With politics so intertwined with policy, it’s hard to know where one stops and the other starts.
We’re probably better off, then, to assume that politics never stop. Oddly, that might explain why policy never starts.
Last week’s dance between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature is an apt illustration. Lawmakers were teased and disappointed yet again by state revenue forecasts that suggest improvements but deliver deficits.
Since this recession started, the amount of money available for the two-year state budget has dropped by 16.5 percent, or $5.6 billion. After two years of budget cuts plus a politically unpopular set of tax hikes, they were told by chief state economist Arun Raha they needed to carve out $520 million more.
It isn’t that it is bad, even though it is. It’s that it comes after previous quarters that indicated the economy was improving.
“Job growth remains anemic; housing is looking for a new bottom; and, despite some easing in credit conditions, small businesses continue to face a challenging credit environment,” Raha wrote in his quarterly revenue report.
“There is still considerable drag in the economy, little indication of any impending acceleration and increased uncertainty.”
Raha termed it uncharted territory, literally so, because economists lack good numbers from the only time in anyone’s memory things were this bad: the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Sounds like a time for our elected leaders to roll up their sleeves, put politics aside and take on the problem.
Wait, sorry, I was a little delusional there for a minute. Must be the drizzle. Actually, it is time for our elected leaders to roll out the politics and figure out the best way to take advantage.
Last week, this uncontrollable urge manifested itself in Republican calls for an immediate special session of the Legislature and the Democrats’ rejection of that demand. Both cast their positions in public policy terms.
“We know where we’re at, so why not act sooner, rather than later?” wrote Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt and House Minority Leader Rich DeBolt.
House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown rejected the call, opting instead to turn the job over to Gov. Chris Gregoire. She has only one option to bring the state budget back into balance: across-the-board cuts to all programs except basic education and payments to pensions and bond holders.
Chopp and Brown termed that blunt tool “the most immediate way to achieve the savings necessary.”
The cuts start Oct. 1. It is difficult, however, not to immediately see through the harsh policy to the obvious politics, to know that a special session a month before the election would only reduce the odds of Democrats maintaining majority control.
Republicans, who can taste election victory, are smart to make it an issue. They are already basing their campaigns on taxes and the Democrats’ handling of budget shortfalls. What better way to illustrate that in the closing weeks than to have everyone return to Olympia to recreate the scene?
State Sen. Joe Zarelli, the Republican from Clark County who would likely be chairman of the Ways and Means Committee if Republicans win control, has a bit more credibility on the matter. Ever since the recession began, he’s been in favor of quick, decisive special sessions whenever the budget soured.
Zarelli uses basic math: The earlier in the budget cycle cuts are made, the more time there is to absorb the effects. But Zarelli doesn’t have to write a new budget; Democrats do. And he’s not on the ballot this November.
Finally, his premise is based on a concept long lost in Olympia – that lawmakers can quickly agree to a solution, sans politics. The chances for that fall off even more when one side has a political stake in discord and delay.
The more likely result is a drawn-out session with tough cuts to popular programs. That or complete failure.
Majority Democrats might be desperate, but they’re not dumb.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics