January 9, 2011 in City

Spin Control: How about trimming bloated rhetoric budget?

By The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – When the Legislature starts Monday, it would be nice if the first bill they passed would outlaw certain stock phrases that are already worn out.

The much-needed Bill to Ban Overused Rhetoric might contain the following:

• “Everything is on the table …” when used to describe someone’s view of how to cut the budget.

Everything is NEVER on the table. For example, the state has a constitutional duty to provide for the basic education of its children. You can argue what constitutes basic education, but you can’t argue that the state can stop paying for education.

Similarly, the state sells bonds to build things now, and promises to pay them back over time. Putting bond payments “on the table” suggests the state would renege on its legal obligations, and no one in their right mind would do that. The list of somethings that can’t be on the table is actually pretty long.

• “Government doesn’t create jobs.”

In fact, it creates jobs all the time. The guys and gals who fly and fix those planes out at Fairchild have jobs created by government, just like all the jobs held by men and women in uniform. Government creates jobs to build roads and bridges; to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate criminals; to put out fires; to build dams and schlep their electricity across the region. You can argue that government isn’t the most efficient way to create some jobs, or that private enterprise could do some of them better, or that it creates too many jobs in the wrong places, or that it creates jobs you wish it wouldn’t – but you can’t logically say it doesn’t create jobs.

• “The voters made clear in November …”

The voters didn’t make things crystal clear. Did they lean Republican because they voted against tax increases? Did they lean Democratic because they turned thumbs down to changing the state’s workers’ comp system and selling off the liquor stores? They cut the Democratic majorities in the Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation, but they didn’t reverse those majorities in Washington. It’s at best a mixed bag.

• “We want a state where all students will achieve high academic standards.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire said this at a press conference last week to announce plans for consolidating education and making the colleges play nice with the school districts to the benefit of the students. (She also has a plan to make high school seniors swap easy courses like advanced study hall for college-level calculus. Clearly the governor is not counting on the 18-year-old vote for any future political office.)

Having a state of high achievers sounds good, but unless the state of Washington becomes the state of Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average, all students can’t achieve high academic standards. If all students achieve high standards, those standards are no longer high; they are mediocre. At its best, the school system is a meritocracy in which the smartest, hardest-working students get the best grades, and those who aren’t quite so smart or quite so hardworking get lesser grades, and the dim bulbs and slackers help create the curve.

• “The state needs to be fiscally responsible and live within its means, just like its families do.”

Setting aside the fact that the state’s budget comes with 11 digits and most family budgets are lucky to work with five, most families don’t completely “live within their means.” Almost all borrow money to buy a house; most borrow money to buy a car; many used their credit cards to put presents under the Christmas tree. They fall behind on their bills and hope the lights and water aren’t turned off. Some max out their Visa and switch to MasterCard, and keep an American Express application handy in an effort to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors.

No, the real challenge this year will be to keep the state from acting exactly like its citizens do when faced with a big financial challenge: shuffle money within accounts or come up with something like the 25th budgeting month, which is the state’s equivalent to writing a post-dated check for the Avista bill.

Will the legislators outlaw such rhetoric, or even just avoid it as inappropriately inaccurate? Probably not, but before a new session starts, anyone can dream big.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/spincontrol.

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