This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
Forget head counts, or debates over whose message was purer. The only winner of Monday’s dueling rallies at the state Capitol were lawmakers of both parties who heard what they wanted to hear.
If only the state’s budget problems were as easy as declaring “no new taxes” or “no new cuts.” But governing is an art, not an accounting exercise.
Most Washingtonians – even some of the 9,000 people who thronged the Capitol steps, we suspect – want something much different from their Legislature than all-or-nothing propositions. They might be open to paying more taxes to protect crucial services, if they are convinced that state government had made commensurate sacrifices.
They will be watching the fate of bills like Senate Bill 6503. It was to be lawmakers’ response to public outrage over policies that have largely spared state workers the pain felt in the private sector.
SB 6503 originally would have saved the state $92 million by furloughing state workers. But lawmakers have added one exemption after another, whittling the savings to $50 million and raising legitimate questions about the fairness of asking a few state workers to bear the burden for the rest.
Now a Democratic lawmaker from Olympia thinks he has the poison pill. Rep. Brendan Williams has offered an amendment that requires state lawmakers to take cuts in their expense allowances equal to the hit their legislative staffers would take if furloughs were approved.
Williams notes the bill hasn’t come up since he filed his amendment. He’s either taking far too much credit – or his fellow lawmakers have been exposed.
Democrats have taken some halting steps to show they understand public sentiment. Passage of Rep. Larry Seaquist’s bill to suspend performance-based bonus pay was a welcome overture, although largely symbolic given the paltry $1.9 million it would have saved in 2009.
But the deep, systemic reforms that could help bring state government expenses in better alignment with existing revenues are too often rebuffed for a lack of time, instant gratification or political will.
The state Senate fell all over itself last week in its rush to set aside Initiative 960 and clear the way for tax increases. Voters – especially the independent types who determine the outcome of elections – want to see just as much giddy-up in the pursuit of budget savings.