OP-ED by Rep. Bruce Chandler: The next steps to a budget compromise

My colleague and 15th District seatmate Rep. David Taylor used this space last week to explain our frustrations with the supplemental budget passed by House Democrats.

I won't rehash his earlier assertions but I would like to take you behind the scenes a little to shed light on the next steps in adopting a spending plan.

However, as they say, making laws is a bit like making sausage:  What goes on behind the meat grinder is often not a pleasant experience.

In a nutshell, the supplemental budget passed by House Democrats increases new policy spending, raises taxes, raids the state rainy day fund, and leaves a significant budget hole for the next two-year budget.

The budget passed by the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus actually reduces policy spending, doesn't raise taxes, merges an over and underperforming state pension system, and doesn't touch the state rainy day fund.

So now what?

The next step in the process is called conference committee.  Budget leaders from each caucus meet throughout the day exchanging different proposals in an effort to determine each other's priorities.

In the past, when both the House and Senate were controlled by people who wanted to spend more taxpayer money, this exercise usually ended with each chamber buying the other off and the final budget actually grew.

While those days are gone, it's not as easy as just meeting in the middle.  As one reporter asked at a recent press conference, “The other side wants these tax increases and you don't want any; why don't you just split the difference and raise some taxes?”

The problem with this line of thinking is the assumption that each side starts at the same point of reference, which is simply not true.  It's much easier to produce a budget that increases spending as opposed to being mindful of taxpayers.

If we were to follow that approach, one side could ostensibly propose raising $500 million in taxes when they really only wanted $250 million in tax increases.

What is almost certain about the conference committee process is that no one will be happy.  There are 74 Democrat legislators in Olympia and 73 Republicans, yet one of the Senate Democrats actually caucuses with and supports Senate Republicans.  The numbers are just too close for one to have a significant advantage over the other.

But is there another option outside the normal conference committee process?

The governor signed our two-year spending plan less than eight months ago after a 105-day session and three special sessions of budget dueling.  This begs the question: Do we even need a supplemental budget this year?

The old adage in Olympia is pick a rumor and spread it.  The Legislature is run on coffee, stale doughnuts and rampant rumors.  One such rumor has House Democrats floating the idea of adjourning without agreeing on a supplemental budget.  Rather than compromise, they may threaten to take their ball and go home.

In the Senate, the Majority Coalition Caucus seems willing, at least for now, to call their bluff.  If that happens, it would be the first time in my tenure that a session ended with no budget.

As your read this, budget analysts, lawyers and a host of policy makers are looking into the ramifications of no supplemental budget for 2016.  Is it the preferred outcome?  Not really.  Will the sky fall?  Probably not.

Will some in Olympia be happy and some sad if no spending plan is passed?  Most assuredly.

(Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.)

State Representative Bruce Chandler, 15th Legislative District
427B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 339-5405 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000