With the support of three key Democrats who share similar conceptual views on the budget, Republicans wielded a little-used procedural tactic to maneuver into control of Senate budget proceedings on Friday in Olympia.
A Republican budget plan, couched in an amendment to a base Democratic proposal, was approved by the Senate, 25-24 early Saturday morning after some eight hours of debate.
Three moderate Democrats, Sens. Tim Sheldon (35th - Potlatch), Rodney Tom (48th, Medina) and Jim Kastama (25th, Puyallup) sided with Republicans, giving them the vital 25 votes and majority necessary to invoke what is called the “Ninth Order of Business.”
The procedural ploy allowed them to bring the governor’s budget proposal that was before the Ways and Means Committee, directly to the floor and to propose a striking amendment that contains Ridgefield Republican Sen. Joseph Zarelli’s budget.
“When you put the votes together, you act,” said Zarelli, whose 234-page budget proposal had never been seen by the Democrats or to have a public hearing.
“We showed it’s possible to balance the budget in a way that continues to reform state government, provides more support for K-12 and higher education and services for Washington’s most vulnerable residents than the majority party proposes, avoids accounting gimmicks, doesn’t require higher taxes, leaves a respectable amount in reserve and should spare the next Legislature from having to address yet another big deficit next year,” Zarelli said in a statement.
“The mistake that was made was not giving the other side the courtesy of being able to go at ease, go to caucus, and have an opportunity to review the legislation and offer amendments to it,” said Brad Owen, Lieutenant Governor and President of the Senate. “When you take that position, it’s almost a bullying position.”
Zarelli called his Republican budget proposal a message “of strength, understanding of the times, and budget sustainability,” he said, based upon the principles of not spending more money than revenue coming in and staying away from what he described as “gimmicks” such as the $330 million deferred payment to school districts that the Senate Democrats had used in their budget proposal announced on Feb. 28.
Sheldon said his switch had nothing to do with political affiliation, and everything to do with representing his constituents and providing a sustainable budget for the state.
“Obviously the $330 million payment forward that would go on next year’s biennium, that’s the big issue,” he said. “I consider it a gimmick, a trick, false accounting. I’m a business-person too and I see the benefit of revenues and expenses being equal.”
Sen. Ed Murray (D-43rd, Seattle), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he thought that he was going to work with Senator Zarelli to put out a bi-partisan budget similar to 2011.
“They didn’t negotiate in good faith,” he said of his Republican counterparts, “and I’m deeply disappointed because I thought we had an agreement.”
It is alleged that the senator showed reporters a text-message conversation from earlier in the week from a number he said belonged to Zarelli in which Zarelli said he had no plans to put out his own budget, “only continuing to refine the options provided up to this point,” Zarelli wrote.
Zarelli said that he had been waiting for Murray to make an acceptable proposal, but it never came.
“At least the Senate has done something this session [now]. At this point, we hadn’t done anything, we weren’t poised to do anything,” he said, referring to the Democratic budget, for which Murray admitted he didn’t have the necessary 25 votes to pass.
Camano Island Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, who has served in the Senate since 1993, called the Republican tactic “deplorable,” saying it reminded her of the partisanship within the U.S. Congress.
She said it virtually guaranteed that the Legislature would not have a budget by the March 8 deadline, forcing it into special session.
“If the Legislature is to have any chance of adjourning March 8 the Senate needed to reach agreement on a budget as soon as possible, because we still have to negotiate with the House of Representatives. There was no assurance that the Senate majority party would have enough votes for its plan; in my mind, bringing an alternative forward became the responsible thing to do,” said Zarelli in a statement issued to the press.Details about the Senate bipartisan budget can be seen at www.senaterepublicans.wa.gov/budgettidbits/2012/030212BudgetTidbit.pdf.