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Spin Control: Quick turnaround on levy cliff bill doesn’t mean on-time end to session

UPDATED: MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2017, 11:36 A.M.

OLYMPIA – Sen. Kevin Ranker, far left, tries to make a point to Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, as Sens. John Braun and Christina Rolfes and Senate Democratic spokesman Aaron Wasser look on. Some senators engaged in a contentious debate over school funding measures at the press table on March 6 even though the Senate had adjourned for the day. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – Sen. Kevin Ranker, far left, tries to make a point to Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, as Sens. John Braun and Christina Rolfes and Senate Democratic spokesman Aaron Wasser look on. Some senators engaged in a contentious debate over school funding measures at the press table on March 6 even though the Senate had adjourned for the day. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

In less than 24 hours last week, lawmakers passed a controversial piece of legislation with healthy majorities in both chambers – a feat that is rare at any time except when they are nearing the end of a session and are eager to get the heck out of Dodge.

Normally, they would strain their rotator cuffs from self-congratulatory back-patting. But the accomplishment was tempered by the fact that those 24 hours came after nearly two months of partisan plotting and sniping on the issue, which doesn’t bode well for the bigger task ahead.

The legislation was a one-year delay in the impending reduction in school districts’ taxing authority, something that could be seen as vital to the budgetary stability of Washington’s schools or a change that will be made moot in the coming months.

Whether it’s consequential or inconsequential depends on the legislators’ ability to reform public education and the taxes that pay for it, which could be listed as the raison d’etre of the 2017 session if one could say a session has a single raison. Or any at all.

Two days before voting to forestall what’s commonly called the levy cliff, the Senate lurched to a contentious ending as Democrats tried to force the levy issue onto the floor after Republicans had tried (and failed) to force a vote on raising taxes that almost no one in the chamber wanted to raise. It ended so quickly that some members still needed time to let off rhetorical steam, so they gathered around the press table and continued the debate, sometimes using recriminations like “liar” – a slur that would not be allowed on the Senate floor.

Perhaps it was necessary for that steam to escape the pressure cooker valve to soften up both sides for the eventual deal over the levy cliff extension. But the fact the Legislature needed two months to do what almost everyone acknowledged was going to be done bodes ill for lawmakers finishing their business without going into overtime.

As he commended lawmakers for passing the bill, Gov. Jay Inslee was circumspect in predicting they would come up with a school reform package in the 50 or so days left in the regular session. They absolutely could, he said, but added: “I’m not going to advise people to place bets on any particular outcome.”

When it comes to wagers on whether the Legislature will finish in the allotted time, Spin Control always bets the over. In six of the last seven years, that’s been the winning bet, and we’re pretty confident it will be this year, too.

Highway 395 naming rights takes turn

A new wrinkle developed last week in a House proposal to name U.S. Highway 395 in Washington the Thomas S. “Tom” Foley Memorial Highway.

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, proposed bifurcating the naming, with the stretch from Ritzville south to honor the former House speaker and ambassador and the stretch from Spokane to Ritzville to honor Sam Grashio, a local World War II veteran who survived the Bataan Death March and was one of the few to escape a Japanese prison camp. Both are local heroes, Baumgartner said, and there’s some nice symbolism in naming part for Grashio, who fought the Japanese in wartime, and part for Foley, who was the U.S. ambassador in peacetime.

That change will come up Wednesday when the Senate Transportation Committee holds a hearing on the original proposal, but there may be some pushback. For one thing, the Ritzville-to-Oregon section that would carry Foley’s moniker is mostly not in his old district, so picking that stretch alone could be a slap in the face to current or former representatives. For another, supporters have collected resolutions from cities along the route from Colville south, as well as Ferry, Spokane and Lincoln counties, to name it for Foley. Some might be OK with Grashio, but they haven’t been asked.

Joe Tortorelli, a longtime advocate of transportation in Spokane as well as a member of the state Transportation Commission, said the idea originated with the State Good Roads Association. Roads and bridges are generally, although not exclusively, named for people who have been longtime advocates of transportation issues, he said. Foley would definitely qualify considering he found hundreds of millions of dollars to improve that highway, at one point tying it to NAFTA as a major trade corridor between Canada and Mexico.

“Sam was a great guy. He was loved by everyone,” Tortorelli added. But he’s not sure naming a stretch of highway is the best way to honor one of the city’s most prominent war heroes.

There’s an added twist to the proposed change, an only-in-Spokane situation Spokesman-Review reporters call “the vortex.” When told of Baumgartner’s proposal to name part of the highway for Grashio, Democratic Rep. Marcus Riccelli of Spokane said he wasn’t familiar with the name and had never heard the story. He got a CliffsNotes version, with a promise for more info later from the newspaper’s files.

Grashio’s 1999 obituary mentioned that one of his daughters has the married name Riccelli. There aren’t many in Spokane, and they’re all related to the representative. Turns out Celene Grashio has been married to Antonio Riccelli, the representative’s father’s cousin, for nearly 25 years.

“No way,” the representative said when told. “I had no idea.”



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