Lawmakers need to find their spines

The legislature entered into a special session on Monday
The legislature entered into a special session on Monday Staff file, 2016

The first Washington legislative session ended with a whimper — and no budget — over the weekend. No surprise there.

But before anyone could slam down a final gavel to declare the first 105-day effort officially dead, legislators managed to parade their lack of spine in full daylight with video cameras running.

In the House, majority Democrats — and their budget writers — know that fully paying for basic education in K-12 schools is going to require tax increases. The alternative is to make bloody cuts to worthy services and skip or skimp on raises for public employees.

Yet the Democrats have balked at holding a floor vote for their roughly $3 billion tax package, which includes a modest capital gains tax on sales of stocks. The Democrats fear, perhaps rightly, that any final package will be smaller, so the Senate will kill anything the House approves and then attack Democrats in 2018 for “voting for billions in tax increases.”

So much for convictions.

The majority Republicans controlling the Senate are no less cowardly. Their budget doesn’t really balance and would force some schools to cut teaching positions. That hardly squares with a Supreme Court order for the state to fully fund basic education costs, including salaries for staff.

Plus, the GOP sends its flawed budget, which includes a $1.5 billion increase in the state share of property taxes in mostly Democratic districts, to voters in November.

So much for convictions.

Sometimes that’s how legislative sessions go.

But on Friday, Senate-majority Republicans went further, engineering a “gotcha” that was silly and cowardly. Using a proposal from Republican Sen. Dino Rossi of Issaquah, the Senate GOP pushed for a floor vote on a fake tax package that included the controversial capital gains proposal.

(This tax is a good idea, by the way; most states levy a tax on capital gains from stock market investments. Proposals from the House and Gov. Jay Inslee would affect only the wealthiest individuals for gains that exceed $25,000 in any given year or $50,000 for couples.)

The Senate Democratic Caucus understood the game. Knowing the Republicans would just kill the bill if Democrats voted in favor of it, the minority refused the bait.

The vote against the package was 0-48 — with all Democrats and all Republicans present opposing it.

This Senate parlor game was not enough for some. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale put out a silly, taxpayer-funded press release claiming that the vote proved no Senate Democrats support the House tax package.

This kind of gamesmanship may fit in a college fraternity where boys full of beer are showing off for their peers. But voters are not as dumb as Ericksen thinks.

It is time for lawmakers to stand up to the realities facing the state. The Legislature’s first 30-day special session began Monday. Those in both parties now must find their courage and move toward real solutions.

Some taxes must be raised. Some services may need to be cut. But enough of the games.

Washingtonians deserve better.