With the future of education in question; need for improvements in services for the poor, infirm and elderly; significant needs in transportation to get our products to the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma; bridges in need of upgrade; the ferry system in need of funding and the concern over new scientific warnings about the future of our planet, the state Legislature is off to a roaring — ah, nope they’re pretty much just playing politics.
With so much at stake, many voters hoped the hallmark of the 2015 legislative session would be cooperation. If it is, it’s a long way off. An old political saying is “there are two things you should never see being made, sausage and laws.” Judging by the first two weeks, a lot of sausage is going to be made this session and it won’t be pretty.
The Republicans are barely in charge of the Senate and the Democrats have a small margin in the House. Each House has the ability to kill the others’ legislation. The Democrats, despite losing legislative numbers, also have the governor and his veto pen if needed.
Historically, as the Legislature is about to convene, the two parties make misleading, but hopeful, statements pledging cooperation in finding common ground. This year the budget writers for each House didn’t even get through the first press conference before the disagreements came out.
Then, the first day of the session, which is usually marked by pomp and ceremony, actually became the setting for an old fashion payback. With 23 minority votes, Democrats joined Republicans Pam Roach and Don Benton to make Roach the president pro-tem of the Senate. Republicans didn’t see the trap coming and didn’t have enough votes to re-elect Democrat Tim Sheldon to the post. Sheldon joined the Republican caucus two years ago. The president pro-tem of the Senate stands in for lieutenant governor as president of the Senate when he is unavailable and is largely ceremonial, but can have some influence.
Roach and new Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia from Federal Way are both strong labor supporters. If the Senate Democrats can maintain discipline with their 23 votes and get help from Roach and Miloscia they may be able to pass legislation over the Republican majority and send it to a favorable Democratic House and governor. To test the point, they started introducing pro-labor legislation, such as pay raises for state employees.
But the Republicans were not sitting by acting like statesmen. In trying to balance the budget, without hurting other services, legislative Democrats along with Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee have been floating some tax increase options.
Some moderate Republicans could be open to new revenue in some areas. The Republicans passed a motion the first day of the session to require a two-thirds affirmative vote on any new tax question. While legally questionable, it does set a tone of hard ball for any negotiations and will likely keep moderates in line for now.
Even though revenue is up, it is nowhere near sufficient to pay for all the needs in the view of Democrats, and new taxes will be required to pay for all of them. Republicans’ new mantra is “fund education first,” which is code for “starve the rest of government and no new taxes.” Neither party’s first two weeks set the tone for high-minded cooperation and statesmanship above politics that the public was hoping for.
Also, Miloscia is chair of a committee on efficiency and may be able to help with local funding needs. If he helps labor they may help him with other legislators in trying to solve Federal Way’s homeless issues. Our House members Carol Gregory (D), and Linda Kochmar (R) are from different parties, which may be helpful to Federal Way if they co-sponsor some bills. The caution is that Republican leadership does not want Gregory to look good, as they want to defeat her in November.
Conversely, Democrats, who control the House, do want Gregory to look good and hopefully retain the seat. Kochmar needs Gregory and Gregory needs Kochmar. It will be fun to watch.
And Inslee? He has been hitting all the right issues for his constituency. Services for the poor and homeless, protect the environment, ask the rich to pay more and support for colleges. With close margins in the two chambers, Inslee is positioning himself for both the difficult negotiations ahead and for re-election.
Much of what will happen over the next five months will set the stage for the 2016 elections when control of the Legislature will be up for public vote. But the big prize is that the governorship and all the statewide offices will be up for election again. The Republicans want to make Democratic office holders, particularly Inslee, look vulnerable.
Democrats want control just as much. Both parties will introduce legislation to make each other cast difficult votes that will be used in next year’s campaigns.
The difference in the two views of how to conduct state business, and at what cost, is dramatically different.
They will eventually get an agreement, but it will take the full session and it won’t be pretty.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com.