Opinion

While Chris Christie soaks up sun, Washington state pols work in shadows

From the Editorial Board

At least Washington state lawmakers don’t have to worry about embarrassing episodes like this. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, uses the beach with family and friends Sunday at the governor's summer house at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey, despite a government shutdown that closed the beach to the public. Washington lawmakers, by contrast, have passed a budget — although the eleventh-hour, non-transparent way they did it is an embarrassment all its own.
At least Washington state lawmakers don’t have to worry about embarrassing episodes like this. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, right, uses the beach with family and friends Sunday at the governor's summer house at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey, despite a government shutdown that closed the beach to the public. Washington lawmakers, by contrast, have passed a budget — although the eleventh-hour, non-transparent way they did it is an embarrassment all its own. Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP

Unlike leaders in 11 other states, lawmakers in Washington adopted a budget last weekend and managed to avert a partial government shutdown by the slimmest of margins.

Excuse us for not giving them a standing ovation.

It’s true that by agreeing to a $43.7 billion, two-year budget deal, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed at literally the eleventh hour, legislators dodged the ignominy of closing state parks over the holiday weekend.

By adding $1.8 billion to public school spending, they bought themselves at least a prayer to meet their looming McCleary deadline. The state Supreme Court will soon decide if they’ve finally complied with a five-year-old order to radically reform education funding.

By signing off on $618 million in pay hikes, they rewarded rank-and file state workers and escaped the hot vapor of public employee unions breathing down their necks.

And by investing $102 million in mental health care, they addressed an area of acute need for thousands of desperate Washington families.

From a purely political calculus, they also don’t have to fear the kind of embarrassment that now haunts Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

Christie and his family were photographed over the holiday weekend at the governor’s getaway, lounging at a beach closed to the public because of New Jersey’s budget deadlock — the equivalent of kicking sand in taxpayers’ faces.

By contrast, Washington residents might see the handshakes in Olympia, catch a whiff of the late-breaking bipartisan bonhomie and feel like hearty congratulations are in order.

That would be a mistake.

What should be remembered most from the 2017 Legislature is how the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-controlled House dithered for 105 days in regular session, followed by three special sessions, before staff released a budget on the last day.

What should be remembered is how 15 or 20 legislators (with little or no representation from Pierce County) had a hand in high-stakes negotiations, while the remaining 130 or so weren’t given enough time to read the budget before voting on it.

What should be remembered is how quickly the pretense of 5 ½ months of transparency was thrown overboard. The public had no chance to see the final product before the floor votes — let alone comment on it through committee hearings or other means.

What should be remembered is the plain-spoken exasperation of Sen. Reuven Carlyle. The Seattle Democrat protested the budget being rammed through the Ways & Means Committee Friday.

“Details matter, facts matter, the fine print matters,” Carlyle said, “and I don't think any of us really knows what's in this.”

“This is outside the bounds of acceptability,” he continued, “and I think we owe the people of this state an apology for our lack of time management and efficiency.”

Amen to that.

Sen. Jeannie Darneille also acknowledged not reading the document, but the Tacoma Democrat seemed unfazed. Legislators will just have to inspect the fine print later, “decipher our decision making” and return next year “to iron out the kinks,” she told fellow committee members before she voted yes on the budget.

This is no way to run a lemonade stand, much less a state government. The brinksmanship bears an unflattering resemblance to recent secretive attempts by Republicans in Congress to gut Obamacare.

It defies common sense that these largely intelligent framers of public policy consistently end up rushing to beat deadlines — year after year, in state after state. It boggles the mind that leaders from both parties and all regions ultimately make a mockery of their duty to hear from the people who elect them.

Habitual oversleepers trick themselves by setting their alarm clocks several minutes ahead. The Washington Legislature must find its own method of self-deception, and systematize it before this group convenes again in 2018.

Washingtonians can feel glad they weren’t locked out of state parks or public beaches over the holiday weekend. But in the long run, their exclusion from a historic state budget rates far worse.

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