Writings and observations

Washington and Idaho legislative sessions crank in tomorrow, both probably a good deal different – in spite of having the same personnel generally in place – from a year ago. And both having something else in common: A special awareness of how their actions in this session may shape ballot issues in the fall, or earlier.

That’s most notably true in Washington. For the last couple of years, budget action has mostly meant cuts in pay, services and so forth. Revenues at this point are still looking shakey, but a good many Democrats, including Governor Chris Gregoire, are saying that the cuts have to end. What may emerge, in effect, is two budget prospects, one with massive cuts, and the other balanced to some extent with revenue increases (such as Gregoire’s proposed half-cent sales tax increase), which would then go to the voters. It could almost be a backflip on Tim Eyman legislating.

That may be only the first of a string of legislative matters heading to voters, stretching out into social territory (same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization).

In Idaho, there’s a precedent already hanging over legislators’ heads – a referendum on last session’s public schools “Luna laws” (as they’re now being dubbed). But there could be much more. Democrats are talking about a state ethics commission; at this point, it’d be good politics to run that out as an initiative if legislators won’t pass it. The debate over health insurance exchanges promises to be about as lively. If cuts continue, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine ways those too could be placed on ballots. And the kickoff for that could be obvious: For the second year, the budget committee (to its great credit) will be holding public hearings on the budget. (That never had been done in Idaho before last year.) Last year’s hearings drew large crowds; so might this year’s.

Welcome to the statehouses, guys. Should be interesting.

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