Budget negotiations are stalled at the Washington State Legislature, with Republicans and Democrats once again blaming each other.
But, rather than talking it out, they’re expressing their frustrations in a more visual way: through posters.
On their side of the Senate wings, Republican leaders have been documenting for months how House Democrats won’t vote on the $3 billion in tax increases that bankroll the Democratic budget plan. Posterboards with monthly calendars tick off how many days have passed since the GOP-led Senate approved a rival Republican proposal to fix public schools — a plan Senate leaders boast is fully paid for.
As the months have gone by, three older countdown posters have been attached to the wall in the Senate wings, creeping up toward the ceiling, while the latest calendar sits on an easel in front of the Republican caucus room.
“Counting down the days until Democrats pass a funded education plan,” the signs read.
On the other side of the Senate, Democratic leaders have set up a competing poster knocking Republicans for spending 24 minutes during the final days of the Legislature’s regular session talking about weeds on the Capitol grounds, rather than how to fix public schools.
At an April 19 meeting, Republicans on the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee complained that grassy areas at the Capitol were being overtaken by dandelions.
Shortly afterward, Senate Democrats set up their poster reading: “Time spent by Senate Republicans complaining about dandelions in the last week of session: 24 minutes.”
“Time spent by Senate Republicans negotiating a budget that funds Washington’s schools: 0 minutes.”
Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said the sign outside the Senate Democratic caucus room is intended to chide Republicans for “wasting time” and refusing to get to work on a budget that fully funds public schools. In the McCleary case, lawmakers are under a court order to fix how the state pays for schools by the time they adjourn this year.
“If the concern is that we have dandelions on our lawn versus funding education for kids, somebody’s priorities — and it’s theirs — are really a problem,” Nelson said.
“I have dandelions in my front yard. It doesn’t worry me at all,” she added.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said it was silly for Democrats to focus so much on what he described as a short discussion during one committee meeting.
“They’re picking 24 minutes of committee time out of a 105-day session? Really?” Schoesler said. “I think that’s insignificant.”
“But,” he added, “I know privately many of my colleagues across the aisle are as offended by the condition of our Capitol grounds as we are.”
When it comes to Senate Republicans’ signs counting how many days Democrats haven’t voted on tax measures, Schoesler said, “It’s a fact.”
“We put them up a long time ago,” Schoesler said of the posters. “When the facts change, we’ll take them down.”
Lawmakers are more than halfway through a 30-day special session to work on a state budget, part of which will address the McCleary ruling. Leaders were unable to come to an agreement during the regular session, which lasted 105 days.
Republicans control the Senate with the help of one conservative Democrat, while Democrats control the state House 50-48.
On Tuesday, Nelson said it is Republicans who are holding up budget negotiations by refusing to sit down with Democrats to negotiate.
But Schoesler said this week that negotiations on the larger budget can’t take place until after a smaller group of lawmakers agree on how much it will cost to overhaul the state’s public school system, and where they’ll find that money.
Not knowing whether Democrats have enough support to pass their proposed new taxes — which include a new tax on capital gains, such as income from the sales of stocks and bonds — slows down budget negotiations, Schoesler said.
“They do not have 50 votes for the taxes, and until you know how much McCleary is and where it comes from, you can’t reach that final level of budget negotiations,” Schoesler said.
Nelson said that was just an excuse for Republicans to delay and shift blame.
“What it seems to me is them is keeping up a poster trying to be insulting, and continuing to have one excuse and another excuse not to negotiate a budget,” Nelson said.
An earlier political poster from Senate Democrats urged Republican Senate leaders to pass a bill to let school districts continue raising local property taxes at the same level for one more year. After Republicans and Democrats agreed in March to delay the so-called levy cliff, Democrats took the poster down.
Nelson said she’d take down the dandelion poster, too, if it would cause Republicans to begin in-depth meetings on the state budget.
In the meantime, she said, “As they walk by, I hope it does remind them that to the citizens of this state, it doesn’t look good for them to be discussing dandelions instead of education.”