When state lawmakers convened in Olympia in January they had 60 days to reach agreement on how to deal with a $2.8 billion revenue shortfall in the current budget. They failed.
And, as a result, Gov. Chris Gregoire has called senators and representatives back to Olympia for an overtime session beginning Monday - at a cost of about $20,000 a day.
Taxpayers should be outraged.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, called it a "dismal, incredulous debacle." That pretty well sums it up.
Lawmakers should have been able to get their work - the public's work - done in the allotted time. Democrats control the House and Senate by wide margins, so they can't blame minority Republicans for their failure.
Why should taxpayers have to foot the bill for the ineptitude of lawmakers?
Yet, taxpayers are paying and lawmakers are benefiting. Each of the 150 legislators will get $90 a day as expense money for each day the Legislature is in session. That's about two thirds of the cost of the special session's added expense.
But Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, has introduced legislation that would deny lawmakers expense money for overtime sessions called in the days immediately following the regular session.
It's a terrific idea. It would save taxpayers some money and, more importantly, motivate lawmakers to do the job we elect them to do.
Senate Bill 6883 seems to be well thought out. It's more pragmatic than punitive. It does allow lawmakers to receive the expense money for special sessions called after 30 days.
Special sessions that begin a month or more after the Legislature has adjourned tend to be shorter because legislative leaders usually set a very specific agenda. The time between sessions is often used to hammer out an agreement that is then quickly adopted by the entire Legislature.
When lawmakers return to Olympia on Monday it will be the leaders negotiating the deals while most senators and representatives wait - and wait and wait.
"Only government would force the people to pay for ‘overtime' while it figures out how much more to tax them - but that's exactly what will happen if the majority party hasn't agreed on a tax package by the end of the regular session," Zarelli said in the days before the regular session ended. "A special session this year is a costly and embarrassing prospect, and if the majority has any regard for taxpayers it should do everything in its power to bring the cost down."
Exactly. Lawmakers should start by taking swift action to adopt Zarelli's proposed legislation.
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