Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Olympian. Editorial content from other publications is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Nobody paints themselves into a corner quite like members of the Washington Legislature. With practice our legislators have become masters of this sticky art.
Regrettably it leads to desperation, mistakes and far too much secrecy.
Lawmakers understandably were desperate this week as they worked to pass a two-year operating budget by today — or see our state’s first government shutdown start unfolding.
Closing agencies is unacceptable. But here our lawmakers are on the last day of the budget year without a passed budget signed by the governor. An agency shutdown takes time. State parks closures were to begin Friday with the locking up toilets and shooing away campers. Gov. Jay Inslee asked the agency to remain open Friday as lawmakers move closer to a new state budget.
Then there is the secrecy. As the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-majority House raced to get a budget deal that might avert a shutdown, they left scant time for the public, or members, to study its details before today’s vote. This is unacceptable.
There’s always been a tendency for legislative leaders to schedule budget votes as quickly as possible after a difficult deal is reached. The thinking is that a delay only gives contrary members and interest groups time to demand changes or even to blow up agreements.
This echoes advice that former Sen. Jim West, then serving as Senate Republican leader, said he gave to the Senate Democratic majority leader, Sid Snyder, during a tough budget 15 years ago. West said roughly: Sid, if you need to do something bad, do it quick and get out of town.
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Since 2013, the Legislature has slid closer and closer to shuttering agencies. At the same time there’s been less and less public light shined on what members are doing.
Shutdowns were planned for as a contingency, but avoided in 2013 and 2015. That was because a lot of bipartisan budget work was done earlier in the year. This helped reveal where the two parties’ interests might intersect.
This time is different. We are seeing desperation and darkness — a form of legislative smog that is bad for democracy’s health.
Budget negotiators have complained in news reports that the more open process they used in 2015 didn’t help them get agreement. Maybe. But the lack of transparency this year didn’t work.
Voters deserve a solution to this conundrum — more transparency while still getting a budget approved. This work for the people — in the People’s House, no less — can and must be done more openly.
It starts with giving ample public notice before holding legislative hearings on bills. It requires fair notice of upcoming budget votes in both committee and on the House and Senate floor.
All of this requires that leaders of both parties are willing to tell voters what they are up to.
And legislative candidates must commit during campaigns to open dealings.