OLYMPIA — Republican legislative leaders in Washington have called on Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a special legislative session as soon as mid-June to work on budget and other coronavirus-related issues.
The announcement Thursday comes as GOP lawmakers grow increasingly critical of Inslee’s steps to gradually restart the economy amid a massive spike in unemployment and preliminary projections showing a $7-billion state budget shortfall over the next three years.
“The Legislature has been kept on the sidelines for more than two months while the governor exercised emergency powers long past the time when his original goal of ‘flattening the curve’ was realized and hospital resources were not overwhelmed,” Senate GOP Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said in a statement. “Republicans have listened to the people and looked at the data and have seen what the micromanagement by the executive branch is doing to our communities. It is time for the legislative branch to intervene.”
Republican leaders and many lawmakers supported Inslee’s efforts early in the pandemic.
Republican priorities include cutting state spending, pushing to restart K-12 school in the fall and finding ways to help the state’s long-term-care facilities.
While Republicans often push for tax cuts on businesses, Schoesler acknowledged that the economic downturn “makes that a challenge.”
“I wish tax relief for employers could be our first option, but the state’s revenue situation makes that a challenge,” he said. “The good news is that the Legislature can and should enact regulatory relief to reduce the overall costs of keeping jobs in our state and keep new regulations from Ecology and others from derailing the economic recovery. That is a very reasonable approach to take, and the sooner it happens the better for the employers who are just trying to hang on and the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians who have been put out of work through no fault of their own.”
Democratic officials say a June special session could be too early because the state won’t get an official budget forecast until mid-June, and it remains unclear if — or how much — the federal government will help with state budget shortfalls.
Those are two reasons — along with uncertainty about what might happen in the coming months with the virus — to potentially wait until later in the year, said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane.
“We want to make sure that we come into special session in a way that allows us to do our work effectively and efficiently,” Billig said. He added that he hasn’t ruled out a June special session.
In an email, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee wrote that the lawmakers and officials also will have to work out, “the technical challenges of convening the Legislature in the midst of a pandemic.”