With a Win on the Eastside, Democrats Could Flex Political Muscles Fast

The deadlock in Olympia is leading to layoffs and frustration, but perhaps for not much longer.

OLYMPIA — Consequences of state lawmakers’ inability to bridge their differences, preventing passage of a capital budget and water rights bill, are far less theoretical these days.

Ten people were laid off from the state parks department last week and another 15 will be soon from the state Department of Enterprise Services.

They are the first casualties of this cold war of public servants that until now had been waged through a series of staged political events and exchanges of impolite pablum in 140 characters, or less, plus a hyperlink.

The Republican-led Senate is insistent it won’t act on a capital budget — from whence those pink-slipped workers are paid — until enactment of a response to the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. GOP lawmakers contend the 2016 ruling is damaging rural communities because it puts unscalable hurdles in front of homeowners seeking to drill a well on their land.

In the Democrat-controlled House, most members welcomed the Hirst decision as a win for protecting the finite resource of water. They have gone from perplexed to downright angry at Republicans for fusing the budget and policy bill together.

For months, they and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee lacked the ingenuity and strength to crack the soldered resolve of the Senate majority.

They shouldn’t much longer.

Voters in suburban King County are electing a state senator next month. A Republican is in the seat now, which is why the GOP-led coalition enjoys a 25-24 advantage in the Senate. A Democrat won the primary and if she wins in November it will put Democrats in control of the Senate as they are in the House and executive branch.

Then, if the political muscles of Inslee and Democratic lawmakers have not completely atrophied, they would do well to flex them right away.

Inslee could summon lawmakers for a special session as soon as Dec. 4. Democrats would be expected to unite to pass, in order, a bill containing all the projects in the capital budget then one dealing with Hirst fix and finally one required for the sale of bonds to pay for the $4 billion capital spending plan. That last bill must be approved by at least 60 percent of members in each chamber.

Certainly it’s not critical this all be done in December since the next regular session is in January. Doing so would demonstrate Democrats’ desire to get off their heels and put Republicans on theirs.

Challenges abound for such a course of action.

Making sure all 50 Democrats in the House and what would be 25 in the Senate — not counting the renegade Democrat who caucuses with Republicans — show up is a big one. Conversations are already occurring to encourage all of them to keep their calendars clear.

Once in Olympia, the first order of business would be for the House to pass the capital budget containing $4 billion worth of projects. Then, House Democrats must pass a Hirst fix, which has not happened all year. Rinse and repeat in the Senate.

With action on the capital budget and a Hirst bill complete, only the bond bill would remain. Because its passage requires support from a handful of Republicans, lawmakers must ponder the risks and rewards of their votes.

If the bond bill failed, it would leave Democrats with a Hirst remedy and no capital budget. Sure, they could heap blame on Republicans for blocking the budget, but is that an acceptable outcome?

For Republicans, if a Hirst bill is headed to the governor’s desk anyway, is it worth continuing to prevent passage of the capital budget which they know contains money for projects and programs in their districts?

There are some clinging to hope that a Democratic victory in the Senate race next month will spur crafting of a bipartisan Hirst compromise and erase all the stress on the spending plan.

If Democrats do find themselves in control of the legislative branch, they should ponder the adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” as the consequences of this cold war won’t lessen and the casualties will mount.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter: @dospueblos.

More in News & Comment

Washington State Capitol Building. Photo by Emma Epperly/WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Legislation targets rape kit backlog

WA has about 10,000 untested kits; new law would reduce testing time to 45 days

Two Issaquah High School students are under investigation after a racially insensitive photo surfaced over the weekend. Courtesy photo
Racially insensitive sign sparks investigation in Issaquah

High school students under investigation after Tolo photo goes viral.

Snohomish family detained by Border Patrol while on vacation

Little information has been provided since they were arrested Thursday near Tucson, Arizona.

Yaaah! Hipster Gregr of ‘Nerd Talk’ escapes city life

The morning host of radio station 107.7 The End has traded the Seattle vibe for Snohomish living.

Price of renovated Seattle arena soars to over $900 million

But Tod Leiweke says the privately financed venue will be “one of the finest buildings in the country.”

Walkers rest amid the trees at Island Center Forest on Vashon Island, which is part of King County. Many trees around Western Washington are struggling, including Western hemlock on Vashon, likely from drought stress. Photo by Susie Fitzhugh
King County forests are facing new challenges

Hot, dry summers are stressing native tree species in Western Washington.

Yoga for horses exists, and it’s exactly what you think it is

A Snohomish-area veterinarian teaches equine stretches important to health and performance.

Heading north after leaving the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, the light rail track will cross to the west side of I-5. Trees on both sides of the highway here will be heavily impacted by the buildout. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)
To make room for light rail, 5,300 trees will fall along I-5

Sound Transit expects to start clearing in late April and eventually replant more than 20,000 trees.

Jim Pitts stands on walkway overlooking filtration chambers at the King County South Treatment Plant in Renton. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Human waste: Unlikely climate change hero?

King County treatment plant joins effort to counteract effects of carbon dioxide.

Most Read