Nearly shouting to be heard over the sound of screeching bus brakes outside Benaroya Hall this afternoon, Susan Hutchison said that if elected the next King County Executive, she'll slice the executive staff and initiate a hiring freeze. She also says she'll look for inefficiencies throughout the county, require department heads to show how they're complying with the recommendations from that damning audit released last week, and generally put better controls in place throughout the county. Those three are things most of the candidates actually say they would do to deal with the nearly $100 million deficit facing the county over the next two years. But that first part is where Hutchison distinguishes herself. She's a GOP girl who wants a GOP sized government--tiny.
Animosity can take so many forms.
Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine both hovered at the edges of the conference to take shots at Hutchison over her absence from several candidate forums, including the one last night at Town Hall. "We've heard so little from Susan," Constantine explained. Phillips echoed the sentiment, noting that after sharing a handshake and a laugh, "well so far, we've talked about the weather."Neither Phillips nor Constantine has been especially specific in their plans for the county. So Hutchison has to be given some credit for finally making a few highly specific promises that might not be as easy to keep once she walks in the door--especially cutting her own staff. The next Exec is expected to face a $60 million deficit when creating the 2011 budget next year. Reporters questioning Hutchison made it clear they don't think staff trims in Executive office suite is going to get her there, and pressed her on if and what she would cut in places like public health.
Hutchison didn't bite, saying cuts to public health were heartbreaking, but not offering any specifics about what she would ax (and if it would include things like family planning services that are sometimes at odds with the religious Republicans). But she also said unequivocally that her top priority for funding is public safety. It's impressive just how much all the candidates have wanted to show that they're tight with Sheriff Sue Rahr.
All in all, there are still a lot of things we don't know about Hutchison: She doesn't really have a plan for sustaining county-supported clinics (or cutting them) in the short term, though she did say she would generally support a levy to help sustain all human services. She also says she'll unveil a new transit initiative in the next few weeks, and she hasn't weighed in at all on shaping the Critical Areas Ordinance except to say the last one didn't work--something the courts already decided.
That said, it's time to start putting pressure on the other candidates to get specific. We know Phillips wants to build infrastructure, but what, and is his plan for paying for it hoping that the legislature enacts new taxes? Fred Jarrett wants to put tighter controls on the departments and streamline things, but presumably a massive restructuring would have some up front costs and require axing positions, so how, exactly, does he plan on making that happen?
Hutchison has given us at least something to hold her accountable to if she gets into office--specifically cutting her staff. Agree or disagree, the others need to also start getting more specific.