They are beginning to use the "S" words at the state Capitol, as in "special session."
That’s ludicrous. The public has absolutely no appetite for lawmakers’ extending their legislative session beyond the constitutionally required 105 days. Adjournment is set for April 24. Legislators had better get the public’s work done and get out of town on time.
Yes, this is an awful budget year. Yes, it’s difficult to fill a $5.3 billion gap. Yes, difficult decisions will have to be made on spending priorities. But all 147 lawmakers know the magnitude of the challenge and the amount of money available to spend. Things are unlikely to get better in the June revenue forecast, so there’s no reason to delay the inevitable.
Pass the budget and go home – on time.
Gov. Chris Gregoire gave lawmakers a proposed two-year spending plan in December. The budget gap grew from $4.6 billion to $5.3 billion with the March 17 revenue forecast. Those are the parameters; now it’s up to lawmakers to match revenue with spending.
There are three magic numbers when it comes to adopting a balanced budget, which must be in place by July 1, the first day of the next two-year budget cycle. The three numbers are 50, 25 and 1 – 50 votes in the state House of Representatives, 25 votes in the state Senate and the lone signature of the governor.
It’s the House’s turn to pop the first budget proposal. The Senate will follow with its spending plan. Then negotiators from the two chambers will get together – in secret – to horse trade and iron out the differences.
If history provides any clue, the compromise budget will be rushed through the House and Senate with little time for debate, then on to the governor, who does have authority to veto sections of the bill.
House Democrats had hinted that they would have their draft budget ready last week. It didn’t happen. Democrats, who enjoy a 56-42 majority in the House, clearly are divided over what kinds of cuts will get enough support to get them to 50 votes.
It’s not uncommon to have the first budget prepared by the last week in March. Slipping into April is a sure sign of trouble because it leaves less than three weeks until the scheduled adjournment.
It would be unusual for the Senate to jump ahead of the House at this point, but it has been done before.
Budget chairman Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, is working with the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, to craft a bipartisan, all-cuts budget. That cooperation should pave an easy path to get the 25 votes necessary in the Senate.
The good news this year is that House Republicans are going to put out their own version of the budget. Previously, Republicans have done little more than criticize the Democrats’ spending plan. They have not done the difficult work of choosing which programs they would trim or eliminate entirely. This year they will have their own budget.
Zarelli is right when he says, “The longer they string it out, the more likely we don’t get out of here by the end of the month.”
That would be a failure of Democratic leadership – Speaker Frank Chopp and his budget chairman, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Senate majority Leader Lisa Brown and Murray, her budget chairman.
Every dime spent on a special legislative session is one more dime that must be cut from state programs to balance the budget.
Democrats know the depth of the budget hole – $5.3 billion. They know they can’t get the votes for a tax increase, so they are going to have to produce an all-cuts budget. They have a spending road map provided by the governor. It’s time to make the difficult choices, balance the budget and go home.
Show us the budgets.