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Morning Wire: Rep. Jesse Johnson, Budget deficit, Campaign finance reports

Increasingly, there is the realization that this economic disruption could lead to social disruption, the likes of which could alter the course of our republic significantly. Lots of smart folks are working to take advantage of that in the hopes of improving on the social contract. 

But, what happens if instead of improving the social contract, we fray it? What happens if we dissolve the ties that bind us together rather than reinforce them? 

Watch Hawaii to see how things might go. Oahu has 35% unemployment. The rural areas on the neighbor islands have up to 60% unemployment. If social unrest is going to come, it may come first in a place with 60% unemployment.

With help from Michael Goldberg

1. Q&A: Rep. Jesse Johnson

Rep. Jesse Johnson was appointed to the 30th Legislative District seat left open by the resignation of Kristine Reeves in January. Of the bills Johnson wrote during his first session, four passed into law that address youth, educational outcomes, and families.

As session was coming to a close, COVID-19 presented a fusillade of new issues to address. Reporter Michael Goldberg spoke with Johnson about the balance he hopes to strike between public safety and reopening the economy. They also talked about how socioeconomic relief strategies can be targeted to those most in need, the dichotomy between what different members of his constituency have been telling him recently, and his view of how a legislator should lead.

2. The looming budget deficit in context

We first flagged the need for a special session on April 15th. Most folks hadn’t gotten their head around that reality at that point. Now, it sounds like the legislature may be hesitant to reconvene until they have a clearer picture of solutions, putting off a session until as late as August.

For context, the $3.8 billion budget shortfall in the current biennial budget can only be dealt with in the remaining $27 bn of spending in FY 2021. That creates a budget shortfall of about 14% for the year ahead, which is a huge number. Anything over 10% is really tough, particularly when only 35% of the budget can be cut.

The ghosts of 2009’s budget will tell you that’s nothing. Going into the 2009 session, which was only the start of the Great Recession, the legislature had a $9 bn shortfall on a two-year budget of $31 bn, or about a 29% shortfall. One lesson from that time was to move quickly. Waiting only makes it worse.

3. Filing week and finance reports 

This week is filing week for candidates to appear on the August primary ballot. Quite a few more seats are getting primaries than was initially expected. You can see the latest pull of candidate filings for leg seats here. We’ll wait to put the full rundown together until after registration closes. Candidates can always change their minds, so we’ll see what happens. 

Yesterday, we got new fundraising numbers for candidates. In the LG race, Heck posted a huge haul of $439k raised. Hobbs reports raising $178k. Liias is at $101k. Bob Ferguson has $1.4m cash on hand. Inslee has $1.3m on hand, while Republicans Josh Freed ($151k), Tim Eyman ($72k), and Loren Culp ($69k) lag in cash on hand.

4.  Senate forms bipartisan economic recovery committee

The Washington State Senate has formed a bipartisan committee to address the state’s long-term economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Set to convene for the first time in June, the committee will make recommendations on recovery legislation ahead of a potential special session and the 2021 session. A staff person said that members will focus on long-term economic recovery rather than chiming in on the increasingly partisan nature of reopening.  

“The important thing to remember is that this is the recovery committee, not the reopen committee. The theory here is that this committee will get us ready to pass bills in 2021 or sooner, whenever we get called back into session. It’s not about reopening the state. That’s the important distinction to make.”

5. Counties begin reopening amid rise in partisanship

Washington State has approved variances for eight counties, giving them the go ahead to move into phase two of Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start plan for reopening the economy. Some GOP lawmakers think the variances don’t go far enough. In an op-ed published on the Wire yesterday, Sen. John Braun urged Gov. Inslee to “trust Washingtonians” to make their own decisions on reopening, rather than “issuing 22 point requirements” on how to do so. 

The reopening of Washington State is occurring incrementally, but the rise in statewide partisanship has been more swift. The day of Inslee’s first stay home order on March 23rd was marked with a bipartisan joint statement from the leaders of each caucus urging cooperation. Since then, Gov. Inslee has called the Republican approach to fighting the virus “abject surrender” while Rep. Chris Gildon took to Facebook to call the governor “the most timid leader I’ve encountered at this level.” 

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