Credit: Allyce Andrew
No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
Twain would have torn his crazy white hair out during last year’s protracted legislative session, when democracy itself seemed at risk. Or at least edging into territory worthy of the great satirist's attention. Olympia 2013 was about gridlock and procedural hijinks that persisted through a 105-day regular session and two, count 'em two 30-day special sessions. Olympia came close to a D.C.-style partial shutdown.
We’re hoping that lawmakers have learned a bit about comity and collaboration — maybe even sipped a little bipartisan KoolAid — during their months-long legislative hiatus, which ends Monday. Anything to get the gears of government grinding more smoothly in 2014. After all, even though this is not a budget wrangling year, there'is still a lot to do. The big question: Will lawmakers do it together? Will 2014 be the year they bridge the political chasm or deepen the divide?
Here are the five big issues we’ll be keeping a close eye on this year. We invite you to watch along with us.
The 2014 session starts with a sigh of relief: No budget crisis. Lawmakers don't have to haggle over cuts to the state’s $33.4 billion pot. They just have to argue over how much to save vs. how much to spend. A rare, albeit mandatory, area of potential agreement is spending more for the public school improvements ordered by the state Supreme Court in its McCleary decision. Expect bickering over precisely how much the public schools will get.
Overall, Democrats will push harder for new money, not just for schools but for social and mental health services. Republicans will respond with arguments about saving for the (inevitable) rainy days ahead, and push back hard for pension reforms that save taxpayer money at the expense of public workers. Certain to come up in the wake of the vote by Boeing machinists to give up their pensions: Should lawmakers switch their pensions to 401-k plans?
That’s not the only Boeing afterglow: Those ginormous, build-it-here-please, tax breaks the Legislature and governor happily handed Boeing did not go unnoticed by tech, ag and other state business sectors, who are now eager to get lawmakers’ ears. Already new House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen is arguing that "what’s good for one should be good for all." Ka-ching!
Why you should care? Because no state income tax means Washington depends on revenue from business, sales and property taxes to fund essential government services. Legislators are in constant scramble mode trying to balance the burden on businesses with the costs of public education, mental health care, environmental protection and the like. Lean too far in either direction and the economy slips or human misery mounts — more likely both.
This is the Evergreen State and we like it clean. That’s one thing you can get agreement on in Olympia. Beyond that, lawmakers don't even speak the same language.
On climate, the differences are so vast that Gov. Jay Inslee's efforts to strike a deal with Republicans on serious climate action are probably DOA. Expect lots of posturing, alternative proposals and maybe some executive orders from the governor (which could induce GOP fainting spells).
Water quality issues have a better chance of bipartisan movement, especially in the wake of a new study showing measurable deterioration in Bellingham Bay. Environmental groups warn that the rapid increase in oil trains and the increased risk potential for spills and explosions threaten waterways and towns across the state. Boeing and other Washington manufacturers fear — and are sure to lobby against — the imposition of tougher water quality standards and the costs associated with them.
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