Looking back: The failings and falterings of Inslee and the Legislature

Now that the interminable journey of Washington’s 147 lawmakers is over, what is remarkable is how predictable everything turned out.

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee

Now that the interminable journey of Washington’s 147 lawmakers is over, what is remarkable is how predictable everything turned out.

Veteran observers of life under the Capitol Dome said in January that a divided Legislature, a rookie governor, a court order to boost school funding and a slowly recovering economy created a perfect storm for bitter impasse and grudging compromise.

In the aftermath of a regular session and two extra sessions spanning 153 days, that’s pretty much what happened.

As expected, most of the signature initiatives put forth by Democrats, Republicans and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee wound up on the editing room floor. Those which survived were watered-down or made the subject of further study.

Democrats couldn’t pass a universal background check for private gun sales, the Reproductive Parity Act to ensure health insurance plans cover abortion services or the Washington Dream Act to make undocumented immigrants eligible for state financial aid for college.

They were thwarted on a transportation funding package and that brought down the controversial Columbia River Crossing project.

Republicans couldn’t pass laws revising the workers’ compensation system, giving a letter grade to every school and allowing principals to choose teachers for their campus.

As anticipated, the session’s signature achievement could be seen coming months in advance.

Lawmakers triumphantly poured an additional $1 billion into the basic education of the state’s 1 million public school students. But it had to be done as they were under the duress of a Supreme Court mandate to pay the full price of the education the state promises rather than make local districts cover the tab.

And lawmakers of both parties pretty much never hesitated at expanding Medicaid to cover as many as 300,000 more children and adults. With the federal government covering the additional costs, it wasn’t all that hard a decision.

On taxes, neither party could claim total victory. House Democrats and Inslee could not get the $1.3 billion tax package they wanted and Republicans could not completely block all tax increases as they vowed to do. In the end they agreed on measures closing a loophole in estate tax law and ending a break for users of landline telephones.

Tension on this front eased after a June report on future tax collections predicted the state would take in $231 million more than forecast in March. This battle will flare up again.

Inslee wanted to crack down on serial offenders of the state’s drunken driving laws by locking them up for longer prison terms after fewer convictions. The House and Senate found the idea too costly. They did agree to other changes aimed at keeping drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel after their arrest and getting enrolled in recovery programs.

In retrospect, it’s easy to understand why so much failed or faltered.

Liberal Democrats controlled the House and the first-term governor is a liberal Democrat, too. The Senate, meanwhile, was under the management of the Majority Coalition Caucus made up of 23 mostly conservative Republicans and two pretty conservative Democrats who decided to join their GOP friends late last year.

Such power-sharing hadn’t occurred around Olympia for awhile. Certainly everyone knew what to expect from House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle. No one was certain if the Senate marriage could hold together and operate under pressure. Neither did many know how Inslee would operate at all given his inexperience as an executive.

Fair to say, everybody knows a lot more today.

Maybe enough to predict they won’t need 153 days or nearly shutting down the government to get their work done next year.

Jerry Cornfield is the Olympia bureau chief for the Everett in Herald. He blogs at The Petri Dish. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com. The Herald is owned by Sound Publishing.

 


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