Inslee, Legislature still drifting toward shutdown

The situation became more complicated when the House failed to pass a key transportation measure -- one proposed by the majority Democrats.
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Gov. Jay Inslee

The situation became more complicated when the House failed to pass a key transportation measure -- one proposed by the majority Democrats.

Another day passed Wednesday without a budget deal from the closed-door talks between the state Senate and House.

Meanwhile, the Democrat-versus-Republican deadlock in Olympia just got more complicated.

That's because the Washington House voted 48-42 in favor of the Democrats'  $10 billion transportation revenue package Wednesday, but it needed 50 votes — a constitutional majority for a body with 98 seats — for the bill to pass. A gas tax increase appears to be the biggest stumbling block.

In a parliamentary maneuver, Rep. Mark Liias, D-Edmonds, switched his 49th "yes" vote to "no" at the last second.

That was so he could call for a revote — which he soon did — because he was on the "prevailing side" of Wednesday's vote, with the House's rules allowing that move. So, a new vote will be held today or Friday to try to pass the package, which includes a 10.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase. Washington's last gas tax increase was in 2005.

"We need one vote. We now know who those folks are. ... Folks were moving around. It's a tough vote," Liias said about learning which unknown votes supported the package and which opposed it Wednesday.

The voting math broke down like this. Democrats have 54 of their 55 members in Olympia with the 55th, Dean Takko of Longview in Asia at the moment. The Republicans lost one of their 43 members when Steve O'Ban of rural Pierce County, was appointed to the Senate to replaced Mike Carrell of Lakewood, who recently died. Six Republicans were absent Wednesday, leaving a 54-36 split by party.

But six Democrats voted against the package. They were Reps. Brian Blake of Aberdeen, Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, Kathy Haigh of Shelton, Chris Hurst of Enumclaw, Monica Stonier of Vancouver and Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim.

One Republican  — Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup — voted for it. Democrats hoped a handful of Republicans would cross the aisle on this matter. But those potential Republican voters recently received heavy lobbying from their leaders, said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island and chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.

Republicans did not like the gas tax hike and the $10 billion size, plus they said they don't trust the Washington Department of Transportation to manage projects well.

"I see a package that spends too much on projects and not enough on maintenance. ... You can't change the system today if you keep feeding the beast," said Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, criticized the bill for calling for workers on the transportation projects to be paid prevailing wages, saying that accounts for $3 billion of the $10 billion package.

The package calls for a 6 cents a gallon gas tax increase to the current rate of 38 cents on Aug. 1, and another 4.5 cents hike on July 1, 2014. The House package also calls for replacing the Portland-Vancouver bridge over the Columbia River and extending State Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma. It call for widening State Route 12 near Walla Walla and setting up a highway interchange in Benton County's Red Mountain wine country — both overwhelmingly Republican areas. The House Democrats are gambling that the those projects plus the State Route 167 extension will prompt those area's constituents to persuade their Republican representatives and senators to vote for the $10 billion House package.

And, if conventional political assumptions are right, House Speaker Frank Chopp has also calculated that getting a few Republican votes will allow him to spare some of the vulnerable Democrats in tightly balanced districts from having to cast politically risky votes for a gas tax. Over the years, political observers have repeatedly noticed a similr pattern for in the Chopp-led House, although the brinksmanship around a possible government shutdown has rarely if ever been so dramatic. Chopp, who prefers to wield power behind the scenes, never talks publicly about the strategy, though occasionally a ranking Democrat will

Clibborn expects the Senate to dramatically change any transportation package leaving the House, with the two chambers having to negotiate a compromise. It is theoretically possible for the Legislature to tackle the transportation package in July after it reaches an agreement on the operating budget. And it is theoretically possible for the Senate to decide not to tackle a transportation revenue package until 2014. Right now, the Senate has a one-vote majority opposing the Vancouver-Portland bridge replacement, which is supported by both the House and Senate Democrats.

Meanwhile, House Democrats and the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus had not reached a compromise on the 2013-2015 operating budget as of late Wednesday with representatives from the two sides saying they are getting closer. But the two sides have been saying they are close to a deal and are getting closer for at least a week.

Also getting closer is Sunday, which is the end of the fiscal 2011-2013 biennium. If no budget is in place, 26,000 state employees will be put on unpaid leave, and numerous state agencies will completely or partly shut down with Monday's start of the biennium.

Both sides are largely mum on what the current disputed issues are.

In fact, they temporarily could not agree on whether an agreement was reached Wednesday.

Late Wednesday morning, the State Majority Coalition Caucus announced that an agreement was reached, promoting Gov. Jay Inslee's spokesman David Postman and House Speaker Chopp to immediately reply that no agreement had been reached.

One new issue popped up a week or so ago when the Senate added a fish study to the negotiations agenda, Dunshee said. Senate Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler declined to say Wednesday why the fish study issue was added to the budget talks.

But the Boeing Co. does not like an upcoming change in the state regulations that ties the amount of area fish eaten by area resident to setting the allowable level of pollutants that industrial facilities can discharge into those same waters. The stricter pollution discharge requirements could lead to expensive upgrades in those discharge systems. "The Democrats are not worried about keeping high-paying manufacturing jobs in Washington state," said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Boeing wants a study on the numbers and types of fish consumed in Washington, plus on who caught the fish where. Boeing and the Senate want that study done before the new pollution discharge regulations go into effect. Gov. Jay Inslee and the House Democrats have opposed the study, saying it will delay measures designed to protect human health. Dunshee said the study could take two to three years. Dunshee said a compromise is being worked in which the new regulations would go into effect as planned and the study would be started; the regulations would be revisited after the study results are known.

Dunshee noted the state's tribes — whose people have fish-heavy diet procured from the state's waters — strongly want the new regulations. "If it was your children being poisoned, you'd be pretty adamant about it," Dunshee said.

The Senate's last public 2013-2015 operating budget proposal called for spending $33.2 billion, while the House's last public proposal called for $33.5 billion. Both proposals were made public weeks ago, and are likely outdated. Education spending, higher education tuition, workers compensation and closing tax loopholes were dividing lawmakers at that point. But no one is saying what issues have been resolved since then.

Meanwhile, Inslee's cabinet met Wednesday to discuss the nuts and bolts of a partial government shutdown with the hope that scenario does not materialize. After that meeting Mary Alice Heuschel, Inslee's chief of staff, said agencies must start sending notices this week to people receiving state services. Here are some major shutdown-related notices to be sent.

  • The Health Care Authority must notify 26,000 state-only-funded Medicaid recipients that they will no longer receive benefits as of Monday. These are mostly limited-English-speaking residents.
  • The Department of Social and Health Services will notify about 11,500 vocational rehabilitation clients, plus tens of thousands of adults, children and elderly that the services they are using won't be available as of Monday.
  • Electrical inspections will halt on Monday, delaying numerous construction projects.
  • Roughly 7,000 reservations to state parks for the first week of July will not be available. Notifications have already been sent to large events, including a fiddle festival with more than 5,000 people scheduled to attend.
  • The Department of Enterprise Services will notify 1,400 state contractors that their contract will be suspended temporarily.
  • The Department of Licensing will suspend processing thousands of professional license applications and renewals.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8