Jungyeon Roh

Within minutes of the final gavel coming down last Sunday on the Washington State Legislature's four-month 2013 session, Governor Jay Inslee called a special session to complete unfinished business.

Of course he did. Just like we always knew he'd have to.

From the moment senate "majority" leader Rodney Tom (technically a Democrat) engineered his self-aggrandizing coup—handing control of the senate to the minority Republicans, thus dividing the legislature—this session was destined for jaw-grinding gridlock. Bills have passed, but few of much consequence. Sure, Inslee's climate-change bill has been widely touted, but all that really does is create a commission to make future recommendations. Worthwhile, sure. But not exactly a dramatic reform.

Meanwhile, high-profile bills like the Reproductive Parity Act and the Washington Dream Act predictably died in committee in the senate despite having the votes to pass on the floor—deaths made inevitable by Senator Tom's selfish coup. Senate Republicans couldn't even bother to give King County voters the option of approving a 1.5 percent motor vehicle excise tax (MVET), money desperately needed to stave off a 17 percent cut in bus service next year in the face of a looming $75 million revenue shortfall.

And then there's the state budget. Varying proposals put the next operating budget in the ballpark of $34 billion and the capital budget at around $3.5 billion. But if they are not in place by the end of the current biennium on June 30, state government will shut down. And after four months of dithering, the house and the senate just couldn't come to terms on their primary obligation, largely due to senate Republicans' inflexible no-new-tax stance.

The house passed a "responsible budget," says house finance chair Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), which takes a meaningful step toward funding basic education "without eviscerating vital public services or relying on a quicksand of gimmicks." But the senate, says Carlyle, "continues to stumble along, with a reliance on onetime shifts that are simply based on fantasy numbers."

"The problem is that they don't know how to govern," laments deposed senate majority leader Ed Murray (D-Seattle) about Tom and his senate Republican coalition partners. True. But the problem is also more structural than that. Disliked and mistrusted by both parties, there was simply no way the ex-Republican/ex-Democrat Tom could assert a leadership role in a caucus in which he is not a member, nor overcome the ill will he created among Democrats by his betrayal.

But even more fundamentally, by dividing state government between a Republican-controlled senate and a Democratic-controlled house and governor's mansion, Tom's coup was a surefire recipe for a legislative standoff. Senate Republicans were dead set on using their committee chairmanships to block the house Democrats' agenda. House Democrats responded in kind.

And so everything about this stupid fucking pointless session unfolded according to script, including the budget-deadlock- necessitated special session that will now follow. Inslee has called the special session to begin May 13, after a two-week cooling-off period. But even if the partisan bickering dies down, the dysfunction will remain.

Still, you can't run a government without a budget. And so, sometime around Memorial Day, a deal will be struck for the budget we always knew we'd get—a budget that raises a little bit of revenue without calling it revenue, a budget that claims a down payment on McCleary (a state supreme court decision requiring more education funding) without making much of a down payment on McCleary, a budget that relies on accounting tricks without acknowledging trickery, and a budget that is largely balanced on the backs of the young, the elderly, the poor, and the sick, while congratulating lawmakers for protecting our state's most vulnerable.

Oh, yeah. The budget will also somehow screw schoolteachers and other state workers. Nobody will deny that. Because, you know, fuck 'em.

Governor Inslee also hopes that the special session will give legislators time to address other unfinished business, but much of it is unfinished for a reason: Senate Republicans wanted it dead. As for the Metro-saving local option, MVET (a tax on the value of your car), that's still gasping for air, if just barely.

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"If there's a transportation package, I think it will include the MVET," predicts Murray. The snag in the senate, says Murray, is his Republican colleagues' reluctance to approve the 10-cent- per-gallon gas-tax increase necessary to fund the new highway projects. Without a transportation-funding package, speculates Murray, "I don't think enough votes would be there." And that's how legislative gridlock ultimately creates the real thing.

Totally predictable. And totally pointless. recommended