Jay Inslee dropped a bomb Thursday. Pass a tax increase, the governor told us, or he won’t sign the budget. No one is sure if he is threatening to veto the budget. Maybe he’s saying he will allow the budget to become law without his signature. Or maybe we just ought to take it as another indication of a breakdown in the political process this year that could lead to a government shutdown.
Whatever it is, I want to say this as clearly as I can.
If it comes to that, this one’s not on us.
Republicans took the rap for the federal-government shutdown of 2013, and I want to make sure the people of the state understand our side is not driving this breakdown. The affairs of Congress have no bearing on the way we do our business in the Washington State Legislature. Until recently, this D.C.-style brinksmanship has had no place in Washington state. Most state lawmakers believe in this institution and in behaving responsibly. Certainly on our side of the aisle, we respect the process.
We have a proud record of being able to settle partisan differences in time to keep our state agencies funded, our institutions in operation and our social services functioning. We came close to the drop-dead date in 1991 and 2013. But reason has always prevailed among leaders of both parties, and we have always managed to reach compromise before the new biennium begins July 1.
But lately we’ve seen so many disquieting developments. There was the governor’s ultimatum Thursday, of course. More important is that we in the Senate have passed the only complete budget bill of the year — $38 billion for 2015-17. Our budget doesn’t raise taxes. It is balanced now and sustainable over the long haul. It prioritizes education, cuts tuition, grows jobs and protects the vulnerable.
Many of our friends on the other side of the aisle don’t like it. For the last year they have argued we are in a crisis and the Legislature must pass the largest tax increase in history. I think we’ve proven that isn’t the case. The budget-crisis talk is more political theater than sound policy.
This political argument is really only part of the problem. Democrats themselves can’t agree. The majority Democrats in the House have passed a $39 billion spending bill, but leaders can’t convince their members to vote for the tax increase they need in order to pay for it. Basically they have a doughnut budget, with a $1.5 billion hole in the middle.
I suspect there are plenty of people around here, on both sides, who agree with the Jay Inslee who ran for office in 2012 and said “the wrong direction is new taxes in the state of Washington.” Since then our budget situation has actually gotten better, not worse.
This lack of clarity from our Democratic colleagues means finishing on time with a budget agreement is becoming an increasingly distant prospect. Taxpayers are the ones who suffer when we go into overtime. A special session means added costs, and the delays mean school districts don’t get the budgets they need to hire teachers and implement programs. A shutdown? Let’s try not even to think about that.
We’re ready now. We’re walking into the room this week ready to bargain and get out of here on time. People interested in compromise don’t start by drawing lines in the sand. We can only hope our friends will be able to resolve their issues, and that they will start glancing over their shoulders at the calendar. We’ve already done that.
Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, is vice chair of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.