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Published: Monday, January 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
In Our View: 2013 legislative session


Public will on cuts, taxes

Politics and accountability are interwoven. In a frenzied era of initiatives and referenda, decisions on sin taxes, criminal justice, education funding and transportation priorities rest squarely with Washington voters. "We the people," our defining ideal, entails responsibility.
During the 2013 legislative session, the real deciders -- political advocates and restive citizens -- recall the New Testament parable of the faithful servant, that to whom much is given, much will be required. For K-12 advocates that demands informing legislators about what they will tolerate revenue-wise. Is curtailing human services, higher education or the Department of Social and Health Services a prudent course? Should the state impose a capital-gains tax to fulfill the Supreme Court's McCleary mandate?
The latter approach, a 5 percent excise tax on capital gains with the first $10,000 in gains exempted for individuals, was floated by Sen. Ed Murray last week.
Understanding the popular will, the readiness to sacrifice or the impulse to punt is fundamental. Judgment for or against a revenue package will ultimately fall to voters and voters can be taciturn. Live within your means, we say, just don't cut X. That sentiment is given additional punch in The Herald's Need to Know chart Sunday, illustrating the growth of state spending, pulled together by Chuck Taylor and Jerry Cornfield. Overall spending continues to swell, but the devil is in the beyond-the-state's-control details. Contractual obligations to state employees and rising health care are, for now, untouchable.
Because the initiative boom devolved more authority to voters, the locus of political power shifted from legislators to citizens. To chop means to dive deep into discretionary spending, and we the people, in our collective wisdom or self-interested bias, are accountable.
In the old days of burgeoning economic growth, citizens could have it all, it seemed. In the 1970s, University of Washington President Charles Odegaard would lecture lawmakers about the university's mushrooming needs. One lawmaker responded, "Well, doctor, that is fine, but how do you propose to pay for your program?" Odegaard is said to have replied, "That is your problem!"
Now, it's our problem. We are the (hopefully) faithful servant.
Lawmakers have been relegated to the role of recommenders, Rep. Mike Sells notes. Sells challenges every group that comes in the door of his Olympia office, asking them what they would support on revenue or cuts. The reflex is to pull a "that is your problem" Odegaard-ism. That evasion, however human, is a non-starter. Sells and his colleagues want to lead. To succeed, they require a clear sense of the public will.

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Herald Editorial Board

Peter Jackson, Opinion Editor: pjackson@heraldnet.com (@PeterJHerald)

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer: cmacpherson@heraldnet.com

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor: npattison@heraldnet.com

Jon Bauer, News Editor/Content Development: jbauer@heraldnet.com

Josh O'Connor, Publisher: joconnor@heraldnet.com

Have your say

Feel strongly about something? Share it with the community by writing a letter to the editor. Send letters by e-mail to letters@heraldnet.com, by fax to 425-339-3458 or mail to The Herald - Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We'll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 250 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it. If your letter is published, please wait 30 days before submitting another. Have a question about letters? Contact Carol MacPherson at cmacpherson@heraldnet.com or 425-339-3472.

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