“They’re working at a fever pitch,” — Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, describing legislative activity last Monday.
OLYMPIA – When one is the new guy in town, it often behooves one to withhold judgment on things that seem different than the place where one used to be.
Thus, when the governor made the above observation about the Legislature early last week, it seemed appropriate to stifle a quizzical look, despite having just come from the House chamber where the honorables were hard at work extolling the virtues of Civics for a resolution on the values of teaching it.
The governor was explaining why she wouldn’t release a tax proposal she’s preparing if federal money for things like health care and schools doesn’t materialize. To do so would break an agreement with Democratic legislative leaders to wait until state revenue forecasts come out in mid February. Since she did not appear to be attempting sarcasm or irony, this must be the kind of fever that forces one to follow a regimen of lots of rest.
Minutes earlier, a member of the Spokane delegation had expressed some
frustration that here it was, the 15th day of a 60-day session, and the
Legislature had very little to show for it. I admitted being of a
similar mind, after hearing for weeks from persons of all political
stripes, polka dots and plaids that we are in the most dire situation
since either the Great Depression the 1930s or the Great Flood of
Genesis. Not being a complete novice at political stuff, I didn’t
really expect the Legislature to show up Day 1, debate separate budget
fixes on Days 2 and 3, pass those bills out of their respective
chambers and essentially swap great ideas for solving the crisis on Day
4, take the best of both worlds on Day 5, pass amended versions on Day
6 and go home, saving the taxpayers the cost of running the legislative
branch on days 7 through 60.
That would be too much like Genesis,
and the Legislature is ill-suited for the role of The Almighty, who
could order up light without a fiscal note or committee hearings.
Saturday was the 20th day of the session, a third of the way through,
with little significant economic legislation passed by one chamber, let
alone both. Sure, there are plenty of things going on the press and
public don’t see in caucus meetings and while this pace is standard for
a typical legislative session, where most action occurs in the final
weeks, one might expect things to be the tiniest bit different in
To make a sports analogy, if this were a hockey game,
we would be at the end of the first period, and scoreless. Most hockey
fans can recall games that were scoreless in the first period and high
scoring by the end. But, to strain the analogy a bit, how many
scoreless first periods do you recall in a playoff game in which one
team spent the entire time with two players in the penalty box?
sort of the situation over here, where Democrats have a 62-36 advantage
in the House and a 31-18 edge in the Senate. (The math isn’t perfect,
but it’s close.)
Like much of the rest of the state, legislators are
concerned about jobs. Both parties in both houses had that as their
stated priority even before President Obama made it his watch word for
2010. Last week, Senate Democrats released their long-awaited jobs
package, a compilation of bills they believe would get people working
and pull the state out of the recession. As with most things of import
in Olympia, the package was released in a press conference with several
senators explaining their bills and several citizens attending who
would be helped.
It was an interesting compilation of ideas, from
tax breaks for small businesses that hire new workers to extra student
slots in retraining programs at community colleges. But it was also a
list of bills already filed, some as far back as 2009. What seemed most
new was its label: It wasn’t really a package so much as an “economic
development strategy,” they said.
So how many jobs would the
strategy create, if the Legislature were to pass them all? They
couldn’t come up with a number. But they did come up with an aphorism:
“The recovery’s going to come one job at a time,” said Sen. Jim
Kastama, D-Puyallup, opined.
That could be bad news, considering we lost jobs at a much quicker rate.