So on top of everything being bureaucratic, we also have this whole cyclical thing that happens at the legislature. Our state’s budget gets redone in a timeline that’s called a biennium (AKA every two years) starting July 1 of each odd-numbered year.
The short and long of it.
During the biennium, there are always at least two regular sessions, a long session during odd years (105 days) and short sessions in the even years (60 days). Although the Governor gets to call special sessions in emergencies, but it can’t go longer than 30 days (otherwise Mark Mullet turns further into a hobgoblin).
The staggering is both simple and confusing.
Budgeting for two years is smarter than budgeting for one. It allows legislators to take the long view, and when it comes to policy making, that’s a good thing. That said, the actual math of it can get confusing: Since we just started 2022, we’re in the middle of a budget that was approved in 2021 (and goes until 2023).
So what’re they even doing right now?
Glad you asked. There are a lot of bills that don’t have money attached to them, or what’s called “a fiscal note.” However, if you have the organizational comprehension of a seventh grader, you’ve already closed the gap most legislators like to pretend exists: there’s no such thing as a bill without money attached to it. In fact, even proposing, deliberating, and voting on a bill takes a great deal of state resources.
“It’s not a budget year.” Lol okay, Mark.
Even if you’re new to the legislature, you probably already know that elected officials love to pass the buck. They like to scapegoat—well, in general, really, but, in this case—the biennium for inaction. So maybe you’ll get some folks to make a request for a long-time underfunded community clinic, or to get your kids some new textbooks, only to be patted on the head and told “it’s not a budget year.” Someone tell climate change and homelessness to follow the biennium.
It’s an election year, babyyyyy.
The joke’s on them, because they don’t want to acknowledge that 84% of the legislature will be up for re-election. Legislators play games with us because they’re afraid of losing. But the short session should never be an excuse to not do the right thing. And if they don’t take action now, well, we will hold it against them come fall.
What do you think? Have any questions? Tweet us your thoughts @wacommalliance. Keep up with the action and opportunities to get involved with our legislative newsletter The Tally.