The sun rose in the east again today, and children were spotted walking to the school bus. The sky, technically speaking, isn't falling. It just feels that way. On Thursday, Gov. Gregoire announced her list of $2 billion in budget cuts, and nothing (except the sun) was spared. The Tacoma News Tribune's Brad Shannon quotes the governor, "Coming on top of $10 billion in budget cuts, these are truly devastating. People are not going to get what they need. They are not going to get services that they expect."
The "this hurts me more than it hurts you" message flows from the zero-sum reality of a no-revenue budget. There are only so many ways to slice a shrinking pie. So, what about the bugaboo of new taxes? Shannon writes, "In a major shift from a year ago, Gregoire said she will look at revenue options that would allow lawmakers to avoid cutting the full $2 billion needed to cover the budget gap and maintain a reserve through mid-2013." A few highlights (or lowlights) include a 15 percent whack to higher-ed, closing mental wards, pulling 35,000 people from the Basic Health Plan, and slashing school-levy equalization by half (the process that boosts funding for poor, unsually rural school districts). That is just the beginning. "Among those other options: Shortening the school year by five days for K-12 schools, halting state subsidies for school district transportation programs, and ending state payments for prescription drugs for Medicaid-eligible adults not in hospitals or nursing homes," Shannon writes.
One arm of state government, the State Supreme Court, continues to remain vital, weighing in on some of the seminal legal and social-justice issues of the day. Consider, for example, horn honking as an expression of free speech. As the Everett Herald's Diana Hefley writes, "The state Supreme Court, in a split decision released Thursday, has ruled that a Snohomish County's noise ordinance limiting horn-honking is overbroad and could stifle speech protected under the First Amendment." The case produced a few gem-like observations, including this one from the brief by the honking-scofflaw's attorney: "Everyone knows honking is speech. Whether the horn is used to warn another driver, express frustration, or make a statement, it is used solely for communication."
So, was this simply a case of an ill-considered civility law tailored to an overly polite, conflict averse, and process-heavy Northwest? If only it were so easy. In fact the Monroe defendant parked in front of her housing-association president's home and "laid on her horn for up to 10 minutes." Now that is annoying.
The best weekend read is Ellis Conklin's animated Seattle Weekly profile of Whidbey Island writer Pete Dexter. Dexter, the author of Paris Trout and Deadwood, has led a life as colorful and inspired as his writing (imagine a cross between Pete Hamill and Tom Robbins). Picture, for example, the consequences of an infamous 1980s bar fight: "Dexter suffered a broken pelvis, a cracked femur, nerve damage to his hands, a concussion, bleeding on the brain, and a spine fractured in two places. His scalp required 90 stitches."
While the Northwest did produce Ken Kesey, most great local writers, like Dexter, Robbins, and Jonathan Raban, are from other parts of the country or the globe. Is that relevant at all? Or does it mean they probably came from places that put a higher premium on education?
The Northwest has never produced a president. (Yes, Herbert Hoover spent his formative years in Newberg, Oregon, but Hoover will never, ever count). Will our first Northwest president be Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz? It sounds farfetched. Nevertheless, as Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times writes, a third-party candidate like Schultz could play a deciding role in the 2012 election. "American voters have fired two modern presidents after just one term, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992," McManus writes.
"Both suffered because the economy was in poor shape, and both faced disaffection within their own parties. But there was another thing those candidates had in common: They both faced relatively strong third-party candidates in the November election." The third-party vehicle this time is a well-funded centrist group called "Americans Elect," which plans a 50-state campaign. The big-picture question: Why not begin with a local or state-level effort? McManus writes, "Presidential elections aren't the main source of polarization in American politics; neither Obama nor Romney is an extremist. Most of the polarization we're seeing comes from Congress, where districts have been drawn to protect incumbents and where donors and interest groups have more influence on the nominating process."
Lastly, Starbucks not only produces presidential contenders, but also contested turf for warring motorcycle gangs. As Jason Kandel of Reuters reports, a deadly battle between rival biker gangs centers on which gang has control of a Santa Cruz Starbucks. Kandel quotes Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark, who observes, "Only in Santa Cruz would you have biker wars over who's going to control pumpkin spice lattes."
Tacoma News Tribune, "Let the debate begin: Gregoire lays out $2B list of state budget cuts"
Seattle Weekly, "Pete Dexter lets it bleed"
Los Angeles Times, "A third-party presence in 2012"