Every year CityClub, a local non-profit that hosts political debates and forums, holds a luncheon to preview the legislative session with the the leadership from down in Olympia. Two years ago, Senate Majority Lisa Brown (D-Spokane), Minority Leader Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla), Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) and the now-floppy-haired House Minority Leader Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), joked around about the 520 bridge, Seattle hatred, and the Sonics leaving for Oklahoma.
He doesn't want new taxes, but Rep. Doug Ericksen isn't about to propose actual cuts either.
This year's preview forum, however, was far less cordial.
There's one agenda item dominating the short session which starts Monday--resolving the $2.6 billion budget deficit. And on how to do that, the parties do not, at all, even a little bit, agree.The GOP says government just needs to slim down and stop running things like liquor stores and workers' compensation insurance. The Dems say taxes have to go up.
The Democrats have floated the idea of taxing cigarettes and candy. "I don't think of them as sin, or a sin tax," Brown clarified. "Maybe vices."
Brown added that a possible sales tax hike might be in the works, but only if it came with a credit for lower income families. The words "income tax" left no one's lips. And both Chopp and Brown were reticent to commit to anything beyond vague possibilities for new taxes.
On the other side, Hewitt stated unequivocally "we're not in the taxing business." But he and Ericksen's calls to privatize liquor stores and workers' compensation insurance won't have a direct impact on the dismal general fund budget, since both operate as independent funds.
If the Democrats were afraid to be too specific on record about what taxes they would raise, the Republicans were unwilling to commit to making program cuts. KIRO reporter and moderator Essex Porter kept pushing, but no one wants to be on video calling to end state-funded all-day kindergarten or health care for kiddos.
Whoever does finally sponsor legislation this session, whether to dramatically increase a specific tax and/or cut money meant to keep class sizes manageable, will likely be committing political suicide. And so far none of the party leaders are willing to fall on those swords.