Without Budget Deal, Lawmakers Prepare for Special Session

And no one’s surprised.

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers are bound for a special session as House Democrats and Senate Republicans struggle to end an impasse blocking negotiations on a new state budget that will amply fund the public school system.

House and Senate leaders said they expect legislative work will wrap up Friday and most members head home rather than stick around for the formal end of the 105-day session Sunday. They said they anticipate Gov. Jay Inslee will call them back into session Monday.

On Thursday, leaders of the dueling caucuses continued blaming each other for the lack of progress thus far in reaching agreement on a new two-year operating budget that meets the Supreme Court mandate for public school funding.

House Democrats said they’ve repeatedly tried to get formal talks going ever since they passed their $44.6 billion budget proposal but have been turned down by Senate Republicans.

“Somebody needs to be the adult in the room and says let’s just get together, let’s figure out a budget that supports the state of Washington and the people who live here, and get our work done,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington at a press conference. “That’s what we’re calling for and have been.”

Senate Republicans, who’ve passed their own $43.3 billion spending plan, contend the House budget relies on a $3 billion tax package that Democrats haven’t passed.

They describe those as “ghost dollars” and don’t want to negotiate unless and until the tax bill is approved.

Republican senators also want to hold off until a bipartisan group of lawmakers finishes piecing together a plan to satisfy the school funding mandate in the McCleary case. Whatever emerges will dictate decisions throughout the remainder of the state budget, Republicans said.

“It’s not about stonewalling,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “Until you have that done, finalizing the rest is difficult.”

The approach further frustrates Democrats.

“If we’re waiting to do the rest of the budget after we get done with the McCleary solution, we are going to be here an awful long time,” Sullivan said.

Inslee said he would meet with Republican leaders Thursday and encourage them to come to the negotiation table.

“This is a challenge, I recognize that,” he said. “Everyone knows both sides are going to have to make hard compromises. It ought to start now rather than June.”

This will be the fourth time in Inslee’s tenure and 26th time since 1980 that legislators could not finish without at least one extra session. It’s likely one won’t be enough given the looming challenges.

Lawmakers took until June to write new budgets in 2013 and again in 2015. Both times they reached deals barely in time to avoid a partial shutdown of state government. The 2015 session set a record as it lasted 176 days and spanned three special sessions.

Going overtime isn’t a surprise to most lawmakers.

“It’s a sign our state is getting bigger and we’ve got big issues to deal with,” said Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell. “And it’s divided government.”

Meanwhile, Thursday did see lawmakers reach agreement on a new two-year, $8.51 billion state transportation budget. The House passed it on an 82-14 vote and it awaits final action in the Senate.

It uses money from the existing gas tax and assorted vehicle fees to pay for ongoing maintenance of roads, new studies, and day-to-day operations of the Washington State Patrol, Washington State Ferries and the departments of Licensing and Transportation.

A complete list of projects can be found online at www.fiscal.wa.gov.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @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