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August brings more news than usual in Washington capital

OLYMPIA – Things are usually pretty quiet in and around the Capitol Campus in the summer. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – Things are usually pretty quiet in and around the Capitol Campus in the summer. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

There was a time when mid-August would provide the perfect opportunity for a Capitol reporter to contemplate the deep mysteries of life.

Like why voters consistently elect people to office they will complain about for the next two to four years? Or why, whenever one sees discarded footwear on the side of a road or highway, it’s always just one shoe, sandal or boot. So what happened to the other one?

Legislators were safely ensconced in their home districts. The governor was off jogging or bicycling or kayaking or whatever he was inclined to do. Half the bureaucracy was on vacation and the other half was away from their desks covering for the ones who are gone.

This year, however, August is busier than usual. Every morning brings a 140-character missive from the White House that requires a reaction from some level of government and hardly a week goes by without our Democratic state officials squaring off against some new federal edict or policy.

It’s also busier because after 193 days of regular and special sessions, the Legislature left town without passing a capital construction budget, and thus could come back to seriously mess with our dog days.

Gov. Jay Inslee is interspersing his summer schedule with trips to various parts of the state to point out the lack of said budget, describing a six- or seven-figure project that would be underway right now if the plan had passed. Depending on his location, Inslee might mention $20 million for distressed schools in Seattle, $15 million for North Pines Middle School in the Valley or $620,000 for the School for the Blind in Vancouver.

It’s a big budget. He could probably stop along his journeys at any wide spot in the road with a church, a bar and a mini-mart with gas pumps, and point to a project that’s on hold.

He issues press releases castigating Senate Republicans for their recalcitrance to break their vow that no final vote would be taken on the construction budget until House Democrats passed acceptable legislation on a major change to water-rights laws.

The details of that fight will make most readers’ eyes glaze over unless they are trying to build a home on an undeveloped suburban lot and can’t get a permit. In that case, there’s not enough space in this column to impart details. The key point is, the House did not vote on such a bill so it and the budget are inexorably linked in a standoff that shows no signs of being solved soon.

Senate Republicans are not apt to suffer quietly the slings and arrows from Inslee. They fight back with weapons at hand, like last Wednesday’s Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee hearing in Bellevue.

The location was selected to highlight an ongoing dispute be some parents of some local high school athletes and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. That took up about half of the hearing, but it was sandwiched between two favorite GOP jabs: That negotiations between state employee unions and the governor’s budget folks should be open to the public; and the state should lower the business tax on all manufacturers to the cozy level that Boeing pays.

Although a tax bill along those lines was sponsored by Committee Chairman Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, the policy never got a committee hearing. It went straight to the budget committee, where it got about five minutes of discussion – about equal to the back and fourth over Baumgartner’s wardrobe and somewhat less on that particular day than complaints about dandelions in the Capitol grounds. Later it was wrapped into a package of tax cuts for the 2017-19 budget. Inslee vetoed that provision. Republicans like to note the tax package passed with a veto-proof majority, but made no move to attempt an override. In a situation like that, support for the full Christmas tree is always stronger than for an individual ornament.

On Wednesday, the committee made up for its lack of a hearing by bringing in a panel of manufacturers to ask for their opinion. Spoiler alert: They all favored a tax cut for their businesses, and thought Inslee was unwise to veto it.

As for opening up the contract negotiations for state workers, open government groups and those generally unfriendly to unions thought it was a super idea. Union reps disagreed, with one pointing out that the Legislature does not negotiate its budget in public, either. But then, you probably could have guessed that.

For the record

An old city editor once told me to pay attention to calls and letters, because for every reader who put pen to paper or picked up the phone, 100 others probably hold similar views but didn’t bother. The ratio may be somewhat less with the ease of email, and some internet users’ penchant for telling others how wrong they are. But enough people called or wrote last week to take issue with part of the item on eclipse traffic that it deserves revisiting.

The item quoted “Blinded by the Light”, which could happen if you look too long at the sun Monday. It attributed the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen. Readers called or wrote to say it was written by Manfred Mann (or in one case, Freddie Mercury).

Thanks for writing, but the song was written and first recorded by Springsteen for the “Welcome to Asbury Park” album. Manfred Mann changed some of the words, had a Number One hit and probably made more money off it. But he did not write the song.

So again, don’t look into the sights of the sun on Monday. It’s not where the fun is.