OLYMPIA — Criticizing Senate Republicans for pushing ideology over budget compromise, Gov. Jay Inslee this morning called the Legislature into a second special session starting Wednesday.
He also said he was directing his cabinet to study what state government services would have to be shut down if the Legislature goes beyond July 1 — the start of the fiscal year — without passing a budget.
“They need to come to a common-sense position, so that we can fulfill the obligation to our kids,” Inslee said.
Senate Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said Inslee was wrong in his assertion that House Democrats have done all the compromising and the coalition has done none. But discussions will continue, and a budget agreement will be reached before July 1.
“We will get the job done,” said Tom, one of two Democrats who joined with all 23 Republicans to form the coalition before the legislative session started. “This talk of a government shutdown is nonsense. It's not going to happen.”
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said he also hoped a budget would be negotiated and passed before the end of this month, but Inslee was right to study the implications of that not happening. Tom has been wrong in some previous predictions, Sullivan said.
“I believe at the start of the regular session, he said we'd be done in 105 days,” Sullivan said.
Today is the last day of the first 30-day special session Inslee called after the Legislature failed to pass an operating budget of more than $33 billion during the regular 105-day session. The two chambers have spent most of that month in recess and passed relatively little legislation as most members awaited word from their leaders on progress of budget negotiations. There's little incentive to pass any new bills in either chamber today, because under legislative rules they would be returned to their house of origin when the second special session starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
All sides in the budget impasse argue that they are doing the right thing to increase spending on public school education, which is a mandate from the state Supreme Court. Inslee said House Democrats have compromised the most by dropping many of their proposals to reduce or eliminate tax breaks while balancing increases in the budget between schools and needed social services.
Senate Republicans say their basic budget spends more education than the House's basic budget, about $1 billion compared to $700 million, and does it without tax incrases. House Democrats say they boost that $700 million by more than $100 million through the closure of tax breaks in separate legislation, giving the Senate the chance to accept or reject extra programs for public schools and the state's college system.
Along with the budget, however, the Senate Majoritiy Coalition also passed three bills over the weekend that require certain changes or reforms in state law. One would allow principals to reject teachers being assigned to their schools, another would cap the growth in state spending on non-education programs to a formula based on inflation and population, and a third would expand the two-year-old system of allowing injured workers to accept structured settlements rather than regular payments from the state's worker's compensation system.
Coalition members call those proposals reforms. Inslee and House Democrats call them ideological policy decisions.
House Democrats gave up their ideological policy bills on topics like abortion and expanding some state college aid to immigrants, Inslee said, but the Senate continues to push theirs.
“We have made significant movement,” Tom countered, including agreeing to accept federal money by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and discussing some tax increases. “But there needs to be reform.”
Sullivan said there has only been small progress on the budget, in part because of Senate Republicans' insistence on their policy bills. “We haven't gotten to the point where we are actually negotiating the budget.”