OLYMPIA, Wash. — Teachers from across the state occupied the Capitol on Tuesday.
“We want the legislators to know that we are here every single day and holding them accountable,” Seattle Education Association President Phyllis Campano said.
Teachers outnumbered lawmakers inside the state Capitol building as the first special legislative session ended on Tuesday with no state budget passed.
“It needs to get done right now. They have to buckle down and have a reality-based approach,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.
The governor’s frustration was obvious as he called for a second special session.
“The state of Washington shuts down 30 days from now without a budget, so any rational legislator has to look at this as pivotal,” Inslee said.
Inslee's message for both Democrats and Republicans? Compromise on taxes.
But in the past 30 days, there has not been a single official sitdown meeting over the budget.
“The reality is we have to negotiate a budget. We have been here, day in and day out, the Democrats, saying, 'Let’s sit down and negotiate a go home budget,'” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.
Key budget negotiators, like Ranker on the Democratic side, say they are willing to make changes and brainstorm.
But Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said, “They have to come to the table with something. We’ve been negotiating with their ghost dollars since February.”
Both sides want to spend more money on education but disagree on how to pay for it. The Republicans want to change how property taxes are assessed, mostly increasing property taxes in cities like Seattle while lowering them in many rural parts of the state.
“We owe it to have an equitable system where student support is universal, not based on zip code,” Schoesler said.
Many Democrats would rather rely on taxing polluters through a carbon tax and the rich with a capital gains tax. The reality? Neither side has enough support to pass their measures as they stand now.
Inslee said lawmakers should be open to new ideas at this point to balance the budget.
“Enough on the finger-pointing on both sides; it’s time for us to come together,” Ranker said.
And the longer that takes, teachers say their students suffer.
“Basic (education) funding is not just our compensation, but it is our basic needs of our kids -- and we need more,” teacher Kailani Tibayan said.
Teachers and students are not the only ones in limbo. Notices will start going out to various state departments about the possibility of a government shutdown if lawmakers cannot come to a final decision in the next 30 days. The state government's fiscal year -- and current budget -- ends after June 30.
The first two weeks of the special session has cost taxpayers about $90,000.
Lawmakers can choose to accept a per diem and travel expenses during special sessions.
Since 2012, the overtime sessions have cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million.