Less than a month into a legislative session billed as one of the grimmest and most demanding ever, a klatch of Washington state representatives has introduced a bill that would designate coffee as the state beverage.
A state beverage? What’s next, a state … fossil?
Too late. The Columbian Mammoth has claimed that honor since 1998.
Is this necessary? At least House Bill 1715 doesn’t (so far) include the emergency clause that Washington lawmakers are so fond of.
Admittedly, proclaiming another state emblem doesn’t carry a huge fiscal jolt, nor does it create another level of bureaucracy. But did that encouraging talk we’ve been hearing about reining in government not reach the eight House members, including Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, who are sponsoring this brew? Wouldn’t the time consumed by frivolity be better spent studying the more substantive measures before the Legislature, or communicating with constituents about them?
Washington is famous as “the espresso capital of the country,” HB 1715 reminds us. Coffee is a vital industry that provides not only lots of jobs but also “morning motivation.” Giving it the state’s formal endorsement will be a “desirable promotional tool.”
Over the years, similar rationalization has given steam to legislation designating everything from a state grass (bluebunch wheatgrass) to a state marine mammal (orca), not to be confused with the state endemic mammal (Olympic marmot).
(For a full list, see www.sos.wa.gov/seal/symbols.aspx.)
But over the years, few legislative sessions have faced budgetary considerations as severe as the present search for $4.6 billion in cuts. Seldom have the state’s neediest and most vulnerable populations – along with fundamental state programs – been in such jeopardy. Under present conditions, even the negligible expense of printing and distributing measures like HB 1715 is hard to justify.
Cross your fingers that this bill won’t provoke a reaction from, say, the wine industry and ignite a battle like the onion-potato showdown of 2007 over state vegetable bragging rights. (Onions won.)
Mostly, however, we’re concerned that HB 1715 and other legislative whimsy will become an unaffordable distraction from the serious concerns that demand legislators’ full time and attention.
What harm can it do, one might ask. A better question is, “What good?”
Legislators need to shrink the size and scope of state government by focusing on what matters, not dosing it up with cream and sugar.