Gov. Jay Inslee was on to something Tuesday when he said lawmakers on different sides of the political aisle would have to compromise on the state’s final operating budget by engaging in some give and take. Actually, it seems to me Democratic and Republican legislators have done a considerable amount of both.
Despite some reported differences (it’s hard to tell exactly how far apart they are since lawmakers have made a point of not negotiating the budget with the press), Republicans and Democrats have each made some public concessions that should propel them to the finish line by the special session’s June 11 deadline. By focusing on what they can pass in a bipartisan fashion, perhaps we stand a better chance of averting the worst-case scenario: a government shutdown.
House Democrats unveiled a revised budget proposal Wednesday afternoon with some considerable concessions aimed at pleasing the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC). This included nixing extensions on a business and beer tax. In turn, the MCC deserves some kudos for approving several Democratic wishes: supporting state employee labor contracts, funding Planned Parenthood, and expanding Medicaid as required by federal health care reform.
In the other chamber, the coalition made up of 23 Republicans and two Democrats say they want revenue measures for education to be tied to reforms. Well, it’s worth noting both chambers have already passed three significant bills intended to provide spending controls throughout the next biennium. SB 5329, signed by Inslee last month, gives the state the authority to step in and demand improvements in persistently low-performing schools. Districts that fail to meet agreed-upon goals would have their funding withheld. The governor has also approved two other measures that are key to improving education outcomes, HB 1472 and HB 1642.
Other issues are still up in the air, but compromise is within reach:
— House Democrats have introduced HB 2034, a package that would repeal several exemptions and dedicate an additional $255 million to education. We’re only talking about seven or so exemptions out of 640 that are currently on the books. As the editorial board suggested in this March 30 editorial, all exemptions should be reviewed and it makes sense for a few of these preferential tax rates to end.
— The MCC wants workers’ compensation reform. Our editorial board agrees this is important for keeping and creating jobs in the state. To get it done, they may have to settle for less elsewhere. For example, lawmakers could hold off on the worthy but controversial push for a SB 5242, a “mutual consent” measure which would end the practice of forced teacher placement in schools.
Overall, The Seattle Times editorial board has encouraged lawmakers to focus on the bigger picture. Pass a budget. Get out of Olympia on time. Consider what’s in the best interest of the children who will make up Washington’s future work force. This means the Legislature should take a good look at its current budget breakdown and make full funding of education a top priority — 45 percent of general funds should be dedicated to K-12 public schools; 9 percent for higher education; and additional investments in early learning.
Lawmakers must meet in the middle. Accept that some things — including certain treasured reforms and spending priorities— may have to be saved for another day.
Lynne Varner and Jonathan Martin contributed to this post.