With the support of three key Democrats who share similar views on the budget, Republicans wielded a little-used procedural tactic to maneuver into control of Senate budget proceedings on Friday in Olympia.
A Republican budget plan, couched in an amendment to a base Democratic proposal, was approved by the Senate, 25-24 early Saturday morning after some eight hours of debate.
Three Democrats, Sens. Tim Sheldon (35th, Potlach), Rodney Tom (48th, Medina) and Jim Kastama (25th, Puyallup) sided with Republicans, giving them the 25 votes and majority necessary to invoke what is called the “Ninth Order of Business.”
The procedural ploy allowed them to bring the governor’s budget proposal that was before the Way and Means Committee, directly to the floor and to propose a striking amendment that contains Ritzville Republican Sen. Joseph Zarelli’s budget.
“When you put the votes together, you act,” said Zarelli, whose 234-page budget proposal had never been seen by the Democrats or to have a public hearing.
“The mistake that was made was not giving the other side the courtesy of being able to go at ease, go to caucus, and have an opportunity to review the legislation and offer amendments to it,” said Brad Owen, Lieutenant Governor and President of the Senate. “When you take that position, it’s almost a bullying position,” he said from the rostrum.
Zarelli called his Republican budget proposal a message “of strength, understanding of the times, and budget sustainability,” he said, based upon the principles of not spending more money than revenue coming in and staying away from what he described as “gimmicks” such as the $330 million deferred payment to school districts that the Senate Democrats had used in their budget proposal announced on Feb. 28.
Sheldon said his switch had nothing to do with political affiliation, and everything to do with representing his constituents and providing a sustainable budget for the state.
“Obviously the $330 million payment forward that would go on next year’s biennium, that’s the big issue,” he said. “I consider it a gimmick, a trick, false accounting. I’m a business-person too and I see the benefit of revenues and expenses being equal.”
Sen. Ed Murray (D-43rd, Seattle), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he thought that he was going to work with Senator Zarelli to put out a bi-partisan budget similar to 2011.
“They didn’t negotiate in good faith,” he said of his Republican counterparts, “and I’m deeply disappointed because I thought we had an agreement.”
The senator showed reporters a text-message conversation from earlier in the week from a number he said belonged to Zarelli in which Zarelli said he had no plans to put out his own budget, “only continuing to refine the options provided up to this point,” Zarelli wrote.
Zarelli said that he had been waiting for Murray to make an acceptable proposal, but it never came.
“At least the Senate has done something this session [now]. At this point, we hadn’t done anything, we weren’t poised to do anything,” he said, referring to the Democratic budget, for which Murray admitted he didn’t have the necessary 25 votes to pass.
Camino Island Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, who has served in the Senate since 1993, called the Republican tactic “deplorable,” saying it reminded her of the partisanship within the U.S. Congress.
She said it virtually guaranteed that the Legislature would not have a budget by the March 8 deadline, forcing it into special session.
Republican floor leader Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-9th, Ritzville) then invoked what is known as the “Ninth Order of Business,” which allowed the Governor’s budget to be directly brought up for floor debate.
News bureau reporter Maida Suljevic contributed to this story.