Wag the Dog, Part II

Senator Fraser, Representative Hunt and Representative Reykdal all spoke on January 3rd about the “big achievement” of the recent Special Session that was able to cut 480 million dollars to reduce the budget deficit, about 25% of the amount that it is assumed will need to be cut. There was some sense of dread about the next step – the process of cutting another 1.5 billion from the State budget – that is going to be front and center in the Regular Session that starts on January 8th. And there should be some dread about that.Courtesy Gov WA

This group of legislators does seem to have gotten and absorbed the message that this next round of cuts will contribute to the death of some folks in the most needy, most disabled segments of the State population and they appeared to be rightfully horrified about moving from legislative death of a thousand cuts to an actual headcount of citizens who will need to be buried in the coming biennium as a result of legislative action.

Senator Fraser spoke to the citizens who assembled (I counted about 40 persons, but folks were coming and going, so it might have been as many as 60 folks over the two hour meet-up) and stated that the next session is going to be about choosing between funding education or health and welfare services. That may be true, but I would sure like to see Ms. Fraser (a wonderful person btw) absorb George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of Elephants message and focus on the battle for revenue generation or the progressive agenda that can be moved forward (Washington Investment Trust anyone?) independent of the budget brawl.

That’s what we should be talking about: the budget brawl. Make no mistake, Eyman and his lackeys in the legislature are brawlers who are focused on the long game. They are not wringing their hands when they fail on an agenda, they are back to writing initiatives and planning the next round of their fight to drown state government like a baby in the bathtub.

I encourage you to click on the link above and read the Norquist quotes if you want to understand the sensitivity of the Norquist/Eyman troops that we face. Senator Fraser, keep your eye on the prize, the goals, values, and the opportunities that exist each and every moment in our personal and private lives. You will feel better, you will govern better if you will stop thinking about the other side’s agenda and start thinking and talking our progressive agenda. Everything develops from that. Try not thinking of elephants. Let’s think/talk about the Washington Investment Trust. Let’s talk about the constitutional requirement to adequately fund education, let’s talk about the personal, moral commitment to create a society where a poor, disabled person can rely on the community, on State government to provide subsistence levels of support. Keep your eye on the prize.

We are sending up a team of folks who are thinking “don’t strike out.” Come on. This is not rocket science. We understand that the struggle is difficult, but the folks who represent progressive public policy have to show up and show a little grit.

Representative Hunt took a couple of minutes to describe the three budgets that actually exist in State government. There is an operational budget – the budget for services, salaries for State employees, etc. There is a capital budget – the budget for buildings, schools, etc. – that can raise revenue from bonds. And there is the transportation budget that is funded from gas taxes primarily. The struggle is over the operational budget. This may be self-evident to state policy wonks, legislators and citizen activists, but is less well-understood by the citizenry, so I guess it makes sense for Mr. Hunt to go over that and to have it repeated.

Sam Hunt also reminded us that WA State has been given a 10th Federal legislative district because of population growth. Our state government budget has been shrinking as our population has been rising. These two trends are out of synch. Population equals demand for State services and the budget is inexorably linked to the demand for state services. It doesn’t matter if you are thinking about public education, Department of Revenue, or folks behind the counter when you need a driver’s license, population equals demand for State services and that requires money. Instead we are looking at State government receiving a 40 year low in tax revenue as a percentage of GDP.

I am out of time and energy for this discussion this morning, but I want to come back and tell you about the budget proposal that Rep. Reykdal described to the group. It was the brightest moment in the discussion for me. I have saved it for last. I will be back to tell you about that very soon. It is time for the dog to wag the tail folks. I have had enough of the other approach. I hope we all have had enough of that. It is time to talk about what we have to do to maintain the kind of society that we value. Let’s talk about our values, our goals. Let’s commit to passing progressive legislation and establishing progressive public policy.

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