The Gristle

Half Time

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

HALF TIME: The 2017 Washington State Legislature struck a milestone in their 105-day regular session last week, passing the last day to move bills out of committee in their organizing chamber. A lot of proposed bills were trapped in committee this session, and that’s become a new strategy for the Republican caucus in Olympia: Introduce a slew of controversial bills that have little chance of passing a general vote and allow them to chew up limited committee time, then refuse to allow those and other bills that might pass to come to the floor of the full chamber for a vote.

Republican leadership is able to decide what bills pass in the Senate not by ordering their members to vote a certain way, but by tightly controlling which bills are allowed to come up for a vote at all. The strategy permits Republicans to curry favor with their lobbyists and donors, while demonstrating their bona fides with hardline constituents without exposing themselves by means of an official vote to the wrath of a more moderate general public.

It’s how Republicans survive in a moderate state with plenty of progressive core values like Washington. And it is an approach that allows Republican values—which favor the paralysis of government and inability of progressive goals to move forward—to carry the session in Olympia.

In truth, the Legislature has probably cleared its most burdensome hurdle this session, passing a bill out of committee sponsored by Representative Kris Lytton (D-Anacortes) to stall the impacts of a school levy lid for one more year. A companion bill also passed in the state Senate’s chamber of origin. The two bills must be reconciled.

Under current law, school districts’ taxation authority was scheduled to go down in January 2018, and the resulting “levy cliff” would force districts to make severe cuts in coming months—most notably in teachers’ salaries, which unresolved would force the layoff of hundreds of teachers around the state by September. Bellingham School District, for example, is looking at budget cuts amounting to $3.7 million without relief. Other area school districts were similarly impacted. Yet removing the levy cliff also reduces the urgency to fix the state’s school-funding system before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in April.

Republicans sought a showdown on their proposal to fund public education through a proposed “levy swap,” reducing local property tax levies for schools and replacing them with a statewide property tax to meet the state Supreme Court’s requirements in the 2012 McCleary ruling that the state must fully meet basic education funding needs. Republicans needed the levy cliff in place to cause Democrats’ sufficient pain to surrender to their plan. To that end, representatives of the 42nd District, Vincent Buys and Luanne Van­Werven, joined their majority caucus and voted against 40th District Lytton’s proposed levy cliff extension. A dozen Republicans in districts less safe than the 42nd came over to pass the extension in the lower House.

Overall, the essential problem with the Republicans’ levy swap solution to McCleary is it once again allows the Legislature to dodge a clear legislative, budgetary function and constitutional duty assigned to that body by the courts, and kick the burden back on state voters. With the high bar of 60 percent approval required for property tax levies under Washington law—and the dead certainty no Republican leaders would actually campaign in favor of the levy swap they’re proposing—the statewide measure would likely fail, leaving the state exactly where it is with the funding of schools. But, hey, the People Will Have Spoken.

The larger problem facing Republicans this session is they do not hold a majority in the lower House, and they struggle to maintain even their hairsbreadth hold on the Senate, reduced to a tie created by the resignation of state Sen. Brian Dansel (R-Republic) who has taken a job with the Trump administration as special assistant to the U.S. agriculture secretary.

The situation of Republicans is worsened by the repeated absences of state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), who has likewise taken a position with Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. Lacking Dansel’s integrity, Ericksen has pledged he will be able to do both jobs. Yet he’s been AWOL from about 75 percent of his meetings and votes in Olympia this session, while still drawing full salary and comps.

Ties in the Senate will be resolved by recently elected Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib, a Democrat who has made it clear that he wouldn’t hesitate to use the office to block legislation or cast a tie-breaking vote on crucial legislation—thus ending the Republicans’ so-called Majority Coalition Caucus they’ve worked since 2012 to ensure the paralysis of that body.

And thus Republican aims are now best served by refusing to allow matters to come to a floor for a vote at all, letting escape only those uncontested enough to draw nearly universal support. To date, lawmakers have passed a total of 57 bills (42 in the House, 17 in the Senate) almost all by unanimous or near-unanimous votes.

Commenting on the impact of Ericksen’s absences, Sen. Kevin Ranker noted, “We’ve had very little floor action, because the Republicans only hold a one-seat majority. So when Doug is gone it is 24-24, and the Lt. Governor breaks the tie. Republicans will not allow anything to come to the floor when Doug is not there and there is a chance it won’t go their way,” the Orcas Island Democrat said. “So no major legislation is on the floor unless Doug is there. And because his attendance is sporadic, we have hearings with no notice, votes with no notice, executive sessions with no notice. It does not create good government.”

Bob1
Past Columns
A Deeper Dive

August 15, 2018

Blue Wave Stalls Offshore

August 8, 2018

Mountains of Our Efforts

August 1, 2018

Vote

July 25, 2018

Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Bungle in the Jungle?

May 23, 2018

Heating Up

May 16, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

State of the County

May 2, 2018

Symptoms of Pain

April 25, 2018

A Last Ditch Effort

April 18, 2018

Much ADUs About Nothing

April 11, 2018

The Sin of Sinclair

April 4, 2018

Events
Today
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Northwest Washington Fair

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

8:00am

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bow Farmers Market

1:00pm|Samish Bay Cheese

Blues and Brews

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Food Preservation Workshop

5:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Jazz Jam

5:30pm|Illuminati Brewing

Fairhaven Wine Walk

5:30pm|Historic Fairhaven

Ales & Sails

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Bellingham Go Club

6:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Riverwalk Concert Series

6:00pm|Riverwalk Plaza.

Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Pub Run

6:00pm|BBay Running

Choice

7:00pm|Village Books

Summer of Blood Finales

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Hound of the Baskervilles

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Northwest Washington Fair

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

8:00am

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Summer of Blood Finales

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Hound of the Baskervilles

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Summer's End Music & Art Gathering

12:00pm|Zuanich Point Park

Drive for the Arts

1:00pm|Swinomish Golf Links

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Roadeo

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Wheelchair Gangball

5:00pm|Bloedel Donovan

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Anacortes Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Seafarers' Memorial Park

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Commercial Street Night Market

6:00pm|Commercial Street

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Whiskey Fever

7:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Hot August Nights

7:00pm|Majestic

Hotbox

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Push it to the Limit

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Trove Web 2018 Cascadia Kids
Saturday
Northwest Washington Fair

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

8:00am

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Summer of Blood Finales

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Hound of the Baskervilles

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Hotbox

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Push it to the Limit

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Wild Edibles and Medicinal Plants of Summer

8:30am|Heather Meadows

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Garden Party

11:00am|www.skagitfoodcoop.com

Job Fair and BBQ

11:00am|Taylor Driving Schools

Dwindling orcas and expanding pipelines

1:00pm

Mosaic Stepping Stone Workshop

1:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Skagit Woodstock

2:00pm|Edgewater Park

Storytelling with Felted Puppets

2:00pm|Lummi Island Library

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Arete Quartet

6:00pm|Boulevard Park

The Naughty Blokes

6:00pm|Heart of Anacortes

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Point Roberts Joke Contest

7:00pm|Point Roberts Community Center

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Trove Web 2018 Cascadia Kids Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bob2