Editorial: Bill to split state comes across as Eastern Washington whine

By The Herald Editorial Board

Maybe like a tweet from President-elect Donald Trump it’s something that should be taken seriously but not literally.

But we’re not sure how seriously we can take even the sentiment behind another attempt by Republican lawmakers from the dry side to split the Evergreen State in two down the crest of the Cascade Range.

House Joint Memorial 4000, filed in advance of the coming legislative session and sponsored by Reps. Matt Shea and Bob McCaslin of Spokane Valley and David Taylor of Moxee, would ask the 115th Congress and the Trump administration to create the new state of Liberty, which would include those counties east of the Cascade crest, pleading:

“Since statehood, the lifestyles, culture, and economies of eastern and western Washington have been very distinct and dramatically different, while the urbanization and rapid growth in the western portions of the state has progressively heightened this divergence of cultural and economic values between the western and eastern portions of the state.”

There are differences between east and west, to be sure. But the Cascades aren’t really the best way to split the sheets if politics, economy and culture are the justification. Considering the recent presidential election, at least in terms of politics, eight Western Washington counties gave Trump, the Republican candidate, the majority of their popular vote; just as one Eastern Washington county, Whitman, gave its majority to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Nor would it likely be a good idea financially, particularly for many counties east of the mountains, unless they want to pay more in taxes or receive less in state services.

When similar bills have been proposed before, some lawmakers have reminded proponents that many Eastern Washington counties pay less in taxes than they receive in services and expenditures. Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, pointed out in 2013 that the state’s west side urban counties generally pay out more in taxes than they receive in state services.

A comparison of counties from 2011, Carylye said, showed for example that King County generated $5.9 billion in revenue for the state but received $3.9 billion in expenditures, while Yakima County benefited from $707 million in expenditures compared to the $346.4 million in the revenue it provided.

Snohomish County that year was close to a 1-to-1 ratio, by the way: $1.45 billion in expenditures and $1.41 billion in revenue. Other years it has paid out more than it gets back.

Attempts to halve Washington state date back to at least 1915, and most recently have cropped up in 1985, ‘91, ‘05 and ‘15, all budget years, we’ll note.

That’s the actual motivation here, a reminder to pay attention to Eastern Washington’s needs and sensibilities during debates over spending and taxes. A request to consider both sides of the state during such debates can be welcomed, but continually proposing secession — especially without having asked Eastern Washington residents if that’s something they even want to do — comes off as more of a whine.

The Cascade Range that Shea, McCaslin and Taylor want to use as a new Mason-Dixon Line, also creates another inequity between east and west; the mountains hold back most of the precipitation to the benefit of Western Washington.

Should we bulldoze the Cascades before or after Liberty gets its statehood?

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