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From Our Legislative Director, Craig Engelking--March 29th Update

Now is the time for kindness, compassion, and respect.

Even though many of us feel strongly about what has been happening in Olympia regarding the potential changes to I-937, I am respectfully requesting in the strongest way I can that you sit back for a moment, and with a calm, clear mind think about the bigger picture of what is happening, what our best friends in the Legislature are dealing with, and what we can do to improve the situation.

The Senate and House are both planning to release their budgets this week. In a word, the budgets will be terrible. The state is facing an unprecedented $9 billion budget deficit.

To get a balanced budget, legislators will end up having to make about $4 billion in cuts to critical programs; they will have no choice to make the kinds of cuts that will make them feel sick.They will be cutting programs that provide basic care to people who cannot even feed themselves. Thousands of people will lose their jobs. They will be slashing enrollment slots at colleges and universities; just when people need education the most there will be even fewer opportunities. They will have to make sweeping cuts to programs that protect the environment. Our friends in Olympia don’t want to make these kinds of cuts, but the budget situation is so bad that they have no choice.

I want you to try to imagine what it is like for them, as the decision makers. All of the options in front of them are just plain bad. I think we can all relate to the dreadful feeling you get when you have no choice but to do something you hate. That’s where I think our best friends in the Legislature are right now.

On top of that, the budget crisis has caused them to focus most of their energy towards mitigating the devastating impact the budget will cause. As a result, they have less capacity to address other policy issues we are working on, like putting together a cap and trade program, to name just one example. So they feel bad about that, too.

It is very true that we have had some major policy disagreements with many of our friends over the implementation of I-937; we will work through those. In fact, we are working through them right now. The House Energy Committee just passed out a much improved version of SB 5840, one we can tentatively support. But the folks we’ve had disagreements with on I-937 are many of the same people who led the charge to pass the Clean Cars bill several years ago, and who pushed through SB 6001, which played a major role in helping to kill many of the proposed new coal plants across the West. They’ve been our partners on many, many other issues as well. We need to keep that in mind.

But this economic and budget crisis has made things difficult for everyone. Many are feeling stressful and anxious. In daily life, when we are feeling so much angst, we often treat our friends more severely than anyone else. I think it holds true in politics, too. I have acted that way, and I have seen policy makers act that way too. I have seen it go both ways between advocates and policy makers. But now, we need to check ourselves and be extra thoughtful, make sure we are all treating each other with kindness and respect.

As we head into this last part of the legislative session—the most intense and difficult part of the session—I have four requests:

Please keep in mind the budget crisis is taking up an enormous amount of the Legislature’s capacity; they have a lot less bandwidth for other issues than they usually do.

Please put yourself in the position of a policy maker for a moment, faced with no alternative but to make terrible budget cuts that you feel awful about.

Please continue to be strong advocates, but please be respectful and kind, even when the decision makers make decisions you don’t agree with.

Please send your legislators a kind, encouraging note sometime this week.

Respectfully,

Craig Engelking