Senate Goes From ‘Sound Of Music’ To ‘Lord Of Flies’ Budget Bill Turned Vow Of Harmony Into Wave Of Anger, Frustration
Flash back to the beginning of the legislative session with Republicans and Democrats mugging for the cameras and cooing about the wonderful bipartisan cooperation ahead.
And then, there was last week.
Sen. Pam Roach, holding out on a pet issue, refused to vote for the $19 billion state budget, leaving her party flat-footed and a vote short.
Some of the Auburn Republican’s colleagues wondered aloud about buying paper roach traps for every mahogany desk on the Senate floor.
By that night, GOP senators figured out a compromise to make Roach happy. But then Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, refused to play along.
So annoyed was he with Roach that when the GOP needed him to cast the deciding vote for the $19 billion budget, McCaslin remained in an office off the Senate floor watching television.
Despite pleas from his colleagues, he wouldn’t come out, and the budget was defeated yet again.
That should have been the end of it under legislative rules that declare a bill dead and gone if it’s defeated twice. But Saturday night, GOP senators changed the rules so they could bring the same budget bill up again and vote on it, passing it this time.
The rule change made Sen. Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, so angry he resigned on the spot. The Senate minority leader stalked out of the chamber, ending a career in the Senate that goes back 40 years.
“This has been building for a while,” said Sen. Eugene Prince, R-Thornton, who has had his own frustrations during this session with an unsuccessful effort to pass a gas tax increase.
“I was ready to tell them to go to hell myself. But I decided I didn’t want to end my career by walking off.”
So it goes lately in the Senate, where tempers get shorter as the session drags on longer. All this happened before the proposed budget even hit the desk of a governor who wants big changes.
“I keep thinking of movies this reminds me of. I can’t decide if it’s ‘Alive’ or ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Or maybe the Donner party. Yeah, that’s it,” said Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane.
The Donner party was a team of pioneers who became lost in deep snow and turned to cannibalism.
Democrats held a news conference Monday morning to lament Snyder’s resignation and bemoan what they said are unprecedented abuses of the legislative process.
Senate Republicans were ready, with photocopies of transcripts from floor debate in 1993, when Democrats controlled both houses as the GOP does now.
Democrats changed the rules in the middle of the night that year to allow a vote on a more than $600 million tax hike without it lying for consideration for even 24 hours.
Now, Senate Majority Leader Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, calls the Democrats’ current protest “a little hypocritical.”
The budget was transmitted to Gov. Gary Locke on Monday noon. He has five days to sign it or veto all or part of it.
Legislative adjournment is scheduled for Sunday. But West, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, did not rule out a long special session.
West said Locke identified about $200 million in concerns left unaddressed by the budget, a much longer list than the GOP is likely to change. “I just threw it away.”
Lawmakers may meet Locke on some points, including creating slots for more people in the state’s Basic Health Plan. The budget adopted by the Legislature included no new slots; Locke wanted 20,000.
Other battles will be over how much money to provide for child-care subsidies for the working poor, which Locke has said are crucial to welfare reform.
Locke also took issue with the GOP’s decision to cut spending for magnet schools and so-called complex needs grants, used by districts to help struggling students.
“If the governor is reasonable, we could be out of here in a few days. If he’s not, we could be here a while,” West said.