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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Extra-special session has press corps at a loss for words

OLYMPIA – The mostly idle Capitol press corps – made so by the mostly idle Legislature – is struggling with a proper label for the legislative period the state finds itself in.

One could use 2SS, but the local lingo is already replete with numbers and letters. Every piece of legislation starts with an S for Senate or H for House, followed by a B for bill, then four digits, and gains more letters and digits with each significant change. So one can see something like 2ESSB6010, which would mean it’s the second engrossed substitute Senate bill carrying that number.

We could use literary allusions, but that would make us seem more pretentious than normal. Sports metaphors are a common fallback, maybe because political scribes envy colleagues who watch people performing full tilt at their physical peak.

Extra innings was suggested but discarded because there are no defined at-bats and no way to keep score for the sides. Stoppage time has a certain ring to it, but assumes a time-keeper somewhere knows when things will end, and there’s no evidence of that. Plus, that’s soccer and relatively few people understand the rules.

Overtime was the most common stand-in for the first special session, which would make the second special session double overtime. OT conjures up images of sudden death, but the only way we get out of here is with a budget deal passing both chambers, which sounds like victory. And it won’t be sudden.

So perhaps the best way is the simplest. If the first 30 days was a special session, the current one is an extra-special session.

One can only hope it lives up to its name.

How much more openness can they handle?

During one of the special session’s rare committee hearings, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill zeroed in last week on what Republicans contend is a problem with the way state employee contracts are negotiated between union officials and the governor’s office. And danced close to saying flat out that the governor was in the pocket of the unions.

“Can employee unions make contributions to political campaigns?” he asked John Lane, representing the Office of Management and Budget. This was presumably a rhetorical question because Hill received money from the Service Employees International Union 775, which represents home health care workers, in last year’s re-election campaign. His next question, also rhetorical: “Employee unions can spend, literally, millions on a governor’s race, correct?

“They literally can make contributions to help someone get elected – which is fine – but then the same person who may have received those contributions is then behind a closed door, negotiating for wage increases. … Isn’t that one reason why we might want to make these more transparent?”

Lane responded that he thought the current process is very transparent because all the documents are available after the deal is done and the Legislature has hearings and gets to vote on it. They can reject the deal and send the sides back to the table.

Hill wasn’t buying it but eventually took a step back, saying he personally thought everything was on the “up and up” but the voters may have concerns because, you know, politicians don’t have a good rep. “It’s just one of these ‘trust but verify’ things.”

Despite ending on that Reaganesque note, the exchange did not sit well with the SEIU, which may be regretting the $1,700 it gave to Hill instead of his Democratic challenger. The union is “very disappointed” Hill implied there is something corrupt about union contributions, Adam Glickman, its secretary-treasurer, said: “We don’t hear similar concerns about contributions from large corporations that are seeking millions or billions of dollars in tax exemptions.”

Passing the bill to open up state worker contract talks is a GOP condition for keeping the negotiated raises in the budget, Hill said later in the week. But that could become a slippery slope: If legislators want to open up contract talks because they have a major effect on the budget, they might have to extend that reasoning to their own closed-door budget meetings. Some reasons for keeping those closed – like participants talking more freely outside the public eye – are the same. So is the excuse that the public eventually sees the end product when a budget gets a committee hearing or a vote.

Coming this week

Monday: Budget negotiators from both houses and the governor’s office will meet at 10 a.m. for the first of what Inslee has said will be daily meetings to get a budget deal. House Democrats will unveil their latest budget proposal at 1 p.m.

Tuesday: House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the latest House budget proposal.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at