The Washington Legislature proved ambitious in its 60-day session, addressing many of the state priorities this editorial page urged action on in January. The state needed a long-range infrastructure boost and fixes to poorly constructed laws that aimed at policing reform and long-term medical care. Legislators passed bills to defuse the most critical needs in each of these areas.
But lawmakers in the Democratically controlled House and Senate fell short in many other places, particularly in terms of proving themselves nimble enough to deal with emergent needs.
The Washington State Redistricting Commission fell apart in November; lawmakers let the session slip without passing — or even proposing — robust reforms. Gas prices ballooned; lawmakers did nothing to ease the hurt on the state’s car-dependent population in the near term. Even the mid-February news that state coffers already stuffed with cash would get $1.45 billion in unexpected revenues seemed to catch budget-writers ill-prepared to make nimble adjustments.
Legislative talk of putting those surpluses back into taxpayers’ pockets even in small ways, such as tax exemptions for diapers and free access to state parks, went nowhere and deserved more serious consideration. The absence of taxpayer relief in a year of a $15 billion budget surplus — and inflation at 40-year highs — strongly indicates that the current power players simply don’t care to cut. Ever. (A less-costly diaper subsidy for low-income families did pass).
Both legislative chambers proved willing to force party-line legislation, passing a 16-year, $17 billion transportation package and bans on guns in government facilities and purchases of high-capacity gun magazines with one-sided votes. But party-line lockstep often produces bad policy and must not become even more habitual, particularly on issues of nonpartisan need like state infrastructure.
All 98 House seats and about half of the 49 Senate seats come up for election this fall. If Democrats maintain control of both legislative chambers, they must not forget that the one-party determination in 2019 to fund long-term care with a payroll tax required a hasty retreat in 2022. So did policing accountability measures that went overboard in restricting how law enforcement could pursue potentially dangerous suspects. Lawmakers should build on the bipartisan votes that pushed through key fixes to build sustainable policy on both topics.
Despite these deeply partisan times, bipartisanship produced good outcomes in the Legislative building — and not just in anointing homegrown pickleball as the state sport. Gov. Jay Inslee’s ham-handed proposal to upend residential zoning ran aground after opposition emerged on both sides of the political aisle. And after members of each party proposed measures to address rising catalytic converter thefts, legislators unanimously passed a bill that drew from each side’s ideas.
Next year’s Legislature will need that kind of cooperative determination to craft good reforms to dysfunctional redistricting, inequitable education levies and the regressive tax code. Voters should demand serious answers from legislative candidates on these and other deep unsolved problems in this election year.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.