A budget negotiator representing Whatcom County says if a state budget deal isn’t reached this coming week, don’t blame the U.S. Open.
The biggest game in the South Sound June 15-21 will not be the state Legislature’s ongoing version of “Let’s Make A Deal.” Chambers Bay golf course outside Tacoma will host 250,000 people for one of the biggest professional golf tournaments in the world.
As of Friday, June 12, legislative staff were scrambling to find accommodations for tournament week for House and Senate members who will need to show up if a budget deal is struck. For now, only those involved in budget talks are in the state capital.
“There are no hotel rooms anywhere within an hour of Tacoma, so there’s nothing in Olympia,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, on Friday, June 12, from his senate office. Ranker’s 40th Legislative District includes south Bellingham and south Whatcom County.
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In the first week of June, legislators said they would prefer to avoid any conflicts with the tournament and finish their work by Friday, June 12. They also sounded optimistic this could happen.
Budget negotiations have since hit a snag, and legislators are giving the impression that they won’t get done until after the U.S. Open crowd leaves.
Ranker, the ranking minority member of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the golf tournament is not the obstacle he’s worried about.
“The U.S. Open is not what’s going to force a third special session. It’s going to be lack of an ability to reach a budget deal,” he said.
The Legislature started meeting in January with 105 days to approve a 2015-17 budget that would go into effect on July 1. After not getting its work done by the end of the regular session in late April, the Legislature held a fruitless special session that took them through most of May. The second special session began on May 29 and will expire on June 27 if a budget isn’t completed by then.
The Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-led House need to find consensus on a $38 billion two-year budget. The biggest sticking point has been Democrats’ proposal to create new taxes, with Republicans saying the latest revenue projections show there’s no need to increase taxes.
If the third special session Ranker referred to is needed, it would begin at most three days before the new budget is supposed to go into effect. If a deal isn’t struck in those three days, nonessential state workers temporarily will be out of work.
No news has come out of Olympia over the past week on the status of budget negotiations.
“We’ve all agreed we’re not going to negotiate through the press,” Ranker said.
The last time either party made itself available to the media for a budget update, Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, explained that the two houses are set up for difficult negotiations. Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate. In the House, the Democrats have a narrow advantage.
“We’re now in a situation where all four corners of this building, as far as minority and majority caucuses, have to be involved,” Kristiansen said June 2 at a press conference.
“The question is, who is going to, in the majority (of the House or Senate), make the first blink … especially when the majorities are so close,” Kristiansen said.
With prospects for a budget deal during U.S. Open week looking dim, certain lawmakers are distancing themselves from invitations they received from Pierce County to go to the tournament for free. The perk for legislators is justified, the state’s Legislative Ethics Board ruled in April, because invitees will be conducting business too, at a three-hour presentation on how Pierce County attracted the premiere golf event.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, was the only Whatcom legislator on the invite list, which included 43 of the state’s 147 legislators — those who represent Pierce County and certain members with leadership positions. Ericksen qualified, as chairman of the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.
In an email, Ericksen said he would not accept Pierce County’s offer.
“I will not be accepting tickets from Pierce County for the U.S. Open,” Ericksen’s email to the media said, in full.
Ranker, with his leadership position in Ways and Means, didn’t say he felt snubbed by Pierce County on the U.S. Open invite, but he did note the disproportionate number of Republicans invited compared to Democrats (13 out of 17 invitations to senators went to Republicans).
“I never got the invite, but I never would have even thought of going,” Ranker said. “It isn’t even an option.”