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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Special Session Update

The legislature has been called back into another special session to address the state's continuing budget shortfall. Deadbeats in the House and Senate do not care to make the books balance -- they want to posture instead. For example, three Democrats introduced totally extraneous "Child Safety" legislation. SB 6628 is supposed to punish reckless endangerment of children by prohibiting unsafe storage of firearms. The exact means is to put an extra fee on persons who have a permit to conceal carrying of a pistol. What?

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From Rep. Cary Condotta (R-Wenatchee)

The Legislature adjourned on March 8, but the governor called us back a few days later because there is still no solution in place to address our approximate $1.1 billion shortfall. Of course, if you were in Olympia you wouldn’t know we are in a special session because the only legislators who are here are those involved in budget negotiations. Leadership from each chamber and budget writers continue to meet, but right now those at the table are far apart.

I have talked about the frustration of special session before, but this one may be the most frustrating one of all. Not because everyone has known since May we would need to address our fiscal situation, not because a special session was called in November to take care of it, not because we debated a variety of social issues and other legislation for about 30 days before the budget received much attention, but because there is a bipartisan solution on the table. We are now in our fifth special session in two years.

There were actually four budgets introduced during the session - one by each caucus in both the Senate and House, and the Senate Republican budget passed with bipartisan support. Nothing is perfect, but enough senators agreed on the proposal and chose principles over partisanship. I feel like we would have bipartisan support for our House Republican budget or even the Senate budget if we could bring it to a vote in the House, but Speaker Frank Chopp insists on the House Democrat budget.

I mentioned in my previous update there are two significant concerns with the Democrat budget. First, it delays education payments until the next biennium. Our own Democrat State Treasurer Jim McIntire called it a “felony gimmick.” It basically writes a $300 million IOU and there is no guarantee the next Legislature will pay it. Instead of potentially using those dollars to fund all-day kindergarten, class size reductions or teacher salary increases, the next Legislature will first need to pay off the $300 million.

Second, the Democrat budget leaves us with a $2 billion budget problem in the future. It solves nothing. The majority has been unable and unwilling to make difficult decisions and long-term reforms related to state spending. One-party control in Olympia has been ineffective and all ideas from both parties should be considered as the Legislature works to resolve our budget shortfall. Review the comments below from the three senators who voted with Senate Republicans in support of a bipartisan budget. It sounds like they are tired of continuing down the path of unsustainable budgets and uncontrollable spending.

  • Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue: “Today I stood with a bipartisan group of legislators to support an operating budget and a series of government reforms that will put our state on a strong fiscal footing ... Since before this legislative session began, the message from my constituents has been loud and clear. Another budget that is unsustainable, relies upon accounting gimmicks and sets our state up for a perennial deficit is simply unacceptable.”
  • Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup: “The status quo is that we come back every single year and we cut, cut, cut ... There is a time to campaign for what you want and there is a time to govern with what you have.”
  • Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch: “…it gives the conservative voice a chance to negotiate ... We have to reduce our spending. That’s what families are telling me in the 35th District. They have got to live with what they have and they want to see government do that as well.”

At this time, it is difficult to predict what will happen in the special session. However, I am hopeful if we take some of the reforms and ideas from the House and Senate Republican budget proposals and work across party lines we can reach a bipartisan agreement and leave Olympia with a balanced approach. It is time to put principles and priorities over partisanship and politics.

Cary Condotta

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