Sharing in the pain of state budget inaction

For many of us, childhood paddlings were preceded by a parent’s assurance that “this is going to hurt me more than it does you.”

We weren’t always convinced, but there may be some actual shared pain in Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to make good on his threat to veto legislation, regardless of his own support for most of it, as a way of prodding the Legislature to come to agreement on a supplemental budget before the end of the regular 60-day session.

It didn’t and he did, vetoing 27 of 37 Senate bills on his desk, while calling the House and Senate back for an immediate 30-day special session. Inslee spared some legislation that addressed public safety and other essential services, such as a bill that increases penalties for vehicular homicide.

Among the vetoed legislation were bills that would have: created a work group to develop strategies to remove obstacles to higher education for students with disabilities; required the state Department of Commerce to track federal economic development grants and other funding; created a task force to study out-of-pocket costs for patients; and authorized the growing of industrial hemp and set up a research program.

To revive the bills, the Legislature either has to override the vetoes or reintroduce the legislation and vote again.

Inslee said he took no pleasure in rejecting the legislation, much of which he called “worthy,” but took this course to “break this cycle of lack of discipline of getting budgets out.”

Whether his remedy works or not, Inslee’s diagnosis is correct: The Legislature has required special sessions to finish its work in six of the past seven years. Seeking a better position from which to negotiate, talks on the most contentious issues among House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, are routinely put off until the final days, if not final hours, of a session, forcing extra innings, a record three 30-day sessions last year.

The differences between Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House are honest philosophical ones, but ones that should be easier to bridge than each side lets on.

The House budget seeks to use $467 million from the state’s rainy day fund and close $119 million in tax subsidies to pay for fighting last summer’s wildfires, increase mental health staffing at Western State Hospital, expand services for the homeless, increase teacher pay and school construction spending and equalize local school levies.

The Senate would scale that back to spending only for firefighting and Western State, funded by merging two closed pension funds for firefighters and police.

The reluctance to tap into the state’s emergency reserve is understandable, but so too is the contention that homelessness and a statewide teacher shortage are as much emergencies as last summer’s now-extinguished wildfires.

Inslee used his veto pen to inflict the pain of extra legwork for lawmakers, believing it might spur some action. But it could come at a cost for the governor who will have to explain to voters during his re-election campaign whether it was an effective tool or only widened the gap between himself and lawmakers.

Washington state residents are desperate for an example of government that works.

With the clock reset for 30 days, the Legislature has more than enough time to reach agreement on the supplemental budget and restore at least some of the vetoed legislation. But that only happens if lawmakers don’t eat up time jockeying for a better negotiation position.

Inslee isn’t the only one who will have to explain to voters what was accomplished.

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