Opinion

Tri-City Herald: Lawmakers should end special session quickly

In business, missing a deadline usually results in some kind of financial penalty.

For state legislators, however, missing their deadline means they can get additional pay until the job is done.

Being rewarded for not finishing on time would be a completely absurd notion in any other arena. But this is state government, so private-sector reality apparently does not apply.

With budget negotiations at an impasse, Gov. Jay Inslee halted the 105-day regular session a couple of days early last week so legislators could spend time with their families. They are scheduled to return to work Wednesday for a 30-day special session.

How much this extension will cost is anyone’s guess. But the longer it goes, the more expensive it will be. The price of keeping the political machine running in Olympia is not cheap.

Last year the regular legislative session miraculously ended on time. But the year before was a near disaster.

In 2013, a state government shutdown was barely avoided when legislators finally approved a budget mere hours before the July 1 deadline. They essentially accomplished nothing during their first 30 days back and ended up going into double overtime.

Those additional 48 days cost an estimated $450,000, according to an analysis by Washington State Wire. That was mostly for per-diem payments and mileage reimbursements for legislators and their aides and other temporary workers.

To be fair, many legislators in the past have declined the $90-a-day per diem they are allowed during an extended session, or they accept a reduced amount. But not all do.

It would be encouraging if, at the start of this special session, legislators pledged to forgo their per diem.

At the very least, it would make constituents feel better if their elected officials were not making extra money for every day delayed.

The budget stalemate facing lawmakers does not come as a surprise. From the beginning, lawmakers knew it was going to be tough to balance a budget between the Republican-led Senate and the Democrat-controlled House.

There is not enough revenue being generated under Washington’s tax system to meet the needs of the state. Couple that with the McCleary court decision requiring the Legislature to start fully funding K-12 education, and all parties knew this was going to be a tough budget year.

The Senate wants to cut programs and shuffle money while the House wants to raise revenue with new taxes. This is not a new struggle. They knew this would happen.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to be ready to compromise, hammer out a budget and end the special session as early as possible. Don’t waste any more time and money.

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