Once again, it's overtime for state lawmakers

Washington lawmakers, once again this year, will need an overtime session to get the state’s financial house in order.

It seems ironic that, given the current economic climate, the legislators would dither for three months and force the governor to call for an extra session — one that will cost the taxpayers and additional $500,000 just so we can hear more palavering about the same issues they’ve been debating for more than two years. But when you have a Legislature this evenly divided, and this much ground to make up, harmony and unanimity of purpose were never going to be priorities.

So where are we now?

The Democrat-controlled House, waiting until the 104th day of a 105-day session to unveil its budget plan, agreed — on a mostly straight-party-line vote — to a proposal calling for a $359 million tax increase to offset some of the budget cuts being called for by Gov. Gary Locke and the Senate in order to fill a budget shortfall expected to reach $2.6 billion.

The House plan would also grant a 2 percent pay increase to teachers, as mandated by a voter initiative passed last year.

The Senate, meanwhile, on April 4 passed a $23 billion budget proposal calling for no new taxes but plenty of spending cuts — including a delay in enacting teacher raises.

During the upcoming 30-day special session, lawmakers from both houses will have to reconcile two distinctly different packages. Given a choice, we lean on the side of the Senate version, reasoning that pay increases and less-than-severe spending cuts are worth considering when you have the money to pay for them but unconscionable when you’re looking at a multi-billion-dollar deficit.

The lawmakers did manage, however, to pass a transportation plan, this one calling for a 5-cent-a-gallon gas tax to pay for a wide variety of highway projects around Washington state, before adjourning — albeit temporarily.

While we like this idea almost twice as much as we did the 9-cent-a-gallon tax hike voters rejected last November in Referendum 51, we’re still not entirely satisfied the lawmakers are doing right by South Kitsap.

First of all, voters have been promised an overhauling of the state’s hopelessly bloated transportation bureaucracy for years in return for their support for higher gas taxes. But none was forthcoming. Once again, the lawmakers are asking us to dig into our pockets to pay for a problem they expect to be fixed by the same system that created it in the first place.

Finally, we’ll never be happy with a transportation fix that requires South Kitsap commuters to pay for improvements in King County and elsewhere around the state when we’re having to pay nearly the entire cost of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge through tolls.

On the bright side, whatever the Legislature has done — or thinks it’s done — can always be undone by a ballot initiative in November. Here’s hoping anyway.

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