Today, the 2016 legislative session officially commences. It is—once again—a bi-partisan legislature, something that Democrats have had a hard time dealing with, given that they are used to having Olympia under their thumb – having controlled the Governor’s mansion for 31 straight years, and held majorities in both legislative bodies for 15 of those years.
But, the reality is that for the second straight year, Republicans control the state Senate and Democrats control the state House, and Governor Jay Inslee is largely a bystander. However, thanks to Republican Teri Hickel’s defeat of appointed Democrat Rep. Carol Gregory last fall in the 30th Legislative District, Speaker Frank Chopp enjoys the slimmest majority (50-48) that he’s had since 2002.
Last week, we took time to review the issues we know will dominate the ’16 legislative session – the McCleary decision, charter schools, the Democrats’ push for an income tax, the carbon tax wars, and the possible impeachment of Democrat Auditor Troy Kelley. Given it’s the first day of said session, it only seems appropriate to review what the Democrats did last session to, well, make it the longest in state history.
House Democrats followed the example set by Jay Inslee and introduced a nearly $39 billion budget to accomodate their record-setting tax-and-spending increase demands last year… and they took forever to do it. Prior to the Democrats’ budget rollout, GOP state Sen. Andy Hill suggested that the House not neglect the agreed upon deadline of March 23 if they wanted to wrap up the 105-day session on time.
Really, it’s difficult to understand why Democrats could not —at the very least— introduce their budget in a timely manner since it borrowed so heavily from Inslee’s draft budget. Instead, Democrats took 98 days from the day Inslee introduced his plan to propose their imitation budget.
Adding insult to injury, during the regular session, Democrats stalled budget negotiations because they refused to vote on their tax proposals. During the special sessions that followed, Democrats slowed budget negotiations to a crawl because they refused to negotiate on tax increase that they… refused to actually hold a vote on to show it had the support of their members.
But, perhaps the most frustrating stunt Democrats pulled was when they backtracked on a previous budget agreement and refused to vote for the suspension of the Washington Education Association’s (WEA) money grabbing initiative, I-1351.
Senate Democrats decided they would make an ultimatum of sorts: unless the state Senate first passed a completely unrelated (but WEA-backed) bill that would water down high school graduation standards, Senate Democrats would blow a $2 billion hole in the state budget, which assumed a $2 billion reduction of spending for I-1351.
Essentially, Senate Democrats created a hostage situation. If Republicans would not go along with their effort to appease the WEA, the state budget would not be balanced. Of course, in the end, the scandal just made Democrats look bad.
Part of the problem was (and is) that Inslee has demonstrated an inability to negotiate with either legislative body over the last three years. Every session Inslee proves that he deserves the title of “greenest” governor in the nation because—time and time again—he looks like a lost rookie.
As Shift has pointed out, Inslee persistently acts like he is a “player on the field” rather than a “referee-in-chief,” choosing his extreme priorities over the people’s essential business. Last session, Inslee injected his hyper-partisan agenda (notably his extreme “green” policies) into an already partisan legislative environment.
Inslee has not governed. Rather, he repeated what he has always done and infused D.C.-style politics our state. Inslee has acted and continues to act as an obstructer, not as a “deal-maker-in-chief” like previous governors.
To put his failed leadership in perspective, Inslee has presided over five special sessions so far during his first term. Comparatively, during the course of eight years, former Gov. Christine Gregoire’s presided over seven special sessions.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as though Inslee will change his hyper-partisan “leadership” style any time soon. And, key Democrat leaders are right there with him. Inslee—joined by Speaker Chopp and Democrat Sen. Christine Rolfes—wrapped up the 2015 legislative session by calling for… future tax increases. In essence, Inslee and his fellow Democrats ended the 2015 legislative session like they started it, with a call for new taxes.
We’ll have to see what Democrats have in store for us this legislative session… somehow we think it involves taxes.