Writings and observations

WA: Gregoire’s turn

The title given to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire‘s state of the state – “Our turn, our responsibility” – suggests what’s coming: Something other than another round of cut, cut, cut.

No shock there; she’s been putting down the foundation for such a call for months.

After her usual quick anecdote or two (“I have a complicated relationship with growing older. First, I get carded at Hannah’s Tavern and now I’m getting hearing aid offers in the mail”), the keynote seemed to be this, reached early on: “Many believe we should just ride out the Great Recession or use this time of economic stress to dismantle our government. But that’s not our Washington.”

Really, there’s nothing radical here. She continues, lacing the speech with traditionalist language, “Today, it’s our time. It’s our time to practice the courage and compassion handed down to us by our parents and grandparents. It’s our time to rebuild our highways and bridges. It’s our time to create jobs now and for the future. It’s our time to keep our streets safe. It’s our time to give our young people the education and knowledge they will need to succeed in a world economy.”

This being one of the short sessions in Washington, Gregoire’s wish list wasn’t vast;the ambition here, in usual contexts, isn’t immense. But she did lay down markers:

So in the next 60 days, I ask you to do four things:
1. Use the early start you got in December and quickly pass a budget;
2. Ask the voters this spring to approve a temporary, half-penny sales tax increase for students and their future;
3. Pass my school reforms; and
4. Pass a major transportation and jobs package.

The transportation package may be the least-thoroughly advanced of the group, but she reserved most of her rhetoric for the revenue increase – the piece that’s doubtless going to be the hardest sell.

Remember, the last time we raised the state sales tax was in 1983, under a Republican governor during the worst recession until this one.
I ask you to listen to your hearts as well as your heads.
Will that 85-year-old woman with failing health who needs help to live in dignity at home find it regressive?
Will that student who faces the difference between a mediocre education or a great one find it regressive?
Will that family living in fear of a criminal getting out of prison five months early with little supervision find it regressive?
No. They will say it’s the right thing to do, because it is. And they will remember we didn’t wait for things to get better. We made them better.
Without the half penny, we lose far more than we gain. We lose our future, our values and our way.
Like governors and Legislatures in the past, it’s our time to do something very hard. It’s our time to ask for sacrifice from everyone, to ask everyone to contribute to our future so everybody wins in the turn.

There will be some blowback. House Republican Richard DeBolt said that “People want us to adopt a balanced budget that doesn’t take more money from their household budgets.” But there’s a fair chance that Gregoire has the timing about right.

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