By JEFF JOHNSON
(June 10, 2013) — After a 105-day regular legislative session and 28 days of a 30-day “Special Session,” the Senate Republican majority caucus has finally and clearly revealed its hand. They are holding the operating, capital, and transportation revenue budgets hostage to a set of policy bills that have nothing to do with any of the budgets.
These bills, SBs 5127, 5895, 5312, 5242 and 5296 would jeopardize the safety net for injured workers, cap spending on health care, housing and food assistance for the most vulnerable, expand the payday debt trap for people strapped for cash, make it easier to arbitrarily discipline and fire teachers, and lessen protections to public health by modifying how the Model Toxic Control Act operates.
The Senate Republican majority caucus doesn’t mind mimicking the behavior of Republicans in Congress. They are obsessed with protecting the interests of the rich and corporations to the point that it is never appropriate to raise taxes on them. Lowering taxes is the only acceptable policy tool for them. They give new meaning to the misquote of Charles Wilson, former CEO of General Motors and Secretary of the Defense: “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” So if they believe that cutting benefits for injured workers or capping benefits for the poor and disabled creates a better “business climate,” then pursuing that course is more important than their basic good-governance responsibilities of passing budgets and managing state government.
While reasonable people can disagree over policy formulations, holding your breath, stomping your feet and forcing state government towards a shutdown if others won’t agree with you is irresponsible. The time to address policy bills is long over. Both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office — not to mention labor, business, and community organizations — have policy bills that they would have liked to pass during a special legislative session. But these bills have become obstacles to passing an operating budget with real and new revenue that meets the needs of our state, a capital budget that builds necessary infrastructure and puts thousands of workers back to work, and a transportation revenue package that is the best way to leverage greater economic activity and improve the real business climate — also creating income and jobs.
Just as beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, one person’s “reform” is another person’s nightmare. It is time to put policy bills down and to focus exclusively on the three budgets. Let’s have the debate over whether to include new revenue in an operating budget or not, whether it is fair to tax the rich or cut benefits for the poor. Let’s have the debate over the merits of having a capital budget or not. And finally, let’s have the debate over the need for a real and substantive transportation revenue package that improves the maintenance and preservation of our roads and bridges, improves our key economic corridors, and invests in our mass transit systems, safe streets and storm water mitigation, as well as a bridge over the Columbia River.
This, I believe, the people of Washington State would be interested in. This is what will move our state forward. This is what will distinguish our Washington from Washington, D.C.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.