Will the new legislative session become "Ultimate Deadlock II: The Sequel?" Or will legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee deliberately punt dicey issues on to 2015?
And will a Legislature that has radically different ideas on how to fix the state education system be able to meet a Washington Supreme Court mandate? Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature is doing a lousy job of complying with its 2012 ruling to deal with the situation, and gave the deeply divided Legislature until April 30 to come up with a new fix-it plan.
Last year, Olympia showed itself to be borderline dysfunctional with a heavy dose of passive-aggressive behavior. Both Republicans and Democrats appeared more interested in killing each other's bills than in compromising.
Republican-controlled Senate bills on education reform and workers compensation reforms died immediately in the Democratic-controlled House. House bills on college financial aid to high school graduates whose parents are undocumented immigrants and on abortion insurance coverage were left to die in the Senate. Democrats and Republicans deadlocked 57 days beyond the end of the regular 2013 session, reaching an agreement three days prior to a partial government shutdown that would have embarrassed both sides.
There is a good chance that it will take more than a year for the two sides to agree on how build and fix highways and bridges in Washington — something that has been a bipartisan slam dunk in the past. Likewise, Inslee's push to tackle carbon emissions appears to be on hold until 2015.
So today's start of a 60-day session does not look promising. Here's a rundown of some of the big questions.
Will the Legislature get its act together on education?
In 2012, Washington's Supreme Court ruled — the so-called "McCleary decision" — that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligations on basic education, especially on student-teacher ratios, class hours in school and graduation credits. The state calculated that it needs $4 billion to $4.5 billion in extra appropriations from 2013 to 2018 to meet the Supreme Court's ruling.
Republicans have low-balled the costs of complying with McCleary, suggesting that reforms in how schools are run will lead to compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. Democrats have argued for more tax revenue — from somewhere — in order to pay for the required improvements. The two sides finally settled on allocating an extra $982 million for 2013-2015, meaning that full McCleary compliance would require much larger increases in each of the next two budgets, for 2015-17 and 2017-2019.
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court told the Legislature that it is spending too little money to meet its constitutional obligations; it gave the Legislature until April 30 to submit a catch-up plan. At a Friday Seattle City Club forum, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, and Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said the Legislature needs to raise more money to meet its McCleary obligations. "The McCleary ruling was all about education funding," Sullivan said.
But at the same forum, Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said the McCleary ruling was not necessarily about funding, but about reforms to fix the education system. And they contended that Legislature should meet all of the McCleary obligations first before mapping out budgets for other state programs such as social services. House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, objects, saying Republicans would likely be unwilling to increase taxes to preserve social services.
Bottom line: Neither side has budged from its 2013 stance.
Will Inslee ever gain traction on climate change legislation?
The answer is likely "no" for 2014. Last Thursday, Inslee conceded that the Republican Senate and Democratic House probably wouldn't agree this year on how to tackle carbon emissions, which are linked to global warming and the ocean acidification harming Washington's shellfish industry.
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