You don’t see Republicans running the table very often around here. But that’s what’s happening in this year’s legislative session.
You can see it on their faces. Maybe it’s so clear because it’s so unusual in our blue state: Republicans are winning the state legislative session.
If you watch the few news conferences and hearings still being held in a mostly empty Capitol in Olympia, it’s obvious the Republicans know it’s all going their way. They’re just waiting around now for the Democrats to cave.
Even the questions from the press imply it.
“The D’s have punted on practically everything — they’re down to their last tax package,” a reporter asked Republicans at a briefing Tuesday. “Why not give them their one new tax?”
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The panel of GOPers looked like the orphan masters right after Oliver Twist asks for more gruel.
“They have to show us a need for more revenue,” sniffed Sen. Mark Schoesler, the Republicans’ Senate Leader. “And they have not.”
It’s pretty much as simple as that. Democrats staked the entire political debate this year on a call for new taxes. Though I sympathize with them, they have lost this argument, at least for now.
Part of this was Democratic fecklessness. They didn’t make a coherent case for how lives would be improved if we gave them more money. They could have argued for something concrete, like smaller class sizes, but they didn’t.
Part of this was Republican timing and luck.
For nearly a decade local GOP leaders have been claiming they could “fund education first” — pour money into the schools with no new taxes. But when gaining control of the state Senate in the past they have mostly failed to do this.
But this year unexpected revenue is pouring into state coffers under the existing tax system. Since Gov. Jay Inslee called for $1.5 billion more via a capital-gains tax and a cap-and-trade pollution permit system last December, the state has forecast nearly a billion dollars more in regular revenue.
So right there most of the urgency for raising taxes evaporated.
But part of it is a more moderate GOP approach that deserves a lot of credit. The Democrats are more generous in their budget to teachers and schools. But not by much. If the Senate GOP budget is adopted as-is it would still be the largest boost in K-12 schools funding in decades.
And on higher education, the Republicans blew the Democrats out of the water. The GOP is proposing to slash tuition but at the same time send tens of millions of dollars to the universities to make up the difference. The tuition cut would be a boon to families, and also could re-energize the public university system (I guarantee you applications will soar if they cut tuition by 25 percent.)
Even if tuition is cut 10 percent, our state would be leading the nation for making college more affordable. As with the $15 minimum wage, we would again make national news for boldness — only this time coming from the starve-the-government party.
Inslee’s carbon cap-and-trade plan was bold, but nobody made clear what we would get for the $1 billion in taxes. More mass transit? Smaller class sizes? Nope. I mean, I support cap and trade and even I couldn’t tell exactly what it would be used for.
Then Democrats dropped it without ever putting it to a vote.
Republicans also tamped down the crazy. They didn’t rail about contraception or walk the religious freedom path like Indiana. Other than one outburst of climate denialism and flirting with a gun-nut rally back in January, Republicans stayed focused on mainstream stuff like education and the budget.
Now Democrats are going to be forced to drop their proposal for a capital-gains tax. (They haven’t mustered a vote yet on it, either.) In return maybe they can get some tax breaks closed. That money could pay for Democratic plans for more spending on early learning.
But mostly the political year adds up like this: Bold Republicans plus weak Democrats times a strong economy equals a red budget in a blue state.