Blinks, threats and politics | Inside Politics

A historical legislative process has finally come to an end but not without gamesmanship that included blinks, threats and politics. In the process, the state operating budget was held for ransom, and the state capital budget is still in limbo.

Divine providence hangs over the capital budget’s jobs and projects, as prayers stream from both sides of the political divide over who will win the special election in the 45th District to fill the late Andy Hill’s Senate seat. Control of the state Senate is at stake, making it the most expensive legislative race in state history. And it could determine if another special session is called.

The state budget is $43.7 billion, but the main difference between parties has been in philosophy on how to implement the McCleary decision, requiring full funding for education. Republicans wanted a property tax swap that would benefit mostly rural districts populated by Republican voters, although some urban area districts, such as Federal Way, could also benefit. However, it would come at the expense of urban districts such as Seattle, which is Democratic and districts on the east side of Lake Washington that may become more Democratic. The Democrats wanted to fund education through a series of increases including capital gains, B&O and excise taxes that would be paid by higher-income residents and business. Democrats felt property taxes would hit the middle class too hard. In the end, it came down to blinksmanship, and the Democrats blinked.

The Republicans knew the Democrats would never allow a government shutdown and not only demanded the property tax swap but added a provision late in the game providing a tax break for manufacturing. The same issue had been brought up during the session and not passed. Out of time and choices, the Democrats agreed. However, they felt they could sell it as a compromise since some of the money will go for Democrat priorities, such as the mental health system, financial aid for students and pay raises for state employees.

But since Republican demands on the manufacturing provision had come late and forced the Democrats into an untenable position, the Democrats asked Gov. Jay Inslee to veto that section, which he did. That caused a huge explosion from Republicans who accused the Democrats of acting in bad faith.

Inslee says he was never asked to agree to the manufacturing provision, and it came as a late-night ultimatum to Democrat legislators. Typically, an opposing party leader would obtain the governor’s agreement to support the add-on prior to the final legislative agreement with Democrats.

With the operating budget approved and a meltdown avoided, the next special session was to finish the state capital budget. This category included several projects of local importance to Federal Way Public Schools, City Hall and Highline College. This should have gone smoother, but the Republicans took a hostage for negotiating leverage called the Hurst Water case.

In messaging for leverage, it became a property rights issue for Republicans versus environmental issue for the court and the Democrats.

The Democrats tried to compromise, but the Republicans held out. They wanted the Hurst case overturned by legislative action in a trade for the capital budget. The House and Inslee wanted the state capital budget approved without a trade for the Hurst legislation. Each side held a hostage. This time the Democrats didn’t blink: They said no deal.

The Republicans then wanted another special session to deal with both issues, but the governor heard the Senate Republicans were threatening to withhold confirmation of some of Inslee’s agency directors to gain leverage, if a special session were called. No confirmation would effectively fire the directors on the spot. This had happened before to Inslee’s transportation director in an afternoon surprise that the governor has not forgotten. Firing one of the governor’s staff in this manner is rare in Olympia and provides a wound that is never forgotten or forgiven.

Inslee decided not to take a chance and did not call a special session.

But both sides had another game in mind — the special election in the 45th District.

The late Andy Hill was a Republican. If Democrat Manka Dhingra wins, the state Senate flips from Republican to Democrat, giving Democrats control of both houses and the governor’s office.

If Jinyoung Lee Englund wins, the Republicans retain the seat, their one-vote margin and the ability to stymie the Democrats to negotiate.

On primary election night Democrat Dhingra held the lead, but it is not insurmountable, and the race could be close in November.

Jobs, projects and power rest on the outcome, including some important to Federal Way.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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