I pulled into my driveway in Sunnyside late on the afternoon of March 31. The final day of this year’s regular legislative session had been scheduled for March 10, but the stubborn support for tax increases on the part of the Democrats who control the House of Representatives had unnecessarily pushed us into overtime.
Twenty days into the so-called “special” session, I was finally voting for an operating-budget update restrained in its spending, containing no new taxes and balancing over four years, as state law requires. Two days later, I was filling my car with suits and ties and making my way back over the pass, headed for home.
When the governor called for the Legislature to continue working past the end of the regular session, people around our state grumbled about partisan politics and wondered why there was yet another special session. I understand, and share, their frustration.
The reality is that overtime periods have been the rule, rather than the exception, since 1980, when the Legislature started meeting on its current annual schedule.
Anyone who thinks the cause is a divided Legislature – meaning the House and Senate are controlled by different parties – need only check the numbers.
When Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office from 2010 through 2012, the Legislature met for an average 35.3 extra days. Since our Majority Coalition Caucus began leading the Senate in 2013, the average number of extra days per session has been virtually the same, at 35.5.
The caucus formed when like-minded Republicans and Democrats banded around a set of leadership principles: encouraging job growth, building a world-class education system and creating a sustainable budget that doesn’t raise taxes. Another of our shared priorities is accountability, and so we have also made substantial progress on reforms that demand that your hard-earned tax dollars are going where they are supposed to be.
The legislation we champion reflects those shared ideals. This deliberate form of governance not only stands in stark contrast to the actions coming from the majority party in the House and the governor’s office – it is the true cause of the additional days we have been forced to spend in Olympia.
Those of us who have been at the negotiation table understand reaching a compromise means no one will get everything they want. There’s a saying in Olympia that the best agreements leave “everyone equally unhappy.”
However, when those seated across the table from our majority caucus seem to lack restraint when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars and growing government, it is challenging to reach middle ground in a timely manner.
Fortunately for taxpayers, it took only 20 extra days this year for House budget negotiators to abandon their push for new taxes – a position they had taken although their fellow Democrats wouldn’t bring tax increases to a vote. The relatively short overtime and resulting no-new-taxes supplemental budget were probably a relief to the governor, as he was likely chomping at the bit to begin campaigning for re-election and not anxious to defend a needless tax hike on top of the rest of his sorry record.
Next January, I’ll be back at the Capitol for a “long” 105-day session, prepared to work on brand-new two-year operating and capital budgets. Big elections with potentially huge ramifications will play out between now and then.
Regardless of the outcome, the members of my caucus will continue to build on the results of our guiding principles and respond to the needs of the people who elected us.
— State Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, represents the 15th Legislative District. Contact him at 360-786-7684 or Jim.Honeyford@leg.wa.gov.
The original opinion editorial, published April 8, 2016, can be viewed here.