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How much time should legislators take to adopt a budget?

Media roundup: With Washington's legislature almost certain to go into a special session, commentary is focusing on the time and expense the lawmakers will use reaching agreement on a state budget.

A decision to call a special session of the legislature tends to draw controversy in the press and the blogosphere. Much of the commentary this year has been fairly mild (perhaps it seems pointless to argue that the legislature has proved itself incompetent), but questions about the length of the upcoming session have started to draw attention.

As early as today (April 21), Gov. Chris Gregoire will announce the timing of a special session for lawmakers to complete their work. When she said last week that an overtime session would be necessary to finish work on the budget, she emphasized that she wanted the session to be as short as possible and that it should not drag up a host of bills unrelated to the budget. But the governor is limited to calling a 30-day session, as Jason Mercier pointed out on the Washington Policy Blog. She can, of course, use the force of rhetoric to shorten the session, but the legislature can be remarkably deaf to criticism.

If lawmakers were to call the session themselves, Mercier noted, the session could, in fact, be limited. And he argued for that:

At the potential cost of $20,000 a day, Washingtonians don't need another 30-day free-for-all to facilitate more creative lawmaking.

Instead of relying on the Governor to call a new 30-day special session, lawmakers should instead call themselves back for a very limited special session focused only on finishing their unresolved budget work.

An editorial in Spokane's Spokesman-Review pointedly expressed exasperation with lawmakers and suggested Gregoire make them sit at home awhile before having a special session:

If Gregoire sends lawmakers home for a spell, it will give legislative leaders time to craft workable budgetary compromises. Then, the full membership could return to Olympia to wrap business up in a matter of days rather than weeks.

Think of the difference in $20,000 chunks, measured in laid-off workers or families without Basic Health Care.

There's one paper, by the way, that has continued to argue against the conventional wisdom about the necessity of a special session and it's The Olympian, which tends to be quite savvy in its understanding of state government. An editorial on Wednesday (April 20) said the House and Senate budgets are close enough in their spending ideas to pass a budget that would send lawmakers home on Sunday (April 24), the regular session's deadline. The editorial put the argument in terms designed to catch the attention of Democratic leaders, who have the majority in both houses:

If Democrats go into overtime, it will be their third consecutive special session. Therefore, voters have a right to ask whether majority Democrats, led by [Senate Majority Leader Lisa] Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp, are capable of effective leadership during challenging budget times.

A final point about the costs of a special session: Olympian reporter Brad Shannon wrote that, by one estimate, the added expense may be somewhat less than expected, perhaps totaling no more than $14,200 per day or roughly $425,000 for 30 days.

Link summary

The Seattle Times, "Gregoire says special session needed to finish budget"

Jason Mercier, Washington Policy Blog, "Special session: Budget overtime or 30-day free-for-all?"

Spokesman-Review editorial, "For budget's sake, keep special session to a minimum"

The Olympian editorial, "With effort, legislature can finish work and get done on time"

The Olympian, "Special session costs likely under $425,000"

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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