OLYMPIA — The countdown to special session is under way.
Truthfully, it’s been going on for a while among those in the fraternity of lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative staff toiling in the Capitol. They’re all used to not finishing on time — which this year means by Sunday — and a few don’t know any other way.
The special session will be here soon. Just depends on what day Gov. Jay Inslee decides he wants to kick it off.
Who or what is to blame this year? There are plenty of perspectives.
It’s the House Democrats’ fault: They are the majority. They passed a $44.9 billion two-year budget. It relies on $3 billion more in taxes. House leaders refuse to vote on their package of new capital gains and carbon taxes, and higher business taxes. They say the votes are there but it’s a waste of time to cast them since the package is D.O.A. in the Senate. Republicans say pass the tax bill then we’ll negotiate.
It’s the Senate Republicans’ fault: They are in control. They’ve steadfastly refused to seriously negotiate until House Democrats vote on their tax bill. They know it has no chance of success in the Senate yet are determined to stand their ground. They say they took the hard vote when they approved a new statewide property tax in their $43.3 billion budget. They insist House Democrats take the hard vote, too. That’s not expected to happen.
It’s the Supreme Court’s fault: Justices are demanding the Legislature fix an unconstitutional public school funding system and pay the full cost of a basic education of its students. They’ve set a deadline and are imposing a $100,000-a-day fine to keep up the pressure on lawmakers. Any solution is expensive, complicated and taking longer than anyone expected. Meanwhile, the high court’s decision in the Hirst case rewrote the rules on water and property rights. It’s driven a wedge between urban and rural lawmakers on how best to respond, if at all.
It’s the feds’ fault: Federal officials are monitoring safety and security improvements at Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital. Millions of dollars in federal funding will be lost if those officials aren’t satisfied. Complying with all their demands is not cheap or easy. Lawmakers are debating the pace and path needed to prevent losing the money.
It’s the economy’s fault: Washington’s economy is one of the hottest of any state in the nation — even with layoffs at the Boeing Co. It’s producing a lot of money from existing sources of taxes. This is a political problem. It’s hard to argue for new and higher taxes when the budget reserves are bulging with a couple of billion dollars. It’s hard for any lawmaker in either party to say no when the state is sitting on all this dough. It’s so much easier to say, “Sorry, we can’t,” in a recession — though everyone agrees they don’t want to see one of those for a while.
It’s the governor’s fault: Gov. Jay Inslee isn’t to blame for the impasse between the House and Senate. Nor is he responsible for ending it. He is the state’s chief executive. He does share responsibility for ensuring compliance with those court dictates and federal demands. That means he’s no innocent bystander.
It’s Sound Transit’s fault: Isn’t everything Sound Transit’s fault?
It’s kind of our fault: Nearly every one of the 147 men and women serving in the Legislature are there by the choice of voters. None ran on a platform of compromise, concession and voting on whatever gets the Legislature out on time. Rather, some pledged to make wealthy individuals and big businesses shoulder a greater burden of those education and social service costs while others vowed to provide those same guys with greater tax relief. Some lawmakers campaigned on expanding the social safety net and broadening environmental protections while others promised to pursue reforms ensuring the neediest are served and any new rules aren’t too restrictive on the private sector. Conflict is an inevitable byproduct.
Just like a special session.