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Wednesday, October 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Passage of levy cliff bill doesn’t mean Legislature will finish on time

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.

It’s something that they would normally have strained their collective 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 district’s 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’être 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 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.



Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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