Nobody went home satisfied last week when state legislators finally adjourned after a record 193-day slog. The 2017 Legislature ended on a “sour note” and lawmakers “did not add to their successes,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news conference statement (more like an understatement).
Failing to pass a two-year capital budget for the first time in memory leaves $4 billion in a lockbox. This is money that should be building schools and mental health facilities statewide, funds to prevent wildfires and homelessness, investments to boost local economies with infrastructure projects from Algona to Zillah.
Meanwhile, failing to resolve a water-rights impasse triggered by the state Supreme Court’s 2016 Hirst decision leaves decades of water law in confusion. For the foreseeable future, small rural landowners who need a water source might get more help from a dowsing rod than from the government’s well-permitting bureaucracy.
Republicans who pushed for an immediate Hirst fix have a right to feel frustrated. But Senate GOP staffers stepped over the line this week by clumsily trying to connect Washington’s First World problems with developing nations’ Third World tragedies.
As The News Tribune’s Melissa Santos reported, the Senate Republican caucus posted a tweet Monday that said: “Rural landowners in Washington have a human right to water and the certainty of a permanent fix.” The cringe-worthy part was a reference to the United Nations General Assembly’s 2010 vote that declared a human right to water and sanitation.
First, it should be noted that the U.S. was one of 41 countries that abstained from the historic UN resolution.
Second, a cursory reading of the resolution shows that it focuses on the 884 million people in poor countries who lack access to safe drinking water and the more than 2.6 billion deprived of basic sanitation. The grim toll: an estimated 1.5 million children under age 5 die each year from water- and sanitation-related diseases.
To equate a global humanitarian crisis with Washington property-rights disruptions shows a clear case of tone-deafness. And there’s no worse time for this false analogy than in a year when East Africa is suffering its worst drought in decades, threatening the lives of millions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and nearby countries.
We’re glad to see the caucus later took down the UN tweet, an apparent recognition that the comparison was excessive even for the untamed world of social media.
And yet the overheated Twitter rhetoric continues. Republicans accuse Democrats of running and hiding from a permanent Hirst fix, and maintain that rural landowners are being denied a human right. Dems accuse the R’s of doing widespread damage by blocking the capital budget.
To resolve these two major issues, the governor may need to call a special session before the year is out. But there’s no point as long as the political spin machine keeps churning out angry accusations and unseemly exaggerations..
Now would be a good time for a ceasefire. Perhaps state lawmakers and their surrogates need time to reflect on how our problems pale in comparison to much of the rest of the world.