Calling it Now: Special Session

Less than a week into the session, lawmakers have already set themselves up for overtime.

OLYMPIA — Time is running out on the 2017 Legislature.

As of Wednesday, there are only 102 days remaining in the regular session, even less when you figure lawmakers won’t work many weekends.

Given their things-to-do list, they’ve pretty much assured themselves of one, and possibly two, special sessions. And it’s an even-money bet state agencies will be prepping for a shutdown of nonessential services July 1 as they have twice before under Gov. Jay Inslee.

It’s a new year and, yes, the session is only three days old. But lawmakers face an old problem —finding a way to fully fund public schools — and a familiar chasm between Democratic and Republican leaders on an approach to solutions. It’s also a budget-writing year, so there’s more than just schools on the agenda.

Lawmakers predict the session will be a “slog”, “marathon” and “never ending.” They say are “ready”, “prepared to be patient” and with a mood of “cautious apprehension” as opposed to “cautious optimism.”

And legislative honchos declare confidently “We will get this done this year,” not the traditional “Our goal is to get out on time.”

Inspiring, right?

For some, their attitude is punctuated by a degree of disappointment that eight lawmakers handpicked by caucus leaders to provide some direction on the school funding conundrum, didn’t complete their assignment.

This collective of Democratic and Republican legislators met for a final time Monday, adjourning without agreement on a single recommendation for ensuring the state is amply funding public schools as intended by the state Constitution and ordered by the Supreme Court.

The McCleary 8, also known as the Education Funding Task Force, delved deep into the challenge.

Democratic members came up with four pages of policy changes with a price tag of $7.3 billion. They also listed the taxes they’ve considered creating or raising to cover the cost. Republicans developed a set of guiding principles for the same issues addressed in the Democratic proposal and said it will be February before they’ll be ready to release anything more detailed.

In the end, they couldn’t figure out a way to meld both approaches into one — let alone agree to staple them together, attach a cover sheet and deliver it as a final report to their colleagues.

What this means is the Legislature is starting out as it did in 2016 and 2015: in contempt of a Supreme Court order demanding a blueprint of how-in-the-heck they will meet the Sept. 1, 2018 deadline set by justices in the McCleary case.

Plus a $100,000-a-day fine levied by justices in August 2015 continues to mount, reaching $50.7 million as of Wednesday.

None of this should come as much of a surprise as this is pretty much how the 2016 session began.

Then, eight lawmakers spent the last months of 2015 discussing the best course for the Legislature to take on this issue. That McCleary 8, like the current incarnation, couldn’t reconcile its differences. Then, like now, the fine isn’t fueling a quicker pace — at least not visibly — and some lawmakers continuing to resist any action viewed as placating justices.

Lawmakers ended last session agreeing to find a final solution in 2017.

We’re here now. Probably be here awhile.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.comand on Twitter at @dospueblos.

More in News & Comment

The exterior of the University District crisis pregnancy center, 3W Medical for Women. Photo by Keiko DeLuca
How Title X Cuts Impact UW Women’s Health

Some student advocates worry that slashed budgets could drive student to misleading crisis pregnancy centers.

Trans Pride Seattle seeks to strengthen the transgender and non-binary community. 
Photo courtesy of Gender Justice League
Trans Pride Seattle Continues Marching

In light of federal budget cuts, the parade that highlights marginalized voices survives due to community crowdfunding.

As the executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, Violet Lavatai (left) believes that YIMBY policies 
do not actually help the communities most in need of housing. Photo courtesy Tenants Union of Washington State
The Growing Power of Seattle YIMBYs

The tech-funded “Yes in My Backyard” movement thinks the housing crisis can be solved by rapid development, but does it only benefit those at the top?

Hidden River Farms is 100 acres of farmland in Grays Harbor County. Photo by Lucia Wyss
Sowing the Seeds of Mental Health

Suicide is an epidemic amongst agricultural workers, but young farmers and state legislators are working to find solutions.

Seattle and King County Officials Want a Safe Injection Van

The mobile project—an alternative to permanent sites—still doesn’t have a defined timeline.

Western Washington Could See More Wildfires This Year

Lots of grass and warmer weather could make for worsening fire seasons.

An autopsy found that Tommy Le was shot twice in the back during an fatal encounter with a King County sheriff’s deputy. Photo courtesy Career Link
New Report Calls for Increased Transparency From King County Sheriff’s Office

The fatal shooting of Tommy Le served as a case study for researchers.

Charles Pillon sits inside one of the several buses on Iron Mountain. Photo by Caean Couto
The Last Days of Iron Mountain?

After battling King County government for decades, Charles Pillon may have finally lost the fight over his illegal 10-acre junkyard.

Most Read