Special session starts

Legislators return to Olympia with work to be done

It’s become an all-too-familiar situation in Olympia.

With the exception of 2014, the Washington State Legislature has had to meet in at least one special session every year since 2010.

On Monday, several legislators again returned to the state capitol for unfinished business, with Gov. Jay Inslee calling both sides back to continue work on the two-year state operating budget, in addition to the capital budget, and bringing the state into compliance with the McCleary ruling by the state Supreme Court in 2012 to fully fund education.

On some fronts, there’s been progress.

36th District Sen. Reuven Carlyle called the capital budget “pretty strong” and ready to be finalized, with money for the impending reopening of Magnolia Elementary School among others.

Before the end of the regular session, the two-year, $8.5 billion transportation budget was passed by both the House and Senate, and 36th District Rep. Gael Tarleton said it includes funding for a “substantial” amount of work on Interstates 90, 167, and 405.

But both Carlyle and Tarleton are apprehensive about the current state of budget negotiations.

“What we have really seen is the bottom fall out of the history of moderation of the Republican Party in Washington State, embodied by Gov. Dan Evans,” Carlyle said.

That history, he said, is over.

“We are finding tactics from Washington, D.C., have been imported on a direct flight into Olympia, and it just, more than anything, brings a real sense of sadness,” he said.

Carlyle said the Senate Republicans have “categorically refused to even come to the negotiating table,” while Tarleton said she hopes the end of the regular session “has spurred them to action,” when it comes to striking a budget deal.

Both the House Democrats and Senate Republicans passed budget proposals during the regular session, but the sides remain far apart on a final deal.

For now, Carlyle said, it’s a matter of getting the Republicans to negotiate.

“It’s a pretty tough stalemate, and we’re just working really hard to try to find creative ways to break the logjam and get them to the table,” he said. “That’s all we’re trying to do right now, is move the Senate Republican Majority to the actual negotiating table.”

To that end, Carlyle said its “conceivable” that the remaining work can be accomplished within one special session. In contrast, the 2015 session went a record 176 days.

“Once the logjam breaks, the water will roll downstream quickly,” he said. “That could happen anytime. As soon as the majority wants to come to the table and begin negotiating, we can get a deal quickly.”

Tarleton expressed her consternation with the budget trend, noting that for both the 2013-15 and 2015-17 biennium, the legislature went right down to the wire, completing the operating budget in the nick of the June 30 deadline to avoid a state government shutdown.

“I am concerned that the deadline is no longer the end of the regular session, but it’s the end of the fiscal year,” she said.

But, she cautioned, Washington isn’t the only state dealing with this type of situation.

“We’re not alone,” she said. “I think many state legislators in Oregon, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho are feeling the same pain.”

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