- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - As lawmakers prepared to enter the second full week of supplemental budget negotiations in an overtime special session on Friday, the political gridlock of Congress has felt closer to home for some who follow politics in Washington.

Though lawmakers don’t have to navigate filibusters to pass legislation like their counterparts in the District of Columbia, they’ve now failed to reach a budget agreement without going into a special session six times in the last seven years.

An increasingly polarized and politically divided Legislature is at least partially to blame, according to Cornell Clayton, a political science professor at Washington State University. The two factors combined make it difficult for lawmakers reach compromises “on even routine matters like the budget,” he said.

Democrats control Washington’s House by a one-vote margin. Republicans also have toothpick-thin 26-23 majority when accounting for one Democrat who caucuses with Republicans.

“It leads to a politics of stalemate and brinkmanship,” Clayton said. “You see it in Washington, D.C. and in the state of Washington.”

Lawmakers haven’t shared much about remaining disagreements in budget negotiations since each chamber released proposals in February. Last week, the Senate made a public offer that moved closer to the original House plan.

Republicans would alter the two-year budget approved in 2015 by $178 million and would use around $190 million from the state’s emergency fund to pay for costs of last summer’s wildfires.

“We’ve worked hard to recognize concerns with our budget, address those concerns, and recognize we’re in a divided state government and we have to work toward compromise,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, after Republicans unveiled the plan last week. “I think this budget shows that.”

Democrats have advocated for measures not in the Republican budgets, such as raising minimum salaries for new teachers and spending money from the emergency fund to reduce homelessness.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a Democrat from Covington, said lawmakers made “good progress” recently and said he was cautiously optimistic a deal could be reached early next week.

“Actually I think we work pretty well together despite the fact we have split control,” Sullivan said.

Washington was still ranked the fifth most polarized state in the nation in 2015, according to research by Boris Shor, a professor at Georgetown University. Since the late 1980s, Washington has had the third most polarized state government, he said. In 2012, Republicans took control of the Senate, which was the first time they held either chamber since 2004.

Shor looks at every vote in every Legislature and runs a comparison of the voting patterns to look at polarization. Typically, Western states have more polarized state governments, with California at the top of his list.

For the broader electorate, polarization isn’t necessarily what frustrates people, Clayton said. But when the Legislature is almost evenly split while being polarized, “political systems can’t address important policy concerns people have.”

Shor said making Washington a year-round Legislature like California might help the two sides reach agreements because lawmakers would become more “professionalized” and focused on work at the Capitol.

But Clayton said unlike a year round Legislature, Washington’s deadlines pressures lawmakers to compromise on agreements, even if they go into overtime. He added polarization itself isn’t always a bad thing because it offers clear party choices for voters.

Historically, Clayton said, there is one big way gridlock resolves: “One side loses.”

“What happens is, at some point one party becomes so polarized, so extreme in their views, they get trounced in elections,” he said.

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