Notes from Olympia: Senate drama unfolding ahead of '13 session
Washington lawmakers are in Olympia this week to preview the upcoming legislative session.
During several committee meetings, staff members briefed lawmakers on the signature issues that will greet them in January:
- The economy is recovering at a snail's pace and money remains tight.
- There's a projected $900 million shortfall for the next biennium.
- Legislators must decide whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
- Education funding is under a microscope
- The McCleary decision looms over all budget decisions.
That's just a taste of some of the policy issues legislators will grapple with.
All eyes are really on the Senate, where a political drama is unfolding behind the scenes. Republicans just elected their new leadership. With the help of two moderate Democratic senators, Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, the GOP could manage to create a unique bipartisan majority that would lead from the middle.
The concept of a "philosophical majority" is fascinating, especially since Democrats have control of the House and all but one state executive office in Washington. A little balance never hurts.
But I also wouldn't ignore the warnings of state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the man recently elected to lead the Senate's Democratic caucus. He said Thursday that "blowing up" more than 100 years of Senate rules could lead to unintended consequences.
Murray is the current majority leader, but he humbly acknowledged that his tenure may be over by the time the Legislature convenes on Jan. 14. Though he wants Tom and Sheldon to stay in his caucus, Murray said they should consider joining with Republicans to form an outright majority.
"I'd rather be in the minority of a Senate that functions than be part of a mishmash arrangement that causes the Senate to be dysfunctional," he said, adding that a power-sharing structure might sound appealing in theory, but "someone has to be in control" to get things done.
I was intrigued by another idea that's brewing in the Senate. Democrats have proposed the formation of a new bipartisan group called the Select Committee on Education Finance and Results. This group would be separate from the education committee headed by state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, who is widely viewed as a roadblock to reforms. (For more, read our Sunday editorial.)
If GOP members approve the new committee, it would be co-chaired and split evenly between members of the two parties, including McAuliffe and the chair of the Ways and Means committee. The group would have jurisdiction over fiscal issues related to K-12 schools and the McCleary ruling that calls out the state for neglecting its duty to fund basic education.
Perhaps this is a solid step toward shaking up the status quo.
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
Postman On Politics