State legislators may have been able to avoid a state government shutdown by passing an operating budget on June 30th, but they are only hours away from facing the consequences of failing to pass a 2017–2019 capital budget, which will include layoffs, project delays, and the continued denial of an amply funded public education to hundreds of thousands of young Washingtonians.
A day remains before the clock runs out on the third consecutive special session of the Washington State Legislature, which was necessitated by Senate Republicans’ refusal to seriously negotiate an operating budget with House Democrats until a week prior to the end of the fiscal biennium.
“The construction budget would build $1 billion in new public schools and create tens of thousands of jobs from Aberdeen to Spokane,” said Representative Steve Tharinger (D‑Sequim), Chair of the House Capital Budget Committee.
“Those projects and jobs are especially important to families in timber and farm country, which doesn’t have the infrastructure and white-hot economy of the Seattle-Everett-Tacoma core,” Tharinger added.
“This budget builds that infrastructure — schools and colleges, dental clinics and mental health facilities, early learning and local water projects—so that every community in the great state of Washington has a chance to thrive.”
The House voted on its iteration of the capital budget last month, but the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to act.
Senate Republicans have been stalling for two reasons: firstly, because running out the clock is their favorite tried-and-tested tactic for gaining leverage, and secondly, because they are not in agreement among themselves as to what they want.
Some of the Senate Republicans would like to pass a capital budget and go home.
But other Senate Republicans want to take a scorched earth approach, holding the capital budget hostage until they get Democrats to capitulate on other issues, like a “fix” for the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, or an override of Governor Jay Inslee’s veto of a business and occupation tax cut for manufacturers.
(In Whatcom County v. Hirst, decided last year, the state’s highest court ruled that under the Growth Management Act, county governments must independently determine if new wells would negatively impact protected streams or senior water rights prior to approving building permits that rely on wells.)
Democrats have tried to engage with Senate Republicans to figure out how to respond to the Hirst decision — to no avail.
Senate Republicans have continually said they want a “fix” in response to the court’s ruling, but haven’t actually put a proposal on the table.
Meanwhile, they have said “no” to potential solutions floated by the House.
Democratic legislators on both sides of the dome tell NPI they are fed up.
Governor Jay Inslee signaled in an afternoon press release that he has likewise run out of patience with the Senate Republicans.
“Legislative leaders told me today they have reached an impasse on a bill to address the Hirst decision,” Inslee’s statement began. “I asked Senate Republicans if they would accept a 24-month delay to give property owners relief, but they told me they would not. There have been other offers throughout this session, and as recently as today the House provided the Senate a permanent fix I would have supported, but the Senate has rejected those as well.”
“At this point, a twenty-four month delay is the best approach to give the Legislature time to evaluate a permanent fix while giving suffering property owners immediate relief. Senate Republicans have used the dramatic testimony of property owners such as Zack Nutting to make the case for a Hirst fix. And when my office spoke with Zack this week, he agreed that HB 2248, which would provide a 24-month delay, would provide that relief. The 24-month proposal would ease the uncertainty and suffering of Zack and others caught in similarly difficult situations.”
Historically, capital budgets have been largely bipartisan affairs, and have been adopted without much acrimony or difficulty. When the House voted on its capital budget bill last month, for example, it passed with only one dissenting vote.
The only reason the capital budget has not made it the rest of the way to Governor Inslee’s desk is that the Senate Republicans have refused to move it along.
As mentioned, at least some of them want concessions in exchange for not gumming up state government, but they can’t collectively agree on what concessions they want. And so the Senate is paralyzed.
The Republicans have the power that comes with a Senate majority — at least through November of this year, when the majority may flip — but they cannot decide how to wield that power while they still have it. They are fumbling around in the third bout of overtime without a game plan, to borrow a sports analogy.
There’s no excuse for such incompetence. Washington’s communities need the investments this capital budget would provide.
The ball is in the Republicans’ court and there’s no more opportunities for stalling or gamesmanship. Governor Inslee has made it clear that if the Senate does not vote on a capital budget, then the state simply won’t have one, at least not in the short term. And Senate Republicans will take the blame (deservedly) for that. They will also take take the blame if the Legislature fails to buy itself some time to craft an environmentally responsible response to the Hirst decision.
Tick tock, Republicans. Time’s up. What are you going to do?