Legislature’s procrastinating reflects the reality of negotiating

Well, it’s really happening again: the Legislature is now in a third overtime session while lawmakers wrangle over a state budget deal. The prospect of a government shutdown is looming once more. If a budget deal isn’t in place by July 1, many state government functions will screech to a halt.

Most still expect legislators to get it together before then. In 2013 and 2015, however, negotiations dragged to the very end. Gov. Inslee signed those budgets on the last day before the new fiscal year, and that is likely to happen again.

It’s certainly unfortunate that special sessions are de rigueur. These negotiations are difficult, however; they always are when the state isn’t simply swimming in money to cover all spending pressures. State tax revenues have boomed, but McCleary is a sticky problem to solve.

There’s more to it than just partisanship – the Legislature went to overtime sessions in 2010, 2011, and 2012, when Democrats controlled both chambers comfortably. Sometimes coming to an agreement is just difficult. There is so much at stake for all involved.

Does it always have to go to the very last day?
As for taking negotiations to the last minute, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin calls it “an expensive game of chicken.” Perhaps. But it’s important to be realistic about why we’re in this situation again.

Republicans want to hold the line on taxes. Democrats, meanwhile, would view it as a lost opportunity if the McCleary process concludes without a major tax increase to show for it. We can’t be surprised that they’re taking the process to the last possible moment.

Shutdown isn’t really a laughing matter
Despite all the “would we even miss it” jokes, a government shutdown would be unfortunate. The Associated Press spells out some of the consequences, and they’re not ones we should take lightly. A temporary spending resolution, which Inslee has said he would veto, is not ideal.

The biggest reason the Legislature is at this point again is simply the nature of negotiations. This is a high stakes, hardball discussion. It’s natural that neither side wants to cave on a priority until it is absolutely necessary. Going to the end also limits Inslee’s options for veto chicanery, which may be a factor here.

“This has become the new normal and there should be nothing normal about three special sessions to do the most important job that we’re sent here to do,” Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) said this week. He’s right. Now it’s time to close the deal, without all the turmoil.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.