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State Senate delays vote on budget, institutes ‘supermajority’ rule change

by caprecord

The State Senate worked overnight debating about 60 Democrat-sponsored amendments to the two-year operating budget proposed by the mostly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus, but ended up delaying the final budget vote until Monday.

Republicans attempted to advance the budget for a final vote around 2 a.m. Friday. “After over 60 amendments, $875 million dollars in unfunded amendments, we’ve had enough. It’s time to vote and move on to negotiations with the other body,” said Majority Leader Mark Schoesler.

But Democrats argued they needed more time to study the budget. “We’re being told it is now time to vote on the underlying budget, but it is not a bipartisan budget,” said Senate Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson.

The majority did not have enough votes to advance to a vote on the budget, which was put on hold until the chamber meets again at 1 p.m. on Monday.

Before the 10-hour debate began, the Senate voted along caucus lines to change the rules of the chamber. The Majority Coalition Caucus voted to require a supermajority 60 percent approval — or 30 yes votes out of 49 — for any amendments to the operating budget, instead of a simple majority.

Republicans said they asked for the rule change because of the number and type of amendments to the budget that the Democrats had proposed. Amendments touched on topics such as paid sick leave, anti-discrimination laws and climate change.

“We have a series of amendments that are about political games and not about governing,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane. “That’s why we have to put this rule in place.”

Schoesler said the budget should be about fiscal policy, not social issues. “It’s about how we fund our state. It’s not about a host of other issues that are brought in for political ‘gotchas,’” he said.

But Democrats questioned why a minority — 20 votes — should be able to stop the will of the majority. They also argued the amendments were germane to the budget.

“We’ve worked to make sure that the amendments are relevant,” said Nelson. “We do not believe instituting this rule is democratic. I believe this that this is a major step backwards for our state.”

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said a budget reflects the state’s priorities. “We have to be able to talk about our core values as Washingtonians,” he said. “And a majority of Washingtonians are pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-equality and they have voted that way time and time again.”

Almost all of the Democrat-sponsored amendments failed, although one amendment came close to meeting the supermajority threshold. The amendment by Hoquiam Democrat Sen. Jim Hargrove would have approved the state worker contracts negotiated with Gov. Jay Inslee.

The Senate budget proposes paying state workers $2,000 in raises over two years, instead of the salary increases negotiated in the contracts.

“The underlying budget has most of the money for paying state employees, but it is about $75 million short,” Hargrove said.

The amendment got 29 yes votes — one vote shy of the 30 needed to pass under the new Senate rules.

TVW will have highlights from the Senate debate — as well as the House’s passage of its budget — on Friday’s 30-minute weekly edition of “Legislative Review.” It airs at 6:30 and 11 p.m. Friday, and we’ll post a link here once it is available online.