Northwest News

Lawmakers face tough deadline: US Open tee-off

State lawmakers have made it clear they’re excited about the U.S. Open golf tournament that will overtake Chambers Bay June 15-21.

But they also are afraid — very afraid — that the Legislature won’t be able to get its work done while the event in University Place is underway. They’re worried about the scarcity and high cost of hotel rooms in the South Sound that week.

So now, as legislators prepare for a second overtime session, their leaders have set a new deadline of sorts. They want to finish negotiations before thousands of golf fans begin to arrive in University Place in the middle of June.

“Right now there’s a desire to get done by June 11 so we don’t hit the traffic Armageddon of the U.S. Open, and the lack of hotel rooms in Olympia,” said Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and the Senate’s chief budget writer. “So that’s applying pressure.”

Lawmakers were forced into overtime in late April after ending their regularly scheduled 105-day session two days early with no agreement on a new two-year spending plan.

Shortly after lawmakers adjourn their 30-day special session Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee plans to immediately call a second 30-day overtime session so legislators can continue to work toward a budget deal, said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Inslee.

An analysis by Senate staff last month found that some hotels in Olympia were fully booked for some days of the U.S. Open, while others were charging much higher rates. Staff at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia said Wednesday that the hotel’s rooms are completely booked for June 17 and June 18, during the middle of the weeklong event.

State Rep. Ross Hunter, the chief budget writer in the House, said getting a budget passed before the U.S. Open is a priority for him, mainly due to his concerns over finding lodging for all 147 members of the Legislature during the tournament.

While many rank-and-file lawmakers come to Olympia infrequently during special sessions, Hunter said they all must be present for three to four days to receive briefings and vote on the state operating budget, which he said presents a problem during the U.S. Open when few rooms will be available.

Hunter, D-Medina, said he is aiming to finish up before the championship. “It’d be super great, because if you miss that date, you’re basically (pushing the budget process) into the last week of June,” he said.

The Legislature must finalize a budget before the state’s new two-year budget cycle begins July 1, or the state government will partially shut down.

The topic of steep hotel rates during the U.S. Open came up on the Senate floor Wednesday, as senators approved a resolution “recognizing the significant economic and cultural contributions of the U.S. Open golf tournament to Pierce County and the entire state of Washington.”

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, warned his colleagues that if they want to rent rooms during the event they’d “better get it in right now,” as some hotels in Olympia and Tacoma were charging prices of $300 and $400 a night that week.

“And don’t even try to get a room in Shelton, they’re already sold out for the U.S. Open,” Ericksen said.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, told her colleagues she was dreaming that the Legislature would reach budget deal before the event starts, “so people here can enjoy it and others can be home with their families, or at work where we’re supposed to be.”

While Pierce County officials plan to give some lawmakers free one-day tickets to the U.S. Open, Hunter said a desire to attend the event isn’t part of why he is looking to finish before then.

“Golf is dull,” Hunter said. “I like to hit stuff that moves.”