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Coal in the stocking for a do-nothing Legislature

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Dec. 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
December 13, 2011 5:51 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

It turns out this Washington has its own version of the other Washington’s spectacularly indecisive supercommittee. We call ours the Legislature.

The congressional supercommittee, you will recall, failed to make the hard decisions on tax increases and spending cuts the nation needs to escape the fate of Greece. Partisan gridlock was blamed.

In Olympia, though, there is no partisan gridlock. The governor is a Democrat. The state House of Representatives and the Senate are run by Democrats.

They’ve all known since September that the 2011-2013 budget had a $2 billion crater in it. Despite meeting in special session since Thanksgiving weekend, though, lawmakers haven’t come up with any real solutions and plan to leave town without one.

They’ll defer the tough decisions to the regular session, when biennial budgets are usually tinkered with at leisure. Meanwhile, state government will be bleeding money that will make the ultimate pain that much greater.

Emergency? What emergency?

Don’t be impressed by the $480 million lawmakers have come up with. That’s all low-hanging fruit; it includes shell games with state funds and faster grabs for the unclaimed property left behind by dead people. It includes pretending that a month of this biennium’s spending actually belongs to the next biennium’s revenues.

Gov. Chris Gregoire stuck her neck out early with a proposal for a temporary half-percent sales tax and some truly tough cuts in health care and other human services. She also outlined additional brutal cuts to education, public safety that would kick in if the voters rejected tax increases.

She needed action this month to put a tax measure on the March ballot. You’d think that Democratic lawmakers would be interested enough in state services – many of them long-time Democratic priorities – to fast-track her request.

Just can’t work that quickly, some of them said. “Quickly” consists of three months, if you include the time they’ve known the magnitude of the crisis – months when caucus leaders and committee chairs could have been hard at it, conferring, swapping ideas and taking public comment. And sometimes, big decisions just have to be made quickly.

Republicans, with some notable exceptions in leadership, weren’t helpful. The GOP’s political talking point was, “What shortfall?”

Like it or not, though, minority parties tend to make annoying and irresponsible cracks about the party in charge. It’s kind of their job. Ultimately, the people in charge must act like they’re in charge. As a group, the Legislature’s Democrats this month have acted as if the government of Washington was somebody else’s problem.

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