Locke Facing Uphill Battle With Republicans Controlling Both Houses Of Legislature, It Will Be Cooperation Or Gridlock
Democratic Gov.-elect Gary Locke may have a frustrating two years ahead now that Republicans control both houses of the Legislature.
Some of the ideas Locke championed during his campaign, such as lifting the state’s spending lid, already are fizzling.
Republicans now control the Senate for the first time in four years with a 26-23 margin.
But the GOP also lost some ground. Its commanding majority in the House was whittled from 62-36 to 53-45.
Both the House and Senate majorities are narrow. Partisan power is split between the executive and legislative branches. So, Republicans and Democrats face the same choice: cooperation or gridlock.
Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, who won her bid for the Senate, said it’s up to Republicans to set the tone in both houses.
“It’s the Republicans call. With narrow majorities, this is the opportunity to sit down and work things out. No one can say there is any mandate, whether it’s on budget issues or anything else.
“It’s sit down and work it out, or nothing will get done.”
Locke acknowledged in a Seattle news conference Wednesday that his plan to lift the state spending lid to send more money to schools “will be very, very tough to do.”
Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, was more blunt, dismissing Locke’s idea as “impossible.”
Locke danced around the question of whether he would push for a gasoline tax increase, which he touted during the campaign.
Locke said any gas tax hike “would have to be a bipartisan proposal.” He noted that an attempt to introduce gas tax legislation went nowhere last session.
“We’ll see what can come up,” was the strongest commitment he made for the coming legislative session.
As for tax cuts, Locke said rolling back business and occupation taxes to pre-1993 levels is his priority.
“But you have to balance that against other proposals out there. We can’t give the surplus back five times over.”
GOP leaders have said property tax relief is at the top of their agenda.
“If you roll back B&O; taxes, that gobbles up the whole surplus, and some want property tax relief. So we’ll have to work together on that,” Locke said.
Asked if he would support putting public money into a new football stadium, Locke said that would only happen if taxpayers get as much out of the deal as they spend on it.
“Renovation of the Kingdome is a preferable option,” Locke said.
“I don’t think the taxpayers will support a brand-new stadium to be used 10 times a year.”
He predicted education and other issues will dominate the legislative agenda, and that the GOP would send few social issue bills to him for signature.
“I don’t think they’ll be trying to send over an extremist social agenda. The election results are a rejection of extremist views.”
GOP leaders criticized Locke harshly during the election, saying he had a solid record of partisan antagonism rather than the reputation for bipartisan cooperation Locke claimed.
But Locke and GOP leaders pledged to work together Wednesday, for the good of the state.
“I look at it as a business proposition,” McDonald said. “The public expects us to get things done. You put your personal feelings aside.”
New legislative leaders and committee chairmen will be appointed during the next several weeks.
Clyde Ballard, R-Wenatchee, is expected to remain speaker. McDonald is expected to be named Senate majority leader.
Spokane’s Sen. Jim West is in line to control the Senate Ways and Means Committee, a plum post. Rosalia’s Larry Sheahan is campaigning to become majority leader in the House.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo