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State Senate's budget: strong process, weaker results

Bipartisanship held sway. But the Senate was starting from an unnecessarily bad position.

Rather than simply complain, don't we — in the public and the media — have an obligation to praise good work? So, grudgingly, I'll point to the bipartisan nature of the budget that the state Senate has developed.

We don't see enough of that kind of cooperation, in D.C. especially but to a degree in Olympia as well. The Senate budget leaders in Olympia both seem to be serious, studious legislators, Democrat Ed Murray of Seattle and Republican Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield in the Clark County suburbs. (Zarelli was the subject of a recent Crosscut profile.)

As The Herald of Everett noted, Murray called the budget proposal "historical," and Zarelli said it didn't contain everything he would have liked, but it represented a bipartisan effort. He also said, "This is a good budget for Washingtonians." That idea gives me a queasy feeling. 

If you think in terms of general Republican positions, Zarelli does have a strong argument. It's a balanced budget that limits the state's role, but it was developed with sensititivity toward limiting somewhat the harm to those who depend on state support for things like their health and the education of their children. Plus, both Zarelli and Murray did a good job with the political situation and the fiscal realities they faced.

But the political situation and the budget cuts are what get me. Sure, the state’s voters voted against taxes in a series of ballot measures last fall. Cumulatively, though, those election results fell far short of a voter mandate for this kind of budget, which, in earlier years, Gov. Chris Gregoire would have hotly criticized as failing to represent the values of Washington state residents.

Murray, Zarelli, and other senators deserve credit for dealing cooperatively with the hand they have been dealt. But I don’t think anyone has adequately explored the lack of leadership by Democrats (starting with the governor) and those most committed to a more humanely crafted budget. They could have effectively framed those tax votes in ways that stressed what was at stake for the public in education, health care, environmental programs, and more. That kind of campaign, on both the introduction of an income tax and the repeal of a sugar tax, might have set up better options for bipartisan-minded lawmakers in writing this budget.

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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