Looking ahead to special session, Sheldon says much work to be done

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

OLYMPIA… As Washington lawmakers prepare for a special overtime session, state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said he is proud of what the Legislature has done so far – and hugely disappointed the Legislature failed to get its business done on time.

“The only way we can come to agreement on a budget is if both sides are serious about the negotiations,” Sheldon said. “Unfortunately, my fellow Democrats in the House have not been very interested in voting for the massive tax increase they have proposed. That hasn’t left much for our budget negotiators to talk about.”

Lawmakers return to Olympia Wednesday after a nearly-four-month regular session failed to produce an agreement on the budget. During the regular session they reached compromise on oil-train safety legislation and an overhaul to medical-marijuana laws. They also passed a law authorizing Washington State University to launch a medical school in Spokane.

But when it comes to the central issues of the year, Sheldon said accomplishments are rather one-sided. The Senate early in the session passed a transportation package that launches road projects statewide, but the House so far has taken no action. More importantly, the Senate has passed an operating budget that does not require new taxes, while the majority Democrats in the House have proposed a somewhat bigger spending plan that requires the largest tax increase in state history, $1.5 billion. Yet House Democratic leaders have refused to call for a vote on the tax package, leaving their proposal unbalanced and preventing budget negotiations from proceeding on an even basis.

“The failure of the House to take a vote has put us in a difficult position,” Sheldon explained. “Maybe they don’t have the votes. Or maybe this is a delaying tactic designed to push us to the brink of a government shutdown. My party may perceive it has a political advantage over Republicans if we fail to pass a budget by July 1 and government comes to a halt.

“But either way, this is irresponsible and it is unfortunate. People need to understand we held up our end of the bargain in the Senate. We passed the best education budget in 30 years and we showed we could do it without raising taxes. We passed a transportation package to jump-start road construction and we passed a capital construction budget that covers the state’s needs. The House hasn’t finished its work.

“Many in my party want to return to the days of freewheeling spending and enormous deficits every year. I think that is really what this conflict is about. As we launch our special session I hope we will be able to keep the well-being of the state uppermost in our minds and recognize our first duty is to reach a deal and make sure state government continues to function.”