Twenty seven bills bit the dust late Thursday evening as governor Jay Inslee made good on his earlier threat this week to veto all bills that had come to his desk so far unless the legislature reached a budget deal by the end of the regularly scheduled legislative session. The session was scheduled to end yesterday and, as predicted (and as usual), legislators had no deal.
“I’m aware that this is probably the biggest batch of vetoes in the state’s history,” Inslee said.
All 27 bills originated in the senate and easily passed both chambers. Inslee said it was just "happenstance" that the bills came from the senate (the senate is controlled by the Republicans.)
Fifteen Republicans bills and twelve Democratic bills were rejected.
The new 30-day special session begins today.
To give you a sense of how disappointing this legislature is: The budget standoff is not about the grand $38 billion biennium budget. Lawmakers are dickering over the supplement budget, the $500 million off-year document that tweaks last year’s governing operating budget.
Inslee grumbled that the two sides had more than enough time to resolve their differences “They had 60 days to make some relatively minor adjustments,” he said. “There is no reason why the legislature could not produce a budget in this session.”
In an impromptu press gathering, house majority leader Pat Sullivan (D-47, Covington) said there are “a couple major sticking points” in the closed-door negotiations. After those are resolved, Sullivan speculated the rest of the open matters would quickly fall into place. He said the best-case scenario for a handshake agreement appears to be Monday, but qualified by saying it could easily go on longer.
At the beginning of this week, the publicly known points of contention had been a bill to make the state’s eight charter schools meet constitutional requirements, closing four tax breaks worth $102 million, using the state’s reserve fund to help homeless people, and merging a couple pension funds to make the budget math work.
The legislature passed a charter schools bill this week, though most senate Democrats lined up against the final bill yesterday because rather than addressing the constitutional conundrum—the state supreme court said general fund money isn’t allowed to fund charters—the bill simply moves money around to make it look like the general fund isn’t taking the $18 million hit for charters. Additionally, senate Democrats groused that it was bad governance to fund charters without simultaneously dealing the $3.5 billion shortfall to fund all public schools in line with the supreme court’s McCleary ruling.
Sullivan said the Democrats wanted to reach the Thursday night deadline. “We made some significant moves. I don’t think they made as significant of moves,” he said.
The GOP had planned a Thursday mid evening press conference to discuss the budget impasse, but canceled because no Republicans wanted to stick around the Capitol Dome after passage of the final bill to do the press session.
The 27 bills did not involve the most heavy duty issues of the 2016 session, such as Western State reform, charters, tolling, transgender and voting rights, but were obviously important to their sponsors and stakeholders. “I know everyone felt passionately about this,” Inslee said. Most bills had passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and were the first to make it through the legislative processes this year.
Inslee, for example, vetoed a study to figure out how to deal with high out-of-pocket costs relating to prescription drugs and two pot bills on research licenses and allowing promotional trinkets similar to those used by alcohol distributors.
The legislative dawdling doesn’t bode well for next year’s 2017-19 biennium budget session when lawmakers will likely be warring over a $40 billion budget and the outstanding McCleary work; the original 2012 McCleary ruling said K-12 needed to be fully funded by 2018.
The legislature, which has put an additional $2.5 billion in aggregate into the now $18.2 billion K-12 schools budget over the last three sessions toward meeting the court order, is still about $3.5 billion short on teachers’ salaries. It is also relying on about $3.6 billion per biennium in local levies which violates the court’s rule that the state is responsible for the K-12 tab. And the court is holding the state in contempt until they man up.
To deal with the local levy issue, next year’s session will require a massive and complicated property tax system overhaul.
The bottom line: The 2016 session has shown that this legislature is not remotely prepared to tackle the vastly greater education issues they will face next year.