When retiring state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, gave a farewell speech the other day, he called on future politicians to not be so scorched earth and partisan, and instead pursue a gentler philosophy he dubbed “smart incrementalism.”
Yes, you can just hear the call-and-response campaign rally for that:
“What do we want?” “Gradual steps!”
“When do we want it?” “Eventually!”
Indeed Carlyle was immediately blasted as milquetoast by some activists, who want dramatic change right now (they are called “activists,” after all.)
But as the short legislative session came to an end this week, the whole exchange got me thinking: Did state lawmakers inch along incrementally this year, or did anything of lasting consequence happen down in Olympia?
I came up with four big things they did, or said, that we’ll still be talking about in the months and maybe years to come.
They fundamentally reset the size of government — and it was hardly incremental.
Unexpectedly swimming in revenue, lawmakers spent almost all of it. The size of the two-year budget now is 24% larger than the last one.
This is a trend for Democrats. Since they seized total control of the Legislature five years ago after, and largely because of, Donald Trump taking over the Republican Party, Democrats have pushed spending for the general state budget up a meteoric 50%, from $42.7 billion in 2017 to $64.1 billion today.
The state’s population increased about 6% in that same time span.
It’s an unprecedented surge of spending, and it’s the new baseline. Democrats defend it as addressing myriad needs and new programs. My only point here is it’s a lot more government than we’ve paid for in the past, to a degree that it’s almost certainly unsustainable under our current tax structure.
It’s going to force a fundamental choosing. Keep it up by, say, taxing the rich? Or start slashing. Voters ultimately will decide.
The mother of all big government projects just got serious.
It didn’t get a ton of attention or debate, but lawmakers put $150 million into what they’re calling “ultra high speed rail” linking B.C., Seattle and Portland.
It’s a down payment for a super-cool sounding transit dream: electric bullet trains speeding 250 mph to Portland or Vancouver, B.C. from Seattle in less than an hour.
The hitch: A 2017 study estimated the capital costs would be $24 billion to $42 billion, figures even the consultant called “astronomical,” but which will nevertheless turn out to be low.
I’m a major skeptic of the need for a new right-of-way serving only 5,000 riders a day, when we could improve and electrify the existing tracks. Also, electric planes for short trips like this are said to be only a few years away.
This train’s leaving the station, though, politically speaking. The $150 million down payment is to lure the feds to kick in up to $700 million, at which point the imperative to spend that money will outstrip any rational analysis of the project.
Anyway, boondoggle alert: We’re now going to be debating bullet trains for at least the next decade.
The state, after years of dithering, has finally stepped up on homelessness.
This also didn’t get much attention, but lawmakers poured more than $800 million into shelter, housing, crisis beds and mental health services, all for the homelessness emergency declared more than six years ago and mostly passed off as a local issue by the state until now.
Lawmakers from both parties embraced the “housing first” philosophy of getting people into permanent living situations. This is a big shift, and while the commitment of money isn’t enough to solve the problem, it should make a tangible difference — if these strategies work.
If they don’t work, it’ll be a major point of contention in the years ahead whether to keep it up or switch to new approaches.
Finally, a cultural phenomenon: Lawmakers doubled down on their parties’ worst tropes.
You may have heard that Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, proudly recounted in a speech how he had told a Capitol security officer “(Expletive) you, you’re not gonna shut us down,” when the guard asked him for proof of a negative COVID test to enter the building.
It’s typical of the fake-grievance culture that’s taking over some of the GOP. Everything is against you — even a guard who is just doing his job.
You may also have heard that Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, lashed out at the governor of a neighboring state for opposing one of his policies: “The fact that she dares say a word is just a joke,” he decreed.
To his credit, Liias apologized. Still, his outburst was an example of an imperiousness among some ruling progressives. Everybody is dumber than you — even a governor (who ended up being right, by the way).
The Resentment Party versus the We Know Better Than You Party: It’s not a good look all around. Yet it’s increasingly a flavor of both local and national politics.
It’s almost enough to make one want to take to the streets for some of that good ol’ incrementalism.