By DAVID GROVES
OLYMPIA (July 15, 2015) — Sometimes, a star isn’t born. It’s manufactured.
In Sunday’s Seattle Times, “Sen. Andy Hill: A star emerges in session dominated by GOP” glowingly describes the Redmond Republican’s role in the recently concluded state budget negotiations. Reporter Joe O’Sullivan declares that Hill “is getting what comes with a successful GOP run in Olympia: chatter that he could be the party’s best hope for challenging (Governor Jay) Inslee in 2016.”
That self-fulfilling prophecy of chatter comes courtesy of a newspaper with an agenda. The Times twice endorsed Republican Dino Rossi for governor in 2004 and 2008 because “Democrats have been in control of the governor’s mansion a long time.” Then in 2012, the Times took it a step further, not only endorsing Republican Rob McKenna for governor, but also actively campaigning for him by giving him free advertising space.
Like Rossi before him, the Republican Party wants to portray their Senate budget negotiator Andy Hill as a financial savant who deserves credit for everything you like about the state budget and blame for nothing you dislike. And the Times is happy to oblige, inviting a procession of partisans to profess their adulation for Andy, and then printing this lovefest atop Sunday’s news section — rather than in its opinion pages.
Andy Hill cut college tuition while increasing education spending! Andy Hill avoided big tax increases! Andy Hill stuck to his message!
Not mentioned in the Times report is that our state government came within hours of an unprecedented state government shutdown after three costly legislative overtime sessions. Some 26,000 state employees received pink-slip layoff warnings, school districts were unable to budget for this fall’s school year, and precious time and money was wasted making contingency plans in every state agency for the shutdown.
For months, while Andy Hill was “sticking to his message” rather than negotiating in good faith, at the urging of Governor Inslee, Democratic negotiators were revising their offers and sacrificing priorities in an effort to reach a budget agreement and end the session. With two weeks to go before a July 1 shutdown, Democrats had “moved to the middle” by about $800 million and Republicans had moved by about $20 million (see chart).
Meanwhile, instead of moving to the middle, Andy Hill was pushing partisan political attacks against public employees and their collective bargaining rights that would make Scott Walker proud. And even after Andy Hill and his fellow legislators were themselves awarded 11.2 percent raises by an independent commission, he blocked raises of less than half that amount for state employees.
The people who keep our communities safe, care for the elderly and disabled, teach and protect our children, maintain our roads, and provide other essential services haven’t had a raise in seven years. Instead, during that period they have suffered pay cuts, higher health costs, furloughs and layoffs. Not only did our hero Andy Hill block their modest raises, his budget proposed to take away their spousal health coverage.
Governor Inslee and the Democrat-controlled House supported maintaining state employees’ health coverage and funding their raises. And so did a bipartisan majority of senators, with 29 of 49 of them voting to fund the state employee contracts. But Andy Hill and Senate GOP leaders changed the rules to impose a 30-vote supermajority requirement to amend his budget. Andy Hill said he’d fund the contracts only if Democrats agreed to “policy concessions” designed to undermine state employees’ collective bargaining rights.
In a public statement ignored by the newshounds at the Times, Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson decried Andy Hill’s contract hostage-taking and his “open contempt” for state employees:
None of these ideological policies can pass the Legislature on their own merits. A bill to make bargaining talks public meetings failed to pass even the Republican-controlled Senate this year. Demanding such policies in exchange for approving state employees first wage increases in seven years — 4.8% spread over two years, which is significantly less than the 11.2% raises that state legislators themselves were just awarded — horribly disrespects public employees and the critical work they do.
Make no mistake, this budget might have been settled months ago — and the stress and cost of three overtime sessions and a near-shutdown avoided — if not for Andy Hill’s decision to pursue these attacks against state employees.
“For over two months we worked together in a bipartisan way on this budget… but we came to a spot where we couldn’t make the two sides pull together,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam), the lead Democratic budget negotiator, way back on April 6 before he and his caucus were essentially kicked out of the room by Andy Hill. “Those areas of disagreement were largely around the collective bargaining agreements, employee benefits issues like taking away spousal coverage and the retirement benefit cut… It’s interesting to me that all of those amendments on the floor (to restore those cuts) had more than 25 votes” and therefore would have been approved if not for the supermajority rule.
In the end, Andy Hill conceded what the majority of both houses and the governor wanted all along: to fund the state employee contracts. He also gave up on his ideological attacks against public employees’ bargaining rights. But it took nearly three more costly months of overtime sessions to get there.
All that wasted time and money is apparently forgiven and forgotten by the Times. In doing so, the newspaper is essentially endorsing the Washington Senate Republicans’ embrace of Washington, D.C.-style government shutdown politics.
Two years ago, when Senate Republicans were handed a de facto majority by a couple of defecting Democrats, they did the same thing. They held the budget hostage to an ideological wish list of policy bills that didn’t have sufficient support to pass the Legislature on their own merits. Similarly, the 2013 deal was reached with just hours to go before a government shutdown. But the D.C.-style shutdown negotiating prompted The Bellingham Herald to write: “Senate Republicans took the usual level of brinksmanship over petty policy bills to new and unproductive highs this year.”
After another round of nearly identical brinksmanship took us even closer to a government shutdown in 2015, it appears that some of our Capitol Press Corps already considers the threat of a shutdown to be business as usual in Olympia. In fact, some of them — and not just the Times — are suggesting that the side that gave the least in these high-stakes last-minute negotiations were the “winners.” This not only accepts, it encourages shutdown politics.
That’s bad news for Democrats, who want government to function properly and have demonstrated in both Washingtons that they will make policy sacrifices to ensure shutdowns are avoided and lives aren’t disrupted.
But that’s good news for Republicans like Andy Hill, who decry “the government” and are willing to do whatever it takes to get their way on contentious ideological issues, including shutting it down.
David Groves is the Editor of The Stand.