Dear 11th District constituents,

Budget negotiations here in Olympia make the sport of watching grass grow feel like an Olympic event.

So what’s the hang-up with budget negotiations? There’s a fundamental difference between Democratic and Republican goals. Democrats want to fund education, jobs, and protect family safety net programs, recognizing that four consecutive years of all-cuts budgets have already had huge negative impacts and squeezed out whatever administrative efficiencies we can find. Further cuts would devastate families and the type of civilized communities we want for our children. Therefore, Democrats want to raise revenue in lieu of more budget cuts by eliminating unnecessary corporate tax loopholes that do nothing to create jobs or improve the economy. Republicans, however, insist on retaining the loopholes and instead want to cut vital state programs and apply those savings to fund our educational mandate.

Here’s where we stand: Way back on April 5th, with only three weeks left in regular session and at least a month behind schedule, Senate Republicans finally passed their “all-cuts budget” (SB 5034), which raised no new revenue, off the Senate floor. On April 12th, the House responded by voting to revise the bill with their preferred Democratic budget, which raised about $1.15 billion in revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes.

That was two months ago! Since then, the Republican majority’s reaction has been to refuse to negotiate, saying “Our work is done.” They then issued a demand that the Legislature pass 33 additional policy bills that hurt middle-class families and promote a corporate agenda of rolling back workers’ wages and benefits to boost corporate profits. Needless to say, these actions froze discussion and severely dampened any hope of striking a budget deal before the end of the special session.

This past Wednesday, in an effort to avoid going over a “fiscal cliff,” the House Democratic majority proposed a revised budget that took a giant leap toward the Republican proposal, even restoring some tax loopholes and drastically cutting the amount of new revenue. Literally within minutes — before they even had time to give the House Democrats’ proposal serious consideration — members of the Senate Republican majority issued public statements summarily rejecting the House proposal out of hand.

A day later, after being called out by the press for failing to negotiate in good faith, the Senate Republican majority held a press conference in which they claimed to be offering a compromise proposal but offered no detail, appeared confused about the facts, and wouldn’t answer the press’ questions. You can see for yourself in TVW’s video of the press conference.

On Saturday, just four days before the end of the special session, we learned that the Republicans’ claims of compromise were once again little more than rhetoric. On a caucus-line 25-23 vote, the Republican majority rolled out and passed a Senate budget that bore only minor changes from the budget they passed back during the regular legislative session. The House now has custody of the Republican Senate passed budget (SB 5034) and the Senate has custody of the Democratic House passed budget (HB 1057).


Here’s some background on how we got to this point:

Since the Great Recession started in 2008 due to the unrestrained greed of Wall Street banks, our Legislature has written four consecutive “all-cuts budgets,” slashing nearly $12 billion that was needed just to maintain existing program levels. As we entered this legislative session, we faced another revenue shortfall of $1.1 billion plus a Supreme Court requirement to significantly increase spending on basic education (the McCleary decision). So we needed more than $2 billion in new revenue just to meet current obligations.

This session also began with new leadership in the Senate. Democrats won the majority of Senate seats in the last election, 26 to 23. But after the election, the Republicans seized a one-vote, 25-24 majority control when two conservative Democrats gave the Republicans their support and were awarded the top two titled positions in the Senate. But though they were given titles and nice office space, the decision-making authority in this new caucus rests with the Republicans. Democrats remain in the majority in the House of Representatives, 56-43.

I believe you sent me here to fight for middle-class American values and I intend to fulfill that obligation to the best of my ability. Compromise is always necessary, but it takes both sides working in good faith to achieve it. Ultra-conservative goals pushed by legislators who don’t care, or even prefer, that government shut down are not what you elected me to pursue. We’re talking about real lives and the health of our communities, and we need to hold those accountable who would leave behind a “scorched earth” if their intransigent demands to gut our civilized society are not met.

As Senate Republicans refuse to meet the House Democrats halfway or even partway in budget negotiations, the fiscal calendar is running out. June 30th is the end of our fiscal year, and without a new budget our state will go over the same sort of fiscal cliff that has threatened to shut down the US government at the federal level. This has never happened in the state’s history, so it’s unclear at this time what the full consequences of not having a budget will be. That said, it’s not hard to guess what a state shutdown would look like: Senate Democrats have laid out a number of likely scenarios and none of them is very pretty. Staff analysts are working on this contingency; however, I remain committed to trying to take the fiscally responsible path and negotiate a budget settlement before June 30th.

Until next time,