The muffled chants of protesters could be heard through the walls of Governor Chris Gregoire's conference room on October 27. She had called reporters to Olympia to warn that upcoming budget cuts would be "dreadful." That is, even more dreadful than the last $10 billion in cuts to Washington State's budget over the last three years. "We have shredded our social safety net," Gregoire said—before declaring that the state's latest budget shortfall, totaling about $2 billion, will have to shred the net even further.
"I simply have to be honest with the State of Washington," Gregoire told reporters. "While my heart is there, my pocketbook is empty."
Who's to blame? According to Gregoire, it's "the reckless behavior on Wall Street that touched off a financial panic three years ago, along with a European debt crisis, and a Congress that simply can't get the job done."
Which sounds about right. And that argument certainly encapsulates the thinking of the protesters outside her office, including one with a "Welcome to the Occupation" sign, riffing on the national Occupy Wall Street movement seeking corporate accountability.
What didn't sound right was Gregoire's contention that she has "not thought about" ways to raise revenue so that the current $2 billion shortfall can be filled without using an all-cuts approach (an approach that, as she outlined it, would end up eliminating the state's Basic Health plan while further slashing money for higher education and causing recently released sex offenders to go unsupervised). After watching this "dreadful" trend for years, it's just not credible that Gregoire has "not thought about" the issue.
What she's doing is more of the same Kabuki theater she's been performing for the last three years—and it's very stale and familiar at this point. Gregoire presents a "dreadful" budget proposal and hopes that other people—maybe state legislators, maybe the general public—will lead us toward a better alternative. Which is, of course, a complete abdication of leadership on her part.
What's new is that Gregoire is now combining her lack of leadership with blame-casting that mimics Occupy-style, anti–Wall Street rhetoric. She's probably doing this to obscure how much of the blame she herself should share for the state's current financial mess, but hey, since she's using Occupy language, and since she's basically asking for others to lead, why not ramp up the Occupy Olympia effort, cheer her anti–Wall Street critique, and lead her toward a solution that better serves the 99 percent? (Or even the 71 percent of voters who told a recent Washington Poll that they support raising taxes to help balance the state budget.)
Gregoire claims she's still asking herself questions about the issue: "Do we want to look at alternatives of revenue? What might they be? And do we want to go there?"
The special session convenes on November 28. Time to give her an answer.