Senator Rodney Tom, the League of Education Voters and Nick Hanauer on one side of the aisle. the rest of us on the other.

How can these people on one hand talk about helping the “poor minorities” by pushing charter schools in neighborhoods that none of these folks would live in and on the other hand push for and applaud a budget that would cut food and medical assistance to the same families who need it the most, the same families that Rodney Tom said “we have to do something” for?

Senator Rodney Tom joined the Republicans in the State Senate in voting for a striker amendment to Senate Bill 5967 that makes sweeping budget cuts that jeopardize the lives and well-being of Washington’s children and families.

To follow is a post on Senator Adam Kline’s website.

As I sit here in the Senate Chamber, at 10 pm, long after we should have gone home for the evening, I am listening to my Republican colleagues defend the brutal war they are waging against the poor, the old, and the very young in our state.

Until this afternoon, for the previous 53 days of this 60-day legislative session, Democratic leaders of the Senate had worked with their Republican counterparts to create a budget that made the needed cuts, but that mitigated them with revenues from sources other than taxes.  (The polling that our Democratic allies have done over the past months have made it abundantly clear that the public, measured statewide, still isn’t ready to vote Yes on a referendum creating any combination of taxes.)

So with revenues from other sources—for example, from borrowing on the bond-market, using as collateral our income from the tobacco settlement; and yes, from postponing by one day a scheduled disbursement to the school districts, from this biennium to the next—we mitigated the harshness of the cuts to those least able to absorb them.  The Democratic leaders on the Ways and Means Committee, Senators Ed Murray and Derek Kilmer, have invited their Republican counterparts to contribute, as they did last year in an effort that was admired for its success.

But about 2:30 this afternoon, as we churned out this session’s final bills one after another on the Senate floor, a Republican member moved to relieve the Ways and Means Committee of a series of four bills, one of which was Governor Gregoire’s proposed budget from back in December.  This bill had been left in that committee while its members built a quite different one, allocating our scarce dollars in different ways, I believe more wisely, allowing some programs to survive through dormancy—and doing so with the input of the minority party’s members on that committee.  The motion was made, and a vote taken.  It quickly became apparent that two conservative Democrats, Senators Rodney Tom and Jim Kastama, had joined with the 22 Republicans and with Senator Tim Sheldon (a de facto Republican who insists on sitting with us in the Democratic caucus room) to create a new majority.  To use a phrase a learned from a bank-robber I once interviewed, they took over the room.

Their modus operandi was not, as expected, to pull up from various committees a group of bills they wanted—the “reforms” they’ve been seeking, by which they meant significant changes in policy—then insist on passing them as a price for voting on the Democratic proposed budget.  No, it was something altogether different: a new budget bill altogether, an entirely new proposal being made for the first time on the 54th day of a 60-day session, an entirely unknown document that within hours could be our state’s budget for the 16 months left in this biennium.  Gov. Gregoire’s old budget would be simply the vehicle on which to lay a striking amendment, entirely new language and dollar-figures that had emerged from the proverbial back-room, from a process in which the only goal was to reduce expenditures so they’d be even less than our anemic revenues, leaving a few hundred million more dollars in the reserve.  And reduce they did, in a willy-nilly fashion, from rehabilitation services for wheelchair-bound kids, to Harborview’s charity-care fund and helicopter rescue squad, to the Department of Commerce team that searches out export markets for Washington products, to the entire state food assistance program that aids food banks, to mental health programs for low-income families, to half the funding of our family-planning budget, to half the funding for the Running Start program that helps promising low-income students get to college—and the list goes on and on.

I had become comfortable over the past five or six years with the feeling that my Republican colleagues took no joy in these cuts, but that they hued closely, perhaps rigidly, to an aversion to taxes, an aversion that had over years assumed the nature of a religion, and that like a religion had made certain demands of them that mine didn’t, but that I could somehow bring myself to understand.  To lower our expenditures to the level of our revenues, rather than raise taxes to meet a reasonable level of expenditures—that’s not my faith, but I try to understand the faiths of others.  But the Democratic budget, from which these members were rebelling and against which they enlisted Republican aid, was itself a no-new-taxes budget.  The structural difference was the non-tax income that ours had and theirs didn’t: income from bonding the tobacco funds and other sources.  This difference is, in the end, no excuse for the cuts, particularly cuts aimed at low-income families and wage-earners.

And so I’m left to wonder: was this an exercise in pursuit of an intellectually consistent ideology, or an exercise in kicking people when they’re down? Or is the Republicans’ motivation not merely love for the ultra-wealthy and the denizens of corporate boardrooms, but an active distaste for the unwashed, the unfortunate, the rest of us?

Well, we’ve just begun debate on final passage of this bill as the clock creeps up on 12:30 on March 3rd. This day started a lot different than it ended, but the fight is just getting underway.

This bill cuts funding to those who need it the most but it includes $5.7 million of new funding for the new teacher/principal evaluation system, a unecessary piece of legislation that ties test scores to a teacher’s evaluation. There is already an evaluation pilot program in place that was approved by the state legislators last year that has yet to be implemented but now Tom wants to take money from those who need it the most to push the 1%’s idea of ed reform.

Contact your legislators and let them know that we are all a part of this democratic process and as such our voices need to be heard as their constituents.

Let them know how you feel about a few keeping the many hostage.

A list of Washington State Senators with contact information.

The list of our House Representatives with contact information.


Post Script: Word has it that Senator Rodney Tom is doing this because if an agreement on the budget cannot be reached by March 8th, the legislative session will then go into a special legislative session when the charter school bill can then be re-introduced.