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What is the measure in this state for progressivism anymore?


Once again, a state legislative session that slashed another 1,266 state jobs along with many other programs — in defiance of any rational economic theory, let alone Keynes — concluded with celebrations of bipartisanship and “saving” programs.

Highlighting “[a] budget that funds education with no cuts and saves the safety net,” permanent House Speaker Frank Chopp, exulted, “We succeeded!”

Unmentioned was his role in leading a fearless band of 19 Democrats and 37 Republicans in rolling over fellow Democrats and labor by shortchanging future public worker pensions. Having been the speaker for more than 10% of state history, one imagines he has another 30-40 years left in him.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown similarly celebrated “a budget that fully funded education and protected the social safety net.”

Never mind that a unanimous Washington Supreme Court had already declared the current level of K-12 education funding inadequate. And cuts already made to the social safety net have resulted in myriad lawsuits, with more certain to come based upon what additionally was cut in this budget.

Indeed, a timely postscript was the April 16 announcement that The Seattle Times won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on how the penny-pinching state was literally killing people in state-subsidized health care by forcing methadone upon them.

And an underfunded Bothell nursing home, which had received 4 out the 5 stars available from the federal government for quality, announced its pending closure. Meanwhile, boarding homes now face additional 2% cuts. Their lowest daily payments for 24/7 care, meals, and housing were already roughly half of the session “per diem” payments legislators can claim.

Meanwhile, effective immediately for at-risk kids, state-subsidized child care was to be slashed 3.6 percent; evaluations and treatment by 15 percent; and adoption support recruitment by 50 percent. Are they not part of the safety net?

Already bare-bones mental health services took another $2.6 million cut, and $26.3 million was cut from special indigent assistance payments for rural and non-rural hospitals. Again, are they not part of the safety net?

But never mind: Similar self-satisfaction was found on the far-right, as the Association of Washington Business put out a release stating, “Chambers of commerce from across Washington state thanked Governor Gregoire and state legislators for passing a supplemental budget and other measures that align with the top priorities identified by businesses[.]”

The Seattle Times editorial page, after a session lambasting Democrats, declared victory by calling the budget “a triumph of the middle.” It quickly called upon the City of Seattle to import the Democratic Legislature’s attack on workers’ pensions in its own budget negotiations.

Perhaps the Senate’s most conservative member, Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside, wrote, “The Senate coalition was steadfast in its belief that enough was enough, and fortunately we were able to stick to our guns on this one.” Senate Republican budget lead Joe Zarelli of Vancouver effused, “Our coalition stood firm on a set of breakthrough reforms and a supplemental budget that should aid our state’s financial outlook for decades to come.”

Decades to come?

Interestingly, in an April 26, 2011 Seattle Times column, Zarelli had written of the previous all-cuts budget, that it would be sustainable “not just for the next two years, but for years to come.”  (Emphasis added.)  Within mere weeks it was already projected to be in the red, forcing last December’s special session.

Exponentially, one can only wonder if next year’s Democratic capitulation to Republicans will bring with it the boast that the budget will be balanced for centuries to come.

Perhaps only this state could have adopted a bill this session with the Orwellian title of “[i]mproving revenue and budget sustainability by repealing, modifying, or revising tax preference and license fees” that will actually cost the state $1.18 million in the next biennium, while costing local governments over $10.3 million.  Improving sustainability indeed!

Where do we go from here? How will we, as a state, ever get to progressive tax reform, if every claim about a Tim Eyman initiative is belied by bipartisan celebration of Eyman-constrained budget results?

Brendan Williams, a former state representative and Washington Supreme Court law clerk, is a candidate for Thurston County Superior Court judge.

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