Despite the rancor that marks American politics these days, despite the partisan scuffles and petty squabbling all around, State Sen. Joe Fain, will tell you he hasn't lost a drop of enthusiasm for the job that the people of the 47th Legislative District elected him to do two years ago.
Quite the opposite, said Fain.
"I like it more than I thought I would," Fain said during a recent swing through his South King County legislative district. Fain is a practitioner of that much maligned word, bipartisanship.
That is, he believes in putting politics aside to get things done.
"If you don't work across the aisle when you are in the minority, you will never get anything done, and if you don't reach across the aisle when you are in the majority, you set a ticking time bomb that's going to explode," Fain said.
During a sit-down with the Auburn Reporter, Fain talked about some of the good, the bad and the ugly that marked the recent legislative session.
Among the transportation traffic infrastructure projects that survived the final transportation budget were Fain's top priorities for South King County, including the completion of the Federal Way I-18 triangle project and $3 million for the State Route 509 extension between I-5 and State Route 167. And while in the end lawmakers found enough money to keep those projects breathing, even in the grip of the economic downturn, mere respiration doesn't physically move things along.
"Mostly it was just to keep programs on life-support as a priority for our community," Fain said. "There was a continuation of the same level of funding for the completion of State Route 167-Port of Tacoma, which is an absolutely key corridor for South King County, and for Kent in particular. There was a cost savings because of a contractor bid on the northern portion of 405. There was $45 million for the 167-405 interchange project. But anyone who drives 167-405 this time of day knows that we don't yet have a solution."
As for government sustainability, Fain said, despite the hackles raised when three Democrats broke ranks to vote with Republicans at the midnight hour to pass the budget, the result was positive.
"That was a tense couple of days, and certainly a tense evening when Republicans took control of the floor," Fain recalled. "But for all the acrimony and hurtful things that were said on the floor of the Senate that night ... it was three Democrats and the rest of the Republicans voting 'yes' and all rest of Democratic caucus voting 'no' on all the bills that were brought up. After that evening, with the work that was put in, and the compromises made, and the good faith effort on both sides, we were able to find common ground."
Fain said that the legislative process worked the way it was supposed to work, compromise was forced, and the upshot was that the state took another step toward a more sustainable budget. The original budget as proposed, Fain noted, would have been "out of whack by about a billion or more just next year."
Fain also cited progress in education, including a budget that after two years of substantial reductions to K-12 and higher education made it through the grinder without those cuts.
"It's a real step forward for public schools," Fain said. "There was also a step forward for those who believe we need a more robust evaluation system for our teachers, and that pure seniority-based decisions on hiring, retention and transferring are not the most effective way to hire and promote professionals in the classroom. Yes, there is a role for that, but there is also a role for student achievement, a role for evaluation, a role for other factors."
As for the economy, Fain said, the state must get its spending under control first if it is to turn things around.
"Just looking at how to get more revenue doesn't address the problem. Maybe our spending curve is too steep. Unless we address that problem first, why should voters and the public, at a time when they are hurting, trust us with more of their money? And it is their money. That has been a priority that a bipartisan group in the Senate has been trying to accomplish," Fain said.
Part of the solution, Fain continued, must include a relaxation of regulations such as "redundant filing requirements," that he said impede small businesses and make Washington an unattractive climate to set up shop for companies the state would like to woo.
"In terms of what the State can do on economic recovery, there have been more and more studies coming out that show how Washington is becoming less and less an attractive place to start a small business in particular. Obviously, we've got a B&O tax system that can be harmful for small upstarts, while larger companies have found an ability to work within the system. The majority of Washingtonians work in small businesses, the majority of wealth is created by small business, but that doesn't work if you don't have a climate that can sustain a robust economy," Fain said.
Despite a sometimes bumpy ride, Fain explained what keeps him going.
"People ask me why in the world would anyone want to do this with all the name calling and acrimony. But what you don't hear about and don't see is all these folks who work together with a lot of humor and respect and a good focus on what is best for the community. Then, it's fun," Fain said.