At an afternoon press conference on Monday, June 24, Governor Jay Inslee announced that a long-contested state budget deal was "imminent"—just hours away. But by the time The Stranger went to press Tuesday, no agreement had been reached.
If lawmakers fail to pass a two-year budget before the current one expires June 30, the state will be plunged into a government shutdown. More than 25,000 state employees have already received layoff notices, and many thousands more private contractors stand to lose their jobs.
"The 8,000 employees at our state corrections system will be reduced to 3,000, and those layoffs will include our community corrections officers," state senate minority leader (and Seattle mayoral hopeful) Ed Murray (D-43) warned via e-mail. "Sex offenders will no longer be tracked. Our state prisons will close to new offenders, sending them instead to our already overburdened county jail facilities."
More to the point of the progressive agenda: Schools won't be able to budget, Murray continued, while programs to help the hungry, assist kids in preschool, provide services to the mentally ill, and aid other vulnerable populations will run dry.
But even if this short-term crisis is averted, the long-term crisis will remain. For the awful truth about Olympia is that it has been implementing a slow-motion government shutdown for years, and by taking us to the precipice of a fiscal cliff, Republicans have ensured at least two more years of the same.
To enact a Republican agenda, all the GOP obstructionists have to do is nothing. Do nothing and our state's structural revenue deficit slowly starves universities, K-12 schools, health care, and capital investments. Do nothing and the only taxes at our disposal to address court orders and emergencies are taxes that regressively sap the poor. The GOP wins simply by keeping Olympia at loggerheads.
Even more discouragingly, state Democrats appear neither willing nor able to embrace the progressive narrative that President Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren used so effectively last year: that everybody deserves a chance to succeed, and that the wealthy who profit the most from our system must also pay a greater share to fund the public schools, clinics, and infrastructure necessary for the success of all. If state Democratic leaders want to secure a progressive, sustainable budget, that is the story they must tell—broadly, boldly, and relentlessly. They need to barnstorm the state with one aim in mind: persuading voters to tax the wealthy and invest in our state. Only then will they have a political tailwind in Olympia.
For however strong the Democratic hold on the governor's mansion, unless Democrats find the will to champion the taxation of income and wealth, voters will keep getting the Republican agenda by default.