When state lawmakers headed to Olympia in early January for the annual session of the Legislature, they knew they had some very tough decisions ahead.
Every single one of the 147 elected lawmakers understood just how difficult it was going to be to craft a budget in the allotted time (105 days) given the close to $5 billion gap between anticipated revenue and anticipated spending.
Given that, the expectation was (at least from citizens) that lawmakers would hit the ground running and address budget matters early in the session to ensure they would complete the job on time. After all, it cost thousands of dollars a day (estimated at $20,000 a day in the Senate alone) to keep lawmakers in session.
But even if it were only hundreds of dollars a day, an overtime session is still grating. The idea of spending even an extra dime at a time when state services are being slashed seems a waste of precious resources.
Lawmakers have no excuse for not finishing on time.
Nevertheless, legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire now accept as inevitable that the session scheduled to conclude Sunday will go to overtime.
"They can't mechanically get there, so I accept that. I think it's unfortunate, and I hope it doesn't discourage them from working and working hard because they have a lot to get done," Gregoire said recently.
The absence of a carved-in-stone deadline is cause for concern. Now that lawmakers agree adjournment won't come on Sunday, they could lose their focus on making progress toward adopting a budget and passing the enabling legislation required.
At this point, lawmakers - to their credit - appear to be relatively close to a resolution of bridging the gap between revenue and expenses. Still, lawmakers should have started making the tougher decisions earlier so this week could be used for taking care of all the necessary details of enacting budget legislation.
A major reason the session is going to overtime is that lawmakers have essentially followed the schedule designed for routine budget approval.
Beyond that, lawmakers weren't aggressive enough in plugging holes in the current two-year budget, which made it even tougher to balance the budget over the next two years.
But, at this point, there is nothing that can be done about lawmakers not adjourning on time.
Given that, Gregoire is on target in demanding a clear, narrow agenda for the special session. Perhaps that means legislative leaders get together to hammer out details before calling all lawmakers back to Olympia.
Regardless of the approach taken, lawmakers must get results - and get them quickly.
Allowing the budget process to linger with the meter running is unnecessary and disrespectful to taxpayers and state employees.