Lawmakers must focus on budget — nothing else

If a budget isn’t approved by July 1, technically the state won’t have enough money to operate. Realistically, it will be a mess.

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The state Legislature started its second overtime session on Wednesday, less than three weeks from budget doomsday (or, without the hyperbole of Olympia, expensive government chaos).

And given the chasm on a budget agreement between Senate Republicans and House Democrats, Gov. Jay Inslee has directed his Cabinet to study what state government services would have to be shut down if the Legislature can’t come to agreement by the drop-dead deadline of July 1.

Wow! Lawmakers need to truly get serious and reach a compromise. What lawmakers do (or don’t do) in Olympia will affect the lives of all Washingtonians negatively. For some the consequences will be merely inconvenient, others will suffer greatly in matters of health and home.

Lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — seem to be using the looming deadline for political gain. Unfortunately, those who are strong believers in either conservative or liberal ideological approach to government think they are just pushing for what’s reasonable and necessary while those who oppose them are unbending political zealots.

These folks need to look in the mirror and open their eyes — both political parties are culpable in this mess.

It is time for the full political spectrum of legislators to look at this unresolved stalemate as seriously, as do families facing foreclosure on their homes. These families would do what it takes and do it quickly to keep a roof over their heads.

The Legislature needs the same kind of urgency.

But on the first day of the second overtime the talk in the Capitol was a Senate-House compromise on a gas-tax plan to pay for needed road projects. Without question the state’s infrastructure is a high priority, but — with the clock ticking — the budget is at the top of the must-do list.

Given the vast differences between the Senate and House budget plans, it is clear neither side is simply going to surrender its position. It’s going to take compromise.

And if a budget built with duct tape and wire is adopted before July 1, it likely won’t hold up until the next budget session scheduled in two years. Expect lawmakers to do some patching in a year, if not before.

This is no way to budget for the long term or set priorities, but it will have to do for now.

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