The state Legislature could not complete the people’s business in the time allotted for the 2015 session, primarily because House Democrats refused to pass a complete, balanced budget. Democrats would not—whether because they did not have enough votes or out of fear for the political ramifications—hold a vote on the $1.5 billion in new taxes which they proposed to pay for their record-breaking $39 billion two-year spending wish list. As a result, the Legislature entered into a taxpayer-funded special session which started yesterday.
This isn’t the first time an unresolved budget battle forced the state Legislature into a special session. The 2013 legislative session ended in a budget stalemate between the Democrat-controlled state House and the bi-partisan Majority Coalition-controlled state Senate, and just like this year was forced into a special session. In 2013, the special session ended mere hours before the July 1 deadline for a state government shutdown before lawmakers finally approved a budget.
We’re taking a look back on a costly mistake made by Jay Inslee that pro-longed the 2013 legislative session— and required the special sessions that followed. It’s a mistake that Inslee is currently repeating and – for the sake of completing the people’s business – must be corrected.
Inslee as an obstructer, not as a “deal-maker-in-chief”
Inslee entered into his first session in Olympia breaking from the traditional role of the governor and insisting that he was “not a referee between the House and Senate, but a player on the field.” According to the Seattle Times, that attitude made him a “margin player, and limited his influence.” But, it also delayed the state Legislature’s ability to come to an agreement on the state budget.
Inslee was unprepared to act in the role of “deal-maker-in-chief.” Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, commented at the time that he had “served under Gardner, Locke, Lowry, Gregoire, and now Inslee” and that he would say Inslee “has been the least prepared to start his first session.”
During the 2013 session, Inslee either took no role at all—he never presented a budget, only a list of his spending priorities—or he demanded the Senate take up highly partisan bills that they had already considered and rejected. Inslee maintained his highly partisan—and unfocused—approach in the special session that followed. Via the Washington State Wire,
“Inslee said he does not plan to limit the scope of the special session, as governors often do in order to ensure that agreement is reached quickly. Instead he said he wants the Legislature to take action on a number of highly partisan measures, and his special-session proclamation does not attempt to restrict debate to matters associated with the passage of a budget. Inslee said he hopes lawmakers will take action on gun control, a measure requiring insurance companies to cover abortion, a bill providing college financial aid for the children of illegal immigrants, and a tax increase for transportation programs that includes a controversial bridge project over the Columbia River at Vancouver.”
Inslee still acting like a “player on the field”
Unfortunately, two years later, little has changed. During the 2015 legislative session, Inslee set a highly partisan tone and made a series of ridiculous demands. At the start of the budget talks, Inslee went so far as to threaten to veto any budget that does not raise $1 billion or more in taxes. Inslee has utterly failed to put aside his partisan interests and agenda. He has failed to lead.
Inslee made matters worse when, while calling for a special session, decided to inject hyper-partisan subject matter into an already highly partisan debate: his extreme green agenda. He demanded lawmakers place his environmental policies on the special session agenda. Specifically, Inslee called on lawmakers to renew their consideration of his cap-and-tax proposal—even after his fellow Democrats rejected the scheme (though in an under-handed way.)
Making matters worse, Jay Inslee—along with Democrat House Speaker Frank Chopp—is more than willing to play D.C.-style games at the people’s expense. The state government will shut down if a budget is not passed and signed into law by the end of June. Yet, Inslee and Chopp appear unconcerned over the prospect. In fact, Democrats have signaled that they preparing messaging strategies for the purpose of shifting the blame for a shutdown on Republicans.
On the other hand, Senate Republicans are more than aware of the urgency of completing the responsibilities before them. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler recently called for a May 15 wrap-up of the special session, citing school district’s mid-May budget submission deadline and the possibility of a state government shutdown. Whether or not that will actually happen is entirely up to Inslee and Chopp. Democrats must prioritize their constituents, not special interests, and realize that they must work with Senate Republicans.
It’s past time for Inslee to drop decisive approach
In order for the special session to adjourn without delay, Inslee must—as the Seattle Times advised—do his part to find the middle ground. He must stop adding to the already high tensions and help move negotiations forward by looking at what is happening from an objective perspective. That means calling for House Democrats to present a balanced budget by voting on their taxes. If they can’t pass their taxes, then Chopp and his budget writers need to develop a budget plan that meets the revenue the state is projected to have – which is $3 billion more than in the current budget.
It is vital, for the sake of the completely the people’s urgent business, that Inslee drop his own partisan agenda. He must focus on passing a budget and transportation package by calling on House Democrats to do their jobs.
Inslee thinks he is a “player on the field,” and he has acted like the partisan player he was in Congress for 15 years. It’s time for him to do his job and act like a referee.