The state Legislature has now blown three deadlines to pass a budget. Those three missed deadlines — the end of the 105-day regular session, a self-imposed June 1 deadline and, as of Tuesday, the end of a 30-day special session — were collective failures of leadership.
But a fourth blown deadline — at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 — carries potentially devastating consequences. It would force a partial government shutdown and hurt Washington’s fiscal health, its 55,000 employees, children and families dependent on state services and the economy in general. It would be an unprecedented failure.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday he is keeping lawmakers in Olympia for another overtime session. After 145 days of work, this session should be short and focused on passing a 2013-15 biennial budget.
Most policy bills should be shelved for next session. Democrats in the House already did so with the Dream Act, abortion insurance and gun control.
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The Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition needs to set aside the “mutual consent” principal-empowerment bill and a cap on noneducation spending. It is too late for the contentious politics of those proposals to distract from budget-writing.
What’s striking is that the House and Senate budgets are remarkably close in bottom lines.
Both respond to the state Supreme Court’s 2012
McCleary decision with large increases in education spending. Both respond to other court rulings with proposed revenue-generating changes to telecommunications and estate taxes. The biggest difference is the House’s plan to end about $255 million in tax exemptions.
A final deal requires compromise. The current House budget embeds its policy priorities with a larger allotment than the Senate to noneducation spending. Education is the paramount duty of the state.
And if a final, go-home budget requires a deal on workers’ compensation reform, the House Democratic leadership shouldn’t stand in the way, especially since many Democrats support it.
The Senate Majority Coalition, in turn, should back off its demand for some nonbudget policy bills, particularly the cap on noneducation spending. And it must overcome an allergy to new revenue and support justifiable closure of tax exemptions.
In the context of a $33 billion budget, the differences are about 1 percent. That is no reason to play chicken with a partial shutdown of state government.