EASTSOUND, ORCAS ISLAND – Everyone knows Washington’s budget crunch is going to be really severe come next spring. But it wasn’t until I heard state Sen. Kevin Ranker’s take on the situation the other day – complete with new numbers – that I realized how impossible it will be to realistically expect money for enhanced environmental protections in 2011.
Addressing members of the volunteer but quasi-governmental Marine Resource Committees of north Puget Sound counties, the San Juan County Democrat laid out in stark terms why it will be so hard to cut $5 billion from a $31 billion state budget. That alone would represent a 16 percent reduction from an already-decimated budget. But it’s actually worse than it sounds. Much, much worse.
Here’s why: Of that $31 billion, some $23 billion comes from categories that can’t really be reduced, Ranker said: debt service, Medicaid, prisons, pensions, transportation, the capital budget and the constitutionally protected state contribution to public education. (Now, the Sunday Seattle Times seemed to anticipate efforts to make some fairly substantial cuts there anyway. Ranker seemed to have access to newer and scarier numbers, though.)
What does that leave? Three areas get the remaining $8 billion of the state budget: Higher education, government services and natural resources (a.k.a. environment). “Government services” sounds like a likely place to cut until you understand that it includes money for senior citizens, health care, the needy and so forth.
So $5 billion – and it could grow to $5.2 billion, Ranker says – is supposed to be cut out of $8 billion for those three areas. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
If you come in and say ‘We’ve got to restore this habitat’. . . and the next person comes in and says ‘My daughter will die if she doesn’t’ get this state aid,’ who do you think is going to win?
Of course, an alternative would be to raise taxes. But that’s not in the cards either because of the Tim Eyman-sponsored initiative that requires a two-thirds vote majority in the Legislature for any tax increases. Oh, and don’t forget that other initiative, the one that rolled back $800 million a year in levies on candy, tax and soda.
Ranker also has experience on the national level. His day job involves advising the White House-sponsored Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. Enviros are going to get much the same treatment in D.C., he says.
Now, Ranker’s about as committed an environmentalist as you’re likely to find. And he wasn’t advising the folks at the conference sponsored by the Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative to give up. No, he was telling those people they must re-craft their pitch. One of the three alternate titles he gave his talk summed it up:
Jobs, jobs, jobs.
Ranker elaborated just a bit:
If we don’t clearly articulate how what we’re doing relates to jobs, we’re dead in the water. … You’ve got to talk about jobs. Where are the jobs?
For example, Ranker noted that the a presentation immediately preceding his keynote speech, which detailed the noble and valuable work the Northwest Straits initiativee does with its derelict fishing-gear removal program, failed to note that, hey, this great thing they’re doing for the environment also puts to work some otherwise-unemployed fishermen. He continued:
Don’t come into a politician’s office and say we need money for research. … Say, ‘This guy’s getting back to work because we’re saving some habitat.’ … That jobs message has to come first. The environmental benefit can be almost an afterthought.
It will be an ugly spring in Olympia. But, as Ranker noted, it takes just as many workers to restore a beach as it does to build an environment-crippling bulkhead.
— Robert McClure