OLYMPIA – Washington legislators started their 60-day session with the usual pomp and circumstance, and a quick preview of the debates likely to dominate the remaining 59 days.
As soon as the honor guard of Washington State Patrol troopers planted the flags at the House podium, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited and an invocation offered, House Speaker Frank Chopp set down five goals for a short session with a significant budget problem: Create jobs; fund basic education; save the safety net; ensure equality; and provide opportunity.
Let’s work together on those points, the Seattle Democrat told the full House chamber, like legislators did in 2003 when they coalesced to develop tax breaks Boeing and its workers wanted to help land the 787.
While those broad goals got general agreement and regular applause, minority Republicans were noticeably not clapping on certain points, such as Chopp’s call for “marriage equality,” a term Democrats use for a law that would allow same-sex couples to marry.
Many Republicans also refrained from clapping when Chopp said government does create jobs. To those Republicans who argue it doesn’t, just look at the hydropower projects in Eastern Washington, built with federal dollars and the springboard for public and private jobs; the state should develop “jobs now” programs to fix crumbling infrastructure and help returning veterans, he said.
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt countered that Republicans were glad to hear calls for more jobs and funding of basic education. But if Chopp and the Democrats are serious, he said, they’d agree to GOP proposals to write a budget that pays for education first and spend what’s left on other programs.
And since Chopp mentioned hydropower, the Chehalis Republican said, how about a proposal the GOP has been pushing for years that would declare power from the dams as “green,” allowing it to be considered in a mix of options that would lower the cost of electricity.
That 2003 package to help Boeing a few years back was only a partial victory, he added. After it passed, the company still moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago.
Legislators’ main task in the session will be to close a looming gap in the 2011-’13 budget between the amount of tax dollars projected to come in and the costs of programs, policies and salaries they approved last spring. Gov. Chris Gregoire is asking for some $1.5 billion in cuts, with the possibility of a temporary half-cent sales tax increase that voters could approve later this year to restore some of the programs.