Attendance was a little light at church this past Sunday due to the 10 a.m. start time of the Seahawks game.
But since the 2016 legislative session also convened this week, I hope church attendance increases as it may take divine intervention to actually get anything of significance accomplished in the short 60 day session. While there is much talk of cooperation, the reality is that politics will hold sway over policy. This is an election year with all members of the state House of Representatives, half the state Senate and all statewide offices, including the governor’s office, on the ballot. Power, who has it, who wants it and who holds it next December will determine every movement on every issue.
The numbers in each chamber are so close that the loss of even one seat could be critical to each party’s goal of legislative control.
Both sides will introduce legislation to advance their policy agenda but also try to build a negative voting record for the opposition that will surface later this year in mailing brochures and television commercials. Republicans will introduce conservative bills and Democrats will introduce progressive ones. But nothing will pass that makes the other side look good.
Legislators and special interest groups have been refining their talking points to the media in preparation for the session. You may have noticed an emphasis on funding for fire services in reaction to last summer’s fires in eastern Washington. Funding may be needed, but it is also being used as a “stalking horse” to shift the public dialog away from education. The same is true of the heightened visibility of funding for charter schools. Although that serves two purposes. Charter schools were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because they are not “common” schools and therefore not eligible for public funding. By raising the dialog on charter schools it also gives some legislators the avenue to reopen its critical comments about the Supreme Court and finding the Legislature in contempt in 2012 for not fully funding basic education. Telling the Supreme Court to “mind its own business” might make a good election year headline in a legislator’s hometown newspaper, but it is neither a thoughtful nor prudent move in the long run. The fines for non-compliance levied by the court against the Legislature on basic education are almost $15 million. At $100,000 per day the fine levied by the court is going to look like real money a year from now.
So far the only agreement on education has been that 2017 looks like a good time to make a decision. That gets the controversial issue past this election cycle year, and there won’t be any of that silly accountability stuff the public expects until the 2018 elections.
The other talking point making the rounds is suggesting that funding for schools can be solved by a redistribution formula because some districts pay their teachers more than other districts. There are districts that pay their teachers more than ours are paid in Federal Way. However, that would require an “equalization” and any plan that has some districts benefiting from other districts’ loss isn’t going to be well received. Each district has its own elected school board that responds to education needs within the community. Although “full funding” has different meanings to different people, the redistribution idea needs “all winners” to be taken seriously. But it works as another way to put off the decision until next year while the legislature “gathers data.”
Democrats are trying to keep the discussion from straying to side issues and staying focused on full funding for education. They do not want full funding of education to come at the expense of other programs that they believe are underfunded. They would be willing to support a discussion around revenue options, but not this year. Republicans will only support a solution that does not increase taxes. They would like to see budget cuts elsewhere. But the amount of money needed to solve the problem likely can’t be reached solely through budget cuts. Budget cuts now, will likely show up as a problem later and the public will be upset about a problem that could have been controlled by the appropriate funding amount in the first place. As an example, mental health is an area that needs additional funding.
Some of these ideas are being pushed to appeal to each party’s political base. Increased turnout in the fall election can be helped by whose issue is pushed now. Also, you can count on several initiatives qualifying for the ballot that will appeal to the special interest groups and increase the voter turnout. Minimum wage may make the ballot.
Watch for Democrats to bring up global warming and gun control. Not only do those issues appeal to their base, but new polling shows shifting public opinion among independents who want something done on those topics as well. That’s why national democrats have tried to make both issues part of the debate.
You can expect a significant amount of legislation, with no chance of passing, to be introduced by legislators up for re-election. Current statewide office holders have been appearing on the news lately along with several legislators running for higher office. Face time on the evening news everyday will guide each day’s events. Gov. Jay Inslee will take some hits on the prisoner release controversy, but he has control of the issue and can wait until the right time to release his review. Handled correctly, he can neutralize the issue. There will also be calls for the impeachment of State Auditor Troy Kelley. That will make good press but won’t happen, as there is nothing to act on until his trial is over.
While there has been much talk about cooperation, the only goal both sides really agree on is to try and adjourn a day or two before the 60 day deadline.
And you can do your part. Go watch the legislature in action. Or better yet, don’t skip church for next week’s game. The Legislature could use your prayers.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com