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Morning Wire: Coronavirus, Session takeaways, Inslee’s leadership

Like most folks, we are working from home starting at the end of last week. My kids are figuring out how to manage online learning, and I’m learning how to manage my stress from watching them manage their online learning. If this is the new normal, I will be running more in the midday, starting happy hour earlier in the afternoon, and binge watching more shows in the evening.

I wish us all luck.

With help from Michael Goldberg
and Emily Boerger

1. Coronavirus and Washington State 

Gov. Inslee signed an executive proclamation last night ushering in new public health directives designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 and give hospital systems time to prepare for increased demand. These new measures reflect the virus entering a phase of potentially widespread and rapid infection, according to King County Executive, Dow Constantine.

Washington represents about 2 percent of the U.S. population but about 20 percent of COVID-19 infections nationwide. So far, 904 cases have been identified in Washington State with 48 deaths. Based on the amazing work of academic centers like UW, 48% of all tests nationwide were in WA and CA as of last night, in spite of federal regulatory obstacles. Providence St. Joseph’s is the state’s largest health care provider, and has been re-shaping their care model to meet the needs of COVID-19. I understand that most hospitals, and soon all, have postponed all elective surgeries to make room for new coronavirus cases. 

2. Jinkins and Wilcox review the 2020 session

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox sat down for separate interviews last week with Mike McClanahan of TVW to discuss their main takeaways from this year’s session. Speaker Jinkins credited Washington’s “booming economy” with allowing her caucus to make significant investments in the supplemental operating budget. Additionally, Jinkins noted that $815 million in ending fund balance achieved by lawmakers this year is the largest ending fund balance the Legislature has had in years. 

When asked about the most notable missed opportunities of the session, Jinkins expressed regret that legislation regarding data privacy and a low carbon fuel standard did not make it across the finish line. Wilcox warned that the degree to which spending increased this session could spell trouble due to the coronavirus and a potential recession. Looking ahead to next year, Wilcox said he was bracing himself for a session with far less rosy fiscal conditions. 

As an aside, while listening to a presser by NY Gov Cuomo this morning on COVID, Cuomo said the NY Comptroller projects a 7% decrease in state revenue there for FY21 budget.

3.  Reviewing some of the budget notes

It’s always interesting to see what gets buried in the budget notes in the detail of the final legislation. The 814-page document always has a few nuggets that might make one scratch their head, but which were indicative of an advocacy effort. A few are noted here (h/t Jason Mercier). I break down how the process comes together in this post from last year.

Among them: $500k for a work group to develop a “universal health system,” $250k for another study of a “state bank,” and $200k “to study incorporating the unincorporated communities of Fredrickson, Midland, North Clover Creek, Collins, Parkland, Spanaway, Summit-Waller, and Summit View into a single city.”

4. Fourteen state legislators leaving their seats in 2021

As of now, 14 Washington State legislators are either retiring or running for another public office. Seven House Democrats will be leaving their caucus while no Senate Democrats have announced their intention to go elsewhere. The Republicans will see four House members depart in 2021 along with three senators.

All in all, it breaks down to an even split between both parties, at least for the time being. There should be some competitive races that we’ll be watching closely, such as the 16th District senate race to replace Sen. Maureen Walsh.  View the complete list of outgoing members here.

5.  Inslee’s leadership is meeting the moment

Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber told me yesterday. “Jay is really a rock star. He’s setting the standard on this COVID response.” Peter Adler, the CEO of Molina Healthcare of Washington, said to me that “I think Gov. Inslee is handling this very well.” I think these comments reflect a very wide consensus: Inslee is made for this moment. His incremental approach, with regular communication and a calm demeanor, is helping to spread confidence as residents are widely staying home. 

I’ve been critical of a lack of vision for a third term for Inslee. Five months ago, I noted his campaign website only had a donation page on it rather than any policy statements or even a bio. That is still the case.

But, where one option is someone calling to “Stick our finger in the eye of Jay Inslee” and to bring a “6-pack of Corona” to a campaign rally, while Washingtonians are dying, it makes Inslee’s steady leadership all the more impressive – and important. And, with coronavirus numbers set to rise, Inslee’s momentum as the state’s executive makes my interest in policy statements seem rather sophomoric.

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