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.”

Paradise Silver Reef
Past Columns
Thin Green Line

June 26, 2019

A Journeyman’s Journey

June 12, 2019

Her Story

June 5, 2019

Do Overs

May 29, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

May 15, 2019

The Millworks

May 8, 2019

State of the County

May 1, 2019

A Change in Climate

April 24, 2019

The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Edge City

April 3, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

New Directions

March 13, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Events
Today
Community Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

4:00pm|Vanier Park

Scrubs Camp

8:30am|Bellingham Technical College

Perspectives from the Port

11:30am| Northwood Hall

Wellness Wednesdays

12:00pm|Skagit Riverwalk Plaza

Wednesday Farmers Market

2:00pm|Barkley Village Green

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Backdoor to Baker

6:30pm|Prime Sports Institute

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Thomas Harris and Kevin Woods Quintet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Summer Funny

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Community Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Blues and Brews

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Community Pint Night for Planned Parenthood

6:00pm

Fiction Writing Group

6:00pm|Village Books

Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Incognito

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Joe and Carol Young

6:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Life Between the Pages Dinner Book Club

6:30pm|Evolve Chocolate + Cafe

Mediterranean Mezzes

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

James and the Giant Peach

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Nunsense

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

House Concert with Yogoman and Bongo Jac

7:30pm|Chuckanut Center

Ajax

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Village Books Trove Web
Friday
Community Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Nunsense

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

James and the Giant Peach

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Marine Park

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

2:00pm|1750 LaBounty Dr.

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Orca Month Kayak Tour

5:30pm|Waypoint Park

Harper&I Dance presents Through the Decades

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Briseis

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Writer's Block, PainProv

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Comedy Benefit for Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood

9:00pm|The Shakedown

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