Gov. Inslee will call special session to work on budget, education

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Governor Jay Inslee said he will call a special session Monday to work on finalizing a budget and fully funding education.

In a press conference with the media Friday morning, Inslee blamed state Senate Republicans for refusing to compromise on education. He said lawmakers remained far apart on education funding with three days left to go in the regular session.

The move for a special session was widely expected. The last time the Washington Legislature didn’t have an extended session during a biennium budget year was 2009.

Washington State’s Supreme Court has been fining the state Legislature $100,000 a day since August 2015 for not obeying its McCleary v. Washington ruling to fully fund public schools. Fines have now racked up to $61.7 million.

The state Supreme Court has set a deadline for funding as the start of the 2018 school year. And Governor Jay Inslee has said a method to fund education needs to be done this year, and a special session is likely if it doesn’t get done within the next four days.

“This has to be done this year,” Inslee said. “Our kids deserve it, the court right behind me here demands it. The constitution demands it.”

Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Thursday that a majority of lawmakers would remain in their home districts and that just the budget negotiators would return to the Capitol next week.

“This is a challenge and I recognize that,” Inslee said Thursday of the legislative standoff. “A challenge in a divided government requires good faith, it requires sincerity, it requires compromise. We’re not seeing that right now.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler noted that a bipartisan subgroup of lawmakers have been meeting on the education funding part of the budget, and that informal conversations between the opposing sides are in fact occurring. Schoesler said that lawmakers need to ensure they agree on the education element of the budget before they can properly negotiate the broader overall budget.

“We are dealing with the most complex problem in a generation,” he said.