In the waning days of the 2014 Legislature, the lobbying over a teacher-evaluation bill is becoming intense – and it is beginning to look ever-so-much like a showdown between the Democratic governor and the generous teacher’s union that did so much to elect him in 2012. The governor warns that if lawmakers don’t pass the bill, school districts will lose control of some $40 million in federal funds. The Washington Education Association is of a different mind. Suddenly a rather delightful question is being weighed by lawmakers: Which one has more influence? House Ds seem to have trouble making up their minds.
On Saturday you’re going to see one of the most amazing protests ever at the statehouse — an angry crowd that actually fumes. E-cigarette users and sellers are planning to storm the Capitol to show what they think of a House Democratic tax plan that would nearly double the cost. And the issue poses one of the most delightful quandaries in ages — lawmakers are happy to punish the tobacco industry, but should they use taxes to snuff a burgeoning business that appears to offer a far-safer alternative? Like the old Camel ads said, e-cigarettes tickle the T-zone. T for throat. T for taste. And T for taxes.
A long, desultory debate marks passage of the House version of the supplemental budget Tuesday night. Key thing is that it appears lawmakers will be able to resolve differences quickly — albeit with some back-room dickering over tax breaks. And then they will be able to adjourn next week and get plenty of rest before the nasty, bruising budget battle of 2015.
There definitely seems to be something odd in the air in the Legislature’s upper chamber, where a Democratic move to take over the floor was defeated Friday, but all signs seem to be pointing toward further moves in the days ahead. Much speculation centers on members Pam Roach and Don Benton, conservative Republicans who have found themselves on the outs this session, and have been critical of Majority Coalition leadership. Democrats are hinting they know where they can pick up Republican votes.
The long wait is over – the Senate Majority Coalition has finally put its transportation proposal in bill form, and it seems to show that maybe something has been happening in that back room these last couple of weeks after all. Now it’s up to the Dems – will they be willing to help pass a $12.2 billion tax increase in an election year? The details show there has been a fair amount of movement these last couple of weeks, and here’s an interesting point: The Senate would block Gov. Jay Inslee from imposing low-carbon fuel standards without a vote of the Legislature.
Lawmakers might want to savor this moment. A nearly two-hour budget debate on the Senate floor Thursday may be the high-water mark for bipartisan spirit in what is always the biggest argument of the year. Lawmakers learned to work together during five years of budget trouble, and they face big problems next year. But for now, with the economy in recovery, it looks like they are headed for easy agreement and quick adjournment next week. Even the governor says those who expect a special session must have “bet on the Broncos.”
It’s maybe one of the most confusing budget proposals in state history — a plan from the House Democrats that looks big, but really isn’t. If the supplemental budget proposal released Wednesday by House Democrats was written the normal way, lawmakers could be sure that they would be spending all springtime in Olympia waiting for a deal to be negotiated. But most of it is a conversation-starter for next year’s big tax-and-education debate. At its core the House plan is pretty much like the Senate’s, and everything points to adjournment in two weeks.
Senate Democrats have an idea they say ought to make the Supreme Court very happy – a four-year plan for spending on K-12 education that shows precisely where they would put their money, and when. Just one problem. They don’t know where the money is coming from. They’re looking at a $5-billion-or-so boost in education spending by 2018. As far as money-making ideas, though, they’re proposing a meager $100 million in new revenue, by eliminating a few business tax breaks – evergreen proposals that have been sounded time and again and never go away.
It is the kind of thing that makes strong Democrats gulp. They’re going to have to pass a teacher-evaluation bill over the opposition of the state teachers’ union, or else school districts are going to lose approximately $40 million in federal funding that now goes toward local education programs. Gov. Jay Inslee gave lawmakers the bad word from D.C. Tuesday: The feds aren’t going to bend the rules. But going against one of the most generous special interest groups in the state? Oh, my. What a terrible choice to have to make.