State Legislature forced into second special session over budget

The Washington State Legislature was forced to its second special session of the year after lawmakers in Olympia were unable to reach a deal on a state budget.

Acrimony is high on all sides, although the passage of a piece of legislation that blocked the repayment of $160 million in the "estate" or "death" tax to families is seen as a sign that compromise may be coming to Olympia.

Regardless, Gov. Jay Inslee scolded the Legislature when he made his announcement for the second session on June 11.

"Since January, we have been focused on the twin task of creating jobs and funding quality education for the children of Washington. There's been an emphasis on education in part because the Supreme Court has said the state has failed to meet its obligation to fund basic education. We came here knowing that we need to do more for education," Inslee said.

"I had fervently hoped that by today we would have a budget that would do that and that we would have a transportation plan that would put thousands of Washingtonians to work and help our economy grow. (Neither) of those two things has happened."

Inslee said that he would convene a cabinet-level meeting on what to do if the Legislature is unable to come to an agreement on a budget by July 1.

In that event, the state would essentially face a government shutdown. The unusual alignment of the Senate, where two prominent Democrats flipped sides to join Republicans for control and is known as the Majority Coalition Caucus, drew Inslee's ire the most.

"The position we're in today is sadly the inevitable result of a lack of substantive compromise from the Senate majority. By continuing to refuse to compromise, the Republican majority in the Senate can stall until government can't operate," the governor said. "It's unfortunate that the necessary compromise has not been shared on a balanced basis. The facts tell us that the two houses have behaved in two fundamentally different ways in the last month."

"On policy, the Senate went to the edges, not to the middle," the governor added.

Tim Sheldon, one of the "rogue" Democrats in the Senate, shared his thoughts on the second session, in an interview posted on his office's website.

"I expect we can complete the business here in a very short time," he said. "I think we have people who are willing to talk to each other, to work with each other. We've continued to pass a budget here in the Senate that does not raise taxes. The big difference in our negotiations here is that the House would like to have hundreds of millions in new taxes on businesses and individuals. And it's just not going to happen."

Sheldon also said that one of the major disagreements between the two houses of the Legislature comes with non-education spending and the growth of state government in general.

"The non-education spending has grown at a tremendous rate over the years. We'd like to see that reversed, so that education is guaranteed to grow faster than general government," he said. "We need to put schools, books and buses before bureaucrats."

Sheldon and the Senate passed a budget on June 13 with a 25-23 vote. In many respects, it's the same budget they've proposed since the spring, with approximately $1 billion set aside as a "down payment" on the state's Supreme Court McCleary decision, which decided that the Legislature had not been meeting its state constitutional duty of "fully funding education." A revised version of the House budget had lowered that down payment figure down from approximately $1 billion to about $750 million to $800 million.

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