Some parting thoughts with the Capitol in the rearview mirror

Jul 21, 2017

The speaker of the House is known for holing up in his office, and as the 2017 legislative session fizzled to a strange end yesterday, the news media took note of that more than usual. One journalist reported how Speaker Frank Chopp hadn’t spoken with reporters all week about the two things that I hoped could be addressed before we adjourned: the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, and a capital budget for 2017-19. Another reporter joked to me that if Speaker Chopp came out of his office and saw his shadow, there would be another 30-day “special” session.

A Hirst remedy and a new capital budget are both important to families and communities around our state, for different reasons. Democrat leaders in the House had prolonged the Hirst situation for months by refusing to bring the Senate’s bipartisan remedy to a vote, and by doing so, they knowingly delayed approval of a capital budget.

Then, after House Republicans found a way to force a vote on a Hirst fix yesterday afternoon, House Democrats simply walked out of their chamber, allowing the session clock to simply run out. When confronted with taking a hard vote, their response was to turn and run.

I’m still open to returning to Olympia to look at a full capital budget, if the Hirst situation can be settled in a way that keeps decision-making authority where it belongs. In the meantime, as I hit the road toward my family and farm in Adams County, a few things come to mind.

  • As this week showed, divided government is frustrating. But the same divided Legislature managed full funding of K-12 education without the new state income tax, or carbon tax, or big tax increases on employers that many Democrats wanted. Also, we left a record amount of money in reserve, knowing revenue collections probably won’t maintain their current pace. Speaking of the treasury, it’s worth noting that despite the cost of three overtimes, the Senate still returned more than $800,000 from its 2015-17 appropriation.
  • This week the governor kept speaking of public-sector jobs associated with a new capital budget. A state-employee labor union sent an e-mail claiming hundreds of union members would be laid off without a capital budget. The governor’s budget-office website acknowledges the carry-forward capital budget passed by the Legislature “does not include funding for a few hundred employees across state government.” I’d like to know just how many public employees are being paid using capital-budget dollars, which are tied to bonds, when they should be paid from the operating budget.
  • In April a group of senators that included Senator Honeyford, Senator Miloscia, and me raised concerns about the appearance of the grounds around the Legislative Building. They were so shabby that as a Washington resident, I was embarrassed that visitors from around the state and around the globe were not seeing our Capitol at its best. As a legislator, I wanted to know why the Department of Enterprise Services had allowed the upkeep to slip. While we caught some flak from social media and the news media, it seems the message was received. DES had blamed a cut in the groundskeeping budget, but even though the new budget doesn’t include more groundskeeping money, the agency appears to be catching up. Let’s see next time I’m back whether things are looking as they should.