Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2012 legislative session came to a close late Thursday night without final agreements on the supplemental operating and capital budgets. As a result, the governor called a special session and it began on Monday. In the first three days, there has been no significant progress. I have received e-mails and calls from constituents who are upset that another special session has been called – the fifth one in the last two years – and I share these frustrations.
Building a philosophical majority for the operating budget
I'm cautiously optimistic that a coalition of state lawmakers is starting to form and unite under the banner of responsible budgeting and an understanding that the status quo is failing. We saw a philosophical majority of state lawmakers come together on March 2, when three Democratic state senators said “no” to their party's operating budget proposal and joined Senate Republicans to pass a bipartisan budget on a 25-24 vote. Sens. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue), Jim Kastama (D-Puyallup) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) said, collectively, it's time to pass a sustainable budget and enact reforms. Sen. Tom summed it up well when he said: “…the message from my constituents has been loud and clear. Another budget that is unsustainable, relies upon accounting gimmicks and sets our state up for a perennial deficit is simply unacceptable.” These are the same themes I've been hearing from my constituents, and the same things I've been saying over the last few years.
This was the first time since 1987 that a majority party lost control of the budget process. As you might imagine, Senate Democrats weren't too happy about it – even going as far to say the political process was “hijacked.” In reality, it was our citizen Legislature working as intended and by the rules it sets for itself. You can read more about what happened on the Senate floor in a Washington State Wire article that can be found here.
Unfortunately, when the bipartisan Senate budget arrived in the House it was met with strong opposition. House Democrats, who hold a 56-42 majority, have shown little interest in wanting to deviate from the operating budget proposal they passed on Feb. 29. To be fair, if you would like to learn more about their perspective, click here and here.
The House Democratic plan actually had bipartisan opposition, with three House Democrats joining Republicans in voting “no.” One of them, Rep. Deb Eddy (D-Kirkland), said: “Our continued insistence on patching up this leaky ship of state, instead of facing the truth, means we've failed in our commitment to adequately fund education and infrastructure.” She's absolutely right.
Rejecting accounting gimmicks and tricks
One of the primary differences between the House Democratic operating budget proposal and the bipartisan Senate one is something called apportionment. The House and Senate Democrats want to delay a $330 million payment to schools from June 2013 to July 2013, which pushes the payment into the next budget cycle. In a recent article, The Tacoma News Tribune referred to this as an “accounting trick.” The Seattle Times called it an “accounting gimmick” in this piece. State Treasurer Jim McIntire, a Democrat, had an even harsher critique when he called it a “felony gimmick.” I will simply call it an irresponsible budgeting practice that I will not support.
When I talk to constituents, they tell me they are tired of budget gimmicks, tax increase proposals, special sessions, and business as usual in Olympia. They tell me, time after time, to come up with an operating budget that sets priorities, does not spend more money than the state plans to take in, and will not hurt our economy. I get it. In my last e-mail update, I explained how I supported a House Republican operating budget proposal that would accomplish these goals.
Time will reveal what the special session holds. It's my hope that the final operating budget mirrors many of the priorities and principles in the House Republican and bipartisan Senate operating budget proposals.
Staying in touch
If you have any questions, ideas or concerns to pass along, please don't hesitate to contact me. Whether it is the regular session, special session or interim, I'm your state representative year round.
I will also be holding another telephone town hall meeting in the upcoming months. I will share the details with you at a later date.
Enjoy March Madness!