The Gristle

Zero Hour

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

ZERO HOUR: It is certainly true that if one party in a negotiation wants several things and the other party wants only one thing, then the other party that wants only one thing is severely leveraged over the party that wants several—and particularly so when the single thing that’s wanted is to categorically deny the several things wanted by the first party. This is the dynamic that has forced the state Legislature toward a fiscal cliff and government shutdown.

A visibly irritated Governor Jay Inslee called for a third special session last week, after the Legislature ended their second special session with no budget agreement. Inslee had earlier threatened to call no additional session in order to force lawmakers to the negotiating table.

If the Legislature cannot pass a 2017-2019 budget by June 30—this Friday—then certain state offices and facilities will start closing that same day and be totally shut down on July 1. And they’re very close, working in sessions late into the evening, which is perhaps why the governor eased his own pressure on their deliberations by granting them more time.

“Last night we worked in committee until 2am, the previous night the same,” Sen. Kevin Ranker admitted. “Look, I don’t put in those kinds of long, long, late hours unless we’re close, and we’re extremely close. If you see me leaving early, that’s a problem,” the Democrats’ top budget writer laughed. The Orcas Island Democrat predicted an agreement before clock runs out at the end of the week.

The sticking point, as it has been throughout the regular and successive special sessions in Olympia, is the funding of public education as required under the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

“For some time, Republicans and Democrats have both agreed that we needed to make a monumental investment in K through 12 education,” Ranker said. “There has, however, been a difference on how we pay for it.”

For the bulk of the regular session, Republicans insisted no new revenues were necessary for a response to McCleary, an investment in public education most budget analysts have pegged at $7 billion. Late in the session, unable to pencil the requirements to fully fund public education through cuts alone, Republicans proposed a massive property tax realignment. Under the Republican plan, the myriad local property tax levies that are currently providing for the operations of schools would ease and be replaced by a statewide levy. But the proposal would hit areas with high property values hard—raising taxes in urban areas and politically blue districts—while having limited (or perhaps even beneficial) effect in areas with low property values—rural areas, and particularly those in the eastern portion of the state, and red districts politically.

Democrats wanted new revenue and new forms of revenue in order to reduce the burden on the state’s heavily subscribed mix of property and sales taxes. Democrats sought a tax on high-end capital gains and balked at the Republican proposal, believing it continued to inflame the state’s regressive tax structure. Politically, the GOP plan is a poison pill that punishes liberal districts of Puget Sound to the political gain of conservatives inland.

“In the past few years, lawmakers in Washington state have passively relied on revenue growth from the shaky economic recovery in order to make sluggish progress toward fully funding schools, per the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate,” analysts at Washington State Budget & Policy Center commented. “This approach has been both inadequate—the Legislature is currently being held in contempt for failing to fully fund schools—and irresponsible, since most or all of the revenue growth will vanish when the next recession strikes.”

The leverage here is fully with Republicans, who’ve allowed several years to glide by without a solution to McCleary. And their leverage is particularly ferocious now, with a looming shutdown of government that they might turn to political advantage into the fall.

“Republicans and Democrats are working tirelessly to get it done and make sure we don’t have a shutdown,” Ranker said. “What’s disappointing is there is even a threat of a shutdown. The people of Washington deserve better.”

While neither party wants to plunge over the fiscal cliff, Republican lawmakers have made it clear they’re willing to do so to achieve larger goals.

At this hour, and with many more hours of negotiation to go, it appears likely the Republicans will achieve their plan to realign property tax to fund public education. And (the Gristle predicts) the property tax will be approved on strictly partisan lines, with Republicans having sufficient votes in the Senate to pass the realignment on their own.

The budget makes enormous strides in meeting state requirements under McCleary, but it does so by being bare bones in the funding of other state programs, including those that assist lower incomes, women’s and children’s health, and the environment.

On the last, the state’s land and shoreline protections are just pummeled in this budget. And a general surrender on Hirst, the Supreme Court ruling on rural wells, will almost certainly be painfully extracted from Democrats in this last-minute exchange.

Republican senators have insisted on an agreement on water rights policy before they’ll engage in talks on a capital spending plan. The Republican solution to Hirst essentially nullifies the Supreme Court ruling by reasserting full circle that rural wells are exempt from larger considerations of water quantity. It’s a “fix” that may trigger another furious round of well digging, but not one likely to long satisfy the high court protections of senior water rights.

It’s a discouraging era for Democrats—chided by the left to seek higher values and more noble goals, but insufficient in numbers in their caucus to robustly defend even the values and goals we currently have. A wall cannot be built while the sea rushes in.

Sugar Ray
Past Columns
Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Paradigms in Collision

November 28, 2018

Leftover Turkey

November 21, 2018

The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Climate Kids

October 31, 2018

What The Market Won’t Bear

October 24, 2018

As Above, So Below

October 17, 2018

As Below, So Above

October 10, 2018

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Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

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10:00am

Makerspace Classes

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Kinky Boots
Tomorrow
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

The Addams Family

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Shakespeare in Love

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

West Side Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Cupid's Arrow

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Richard III

7:30pm|Phillip Tarro Theater

Fragrance Lake 50K

6:00am|Larrabee State Park

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Smelt Run

9:00am|La Conner High School

Children's Literature Conference

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Community Work Party

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Whatcom Falls 5K

10:00am|Whatcom Falls Park

Assistance League Anniversary Sale

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Kids Cooking Class

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Recreation Northwest EXPO

11:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Hearty Party 5K

11:00am|Max Higbee Center'

Wildlife Photography with Andy Porter

11:00am|Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Reserve

Deep Forest Experience

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Tax Help Available

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Wine Tasting with Duckhorn Vineyards

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"Beatlemania/Beatlemedia

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Forestry and Wildlife Panel

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Waterway Tour

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The Fellowship of Fire

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Village Books Kinky Boots
Sunday
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

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