With no budget agreement in sight, Gov. Jay Inslee issued vetoes, called lawmakers into a special session and urged them to “make the hard compromises.”
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers this legislative session had two fundamental responsibilities: Come up with a full plan for K-12 education funding and pass a supplemental budget.
But as legislators and lobbyists filtered out of the Capitol building Thursday night — the last day of the 60-day session — there was no budget agreement in sight and lawmakers weeks ago had decided to largely defer action on the education money problem.
Instead, Gov. Jay Inslee called a special 30-day overtime session, which began Thursday night, and after 10 p.m., vetoed 27 bills — making good on a threat to reject various pieces of legislation if lawmakers failed to compromise on the big picture.
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“There is no break and no rest, legislators need to balance the books,” Inslee said at a news conference after issuing the vetoes and signing 10 other bills.
The governor said the bills he chose to sign had the “common thread” of being related to public safety, health and law enforcement. The bills — four sponsored by Republicans, six by Democrats — addressed issues such as human trafficking, vehicular homicide and employment rights for members of the National Guard.
The 27 stopped by Inslee included measures dealing with wholesale vehicle dealers, pharmacy assistants, fire-sprinkler systems and growing industrial hemp.
Inslee said there is no reason the special session should last more than a few days, and he is willing to meet with lawmakers.
“I have remained willing to do any meeting, any time with legislators,” he said, adding later: “You bet I’d like to help them, but fundamentally they have to themselves step up to the plate and make the hard compromises that are necessary to get a budget.”
Republican Sen. Joe Fain, the majority floor leader, said the vetoes are a distraction.
“I don’t think it’s an effective tool but it shouldn’t in any way deter us from doing the job that we need to do to pass a balanced budget here in the near term,” he said.
Earlier in the year, lawmakers passed a modest plan-to-make-a-plan to address the state Supreme Court’s K-12 funding order known as the McCleary decision. Among other bills, legislators also passed measures intended to close the educational-opportunity gap, and make charter schools constitutional by funding them through lottery proceeds.
But they simultaneously continued a yearslong pattern of failing to negotiate a budget on time.
Instead of the $38.2 billion 2015-17 state operating budget that kept lawmakers in Olympia last year into July, legislators now are quibbling over a few hundred million dollars on a supplemental budget.
“They had 60 days to make some relatively minor adjustments,” Inslee said.
Among other things, the budget is expected to pay for fighting last year’s wildfires and increase mental-health funding.
Inslee announced his veto threat Monday as a way to pressure lawmakers to finish. It didn’t work.
“I recognize that this is perhaps the largest batch of vetoes in the state’s history. But none of these vetoed bills are as important as the fundamental responsibility of the Legislature to produce a balanced budget,” Inslee said Thursday. “I continue to hope that legislators will focus on negotiations to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.”
Lawmakers can override a veto with a two-thirds majority. Or they could reintroduce the bills in the special session and pass them again, according to Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.
Ranker, one of the Democrats’ budget negotiators, said he had gotten a call from the governor’s office that one of two bills he sponsored would be vetoed.
That sort of pressure is necessary to force lawmakers into agreement, he said. “Maybe it will help.”
Shortly before the governor issued the vetoes, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said he was worried about his bill to help protect employment rights for members of the National Guard.
But Senate Bill 6202 passed the governor’s muster — and was signed into law.
The vetoes frustrated Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard.
Angel was the prime sponsor of one of the bills shot down by the governor, Senate Bill 5458, which would allow health districts to perform certain banking functions.
“This was a good local solution to a need in our community,” said Angel in a statement Thursday night. “It is unconscionable that the governor would [ax] a great plan to save our local public health efforts a lot of money. I am crushed by the thought of all the good we could have done for local health with the savings from this bill.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said there were no budget meetings Thursday with the governor.
Ranker, one of the Democratic budget negotiators, said he expected budget talks to resume sometime on Friday.
Inslee’s budget proposal and a separate plan from the Democratic-controlled House have called for more spending to address homelessness and a statewide K-12 teacher shortage.
Those proposals would draw on money from state’s reserve accounts to pay for nearly $200 million in wildfire costs from 2015’s record-setting blazes. Using reserve funds for the wildfires would free up money in the general fund.
For additional funding, those plans have suggested rolling back some tax exemptions.
The supplemental budget proposed by the House adds $467 million in new spending.
By contrast, the GOP Senate proposal adds about $34 million in new spending and would pay for the wildfires through the general fund.
GOP lawmakers have said supplemental budgets serve to make small corrections to previous budgets, and not create policies through new spending. Republicans have balked at raising new revenue and using the reserve account for wildfire costs and spending on homelessness.
The supplemental budget will add to the $38.2 billion, two-year state operating budget that lawmakers approved in a record-setting long session in 2015.