Yesterday was the last day of the regular 60-day legislative session. As a member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, I can assure you that we worked fiercely in the last 60 days to hammer out a budget by yesterday’s midnight deadline. By the end of last week, it became apparent that we might need another week to reconcile the current differences between the revenue and spending plans proposed by the Senate and House. After we officially ended the regular legislative session last night, the Governor issued a proclamation convening the Legislature for a special session beginning on Monday, March 15 at noon.
Each special session can last no longer than 30 days, and the Governor’s proclamation states that she’s calling us back for seven days. She proclaimed that the special session is necessary for two reasons:
1) Work remains to be done with respect to biennial operating and capital budgets and bills necessary to implement those budgets;
2) Work remains to be done with respect to job creation and economic development.
While we would all much rather return home to our constituents, family, friends and dogs, it makes sense that we are staying in Olympia for another week to deal with the budget effects of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, an almost 10% unemployment rate, and the largest revenue shortfall in state history. We want to do what is right for the people of Washington, and the prudent thing to do is take a little more time to reach a consensus. We do not believe the public wants us to rush to make bad decisions.
Still, each day of a special session costs the state about $18,300, so we’re under considerable pressure from ourselves and our constituents to get the job done as quickly as possible.
It turns out that special sessions are not uncommon in Washington. According to data from the Secretary of State’s Office, since the state was founded in 1889, 61 special sessions have been held, including multiple special sessions. In 2001, when we were still reeling from the dot-com bust of 2000 and an economic recession, the Legislature was called back into session three times for a total of 58 days. Those special sessions were followed by three years of revenue shortfalls and tight budgets. Washington wasn’t alone. At the time, 36 other states struggled to fill budget shortfalls.
The most recent special session occurred in 2003 when lawmakers were called back three times for a total of 32 days. As a percentage of the total budget, our current revenue deficit is nearly three times larger than that of the 2003 fiscal crisis. It’s important to note that unlike in 2003, when 17 Senate bills and 16 House bills were introduced on various issues (operating budget, education, local government financing options, terrorism, etc.), this year’s special session will be much more tightly focused on finalizing the operation and capital budgets. I am confident that we’ll be able to complete our work in the next week.
Washington is not the only state forced to go into special session to resolve a budget crisis. Other states, including Nevada and Oregon went into special session in late February, and California held one in January to address critical budget problems.
Personally, I love Olympia, but I’m really looking forward to going home to Seattle, and will do my best to wrap things up quickly.