Like so many readers of The Stand, I thrilled to the temporary ascension of Dino Rossi to his former 5th District Senate seat.
After all, Rossi, although defeated in three successive elections (not counting his 1992 State Senate defeat by Kathleen Drew), would surely bring — during his noble service between sessions — the magic to fixing our state’s budget he showed in 2003 working with then-Governor Gary Locke and permanent House Speaker Frank Chopp.
Alas, it is not to be. In his 2010 campaign against U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Rossi’s wealth was estimated to be as high as $15 million. As a paragon of budgetary rectitude, I was certain Rossi, upon returning to the Senate, would sacrifice the same 3% of his $42,106 salary — for part-time work — that a state worker making $30,000 — for full-time work — must return to taxpayers under current cuts.
A budget wizard like Rossi would know a legislator’s part-time salary exceeds the median household income for half of all of Washington’s counties! And that’s not even counting the nontaxable $90 daily (or “per diem”) payment legislators can claim for days in session or attending meetings like the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council — which Rossi serves on — or the $1,500 quarterly expense allowance usable to pay for things like laundry bills.
Yet, despite my high hopes, Rossi has disappointed. A man who once made $16,000 for each seminar teaching how to capitalize on foreclosed properties is now unwilling to give up $105.27 a month. What happened to “resetting government,” the Seattle Times’ editorial board mantra Rossi’s Senate Republicans parrot?
If a Laundry Assistant 2, cleaning the soiled linens of veterans or mental health hospital patients, must sacrifice 3% of her salary, why can’t Rossi stand with her?
Following the Sept. 19 revenue forecast, Rossi issued a hectoring press release calling “for state government to live within its means” and counseling the woman who twice defeated him: “The governor can help right now by being the taxpayers’ advocate during the ongoing negotiations of collective bargaining agreements that would take effect after she leaves office.” Surely, given his sage advice, the good senator could live within the 3% pay cuts state workers agreed to in their current collective bargaining agreements. Surely he could demonstrate he was a “taxpayers’ advocate.”
By Sept. 19, the senator knew state workers agreed to a pay increase of no more than 1% in the next two years — and only if revenue increased. In contrast, Republican hero Chris Christie — the New Jersey governor and keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention — signed off on 2.75% wage increases for New Jersey’s state workers.
In fairness to Rossi, he had never demonstrated solidarity with fellow state workers. However, he spoke often about state government standing by its most vulnerable citizens. In his first taxpayer-funded video update, on July 10, Rossi stated, “We also have to make sure we protect the most vulnerable in our society.”
That being the case, one would have expected him to, at least, take the 2% cut care recipients in assisted living facilities took this past session. Sadly, however, even that proved too much sacrifice. Why cut out your own caviar when you can cut adult diapers instead?
Oh, Dino. You would think six years as a legislator would have made me more cynical and incapable of being so disappointed.
Brendan Williams is a former State Representative from the 22nd Legislative District.