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.”

BTown
Past Columns
Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017

Blockadia

September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

The Last, Best Solution

August 9, 2017

Fire and Water III

August 2, 2017

Fire and Water II

July 26, 2017

Fire and Water

July 19, 2017

Some Assembly Required

July 12, 2017

Good, Bad, Ugly

July 5, 2017

Zero Hour

June 28, 2017

Standoff

June 21, 2017

Events
Today
Home for the Holidays

5:00pm|Ferndale Events Center

The 39 Steps

7:00pm|Sehome High School Little Theatre

Little Women

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Romeo, You Idiot!

7:30pm|Heiner Theater

Fools

7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Craft Bazaar

9:00am|American Legion Post #43

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Used Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Red Barn Handpicked Holiday Market

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

3:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

It's Where the Sidewalk Ends

6:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

New Music, New Dance

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Big Short One-Act Festival

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Pancake Feed

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Holiday Bazaar

9:00am|Hillcrest Chapel

Christmas in the Woods

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Acme Elementary School

Turkey Trot

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Climate Reality

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

South Fork Winterfest

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Fall Gardening

10:00am|Lynden Library

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Everson Library

Salmon Sighting

12:00pm|Haynie Creek

Conquering Writer's Block

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fishboy Holiday Show

2:00pm|FishBoy Gallery

NaNoWriMo and Indie Publishing

3:00pm|Everson Library

Skagit Wine & Beer Festival

3:00pm|Eaglemont

Homeless Summit and Cold Weather Giveaway

3:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

i.e. artists talk

3:30pm|i.e. gallery

Small Works Opening

4:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Smith & Vallee Artist Talk

4:00pm| Smith & Vallee Gallery

WA 129 Poetry Reading

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Giving from the Heart

7:00pm|Depot Art Center

A Light in the Darkness

7:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Welcome Home Celebration

7:00pm|Village Books

Ruach Consort

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Eagles Hall

Michael Kaeshammer

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Legends of the Blues V

7:30pm|Byrnes Performing Arts Center

Trove
Tomorrow
Peter and the Star Catcher

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Fools

7:30pm|Mount Baker High School

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Bellingham Repertory Dance's Emerge

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Rexville Grange Holiday Art Show

10:00am|Rexville Grange

Cheese Fest

10:00am|Everybody's Store

Holiday Farmers Market

10:00am|Port of Anacortes Transit Shed Event Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Getting in on the act

1:00pm

Sound of Music Singalong

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

A Musical Thanksgiving

2:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Harmony from Discord with Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The 25th Hour

4:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Rutie Dornfeld, John Miller

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

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Monday
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|Meridian Street

Wander + Camber Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Camber Cafe

Rocks & Gems

7:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

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