OLYMPIA – There may be things for which the Spokane area reasonably envies other communities around the state, but lobbying the Legislature for a list of collective hopes and dreams is not one of them.
For more than 20 years, a contingent from Spokane and surrounding communities has made an annual pilgrimage to the state’s mecca of politics and policy. Members of the Greater Spokane Incorporated fly-in arrive, list of priorities in hand, and generally present a united front as they remind those controlling the spigots of state funding, “Hey, we’re still over there.”
They get briefings from high-ranking legislators and state department heads on everything from education to roads to the budget. Almost all of those briefings start with an acknowledgement that when it comes to lobbying state government, folks from Spokane do it right.
This year, the session started later than usual, and a group of about 90, which may be a record, showed up a bit earlier than usual. Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration is only partially assembled, so there was more of an unsettled air about Olympia than they usually see.
Still, they got a taste of the partisan divide over issues like health care reform, when Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle and chairwoman of the House Health Care Committee, assured them the state was going to expand its Medicaid program as suggested under the federal Affordable Care Act. “There’s not that many stupid politicians in Washington state that we wouldn’t do that,” she assured them.
The next two legislators to talk health care happened to be Republicans, neither of whom would be considered stupid, and both of whom raised concerns about jumping on the Medicaid expansion wagon.
“I’m not a big fan of Medicaid expansion,” Rep. Joe Schmick, of Colfax, ranking Republican on that same House committee, told the group. “I’m afraid the money’s going to dry up.”
In recent years, the Spokane contingent has come with what most in Olympia have considered a heavy lift: money for a new medical school near downtown. So effective was the lobbying that over the years the reaction went from “a med school where (chuckle, snort)?” to “nice, but very expensive idea” to “let’s see where we can fit that in the budget.”
With the med school facility – technically the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, but who can remember that clunker of a name? – set to open in September, this year’s contingent had no similar “big get.”
Oh, they want $450 million to continue building the North Spokane Corridor, but the community’s need for money for that project is so predictable it’s unlikely a legislator in either chamber can recall a time when Spokane wasn’t looking for cash for a roadway that over here enjoys near-mythic status. There’s about $145 million in other road projects, generally things that can compete reasonably well with other requests in the state for wider highways, new interchanges or better bridges.
They have a long list of other priorities. Sponsors of the fly-in – Greater Spokane Incorporated and the chambers of commerce that flank it on the West Plains and in the Spokane Valley – oppose business tax increases, but that’s hardly a surprise. They’d like more reforms of the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance systems, in which they join businesses around the state. Some are looking for support for Mobius and the MAC, public radio and public libraries. The city wants changes to binding arbitration laws – primarily so it won’t be forced to give such big raises to cops and firefighters – and a ban on studded snow tires.
It’s a long list of small things, but realizing at least some of them may prove easier than past years. At a governor’s mansion reception, after making a Spokane-pandering promise that Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” will always be the first carol played in the mansion, devoted basketball fan Inslee repeated his vow to return to Hoopfest this summer and professed his love of Gonzaga basketball.
Spokane Mayor David Condon had given Inslee a Zags lapel button, which the governor showed off, but the mayor said what Inslee covets more is a basketball signed by one of Spokane’s favored sons, John Stockton.
Stockton, it should be noted, lives in Condon’s parents’ former home. So it seems possible next year’s contingent might shell out for a new ball, borrow a wide-nibbed Sharpie and make a stop at Condon’s old homestead in its effort to stay ahead in the lobbying game.
Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at spokesman.com/spincontrol.