Special session isn’t likely to turn out anything special

Visitors to the Capitol last week might have wondered what all the commotion was about.

Good question.

Every day people streamed onto the campus to demonstrate against the slicing and dicing of tax dollars from an array of state-funded programs for school children, disabled adults and ailing elders.

Dozens of them delivered heartfelt and tearful appeals to lawmakers in hours of hearings on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to pare $1.7 billion in spending to rebalance the state budget.

Yet by the end of the week, the subject most of those folks really wanted to talk about — raising revenue — never got discussed.

They shouldn’t be surprised if this topic gets scant attention during the remainder of this December session, which is quickly turning out to be less special and more of an exhibition to the approaching 2012 regular session.

The problem is lawmakers are split three ways on what they want to do. One group wants to act first on spending cuts, another wants to act first on revenue and others are pushing to act first on reforming government operations.

House and Senate leaders in both parties are trying to figure out how to talk about all three at the same time and aren’t getting very far very fast.

As a result, last week, lawmakers’ only notable action was inaction.

They made one decision when they agreed that the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center Public Facilities District was small enough to fail. So they let it default on $42 million in bonds by not passing a bill to prevent the meltdown.

Lawmakers could change their mind this week. Until they do, their collective performance in response to the woes in Wenatchee may be a hallmark of what to expect in the remaining days of this session.

Don’t misunderstand. There are lots of meetings going on. Democrat and Republican leaders are conversing and negotiating with one another. Ideas are getting bounced back and forth among conservative and liberal forces in each caucus.

There’s still no sign the Legislature will agree to fill any portion of the $1.4 billion hole in the budget before Dec. 28, the special session’s last possible day. Gregoire has been one of the few hoping they’d do something but by Friday acknowledged she doesn’t expect they will.

The public conversation on raising revenue hasn’t started yet. There’s little energy thus far among lawmakers to move swiftly to place a temporary half-cent increase in the sales tax on the ballot as requested by Gregoire.

And on the question of reforms, most of what’s getting discussed is complicated and won’t save much money quickly. Still, those for whom reform is most important insist they won’t budge on cuts and revenue unless they get action on some of their ideas.

It seems everyone in the Legislature is testing one another’s patience and political arguments, so no one should expect many significant actions in the remaining days of the session.

Lawmakers certainly don’t.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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