Sine Die II (Quasi Die)

Dear 11th District Constituents,

Sine Die is the Latin phrase the Legislature uses to mean the end of session. We adjourned the 1st Special Session Sine Die last Tuesday, still without a budget, even though House Democrats agreed to the Republican demand to cut another $650 million out of their current revenue proposal by allowing the Business and Occupation tax surcharge to expire, on top of their previous proposal which had already cut $1.4 billion out of the maintenance level and education budget.

There are many reasons for the budget negotiation impasse, but the major difference is ideological. Democrats believe that policy changes should not be on the table at this point, 2½ weeks before a potential governmental shutdown. Our main job is to write a budget, and the state is running out of time. Republicans are insisting on policy changing legislation and say they are willing to shut down government to get it.

So, what kind of policy changes are Republicans willing to shut down government over? Here are a few examples:

On Tuesday, Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee passed a bill that addressed the State Supreme Court’s Bracken decision, which created a loophole in our estate tax where married couples are exempt from the tax whereas single individuals must pay. This new loophole created a $160 million hole in our budget targeted for education because the Estate tax funds the Education Legacy Trust Account. Throughout most of regular and special session, both sides assumed we’d fix this loophole. Then, about two weeks ago, the Republicans decided to leverage this basic correction to create a new tax exemption for multi-millionaire estates that would drain state education revenues for decades to come. Democrats just want to close this loophole, not create a windfall for multi-millionaires.

  • Senate Republicans forced a vote on so-called Workers Compensation reform legislation that would eliminate the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals review of structured settlement agreements and to delete the requirement that they are in “the best interests of the injured worker.” You can hear my argument against that bill here.
  • Senate Republicans forced a vote on a so-called education funding reform bill that would limit state spending in all other areas in order to fund the basic education budget. In other words, they want to squeeze funding for aged, blind, disabled, workforce training, mental health, higher ed, … basically everything and anything else to put toward basic education. You can hear my argument against that bill here.
  • Senate Republicans forced a vote on new payday lending legislation that would exploit poor people and basically legalize usury.
  • Senate Republicans forced a vote that would usurp teacher collective bargaining and eliminate due process.

All these policy votes came within the last three days of the special session, at a time when all our focus should have been on passing a budget. Normally, according to rules that are mutually agreed to at the beginning of each session and which have been followed for a hundred years, policy bills die at the policy cutoff, which was way back on Feb. 22nd. If policy bills fail to pass by cutoff, they are worked on and vetted during the interim, in hope of passing them in the next regular session. Holding policy bills hostage for the budget is a radical departure from past practices and jeopardizes our entire economy: if there is no budget in place when the fiscal year ends June 30th, then the state will face a shutdown. We’ve never been down this path in the history of the state, so it’s unknown what the impacts will be: 55,000 state employees possibly out of work with the loss of their paychecks felt everywhere from grocery stores to savings accounts; human services and business services suspended; infrastructure and housing construction halted; economic development coming to a standstill; basic and higher education closed. The list goes on and on, and it’s not a pretty sight.


There’s still time for Republicans to let go of their policy demands and focus on passing a budget, but I’m not optimistic that that’s their goal. It appears that their regressive policies that hurt the middle class in favor of a corporate agenda take precedence over a budget, and they just might send the state over the cliff to get what they want.

Gov. Jay Inslee sees this train wreck coming and has called out the Republicans on their political game playing. In a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Inslee pointed out that Democratic legislators put partisan policy goals on the back burner in order to focus on the state’s single most urgent need, the budget — and challenged Republicans to respond in kind. If you missed it, it’s well worth viewing at this link.

We’re continuing to work on achieving a mutually acceptable budget, however negotiations require good faith by both parties. Republicans either don’t know what they’re doing, or are purposefully bargaining in bad faith by continually changing demands and regressive bargaining, pushing us closer to the fiscal cliff rather than settling the budget.