Gov. Chris Gregoire has reached acceptance.
That’s the final stage of grief, as presented by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kbler-Ross, the now-clichéd but strangely apt description of the emotional path taken by the dying.
Gregoire started with denial back in the 2008 campaign when she had to parry Dino Rossi’s predictions of upcoming budget doom. The denial made a reappearance each time more cuts were needed, even though revenue forecasts predicted the end was in sight.
“Who would have thought that I would be doing this?” she asked last month after presenting another all-cuts budget plan for 2011-13. “It’s just beyond me that I would be the one to do this, that we would find ourselves in this situation.”
Anger has been ever-present.
“I hate my budget,” she said. “I hate it because in some places I don’t even think it’s moral.”
And while she said she acknowledges the decision of voters to repeal relatively small tax increases that would have made up less than 10 percent of the budget-balancing solution, she wasn’t happy about it.
“The idea that we wouldn’t spend two cents on a can of pop – after the beverage industry put $16 million into the state of Washington to get us to stop that – I don’t understand that.”
Bargaining also came when she figured that if she could just get the state through the next month, the next quarter, the next year, the recovery would make things right.
It didn’t happen, which led to the inevitable stage of depression.
“As we’ve gone through weeks and months of sitting in this room, of cutting, we’ve had to take a recess because people broke down in tears and had to get away. Bluntly, I was among them. I hate what we’ve had to do.”
Depression has been common because lawmakers – Democrats especially, but Republicans as well – want to create, want to problem-solve, want to help. They hear about a problem and get jazzed about finding a solution.
While she has never fallen into the trap of previous governors of donning the title of “education governor,” Gregoire has added nearly $1 billion to public education programs on top of inflation.
If her budget is adopted, she will have cut more than that, leaving public schools with less than when she took office. Most lawmakers can tell similar stories.
Now they are faced with carving into basic services such as subsidized health insurance for the working poor, pre-school for impoverished 3-year-olds and even the $258 a month stipend to those who can’t work due to mental illness, disability or homelessness.
It’s understandable that legislative leaders aren’t prepared to go that far.
“Governors have proposed eliminating this five times, so we’re used to it,” House Speaker Frank Chopp said about the Disability Lifeline. “I could talk for two to three hours about how important this program is.”
At the same pre-session media conference Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said, “Senate Democrats will be looking at alternatives to complete elimination of these programs.”
Ah, thought Gregoire, denial.
“You know, I’ve been through where they’ve been. They’re just several months behind me,” Gregoire said Tuesday. “I went in with the exact same attitude they’re expressing now. But then you get down to it and there just aren’t any options.”
Taxes are off the table since the election. There are no federal bailouts coming. All the fund transfers and other budgeting gimmicks have already been tapped.
And Gregoire said reducing – but not eliminating – programs stops working when you’ve already reduced them so much.
“Whittling away so that you thin the soup so much that it’s meaningless is not the direction I think we ought to take,” she said.
So while she sees denial among legislators, she expects they will reach her strangely serene state of acquiescence – eventually.
“I’m really sympathetic to the learning curve they’re going to have to go through for the next couple of months.”
And, at the end of that curve, acceptance.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/politics