OLYMPIA — Washington’s Republican legislative leaders Thursday called on Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a special legislative session as early as mid-June to work on budget and other issues related to the new coronavirus.
The announcement comes as GOP legislators have watched Inslee use emergency powers over the past few months to shut down much of daily life to slow the outbreak of COVID-19.
Republican leaders and many lawmakers supported those early efforts. But they have grown increasingly critical of Inslee’s steps to gradually reopen the economy in the face of a massive spike in unemployment and preliminary projections showing a $7-billion state budget shortfall over the next three years.
“The Legislature has been kept on the sidelines for more than two months while the governor exercised emergency powers long past the time when his original goal of ‘flattening the curve’ was realized and hospital resources were not overwhelmed,” Senate GOP Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said in a statement. “Republicans have listened to the people and looked at the data and have seen what the micromanagement by the executive branch is doing to our communities.
“It is time for the legislative branch to intervene.”
While Republicans often push for tax cuts on businesses, Schoesler acknowledged that the economic downturn “makes that a challenge.”
The list of Republican priorities include cutting state spending, pushing to restart K-12 school in the fall and finding ways to help the state’s long-term-care facilities — like nursing homes — which have been hit hard by the virus.
Polling has shown a majority of Americans are concerned about more infections and opposed to efforts by political leaders to reopen too quickly.
Meanwhile, in Washington state, Democratic officials say a June special session could be too early.
The state won’t get an official budget forecast until mid-June, according to Democratic legislative leaders. And it remains unclear if — or how much — the federal government will help with state budget shortfalls.
Those are two reasons — along with uncertainty about what might happen in the coming months with the virus — to potentially wait until later in the year, said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane.
“We want to make sure that we come into special session in a way that allows us to do our work effectively and efficiently,” Billig said. He added that he hasn’t ruled out a June special session.
In an email, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee wrote that the lawmakers and officials also will have to work out, “the technical challenges of convening the Legislature in the midst of a pandemic.”
Holding a special session soon is also critical to show residents that all three branches of government can function “over the long run” the way they were designed, House Republican Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, said in a news conference.
“Americans are not here to be ruled by emergency orders,” Wilcox said.