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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: For budget’s sake, keep session to a minimum

“The Legislature is at last moving in a positive direction. It took far longer than it should have to get to this point, but perhaps the severity of the budget situation is now understood in all quarters.”

Those were the words of Washington state Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, as the Legislature prepared for a special session to complete the work it couldn’t finish in the allotted time.

A year ago.

So here we are again, 13 months later. The 2011 legislative session expires at the end of this week, and a special session is inevitable. Gov. Chris Gregoire already has determined that lawmakers are mechanically unable to arrive at a balanced budget in the remaining time, plus pass all the policy bills needed to make it work. She expects to announce a decision on Thursday – not whether she will call them back into special session, but when.

She has two relevant examples to guide her.

Thirteen months ago, as time expired on the 2010 regular session, Gregoire called a special session, hoping the Legislature could solve its $2.8 billion shortfall in seven more days. It took them a month.

Last December, in contrast, the steadily deteriorating economic situation required another $1.1 billion adjustment and she called another special session, one that required a single Saturday.

Significantly, the December gathering came on the heels of an election that sent a reverberating no-taxes message and helped steer senators and representatives in a cautious direction.

Gregoire says the monthlong session of last spring taught her a lesson. If lawmakers had been that attentive, though, they wouldn’t have squandered the 105-day regular session without completing their work.

They knew the $5 billion enormity of their budget problem when the session began. They knew the limits of their options. They understood that almost all their options would inflict pain on someone. They knew that every nickel was going to be critical.

Now, out of time, they will return to the same job at an additional cost of about $20,000 a day. If they use up the full 30 days – the only period of time the state constitution permits the governor to set for a special session – it will make the chore harder by upward of half a million dollars.

Unquestionably the challenges are daunting. But the 147 officials elected to address them are people who campaigned in part on their ability to find solutions.

If Gregoire sends lawmakers home for a spell, it will give legislative leaders time to craft workable budgetary compromises. Then, the full membership could return to Olympia to wrap business up in a matter of days rather than weeks.

Think of the difference in $20,000 chunks, measured in laid-off workers or families without Basic Health Care.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.
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