March 5 was Hump Day in the 2015 legislative session, day 53 of 105, after which lawmakers adjourn. At least that’s their hope.
Here are five landmarks of the Olympia session thus far and the road ahead.
And it’s 1, 2, 3, why aren’t they fighting more? Maybe it’s the sunshine. Maybe it’s the lack of elections next fall. Or maybe everyone’s drinking a new brand of tea. Whatever the reason, the big surprise in the first half of the session is the lack of rancor under the Capitol dome.
There’s been a paucity of partisan sniping in hearings, floor debates, news conferences and even news releases. As hard as it is to imagine, lawmakers are finding ways to disagree without being disagreeable. No one predicts it can continue to the end, but House and Senate leaders are enjoying it while it lasts.
Yes they can No. 1
One of the most anticipated votes in the past three years occurred March 2, when the Republican-controlled Senate passed a $15 billion transportation package containing a gas-tax hike. Nineteen Republicans supported the plan, and none of them were facing a recall.
Attention now shifts to the House, where majority Democrats will craft a counterproposal. But it might gather a little dust before any vote. House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, a master puppeteer of making deals and passing policies, is in no hurry to act until sine die is in sight.
Yes they can No. 2
Meanwhile, Chopp flexed a little political muscle March 3 by getting House Democrats to unite behind a bill boosting the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2019. Some thought centrist Democrats would stand with Republicans against the bill, but they didn’t.
It’s now in the Republican-controlled Senate, and GOP leaders oppose it. That sets the stage for a possible encore performance by the coalition that installed Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, as Senate president pro tem on the first day. Twenty-three Democrats joined two Republicans — Roach and Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver — on that vote. They could re-unite, maybe enlist Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, and pursue a parliamentary move known as the Ninth Order to seize control of the chamber to pass the bill. Stay tuned.
Making polluters pay is a popular idea in polls and a good slogan in a campaign. Doing it is another matter. Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade proposal is parked in the Senate and inching along in the House. If it stalls, an alternative might surface that would impose a straight carbon charge.
Making the rich pay their fair share is also a popular notion and excellent slogan. To do it, Inslee wants a capital gains tax. Chopp appears to like it too. That might earn it a vote in the House later this month, but it’s a seemingly impossible sell in the Senate.
The most challenging question facing lawmakers when the session began Jan. 12 was how they would satisfy the state Supreme Court in the McCleary case. It still is.
There’s no consensus on how much money to put into the public school system to comply with the court order, where those dollars will come from and what to do about Initiative 1351, with its billion-dollar price tag for smaller classes. House Democrats will provide answers on or around March 23, when they release their budget proposal. Senate Republicans will reply with their spending plan. Then the real work begins, to wrangle a deal before the session ends April 26.
Happy hump day.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @dospueblos.