For the first time since the onset of the Great Recession, state tax collections have come in higher than projected halfway through a two-year budget. So if there's one thing you'd expect legislators to accomplish during the 60-day session that kicks off next week, it's the number one thing we call these short sessions to deal with in the first place: To pass a supplemental budget.
"You could operate without a supplemental budget," Senate Ways & Means Committee chair Mark Schoesler (R-9) shrugged at a pre-session forum yesterday.
Oh. So much for that.
As for every other substantive piece of legislation that might come before lawmakers this session—a transportation funding package, the Reproductive Parity Act, the State Dream Act, court-mandated education funding, climate change legislation, gun control—lawmakers are struggling even to feign optimism that some sort of compromise can be reached.
"I have no crystal ball," Senate Transportation Committee chair Curtis King (R-14) said about prospects of passing a transportation package and the 10-cent-or-so gas tax increase necessary to fund it. "It’s a matter of timing," acknowledges King, and this being an election year "makes it tougher."
"It's a work in progress," Senator Schoesler said with a sly smile when asked whether there was a possibility of the Reproductive Parity Act or State Dream Act getting to the senate floor.
"I would like to be optimistic that we could pass something" on climate change offered Governor Jay Inslee. But, you know, he isn't.
"It wasn’t so long we didn’t have a session every year," added Representative Dan Kristiansen (R-39), implying that this one isn't really all that necessary.
And, well, with that sort of attitude, no it's not. The problem, of course, is that Democrats and Republicans are worlds apart on both social and economic issues (well, centuries apart, really), which doesn't lend itself toward accomplishing much of anything in a legislature where Democrats and Republicans each control one house. But even on those issues that they share—for example, investing in transportation infrastructure—the absolute refusal of the bulk of Republicans to approve a tax increase at any time for any reason under any circumstance makes compromise impossible.
"It’s not that people don’t want improved schools, and roads and stuff like that," says Kristiansen, "it’s that we can’t afford it right now." In other words, they don't want to pay for it. And regardless of who controls Olympia, schools and roads and stuff like that still cost money.
Likely, lawmakers will ultimately pass a supplemental budget, because the extra handful of change in the till makes the task so goddamn easy. But that's the least legislators can do. And the least is all we can realistically expect from this disappointing bunch.