State legislators opened a special session yesterday to come up with a solution to a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall. Earlier this month, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed $2 billion in cuts to K-12 education, health care, higher ed, and other state-funded programs, of which $500 million would go into reserve funds. In addition, Gregoire also proposed putting a half-cent statewide sales tax increase on the ballot, which would allow the state to "buy back" about half a billion dollars in cuts.
In his post, Carlyle argues that legislators should look beyond their differences and pass a package of revenues, reforms, and cuts without sending a tax measure to voters. Passing a tax increase, under Initiative 1053, requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature, while sending the proposal to voters requires only a simple majority vote---and therein lies the political conundrum.
I have long argued that the role of representative democracy is to look deeper, to study harder, to assess objectively and to do our best as elected representatives of the people. We elect real people living real lives to make decisions and then once again face the voters. It is a structural long-term mistake to continually send each and every major decision to the voters regardless of scale, scope or policy implications. A healthy balance between direct and representative democracy requires that legislators must occasionally resist the temptation to punt the tough issues to the voters.
Let’s ask an innocent but serious question of the 147 lawmakers: What does it take to win a 2/3 vote for a comprehensive “grand bargain” between reductions, reform and revenues in Olympia? Rather than sending a package to the ballot, let’s question the core assumption that we can’t find a solution that could garner a supermajority. [...]
It may be a complete and total waste of time to pretend that a supermajority vote is possible for a comprehensive package to deal with this financial crisis, and the only path forward is massive cuts immediately and a direct vote of the people to buy back reductions. But don’t we have a fiduciary obligation to try? Should we not examine in a bold, public manner the options for revenues and force a dialogue about tax exemptions, tax policy, tax options?
Williams, a disaffected liberal who resigned out of frustration with the house Democrats' inability to push a progressive agenda, argues that recent efforts to require state workers to pay a larger share of their health care premiums (up to 25 percent, compared to the current 15 percent) show that legislators in Washington State don't value state workers. Williams compares Washington State employees' health care contributions to states like Oregon, where the state worker share of health care premiums just went up to 5 percent (combined with a 2.95 percent cost-of-living adjustment over two years), and Connecticut, where workers' share of health care benefits is locked in through 2022, and where state workers are guaranteed annual wage increases of 3 percent through 2015.
Here in Washington, the idea of having state workers pay more toward health care is really a false solution to a revenue shortfall not of their making.
For the remainder of the biennium, requiring state workers to pay 25% – as opposed to 15% – of their health care premium costs would only “save” the state $28 million (in comparison, Gov. Gregoire thinks she can save $16 million simply by reducing the state’s contribution by $25 a worker to reflect actual health care utilization).
That $28 million is compared to a revenue shortfall of $1.4 billion, and the very real possibility of as much as $2 billion in cuts to both bridge this gap and restore reserves.
Yet, strangely, the idea of further gouging state workers generates disproportionate interest from the likes of the Seattle Times’ editorial board and certain conservative legislators of both parties. [...]
Beyond further attacks upon state workers, we have seen few concrete ideas offered by conservatives. Thus, the question for a Democratically-controlled Legislature is: Toward what end would we want to continue down the path of treating our state workers worse than John Kasich and Scott Walker? While others rally will we fold?