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31st legislators head back to State House for the special session
It’s “do over” time in Olympia.
Gov. Chris Gregoire called a special session that began Monday after the two chambers could not come up with a supplemental budget.
The Legislature met in a short session that began Jan. 9 and came to a close Thursday. The state writes a biennial budget, and the short session is designed to make adjustments and corrections to the two-year cycle.
This year the numbers added up to a bit more than a $1 billion deficit, and the House and Senate have not been able to find a solution they could send to the governor to sign. The governor called a 17 day special session in December to get a running start on the budget, but the numbers eluded the lawmakers.
Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, said the Legislature, “wasted the first half on thing that were not relevant to the budget. We were there for a supplemental budget.”
Dahlquist said the special session has been called for 30 days and now all the bills go back to the “house of origin.” The representative said if a member decides to spend time on a “crazy bill” instead of the budget, that member can do it.
The first two day of the session are pro forma, which means only a few of the leaders from the House and Senate will work on the budget. The rest of the members return on Wednesday.
The Senate Republican passed a budget when three Democrats voted with the Republicans giving Rs a 25-24 majority vote on their budget. The Republicans with the three Democrats, senators Tim Sheldon, Potlatch, Rodney Tom, Bellevue and Jim Kastama, Puyallup, approving a Ninth Order procedure allowing the budget to come to the floor without a public hearing.
The Senate budget was not approved by the House by March 8. Without a budget from the Legislature, Gregoire called the special session.
Dahlquist said she ran over to watch when she heard the Ninth Order had been called.
“I was so proud of those three Democrats,” Dahlquist said.
Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, said he will be down in Olympia from the beginning of the special session working on reform bills.
Hurst said there are several reform measures, “the moderates are pressing for” before the budget is signed and sealed.
One of the reform bills is Senate Bill 8222, which calls for a state Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget based on a four year outlook.
Hurst stated the governor is required by the Constitution to submit a balance budget, but the Legislature is not.
He said the bill would mean the Legislature must pass not only a balanced budget, but one that is “sustainable. This will keep us from ever getting back into this position again. This can put us in a place where we will never have an unsustainable budget again.”
Another reform measure is a bill, House Bill 2598 and SB 6345, calling for the formation of an “Arrow Commission.”
This would be a commission of senior statesman, probably no longer in office, who would review and make recommendations on upper level management.
“This is a way to restructure and reform middle and upper level government,” Hurst said. “And it gives an outside view. It would reinstitute a lot of confidence in government.”
Both measures are referendums which requires a 2/3 majority in the House and Senate and would go to the voters in November. If the bills are passed neither one would go to the governor, but move directly to the general election.
Hurst said during the special session the Legislature will need to pass a “pass major reform and a bipartisan budget.”
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said she thought chances of the Legislature coming to an agreement on the budget are about “50-50. If not the governor will probably call another special session for a couple of days.”
Roach said the governor is stating if the Legislature cannot come up with a budget, she will make 10 percent cuts across the board.
“That would mean doing some very bad things.” Roach said. “If nothing happens that is what she (Gregoire ) is going to do.”
Roach said the members met in a special session in December, worked through the session and now are in another special session “addressing the same thing.”
The senator said one of the priorities she is looking for is a study commission for Rainier School.
Roach said some government costs reined in by “cutting costs at DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services.”