With a state government shutdown looming if lawmakers fail to pass a state budget by July 1st, the reality of what is happening in Olympia is becoming increasingly clear. While Republicans have a budget plan, Democrats have a plan to blame Republicans.
State House Democrats refuse to pass a balanced budget. They refuse to negotiate in good faith by voting on the tax hikes they proposed to fund their spending agenda. They refuse to acknowledge that new taxes are not necessary to meet our state’s funding requirements. And, they refuse to compromise on their key spending plans by accepting reform measures.
House Democrats refuse to do their jobs, but they are more than willing to sacrifice the public’s best interests for the interests of their million-dollar campaign donors. Democrats—and Jay Inslee—are willing to burden Washington’s working families with over $1 billion in new taxes, including a state income tax, in order to reward their million-dollar special interests campaign donors. And, Democrats signaled they are even willing to shut down the state government if it means the state employee unions receive rewards for generous campaign donations.
Prior to the start of the first special session, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler explained how Democrats’ approached the budget talks. Schoelser pointed out that Democrats have been “offering hints they will take things to the wire to gain advantage at the bargaining table” since the start of the 2015 legislative session. Schoelser wrote,
“Ross Hunter, the House Appropriations chair, said when the session started that he had purchased a six-month gym membership in town – even though he lives in King County and the session was supposed to end this coming Sunday. Last month Gov. Jay Inslee directed state agencies to begin planning for a shutdown. And there was the curious meeting that took place in the governor’s office two weeks ago, when Inslee told legislative leaders he wants a billion-dollar tax hike, or else he won’t sign the budget.”
Democrats’ attitude toward budget negotiations has led the state Legislature into two special sessions and the state government to the brink of a shutdown—a shutdown Democrats appear ready and willing to usher in. You see, though those working in Olympia know it is Democrats who are delaying negotiations, Democrats are banking on the public’s tendency to place blame for government shutdowns on Republicans at the national level, and hope that blame will extend to Washington State Senate Republicans.
Of course, that’s despite the fact that Senate Republicans urged House Democrats, time and time again, to do their jobs in a timely manner. And, it’s despite the fact that they offered more than reasonable compromises (one being collective bargaining reform in exchange for state employee pay raises). That’s not to mention the fact that Senate Republicans have now passed two balanced budgets (the first one during the regular session, and then a revised proposal in the first special session), while House Democrats have yet to pass a single balanced budget (their “budgets” are mere spending packages, without the money to balance them).
The blame on Senate Republicans is already beginning. A recent blog entry for the Washington Federation of State Employees is titled, “Members rally for parks as Senate ally predicts Republicans will force shutdown.” It details a rally held by union members attacking Senate Republicans and informing them that “state parks matter.”
According to the blog, Democrat state Sen. Maralyn Chase told rally attendees that she believes there will be no budget deal by June 30. Chase said, “We don’t have a budget. There will be layoffs, shutting down the government because I don’t think we’re going to get a budget probably until the middle of July, maybe.”
Of course, as the blog points out, Chase’s prediction would mean the closure of state parks… just in time for the busy Fourth of July weekend. If the blame-the-Republicans trend continues, the anger that would ensue from the public would work toward Democrats’ favor – or so Frank Chopp, Jay Inslee, and Democrat campaign consultants are hoping.
Democrat state House staffers are already making plans for a state government shutdown. According to a legislative source, on Monday, Democrat House Clerk Barbara Baker emailed staffers alerting them to what may or may not happen moving forward. Here’s what she wrote:
“The fact that our office has been very quiet lately has been noted by several staff. I wish that I could tell everyone the details of the grand plan to end this session and let us all get on with our lives. The problem is, of course, that no such plan exists and we are just as clueless as everybody else regarding our schedules for the next few weeks.”
Baker’s email grants two key insights, beyond the very obvious statement that Olympia Democrats are often – by her own admission – “clueless”. First, House Democrats do not have any plans to move budget negotiations forward and, ultimately, work with Senate Republicans to pass a balanced budget. Second, while House Democrats don’t have a plan to pass a budget, they do have a plan for a state government shutdown. And, presumably, that plan involves a blame game in which Republicans—or so Democrats hope—lose.
At this point, lawmakers should be working together to do their jobs and, at all costs, avoid a government shutdown. Unfortunately, Democrats appear to be preparing their message for just that. Sen. Schoelser summed it all up perfectly when he wrote,
“You can follow the breadcrumbs, all right, straight to a government shutdown. I understand why some might think the pain and wreckage is worth it. This year’s fight isn’t just about a tax increase, but also about a return to the free-spending ways that prevailed before the recession. The battle also reflects the long-term goal of many on the other team to tax a greater share of the state’s personal income. I think they will have a difficult time winning that argument through ordinary means, and that is exactly as it should be. In the meantime the state has a right to expect both teams to fully engage in negotiations, play by the rules and behave responsibly. When this happens we can get the job done. Our side has already done its part, and we look forward to the day our friends do theirs.”