Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna blamed Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp on Monday for blocking legislation that could resolve the state budget stalemate.
OLYMPIA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna blasted Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp on Monday, blaming him for the lack of progress in state budget negotiations.
The comments came during a news conference on Monday, even though his campaign staff had said McKenna wasn’t planning to insert himself into the heated budget negotiations that have been stalled for months.
“It’s pretty evident from talking to members of both parties in both chambers that what is holding them up is the speaker’s refusal to allow votes on the reform bills,” McKenna said during the news conference, which was ostensibly about what he would do to create a sustainable state budget if elected governor.
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Chopp, of Seattle, responded in a statement, saying, “Rob McKenna doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His statements about the budget process in Olympia aren’t based in fact, and it’s disappointing that his comments are motivated by his political campaign.”
McKenna faces Democrat Jay Inslee in the governor’s race.
At the news conference, McKenna talked about several proposals he’d undertake as governor — including shrinking the size of the state workforce through attrition and allowing the private sector to compete with state agencies to provide services — to rein in spending.
But much of a question-and-answer session with reporters focused on the current budget stalemate.
The state Legislature went into a 30-day special session on March 12 after failing to reach agreement on how to close a roughly $1 billion shortfall.
Negotiations have bogged down on issues that have little to do with the immediate shortfall, such as proposals to eliminate early-retirement options for new employees in the state’s open pension plans and to consolidate the purchase of health insurance for K-12 employees.
Although Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, Senate Republicans took control of the budget in the Senate last month with the help of three conservative Democrats who crossed party lines. The Senate GOP has insisted the Legislature approve several structural changes, including dumping the early-retirement options.
McKenna on Monday supported the Senate Republicans’ firm stance, and said he’s spoken to Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, and some Democrats about the bills. Zarelli, the architect of the Senate GOP budget, could not be reached for comment.
“They have to come out of this special session with some of those reforms,” McKenna said, arguing that although they may not affect the current budget shortfall, they would save the state money in the long run.
McKenna said the two measures that top his list include getting rid of the early-retirement options for new state workers and requiring the Legislature to pass a balanced budget. The balanced-budget proposal also would prohibit spending decisions that would create a shortfall in the following budget cycle.
When asked if his comments about the budget could derail negotiations, McKenna said, “I think that’s highly unlikely. I think the speaker has managed to derail it all by himself by refusing to allow a vote even on reform bills that have broad bipartisan support.”
Chopp, in his statement, said, “The truth is that House Democrats have negotiated with the Republicans and the Senate in good faith throughout this process.” He also said Democrats plan to have a hearing on several budget-related reform bills on Wednesday.
Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has been negotiating with all parties on a regular basis, said the idea of Chopp blocking bills is “absolutely untrue.”
“That is not in any way, shape or form a fair characterization of what has gone on in this room,” Gregoire said.
Inslee’s campaign accused McKenna of “political hay-making” and said his proposals are a distraction that prove “once again that McKenna has no new ideas to offer voters.”
McKenna, for his part, said he’s just trying to highlight the proposed structural changes now on the table that could save the state money in the long run.
He also released an extensive paper outlining steps he wants to take if elected governor.
The report talked about reducing the state workforce, lowering the state’s exposure to lawsuits, using managed competition for providing state services and increasing the Legislature’s role in collective bargaining, among other things.
This story includes material from The Associated Press.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or email@example.com