As the Washington Legislature convened for a 30-day special session, lawmakers offered no signs that they’re anywhere closer to reaching a deal on the 2017-19 state budget and a final McCleary fix.
It’s day five of the special session, and the Washington Legislature still sounds like a broken record as partisan bickering continues to dominate budget and McCleary negotiations.
Republicans remain opposed to new and higher taxes that Democrats want to help pay for a fully funded K-12 system. But GOP lawmakers have started pushing for a vote on the tax package as a way to prove it can’t succeed.
As Joseph O’Sullivan, Olympia reporter for The Seattle Times, put it, “Call it a soap opera or a legitimate philosophical debate: At least legislators are sort of working.”
Here’s a roundup of the McCleary action over the past week:
More than 1,900 days have passed since the state Supreme Court ruled in the landmark McCleary case that Washington was violating its constitution by failing to amply fund public schools.
The Seattle Times on Friday broke down what it will take for lawmakers to finally decide how to comply with that decision. And it’s likely that fear of a government shutdown, which happens if no state budget is approved by July 1, will do the trick.
“No one said this would be easy,” O’Sullivan noted.
Also Friday, with a Sunday deadline looming on the Legislature’s regular session, Gov. Jay Inslee officially called a 30-day special session to continue negotiations.
As public-radio station KNKX reported, Washington lawmakers have not finished writing a budget on time since 2009.
“I am doing everything I can humanly imagine to do, you know, short of waterboarding, to get these folks to negotiate,” Inslee said during a news conference announcing the special session.
As lawmakers prepared to (temporarily) adjourn Sunday, The Olympian tallied what they actually accomplished during the 105-day session.
And for anyone who’s paying attention, it’s no surprise they didn’t accomplish much.
To the relief of school districts, Democrats and Republicans successfully negotiated a delay of the so-called “levy cliff” that would have cut how much districts can collect from local taxpayers. Districts stood to lose about $350 million if the state didn’t increase its education spending by that amount.
Anyone hoping that having to go into overtime would pressure lawmakers to get serious about finding a budget compromise might have been disappointed before the special session even began.
That’s because Senate Republicans late Friday forced a vote on a pair of tax bills that House Democrats included in their budget plan.
As the public-radio Northwest News Network reported, GOP lawmakers definitely don’t support the proposal but wanted to show it would fail. Democrats refused to vote on the tax package until a final budget agreement is reached, so the measure ultimately ended in a unanimous rejection from all senators.
The acrimony spilled over into a Wednesday hearing during which Senate Republicans again tried to push Democrats to vote on their tax plan.
More than 100 teachers, parents and business owners appeared at the hearing to weigh in on the debate, according to The Seattle Times. And that long list included a sixth-grade student from Madison Middle School, who had a clear message for both Democrats and Republicans.
“Put aside your differences and show me that you believe in our collective future,” she told lawmakers. “I’m here to remind you that it’s my right to receive an education, and it’s your duty to provide not just the bare minimum.”