Out of session
Often in the past, the best thing you could say about the Washington state Legislature’s biennial budget-setting session was that, at long last, it was over. Extended sessions, and extended extensions, have been the norm as legislators staggered to a frustrated finish weeks after their putative deadline.
This year, the lawmakers finished on schedule — for the first time in a decade — delivering some huge spending packages, tax hikes and other noteworthy legislation before their Sunday adjournment. That was more likely to happen with a Democratic governor and Democratic control in the House and Senate because, simply put, they could actually pass things with a majority. And they did. Split control of the two legislative bodies sucked any positive energy out of many previous sessions. Both parties weaponized the word “compromise” until it was meaningless in the face of legislative stagnation, and the resultant lawmaking was inadequate to the state’s needs.
The push to finish the 2019 session was dramatized by the usual last-minute machinations and late-hour negotiations, with some Republicans complaining about what they said was a lack of transparency in the process. But Republicans have defiantly finessed the “hide the budget” gambit in the past. Their grousing now sounds disingenuous.
This time Gov. Jay Inslee and the Dems largely got their way on major topics such as spending, taxation, school funding, climate change action and environmental issues. That’s not to say that everything was wrapped up with a partisan bow. A lot of the fundamental grunt work of state government — providing services and support for the state’s various populations, constituencies, counties, cities and other public agencies — gets done far down-page from the headline-grabbing controversies. And when it comes to asking, at the local level, “what did they do for us,” the answer is likely to be found in the hundreds of line-item entries in the state capital and transportation budgets. Those are the appropriations that have direct relevance to our individual communities.
National politics played a big role in state politics as they applied to the 2019 session. If you’re a Republican lamenting loss of influence in Olympia, there is no getting around the effect of anti-Trump sentiment in the 2018 elections, which saw Democrats grab the reins in the state House and Senate. It’s hardly likely to get better for the state GOP in 2020. But Republicans can still succeed at the local level, as was demonstrated in the 12th Congressional District, which includes the liberal-tilting Methow Valley.
Sen. Brad Hawkins and Reps. Mike Steele and Keith Goehring are all Republicans. But while they are conservative, they don’t usually make a big ideological thing about it. They may hew to the party line on some major issues such as spending and taxation, but as a locally practical matter they are attentive to the needs and wants of their divergent communities, which are spread over a huge swath of central Washington.
How does that play out? For the Methow Valley alone, the support of our 12th District delegation was largely responsible for capital budget earmarks for the Twisp civic building and the Winthrop library (see story on page A1). Out of a nearly $5 billion capital budget, the $3 million-plus designated for those two projects amounts to two lines of type in a very long list. But their value to the Methow Valley is immeasurable, and a “thank you” is in order for the 12th District delegation’s efforts.
Some other legislative actions, such as lifting the levy lids on local school levies, launching an initiative to improve rural broadband service and providing affordable health care, could have direct effects on the Methow Valley as well. It will take some time for those actions to play out in a way that we can see their benefits.
Many of us may care fervently about the fate of Puget Sound orcas, climate change action, combating opioid addiction and reducing gun violence, all of which are important issues addressed in the 2019 session. Still, as former Speaker of the House Rep. Tip O’Neill famously observed, “all politics is local.” Neither citizens nor their representatives should ever lose sight of that.