Every odd numbered year — 2005, 2007, 2009 and so on — the Legislature must adopt a two-year state budget before the fiscal year begins on July 1. So state lawmakers knew what had to be done when they assembled in Olympia in January to begin the budget writing session.
Why then are legislators still in the capital trying to get the budget — Job One — done?
Easy. Same reason just about everything does or doesn’t get done in Olympia. Politics.
The Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-(with two Democrats)-controlled Senate are playing a game of chicken. The House and Senate differ on what should be funded and how much should be spent.
Democrats want to boost tax revenue by continuing taxes set to expire and eliminating some tax breaks.
Republicans are looking for a budget that’s balanced with only cuts.
The House and Senate are $1 billion apart. No, that’s not a figure of speech to signify a huge gap — it’s really $1 billion.
Now, at the cusp of June, state officials are getting jittery. Legal and historical research is being conducted to figure out what would happen if a budget isn’t approved by June 30?
The research probably isn’t necessary. If it happens it’s going to be a mess. Millions of dollars will be unnecessarily spent to bridge funding to keep government operating. Workers will be sent home. After a few days of angst, some kind of a patchwork agreement will be made. The workers will return to work (and probably get their pay anyway because elected officials want to keep their jobs so they don’t want to punish workers for their incompetence).
The stalemate has other consequences. For example, the state Treasurer’s Office had to delay a scheduled June bond sale because of the lack of a budget.
“We’re not going to go in front of credit rating agencies and investors when we don’t have a budget,” said Chris McGann, spokesman for Treasurer Jim McIntire. “In order for them (buyers) to assess the strength of our finances, they need to know what our plan is.”
End the games now, come to a reasonable compromise and pass a budget that can be sustained for two years without having to be reduced once or twice.
Gov. Jay Inslee needs to be assertive and bring the House and the Senate together. A clear framework to get the job done and a reasonable timetable, with deadlines that are met, is critical.
It’s going to take compromise and leadership.
Holding firm and waiting for the other side to blink hurts only taxpayers.
Enough time has been wasted. Lawmakers must get Job One done ASAP.