Dino Rossi disputed Locke's claims, saying the former governor has fallen "into the trap of partisanship" despite their cordial working relationship on the state budget 15 years ago.
It’s a safe bet that no one involved in writing Washington state’s budget in 2003 thought people would be arguing about it 15 years later.
But here we are. With former Republican state Sen. Dino Rossi running a fourth time for major office — vying with Democrat Kim Schrier in the hard fought 8th Congressional District race — that old budget’s back in the mix once again.
On Thursday, former Gov. Gary Locke emerged to strongly dispute Rossi’s budget boasts, with Rossi responding that Locke has fallen “into the trap of partisanship” despite their cordial working relationship on the budget years ago.
As chairman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee in 2003, Rossi has frequently talked up his budget-writing experience during his political campaigns. His campaign website says “Dino crafted a bipartisan balanced budget that erased a massive deficit without raising taxes” while protecting vulnerable people.
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Locke sought to knock down Rossi’s often-repeated campaign talking points in a news conference with Schrier Thursday at Seattle’s Labor Temple. The former two-term Democratic governor accused Rossi of exaggerating his budget role, while also attacking him for “draconian” proposals that would have cut health care for needy children and others.
“For years, I have simply laughed when Dino Rossi took credit for devising a no-tax-increase budget for the 2003-2005 cycle while protecting vulnerable populations. Well, the truth matters. And it matters more than ever in this divisive political climate,” said Locke, who also served as Commerce Secretary and U.S. Ambassador to China.
As governor in 2003, with the state facing a deficit of more than $2 billion, Locke said he first proposed a budget blueprint, which Rossi largely followed, but with controversial additions, such as discontinuing medical coverage for children in families earning over 175 percent of the federal poverty level, a change that would have left about 40,000 fewer children covered.
Locke also pointed to a Rossi’s proposal to eliminate prenatal care for 6,500 women who were in the country illegally, and to an effort to impose higher insurance premiums on people with subsidized health care.
In 2003, news reports said both Locke and Rossi generally aligned behind a no-new-taxes approach to close the budget deficit. By contrast, the Democratic controlled state House proposed $650 million in new revenue, including an increase in the state sales tax.
In the end, lawmakers agreed to a budget that shelved the Democrats’ tax increases and also the Republicans’ cuts to Medicaid and prenatal care. Republican proposals for about $110 million in corporate tax cuts also were nixed in the final deal.
While the final budget made no one entirely happy, Rossi won praise at the time from many Senate Democrats for listening to their concerns, according to a 2003 Seattle Times article.
But Locke on Thursday downplayed Rossi’s accomplishments, even noting Rossi had been absent for some of the final budget negotiations due to “family issues.”
Rossi’s campaign manager, Andrew Bell, said Rossi missed two days of budget talks following the suicide of his brother. He called Locke’s comments “low, sleazy and desperate … He’s had 15 years to tell this biased, unfair version of the story, and decided to try to change history now?”
Locke’s budget proposal had tried to cut tens of millions of dollars from nursing homes, programs for people with mental illness and from programs for persons with developmental disabilities, but Rossi’s budget was able to find ways to avoid those cuts, Bell said.
Locke’s comments Thursday also went far beyond just the 15-year-old state budget fight. He said Democrats needed to win control of the U.S. House to rein in the administration of President Donald Trump.
“He [Trump] is espousing not just making America great, but really white nationalism, which is racism. He’s demeaning women. And he’s invoked a trade war not just with China but some of our closest allies,” Locke said. “Dino Rossi would simply continue to support the policies of President Trump.”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Rossi said he was “saddened to see former Gov. Locke fall into the trap of partisanship” after the two had built a productive working relationship.
“His attacks on the budget and me personally today are a sad reminder that partisanship destroys working relationships and poisons goodwill. Despite this, I am determined to continue to work across the aisle with people who will work in good faith,” Rossi said.