The final days of a regular session are notably hectic and unpredictable. As Jerry Cornfield writes in the Everett Herald,
With the 60-day session set to end Thursday, the House and Senate are still seeking agreement on how to pay for last year’s wildfires, shore up staffing at state psychiatric hospitals and ensure a future for charter schools in Washington.
He mentions other items as well, including teacher and trooper shortages. It’s a good summary of where the session stands today. He also points out the pressure of an on-time end.
With negotiations under way on those and other issues, expect a hectic pace these next four days. Most lawmakers want to avoid overtime and any semblance of a repeat of 2015 in which they labored through a record 178 days and three extra sessions.
And yet, there are rumors that lawmakers may require more time to resolve the budget. And then there are the inevitable linkages made to line up majorities. But, as Rep. Bruce Chandler writes,
The old adage in Olympia is pick a rumor and spread it. The Legislature is run on coffee, stale doughnuts and rampant rumors.
Chandler, ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee that deals with budgets says lawmakers may be unable to reach a compromise and adjourn without passing a supplemental budget. We still think that’s unlikely, but it’s also possible. Back to Cornfield’s report,
House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said the biggest challenge is the differences in the budgets put forth by the majority party in each chamber. But they are not irreconcilable differences.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be out of here except for the stubbornness on both sides,” he said.
One issue that’s received maybe less attention than it deserves is a Senate proposal to merge a couple of pension plans. The Seattle Times editorial board likes it.
AS the state of Washington struggles to pay its bills for education, mental-health care and other pressing needs, lawmakers must be thoughtful and creative.
Such an opportunity is a proposal to merge two older pension plans.
One plan, for firefighters and law-enforcement officers, was overfunded by the state, creating a $1.2 billion surplus. The other, for teachers, is underfunded, creating a drain on school districts paying to close the gap.
Merging these plans — as proposed by state Sens. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, John Braun, R-Centralia, and Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale — would save money all around without lowering any retiree benefits.
The Times reports that, because the proposal addresses pensions, it’s controversial. It is. But if lawmakers adjourn without addressing it, expect it to come back next year, when lawmakers write a new biennial budget that will again confront the need to step up education funding.