Olympia – Senate Democratic leaders held a press conference today, joined by a few of their House colleagues, to announce their intention, as Josh mentioned earlier, to tighten the belt that holds up our state government’s proverbial pants.
Another way to describe the event would be to pose it as follows:
Q: How many times can a group of lawmakers use some variance of the phrase “belt-tightening” in a thirty minute press conference?
A: Considerably more than you would think.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane), acting somewhat gubernatorial in her initiation of hard budget cuts, kicked off the afternoon presser by announcing the news that, in light of recent gloomy budget news, the state Senate would begin cutting operations in order to save money even before final cuts are made later on in the session.
Those cuts include reducing administrative budgets and freezing salaries, hiring, travel and major spending.
Brown emphasized repeatedly that the actions Democrats were taking had bipartisan support across the board, though Republicans used their position to talk some too-little-too-late smack, with state Sen. Joe Zarelli telling the Tacoma News-Tribune’s Joe Turner that “we moved from a 52-inch waist to a 51-inch waist and we desperately need to get down to a 32-inch waist.”
Zarelli also told Turner that the Senate’s plan to wait until late February or early March would further hurt the state’s ability to maximize budget savings. Brown, however, reiterated during the press conference that cuts for the sake of cuts were unwise, and that her caucus would be “deliberative as well as urgent.”
Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Mercer Island), who himself may seek greener pastures in the future, added that this move was more than just financially important, it was necessary to show the public that their elected officials have a real “sense of urgency” and that through across the board cuts the message they hoped to put across was that “we are all in this together.”
Tom also added, on multiple occasions, that the Senate plan goes above and beyond the governor’s call, citing a $78 million figure from the governor’s office compared with the $105 million that the state Senate aimed to cut.
House Democrats are also hoping to instigate some budget cuts, though they are taking the more traditional approach of calling for an early action budget bill.
“We appreciate what the Senate did in dropping an early action bill,” said House Ways & Means chair Rep. Kelli Linville (D-Bellingham), and added that the House was taking the more traditional route of creating a fast-tracked budget bill, evoking President Obama’s call for a line-by-line budget review.
“Everybody is going to share the pain,” she added.
Linville appeared tempted, but ultimately refused to give any examples of specific budget cuts prior to caucus meetings, which were set to take place after the conference. She did, however, say that they were hoping to save about $300 million from this budget, which would carry forward into $600 million during the next biennium.
Still, in spite of all the gloomy news for those on the wrong end of the budget machete, the day was not totally without cheer.
When the press conference opened up to questions from the gathered hacks, the politicians responded with the kind of comedy gold that tends to be glaringly absent from the political trail that we have been following for the last year and a half.
A couple of examples:
Asked who would be the watchdog for the coming budget cuts, Brown jokingly responded that it would have to be the seven or eight gathered journos, before immediately amending her answer to say that it would instead be the doomed P-I, which was greeted with equal amount of groans and chuckles.
Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam), meanwhile, did his best Dark Helmet impression when he stated that the Senate Dems would be working at, I kid you not, “ludicrous speed” in order to get the budget cuts rolling.
I suggest they go on a comedy tour with proceeds going toward paying down the budget deficit. Watch out, Paul Blart, Washington State Senate Democrats are gunning for you.