As of Thursday, July 23, 2015
Washington has a fiscal 2015-17 budget – barely in time to avoid a state government shutdown.
Legislators passed the budget Monday night, the first day in their third special session and the next-to-last day before a forced suspension of many government services. State rules are clear: If there’s no budget, most state services go away.
It’s not like lawmakers suddenly were faced with the fact that they had a budget to write. They’ve been meeting since the second week of January.
They burned through the 105-day session – a mandated “long” session because of the necessity to write a biennial budget – and then a special session. And another. And then, a last-ditch third session.
Their primary responsibility is to write and adopt the state’s operating budget. Everything else should take a back seat to that task.
But instead, lawmakers frittered away time, haggling over amounts and programs, yes, but also introducing and acting on a plethora of other bills. That distraction didn’t end with the regular session or even the first special session.
Last week, as state agencies were firming up plans for massive layoffs and program closures, legislators were dithering with non-budget items:
• They sent two “revenge porn” bills to the governor.
• A senator introduced a bill calling for the use of electronic signature technology “to restore democracy to the initiative process.”
• A bill expanding state regulation of toxic chemicals cleared a Senate committee.
• The House passed “sweeping improvements” to the recreational marijuana system.
• Nearly 30 House members signed a letter seeking the state auditor’s resignation.
• Legislators and their staff members celebrated, on the Capitol steps, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.
In other times, all those topics would be a valid use of lawmakers’ time. But not in the face of shutting down state parks, laying off thousands of workers, closing fish and wildlife sites, suspending crime investigation services, shutting down road construction projects and shuttering social services.
Along the way, they cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars because they went into overtime.
On the Internet, there’s a meme that says, “You had one job …” then shows a photo of a way someone failed to do that job, such as a right-facing arrow painted on a street next to a sign that says “left turn only.”
That’s the way legislators have behaved this session, failing at the one job they had – passing a budget and doing it in a timely manner.
Or, to use another Internet expression: “Fail.”