OLYMPIA – The start of a new Legislature with a new administration is much given over to pomp and ceremony, so it wasn’t too surprising that most of the players aren’t yet bringing their A game when it comes to rhetoric.
Still, there were troubling signs that we’re all in for a long, hard slog if the level of debate doesn’t improve at some point soon.
For example, Gov. Jay Inslee showed clearly in his inaugural address where he’s willing to lock horns with Republicans in the Legislature: Abortion. Climate change. Medicaid expansion.
Republicans assembled in the joint legislative session sat in stony silence when he called for them to pass the Reproductive Parity Act, which would require any insurance company that covers live births to also cover abortions. Some shook their heads when he said the science is settled on climate change and when he said they should take the federal government up on its offer to pay the costs of expanding Medicaid.
Abortion is too divisive an issue, GOP leaders said in a post-speech news conference, and we should stick with jobs and the budget.
Figuring out how to spend some $35 billion on state programs is a big task, there’s no doubt, but no one is going to commit numbers to paper before mid-March, when the next economic forecast and revenue projections come out, so there may be time to do a few things, even if they are controversial.
Inslee’s response, however, wasn’t much better than the Republicans’ recalcitrance. If the subject is too divisive, just skip the fight, pass it and send it to me, he said the next day.
Yeah, that’ll work. About as well as making kids stay at the table until they eat their Brussels sprouts, and shrugging when they complain about missing their favorite TV show. He might at least up the rhetoric to suggest the Legislature is able to handle more than one issue at a time, or in biz-speak “multitask,” although he should probably avoid questioning their ability to simultaneously ambulate and masticate.
On climate change, Republicans quickly denounced that as just a theory. Inslee later said they’re wrong – it’s a fact.
Inslee is firmly within the camp that says this issue is settled, there’s no debate, it is time to act. He has the vast preponderance of scientific thought on his side. But Republicans can find a few skeptics with good credentials who either say the climate is not behaving out of historic ranges; or, if it is warming, the change is minuscule or there’s nothing we can afford to do about it.
Even if one believes the issue is settled in the world of peer-reviewed scientific papers, it isn’t settled in the world of politics merely because the governor says so. It will take more than “is too, is not” discussions to get anything done.
For Republican legislators’ part, they clearly need better anecdotes for discussing the budget. At the post-speech news conference, Sen. Andy Hill, the new Ways and Means Committee chairman, derided what he called “Olympia cuts” – by which he meant when an agency gets the same or more money next year as this year, just not as much as it was scheduled to get, and then complains about a cut.
To illustrate, Hill mentioned that his 16-year-old daughter recently got her driver’s license, and one of her family duties now is to drive her siblings around, a service for which he initially gave her $25 a week for gas money. She asked for a raise, to $100. He agreed to $30. She complains to her friends that he gave her a $70 cut.
Setting aside for the moment that no significant program is scheduled for a 300 percent increase in the coming budget, the daughter’s plight is only analogous to the state budget if her siblings have suddenly signed up for more after-school activities so they have to be ferried to and from more places, among them locations that now require her to cross the state Route 520 toll bridge across Lake Washington, and she settled on a payment schedule when the price of gas was lower. Until one considers the full details, it’s not possible to know if Hill is being fair or unreasonable.
Similarly, one must consider who and what the state pays for, and whether the cost and need for those services has increased or decreased, before saying an agency is getting too much or not enough.
Plus it’s probably unwise to bring one’s teenage daughter into a political discussion, even if it’s only being televised on TVW.