Five of the 49 Washington state senators missed the final vote this week on a supplemental operating budget. After a legislative session that went weeks into overtime, where were they?
OLYMPIA — When Washington state senators gathered Tuesday evening to vote on a long-awaited compromise for the state’s supplemental operating budget, there were some empty seats.
Five, to be exact.
In other words, 10 percent of the chamber’s 49 senators missed the 27-17 vote to approve the budget, which came three weeks into a special legislative session.
Lawmakers tussled for weeks over the relatively modest spending package, which tweaks the current $38.2 billion, 2015-17 budget.
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In contrast to the Senate, three of the state’s 98 representatives didn’t take the budget vote in that chamber earlier Tuesday.
Three senators told The Seattle Times that due to prior commitments they were unable to make it to the vote on the deal, which came together over the weekend.
Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and a candidate for Congress, was in Washington, D.C., where she had been invited by the ambassador of India to speak at a public event on the increasing democratic participation in the United States of South Asian Americans.
Jayapal scheduled the trip for “almost a month after session was scheduled to end to ensure there was no conflict,” she wrote Wednesday in an email.
“When special session was announced, we were asked … to give dates that we absolutely could not be there,” Jayapal wrote, adding that she provided two dates she couldn’t be in Olympia. But, “Unfortunately, the vote was scheduled by the majority party during that window.”
Jayapal, who is running for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, also attended some campaign functions while away. Those included meetings and a fundraiser, Jayapal said in a phone interview, noting that she didn’t use legislative funds for the travel.
Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, said she missed the vote because she was in Pittsburgh for the Green Schools Conference and Expo. The conference, which began Wednesday, is the largest gathering of K-12 green-schools advocates in the nation, according to its website.
Chase said she presumed lawmakers would be finished by March 10, the end of this year’s regularly scheduled session. She said she also did not use legislative funds for the trip.
Jayapal and Chase said they would have voted against the budget compromise. Both cited the lack of action on education funding in light of the state Supreme Court’s K-12 funding order known as McCleary.
Despite the court holding the state in contempt, lawmakers this year approved a modest plan-for-a-plan to address the remaining elements of the McCleary order.
Chase also criticized the budget for taking money from a public-works account that gives loans and guarantees for local government projects.
But, “If my vote would have made a difference, I would have been there,” Chase added.
The Senate’s two Democratic budget negotiators also missed the vote. Because of budget talks, Sen. Kevin Ranker said that in the past five or six weeks, he’s spent only one night back home in his district.
But while he kept up with developments by phone this week, Ranker, who works for a Seattle-based environmental consulting firm, said he had a work appointment that could not be changed.
“I didn’t like not being there [for the vote], but it was something I couldn’t miss,” said Ranker, who lives on Orcas Island.
“If there was a concern that it wasn’t going to pass, I would have come back to help work the final deal,” he added.
As a negotiator who spent weeks trading proposals with Republicans, Ranker said he would have voted to approve the budget. But he added he is concerned the budget didn’t do enough on homelessness and education issues.
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam — who Ranker said also spent weeks in Olympia during budget talks — didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, also missed the budget vote. Benton said through a spokesman that he would have voted to approve the budget.
Hargrove and Benton this year both announced their retirement from the Senate.