Gov. Jay Inslee has made climate change his central policy initiative of the last 20 years in office.
Yet, during the first five years of his time as governor, no significant carbon bill has been passed. No carbon bill has been passed by initiative. And, when it was time to roll out Gov. Inslee’s supplemental budget, there was no carbon bill ready to be promoted at the most important press conference to close the year.
That is not the stuff of legacy making.
And, given the broad spectrum of Democratic votes in the legislature, it’s not likely that any carbon bill will get passed in 2018 without significant leadership from the Governor’s office.
Moreover, because of the condensed 60-day session, with the first policy cut-off coming on February 2nd, there isn’t a lot of time to move legislation that hasn’t already been deeply pushed among key leadership.
So, it’s simply very hard to see a pathway for carbon-related legislation in 2018, deferring any action on Inslee’s legacy issue until some point in the future.
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Sure, there could be a NTIB bill – “needed to implement the budget.” That’s possible. The budget passage is much more tightly controlled than policy bills, allowing for much greater dissension. However, there are a number of voices in the Senate, in particular, that are not likely to support a carbon bill that is given short shrift in terms of hearings and considerations.
That said, once the motor of the executive branch gets moving, and once Inslee has a bill that he can get behind, things may change. Sure, that will come late in the regular session, and sure legislators are going to be ready to get out of town. The Senate Democrats are already saying they will be done after only 58 days.
But, that’s where Inslee’s point of maximum leverage can kick in.
By calling legislators back into special session, one that can only address the specific policy issues that the governor deems appropriate, then Inslee has the opportunity to focus everyone’s attention.
Once the session is called, then no legislator running for office will be able to fundraise for re-election. They will immediately fall into the freeze again. Even in safe partisan districts, under a “top two” primary like we have in Washington State, incumbents may face challenges from within their party.
Filing for election with county auditors doesn’t happen until early June. So, between the end of the regular session in March and the filing in June are a few months where Inslee’s leverage is at its maximum. Democratic members will have to choose between voting against their governor’s most personal of legislative policies, or voting for an issue that allows them to get back to campaigning.
This strikes me as the kind of politics that sets the table badly for a carbon bill in the 2018 regular session. I think Gov. Inslee has the table set perfectly.