Olympia's tempestuous week: Passive-aggressive politics in play

Court decision is unlikely to bring a rush to impose higher taxes.
Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee Crosscut

Passive aggression. Deliberately missed signals. Pots calling kettles black. Semantic dodges. Convoluted arguments. He-said-she-said. Stiletto-like psychological games.

Scenes from a rough patch in marriage? A marriage completely on the rocks?

Or the past week in the Washington Legislature? A week in which Republican and Democrat legislators have been getting under each others' skins.

We'll start with the big one.

For years, Democrats and Republicans have needled each other over tax hikes. Democrats want to be able to create new taxes or close loopholes with a simple majority. Republicans always said higher taxes would screw the economy, are a budgetary cop-out, and are just plain bad. With anti-tax initiative mastermind Tim Eyman in their corner, the outnumbered Republicans have had an ace in the  hole — an off-and-on law that a two-thirds majority is needed to raise taxes or close loopholes.

Democrats always griped about a minority blocking their plans. Republican legislators always complained about having to hang on against tax-and-spend Dems. The point-counterpoint arguments have been practically ritualized, like the bickering of an old couple. In 2011, Democrats put into action an intricate plan to deliberately have an attempt to close a tax loophole fail in the House, setting into motion a winding court journey to force the Washington Supreme Court to rule on whether the supermajority rule is constitutional.

And on Thursday, the Democrats won. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the supermajority requirement is unconstitutional. Democrats were cautious in their celebration, saying they are not the tax mongers that they are painted out to be, and that they will play nice with the GOP legislators to hammer out a 2013-2015 budget that might include new taxes.

Eyman sulked. And Republican senators struck back two ways — a frontal blitz that will probably fail and a passive-aggressive measure that could work.

The GOP blitz is a putting a bill on the fast track for a full Senate vote to let Washingtonians vote in November on whether to insert the supermajority-needed-for-taxes requirement into the state constitution. "The answer is to change the constitution," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

Since sending a constitutional amendment to the voters requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, this bill is doomed. It won't even pass the Senate with 24 Democrats opposing it. But Republicans have all but said those upcoming no votes would make good albatrosses to inflict on those same Dems in future election campaigns.

The passive-aggressive approach could be more effective for the 23-Republican-two-Democrat coalition controlling in the Senate. That majority means that alliance is in charge of the Senate Rules Committee, which decides whether a bill goes to a full Senate vote. And the alliance controls the Senate Ways and Means Committee through which all tax bills must go.

Bottom line: The alliance can make sure no tax increase or closing-of-a-tax-loophole bill ever makes it to a full Senate vote — even measures that previously passed the House. Majority coalition leader, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said the coalition would allow through only tax bills that a preliminary count of votes would show two-thirds of the Senate already supporting them.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, president of the Senate and in charge of interpreting its internal rules, is in uncharted parliamentary territory. He will have the constitutionality of Tom's plan legally researched if Democrats challenge it on the full Senate floor.

*****

House Democrats are pushing a $10 billion transportation package. The key piece is a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike, something that Gov. Jay Inslee said he would consider.

But on Wednesday, House and Senate Republican leaders claimed the Washington Department of Transportation has made so many mistakes that it is not worthy of  receiving any new tax revenue.

There is a litany of self-created WSDOT troubles. Higher-than-normal ferry construction costs. New ferries that lean to the side when empty. Sloppy design work resulting in $100 million worth of useless State Route 520 bridge pontoons, which ticked off the normally affable Inslee. To Republican leaders, these are exhibits that the transportation department is a money pit.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Mar 1, 11:20 p.m. Inappropriate

The "progressives" have only one mission: to raise taxes. This will become the WA Democratic Party's mission. The only question is whether the WA Repubs are too stuck on stupid to take advantage.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Mar 2, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Inslee has yet to provide any leadership, he is a Special Sauce, passive aggressive placeholder for the party. Where are the reforms Mr. Inslee? Where are we with system wide implementation of your Lean programs? How many of your 75 points are making progress? Where are you on your "no new taxes" pledge? You are burning through your first 100 days with little to show for it. Much like the all of your previous years of holding elected office.

Cameron

Posted Sun, Mar 3, 11:14 a.m. Inappropriate

A Governor is an administrator, not a legislator.

sarah90

Posted Mon, Mar 4, 4:25 a.m. Inappropriate

If the Governor is an administrator, Washington State should really consider hiring a professional instead of Inslee.

Cameron

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