Responsibility is a bipartisan assignment

Rep. Hans Dunshee

The Herald’s recent editorial ("Transportation a tough job; Dems asked for it," Dec. 1) leaves the impression that Democrats are the only lawmakers responsible for fixing traffic gridlock.

That impression is a recipe for failure.

It would be a shame if Republicans didn’t accept any responsibility for transportation, historically a non-partisan issue. In our state’s history, half the votes for transportation plans have come from Republicans, half from Democrats. Ending that tradition would ruin the chances of a real compromise and only hurt our economy more.

An honest compromise is the only real chance we have of getting a transportation plan past a skeptical press and public.

That’s why the press, including The Herald, must hold all lawmakers — regardless of party labels — responsible for getting things done this session. Nobody should get a free pass. That only invites irresponsible games.

Republican County Councilmember Gary Nelson said he would join County Executive Bob Drewel to push for a unanimous resolution by the Republican dominated county council supporting a transportation package and gas tax. That is the kind of bipartisan effort this is going to take.

In contrast, The Herald printed this quote from Republican leader Clyde Ballard, who said about Speaker Frank Chopp, "If he’s got 50 votes, he’s got no excuse. None. Zero." I don’t agree with Ballard. Republicans should be held almost as responsible as Democrats. Democrats will provide all 50 votes if that is what it takes but citizens will suffer when we don’t work together and get things done.

Responsibility is also key to the budget. How should we balance the budget? In his guest column ("Spending solution: responsibility," Dec. 14), Republican Rep. Barry Sehlin made a case for filling the state’s $1.2 billion budget gap by cutting what he calls people’s "wants" instead of people’s "needs." He defines needs as "the basic services of government."

Rep. Sehlin is a good man, and I agree with this principle. The devil, though, lurks in the details.

What’s a basic service? What belongs on the wish list? For example, the proposed hockey arena in Everett would cost the state’s taxpayers $25 million. Local leaders say it’s essential because it’ll create jobs, while folks in Spokane or Bellingham might say it’s political pork. We could say the same thing about their local projects. Are those needs or wants?

Another example is the state’s trade office in Paris, which I’ve always pushed to close to save taxpayer money. Businesses, though, say it’s critical to boosting trade in Europe. A need or a want?

Teachers will get better pay this year. The Herald ("Budget-cutting time," editorial, Dec. 9) argued to stop the pay raise of teachers to save money — even though voters passed better teacher pay as an initiative. Need or want?

Adult day care service for frail seniors is a recent addition to state spending. Need or want? Public health nurses that do training of moms in the care of high-risk babies. Need or want? When I argued against building expensive parking garages at the Bothell campus of UW a few years ago, this paper questioned my sanity. Are parking garages needs or wants? These are the tough questions, and good people can disagree.

Balancing the budget is, as Rep. Sehlin says, "easier said than done." Rep. Sehlin avoids the tough questions of what is on his want and his need list. We can not avoid that question. This process will not be pain free.

We’re lucky to live in a democracy. All of us are responsible, lawmakers and citizens alike, for the future of Washington state. Lawmakers will vote on the budget and transportation, then voters will have their say, both on transportation and on the lawmakers themselves when we’re all on the ballot.

The budget won’t get balanced, and traffic on I-5 won’t unclog, unless the press and public demand results from every lawmaker — and unless each voter takes responsibility for the choices that will determine our state’s future.

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, is a small-business owner who now chairs the Local Government and Housing Committee.

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