this week’s Washington State University decision on engineering enrollment. Time ran out.
“In Everett, as our University Center in partnership with WSU is gaining momentum, it will mean that plans to add additional student capacity will have to be scrapped for another year,” Sen. Nick Harper said. “The lack of a state budget is impeding the planning ability of not only schools, but the construction industry, businesses, seniors and families across our state.”
“This cannot be brushed off as collateral damage of a budget impasse,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said Wednesday. “We strongly urge lawmakers to understand the economic jeopardy they place the state in when they fail to deliver in a timely manner the necessary resources to educate our students, mobilize our economy and create jobs.”
With 11th-hour negotiating, the public interest gets eclipsed. Democrats will never give on a mutual-consent bill that would put the kibosh on forced teacher placements. (It’s a litmus test for teachers unions.) Senate Republicans won’t give on the Dream Act and the Reproductive Parity Act.
Enough with the fresh hell. Budget and education first. Finesse a limited-revenue budget and then get out of Dodge. Please.