A Spokane business group, Greater Spokane Inc., hosted a legislative forum last week to preview the coming session and the massive budget shortfall the state now faces.
It wasn't exactly a display of sleeves-rolled-up bipartisanship.
The Republicans on the panel were quick to point out that the Democrat-dominated legislature has ramped up spending faster than revenues in recent years.
“We knew this was coming,” Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, said, suggesting that Democrats should apologize. “Lord have mercy, at some point we have to own up to what we've done.”
The last budget, he said, started out with a $1.8 billion state surplus. Democrats, he said, simply spent too much when they should have been saving more.
“For years, we've governed by group interest,” said Hinkle. “People show up to Olympia, and everybody's got something that they want.”
Democrats' response: Nobody foresaw this kind of economic meltdown.
“No one can with a straight face tell you that they would have written a budget that would have prepared us for the situation we're facing now,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. It's a waste of time, she suggested, for the two sides to “play the blame game” over the financial woes of the state and nation.
And it's not like Republican lawmakers have much of a moral high ground on the budget, added Marty Brown, Gov. Chris Gregoire's legislative liaison.
“Maybe I could count on one hand the number of legislators who didn't ask for something in that budget.” Hinkle wasn't among those few, he added.
Sen. Brown and other Democrats argue that the crisis gives lawmakers an opportunity to revisit ideas from both sides – and to work together.
Senate Democrats, for example, adopted an idea that Republicans had been championing for years: setting up a state “rainy day fund” for tough budget years. Both sides teamed up with the governor to pressure reluctant House lawmakers to agree. Those hundreds of millions of surplus dollars are now a key lifeline for the budget.
“It was just a good-government idea,” said Sen. Brown.