Guest Opinion: Plenty at stake in senate election, Hirst decision

Consequences of state lawmakers’ inability to bridge their differences, preventing passage of a capital budget and water rights bill, are far less theoretical these days.

Ten people were laid off from the state parks department earlier this month and another 15 will be soon from the state Department of Enterprise Services.

They are the first casualties of this cold war of public servants that until now had been waged through a series of staged political events and exchanges of impolite pablum in 140 characters, or less, plus a hyperlink.

The Republican-led Senate is insistent it won’t act on a capital budget — from whence those pink-slipped workers are paid — until enactment of a response to the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. GOP lawmakers contend the 2016 ruling is damaging rural communities because it puts unscalable hurdles in front of homeowners seeking to drill a well on their land.

In the Democrat-controlled House, most members welcomed the Hirst decision as a win for protecting the finite resource of water. They have gone from perplexed to downright angry at Republicans for fusing the budget and policy bill together.

For months, they and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee lacked the ingenuity and strength to crack the soldered resolve of the Senate majority. They shouldn’t much longer.

Voters in suburban King County are electing a state senator next month. A Republican is in the seat now which is why the GOP-led coalition enjoys a 25-24 advantage in the Senate. A Democratic won the primary and if she wins in November it will put Democrats in control of the Senate as they are in the House and executive branch.

Then, if the political muscles of Inslee and Democratic lawmakers have not completely atrophied, they would do well to flex them right away.

Inslee could summon lawmakers for a special session as soon as Dec. 4. Democrats would be expected to unite to pass, in order, a bill containing all the projects in the capital budget then one dealing with Hirst fix and finally one required for the sale of bonds to pay for the $4 billion capital spending plan.

That last bill must be approved by at least 60 percent of members in each chamber.

Certainly it’s not critical this all be done in December since the next regular session is in January. Doing so would demonstrate Democrats’ desire to get off their heels and put Republicans on theirs.

Challenges abound for such a course of action.

Making sure all 50 Democrats in the House and what would be 25 in the Senate — not counting the renegade Democrat who caucuses with Republicans — show up is a big one. Conversations are already occurring to encourage all of them to keep their calendars clear.

Once in Olympia, the first order of business would be for the House to pass the capital budget containing $4 billion worth of projects. Then, House Democrats must pass a Hirst fix which has not happened all year. Rinse and repeat in the Senate.

With action on the capital budget and a Hirst bill complete, only the bond bill would remain. Because its passage requires support from a handful of Republicans, lawmakers must ponder the risks and rewards of their votes.

If the bond bill failed, it would leave Democrats with a Hirst remedy and no capital budget.

Sure, they could heap blame on Republicans for blocking the budget, but is that an acceptable outcome?

For Republicans, if a Hirst bill is headed to the governor’s desk anyway, is it worth continuing to prevent passage of the capital budget which they know contains money for projects and programs in their districts.

There are some clinging to hope that a Democrat victory in the Senate race next month will spur crafting of a bipartisan Hirst compromise and erase all the stress on the spending plan.

If Democrats do find themselves in control of the legislative branch, they should ponder the adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” as the consequences of this cold war won’t lessen and the casualties will mount.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; and on Twitter: @dospueblos.

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