State lawmakers were back in Olympia on Monday for a 30-day overtime session after failing to approve a state budget.
All indications are that the Democrat-controlled House and the Senate, dominated by Republicans and two conservative Democrats, are not much closer to a resolution than when they adjourned on April 28.
The cost of a special session isn’t cheap. The estimate offered by Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is $10,700 a day, which is what last year’s overtime stay cost taxpayers.
The number could be higher or lower depending on how many of the 147 lawmakers take the $90 a day they are entitled to receive for expenses. If all 147 took the $90 per diem, that alone would be more than $13,000 a day.
But many lawmakers opt to forgo the expense money for political or personal reasons. They all should decline the money because it is their fault the budget-writing job didn’t get done on time.
In the past (and, sadly, these extra sessions have become nearly an annual event), the most productive approach was to bring the legislative leaders and budget writers together to hammer out a deal. Then, when the framework is in place, the House and Senate would be called into session for a day or two to approve the deal.
Beyond saving money, this approach keeps lawmakers with idle hands (and minds) from cooking up new legislation. The focus should be on writing a sustainable budget.
Inslee, however, is pushing the idea of legislative multi-tasking.
Inslee wants lawmakers to address policy issues during the overtime session, such as a measure to strengthen the state’s impaired driving laws in the wake of recent fatal accidents. Yes, drunken driving — and, in particular, habitual drunken driving — is an important issue the Legislature must address.
But, as we have said before, lawmakers have to make sure what they approve is well vetted to reduce the possibilities of unfortunate unintended consequences.
Legislation should not be written, debated and approved in a slap-dash manner. That goes for the budget as well.
Lawmakers need to focus on the budget constructed on reality, not wishful thinking and best-case scenario. If so, lawmakers will be patching the budget later this year or next.
“While we have difficult and meaningful decisions to make, and I believe we’re on the right track, there is a great deal of work to be done. And the only way to make progress is to continue having these conversations,” Senate Republican budget writer Andy Hill.
That makes sense. Get the budget writers and leadership together, hammer out a thoughtful compromise and then call lawmakers back to Olympia.