A state government shutdown is now less than three weeks away. As Shift has persistently pointed out, the state Legislature will be able to complete its constitutional duty of passing a balanced budget—and avoid a state government shutdown—once Jay Inslee and the state House Democrats realize their massive tax increase proposals are unnecessary.
All it takes for the Legislature to do its job and adjourn is for Speaker Frank Chopp to let his Democrats work with state Senate Republicans to pass a responsible, balanced budget like the one the Senate passed during the regular session. Reportedly, many Democrats are ready to accept reality and move on—they don’t want to be blamed for a government shutdown.
Unfortunately, among the House Democrats still in denial over not getting the tax increases and bigger government spending they want is Ross Hunter, the chief House budget writer. It appears as though Rep. Hunter is still grieving the loss of his record-setting $39 billion budget that included historic spending and tax increases.
Before Hunter can accept the impending reality of a no-new-taxes budget and move on from his love-those-new-taxes budget, he will have to go through the seven stages of grief. We imagine it’ll look something like this:
- Shock and denial.
By every indication, Hunter is currently at stage one of grief. He has reacted to the latest state revenue projections – which predicted another $400 million available for the next two-year budget and showed new taxes were not necessary to meet our state’s funding obligations – with shocked disbelief. In order to avoid the pain of losing his historic tax hike proposals, Hunter has responded by denying reality. Hunter must move past this stage through tough love: force him to accept reality by ensuring the public knows his tax hike agenda is unnecessary.
- Pain and guilt.
Hopefully, Hunter will soon enter into stage two of grief. Inevitably, the shock of losing his budget will wear off and be replaced by a sense of remorse over things he did or didn’t do to advocate for it. It’s important Hunter does not hide his pain or blame just himself during this process. That’s why he must be encouraged with the truth: he is not alone in his failure. He only has to look around at Jay Inslee, Speaker Frank Chopp and his fellow legislative Democrats to see that the guilt for over-reaching with a record-setting spending plan was spread far and wide.
- Anger and bargaining.
Hunter’s pain will soon give way to anger as he enters into stage three of grief. Likely, he will release bottled up emotions and lash out at state Senate Republicans, blaming them for his budget’s demise. Hunter may even resort to last ditch bargaining efforts. Hunter will have to learn to control his emotions—and thus avoid permanent damage to his relationships with other lawmakers—and realize that higher-than-expected state revenue projections are no one’s fault. It’s just a fact he has to accept.
- Depression, reflection, loneliness.
This legislative cycle is Democrats last opportunity to raise taxes until 2017—they won’t try during an election year. At some point, Hunter will realize the magnitude of losing his tax hike agenda and he will likely sink into depression. It’s important Hunter doesn’t isolate himself during this time and lapse into despair. That’s why he will have to be continually reminded to look at the bright side: the state Senate Republicans’ budget will prevent him from further burdening working families with higher taxes.
- The upward turn.
Hunter, and his fellow Democrats, will begin to adjust their perspectives and embrace a no-new-taxes budget. Likely, this will happen when Democrats realize that during the 2016 election cycle they will not have to answer for raising taxes on working families and/or a state government shutdown.
- Reconstruction and working through.
At this point, Hunter will become a functional legislator. He will begin to work with Senate Republicans to seek realistic and rational solutions to our state’s funding requirements. Lawmakers will be able to see a state budget on the horizon.
Hunter will learn to accept a responsible, balanced budget and deal with the reality of losing out on his spend-crazy agenda. Of course, Hunter’s acceptance will not mean he is happy about it. He will likely begin to make future tax hike plans. Unfortunately, considering that Hunter is a Democrat, there is not much anyone can do to remedy this particular problem.