Budgeting gives the state capitol a taste of the surreal
by John Stang
Washington State Capitol Credit: Washington State House Democratic Caucus/Flickr
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that we call the Olympia's past week in The Twilight Zone. (The TV show's introduction, paraphrased)
For your consideration, the 2013-1015 state budget. $33 billion, maybe $34 billion — give or take.
It lurks just around the corner. The denizens of the Capitol Campus anxiously await its arrival. When it comes, mysteries will begin to clear up.
Will Gov. Jay Inslee's' targeted tax loopholes be closed? What about his budget increases proposed Thursday? How do the Republicans plan to meet the Washington Supreme Court's ruling to improve K-12 education, put extra money into higher education, keep services intact for the elderly, expand Medicaid a bit and not raise taxes? What taxes will the Democrats want to raise to balance the budget? Will the two sides ever agree on what is needed to meet the Supreme Court's education mandate? Is a drawn-out battle of wills inevitable?
Inslee unveiled his budget priorities and proposed loophole closures on Thursday, but no budget. So far, Republicans are snickering at it.
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said Inslee's approach is stuck in a portal between two dimensions — you can see part of it, but part of it is not on our plane of existence. So you have no idea what the whole thing will look like.
"I would like to have a (full) budget. You've got to fit (what Inslee did not address Thursday) into the puzzle," DeBolt said.
But this could be an instance of déjà vu for the House Republicans. Earlier, they released their proposed $817 million education fix-it budget without details of the overall operating budget expected to be roughly $33 billion or more. DeBolt said the House Republicans are waiting for the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — 23 Republicans and two Democrats — to release its proposed budget before the lower chamber's GOP releases its entire draft budget. Meanwhile, the House Democrats are supposed to announce their budget proposal a few days after the Senate Majority Coalition goes first.
So when will the Senate majority caucus raise the curtain on its proposed budget? People thought it would be this week. But the number-crunching has been trickier than expected.
"I think it'll be next week. But we can't zero in on an exact date," said Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee.
And when the document is unveiled, it will be scrutinized closely to make sure it is not misinterpreted.
Now let us take you on a journey into darkness — a jungle of mind, morality and money. The twisted world of the U.S. Supreme Court and its 2010 Citizens United ruling. Where the rich — personally, corporately and union-wise — can funnel millions of dollars to candidates through Super PACs.
A lefty California billionaire threatens to deluge a Democrat Senate candidate in Massachusetts with negative-spinning TV ads against him if that candidate refuses to change an environmental position. Gun-control-loving gazillionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used a front group to spend $2 million to defeat a gun-rights-supporting Congressional candidate in Chicago. Las Vegas gambling mogul Sheldon Adleson gave $10 million to Mitt Romney plus another $20 million to Newt Gingrich in the Republican primaries. Karl Rove collected $390 million to boost Romney's failed presidential campaign.
Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, introduced a memorial — essentially a legislative request to Congress — to ask that body to send to the states a U.S. Constitutional amendment returning authority to regulate campaign financing. Kline's proposed memorial went to the Legislature's Republican-dominated Senate Government Operations Committee and was never heard from again.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, has ventured into the same territory. He got the same request through the state House, and now it has entered the Senate Government Operations Committee where it had a public hearing last Tuesday.
But will it get through?
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, noted that Pedersen's memorial request is not necessary to put the $33 billion-plus 2013-2015 budget together. "We'll probably tackle it next year," he said.
Ericksen guided another non-budgetary trip through the corridors of science Tuesday when he had a global warming skeptic — retired Western Washington University geology professor Don Easterbrook — testify for an hour before his Senate Energy and Environment Committee.
Easterbrook argued that the Earth is actually getting colder, and that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have been secretly “manipulating” data to make it appear that the world's temperatures are rising. He could not give a reason for why the feds would be doing this on the sly. Easterbrook might plausibly identify with science-fiction hero William Shatner in that he is going boldly against the overwhelming majority of the mainstream scientific community.
Ericksen is a bit of a global warming skeptic. "I think the committee needed to be exposed to all viewpoints. I don't think there is 100 percent unanimity on climate change," Ericksen said.
He noted that Inslee — who has identified climate change as one of his biggest issues — testified an hour before Ericksen's committee on the governor's bill. Inslee's bill would establish a bipartisan working group with members from the House and Senate to examine how other states and nations handle carbon emissions, and determine how Washington can deal with the matter cost-effectively. The group's recommendations are due late this year.
The Senate passed that bill weeks ago. The House passed it on Monday, sending it to Inslee for his signature — one day before Easterbrook argued that global warming is bunk before Ericksen's committee.
So Professor Easterbrook got to return to Whatcom County, a beautiful idyllic rural nook of the Pacific Northwest, after his journey to Olympia's Capitol Campus, a place of illusions and shadows known as The Twilight Zone.