The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus may be made up of 23 Republicans and two Democrats with limited experience writing budgets or leading a political caucus. But they have had an ace in the hole for most of the session this year as their majority locks horns with a Democrat-controlled House and new Democratic governor.
Dino Rossi, the Republican who used his work in the 2003 Senate-House budget wars to launch two gubernatorial campaigns, has been giving key senators in the Majority Coalition some general advice along the way this year. Rossi said his counsel has mostly been on on larger conceptual matters – as in, he he told them early on that he’d had leverage in 2003 because he really didn’t want much, while Democrats did.
“I’ve had conversations with a lot of senators right from the start. They’ve been talking to me – how do you do this, how do you do that? I tell them what I did. I say this is a different time, different styles,” Rossi said in an interview this week, declining to identify which Senate members he’s counseled.
But Rossi added that he’s told the majority “you take what can work” and that despite different dynamics at play in 2013 than 10 years ago the budget negotiators are dealing with one constant: People.
Rossi also said the Majority Coalition is doing something well that he did in his battles with House Speaker Frank Chopp’s majority and then-governor Gary Locke in 2003: He said they really don’t want anything, just as he had only wanted a balanced budget that protected the vulnerable without raising taxes.
“I think they’ve done what they should do – which is send a budget that can be passed over (to the House). And they’ve proved it can be done. They passed a budget that has no new taxes. What more needs to be done?’’ Rossi said. “I think they’ve done a good job.’’
Of course, the Senate budget has a few holes in it. It raids school construction funds and replacing that money by borrowing money – in effect paying for current school operating expenses with loans. The Senate plan also seeks three levels of savings in state agencies that may be difficult if not impossible to achieve after years of agency cutbacks – although its newest proposal from Saturday proposes to buy back some of that cut with a tax increase.
Gov. Jay Inslee took fresh shots at the Senate coalition early on Tuesday, the last day of the first 30-day special session, noting that the Republicans steering the Senate had failed to move much from their no-tax position while Democrats in the House had moved far beyond half-way in jettisoning $770 million in tax requests and almost $800 million in spending.
Inslee has called the Legislature back to town to start their next special session at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The first-year Democratic governor is also bringing his cabinet agency leaders in for a meeting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday so he and his budget staff can lay out a framework for dealing with a possible government shutdown on July 1 – if the House and Senate cannot relent from their positions.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said Tuesday he is guaranteeing a shutdown won’t happen.