BUDGET AND SPECIAL SESSION UPDATE
A special session is into its second week following adjournment of the regular session March 8 in which the Legislature failed to approve supplemental operating and capital budgets. Under Democrat control, this is the fifth special session of the Legislature in only two years, and totally inexcusable!
Same-sex marriage bill consumes time that should have been used to work on the budget
Very soon after the regular session began on Jan. 9, a special session became predictable. That’s because the Democrat chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, who sponsored homosexual marriage legislation, cancelled budget-related hearings, and Democrats in the House and Senate began working feverishly to secure votes to pass the measure. In fact, Democrats spent five-and-a-half weeks of the eight-week session on the same-sex marriage bill (click here to see the history of the measure) and House Democrats did not unveil an operating budget plan until the sixth week of the session. It wasn’t until week seven that Senate Democrats rolled out their budget proposal. It was so irresponsible and unsustainable that three of their own Democrat members refused to support it and, instead, joined forces with Senate Republicans to pass a Republican-authored budget from the Senate. This irked Democrat leaders so much that they initially refused to be in the same room with Senate Republicans. As bruised egos clashed in the final six days of the regular session, a special session became a certainty.
No more “kick the can”
The largest issue that pushed the three Democrats over into the Senate Republican budget camp was a proposal in the Senate Democrat budget (and in the House Democrat budget proposal) called “apportionment.” Under their plan, a payment to K-12 schools of more than $330 million would be delayed and pushed into the next budget cycle, which begins July 1, 2013. Democrats say it’s no big deal – it’s just a delay of one day. But that delay is significant when you consider it creates an immediate deficit in the next budget cycle.
Here’s what The News Tribune editorial staff in Tacoma said about the proposal:
“The Democrats who defend that approach say it’s a simple matter of delaying the checks by a day. Sounds innocuous. But that one-day delay amounts to a legal check-kiting scheme. Its only purpose is to let the Legislature evade its obligation to write a budget that balances revenues with expenditures within a given biennium. Washington’s Democratic treasurer, Jim McIntire, has called the deferred payment proposal a ‘felony gimmick’ that would draw the attention of the Wall Street firms that rate the risk of government bonds. Credit downgrades can be very expensive, and Moody’s and Fitch already have Washington on their watch lists. This is not a good time for lawmakers to adopt the fiscal practices of a banana republic.” (Read the full editorial here.)
The three Democrats in the Senate said they’re tired of approving unsustainable budgets that kick the can down the road, forcing the Legislature to return to fix the mess with patchwork budgeting. That’s why they joined with Senate Republicans to pass a budget that does not include apportionment.
The Senate Republican budget has also faced its own share of criticism by Democrats because it would skip a $143 million payment in the liability portion of two state pension plans. (Read more on this issue here.)
These are the issues that have brought budget talks to a near impasse. Although the Legislature is in special session, lawmakers have been told to stay home until a budget agreement is reached. Leaders from both parties in the House and Senate and their budget writers have remained. As the chief of staff of the House Republicans noted on Monday, “Budget negotiators met this morning and have agreed to meet every day this week. No one is surrendering any ground yet, but they are talking and sharing ideas. The fact that there is frequent dialogue is a positive development.”
Governor threatens vetoes, limits bill signings
In a news conference last Thursday, Gov. Christine Gregoire voiced her frustration over the lack of progress in the budget talks and threatened to veto bills unless she is presented a budget. In addition, Gregoire began cancelling bill signings, picking only a few select measures to sign that were sent to her desk. Nearly 230 await her signature. During the news conference, she said, “I’m sending a message today. I didn’t sign 25 bills that were scheduled to be signed today because I’m tired of simply going ahead and doing the work. I want them to get it done. I want a budget. And I want a budget as soon as possible. And to help them hear the message, I have denied the members their bills.”
While some might say this was a bold move on the governor’s part, House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt sent a letter to the governor that noted she’s attempting to punish all members and citizens who have an interest in legislation pending her signing – not just those involved in budget talks. He wrote: “Your frustration was misdirected at members and constituents who care about these bills and are not involved in budget negotiations. It was also upsetting that House members paid the price for circumstances playing out among Senators. The decision to cancel bill signings seemed an inappropriate response. Furthermore, it was not a constructive development if we are to continue on a path toward successful negotiations.”
Although it’s unprecedented in the history of our state for a governor to refuse to sign this many bills unless she gets what she wants, her refusal also soon becomes irrelevant. Under Washington state law, the governor has 20 days from the end of a session to take action on legislation sent to her, or the bills automatically become law without her signature. That means any bills passed by the Legislature that she hasn’t taken action on by Saturday, March 31 will automatically become law.
A budget without gimmicks
I’m very proud to have been involved with my House Republican colleagues who worked from the first day of the regular session to draft a sustainable supplemental operating budget proposal. Our plan is based on the priorities of government model that Gov. Gary Locke used back in 2002 under similar budget challenges. We identified three core services of government that should be priorities in the budget: education, public safety, and protection of the state’s most vulnerable citizens (including children, senior citizens and the disabled).
Our House Republican plan proposed to create a separate budget for K-12 education and fund it FIRST before any other program. Our plan would have spent more for education, public safety and for vulnerable citizens than any of the other budget proposals. Plus, there were no gimmicks in the House Republican “all-priorities” budget. We showed that we could write a budget that would carry the state through the remainder of the biennium without the need for tax increases and avoid kicking the can forward by delaying payments as the Democrats’ plans would do.
Unfortunately, our plan was flatly rejected by House Democrats. Nevertheless, we have brought our ideas to the table. It’s my hope that they could be seriously considered as a way to close a $1.1 billion budget gap and provide core services needed by the citizens of our state without playing games with people’s tax dollars. (Read more about our House Republican budget here.)
Put the egos away and get down to business
It’s sad that one-party control has led to another extended legislative session in Olympia at taxpayers’ expense. Lawmakers in Olympia need to quit fighting over which of their pet projects should be funded and realize government wasn’t meant to do everything for everyone. We need to get back to the basics of limited government and set priorities in the budget. It’s time to put away the egos and pass a responsible, sustainable, balanced and gimmick-free budget that forces state government to live within its means, just like you and I must do with our own budgets.
Back in the district and ready to serve you!
In the meantime, it’s good to be back in the Spokane Valley. My district office is now open and ready to serve you. You’ll see the address and contact information below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you!