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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Lawmakers must stop posturing, start negotiating

After 105 days in Olympia, state legislators are in a familiar spot. No budget. No serious attempt to meld competing versions into one. Is this even news?

The Senate blames the House. The House blames the Senate. And the tides go in and out. Beneath the surface is the reality that the Democrats are close to taking the Senate, and the Republicans are close to taking the House.

And so they’re heading into a special session, a routine occurrence in that divided body. “Special” would be finishing on time. In 2013 and 2015, they went into double overtime.

But it’s disappointing to see legislators pretend like it’s momentous or a time for theatrics.

Everyone knew this would be difficult, especially since this is the final shot at resolving the issues surrounding the McCleary case. Decades of shirking basic education funding has come down to this. The special session can last up to 30 days, but the real deadline is June 30, the final day of state government operations under the current budget.

During the regular session each side assigned blame for the absence of negotiations.

The Democrats have “ghost” revenue, say the Republicans, because they won’t vote on the taxes in their budget – taxes that are dead on arrival in the Senate. The Republicans have their own ghosts, say the Democrats, because they know the Senate budget cuts are unrealistic and their revenue plan for schools is insufficient and speculative. Statewide voters could turn down the property tax plan, and local voters could reject the reintroduction of local levies in 2020.

On Friday, the Senate ran a “gotcha” gambit where the House’s proposed taxes were introduced as legislation to be voted down.

The question now is whether Republicans and Democrats will continue to cry foul and work the refs or get into the game.

House Democrats are not going to get all the of the tax increases they seek. Senate Republicans are not going to suddenly roll over. By the same token, Senate Republicans cannot hope to satisfy the McCleary mandate without more dedicated revenue or by shifting a complicated property tax decision to voters.

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s done everything short of waterboarding to get the two sides to negotiate, but that kind of pressure was needed long ago. The Legislature has been in contempt of court over education funding since 2014. Instead, the governor has pushed his own unrealistic proposals.

At the end of the last legislative session, where a similar standoff occurred, it should’ve been obvious that the Legislature needed a framework for a final education deal before the next session began. For whatever reason, that didn’t occur. At this point, it doesn’t matter.

So stop the dueling press releases, quit searching for future campaign sound bites and get to work. The only developments coming out of Olympia should be ideas about compromise.

Now that would be news.

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