Gov. Jay Inslee wants the people of Washington to stay alive and enjoy good health. We don’t doubt that. COVID-19 is not a hoax, and an alarming increase in infections in the Yakima Valley, statewide and across the nation reinforces that fact.
However, notwithstanding his new plan to distribute $135 million to businesses and workers adversely affected by the restrictions he imposed last weekend, the governor is falling woefully short on the financial front of this very real pandemic war.
He also continues his lone-wolf approach, wielding his far-reaching emergency powers while keeping 147 legislators at arm’s length by refusing, despite repeated pleas, to call a special session — effectively shutting out those who were chosen by voters to help make good decisions for the state.
On the surface, it’s a ridiculous premise that Inslee wants businesses to fail and paychecks to dwindle or evaporate. People of Washington — his constituents — need income to feed their families and keep roofs over their heads. Small businesses are at the heart of every community. The state depends on tax revenues from these places of business.
Inslee clearly means well, despite his head-scratching economic approach.
“This spike puts us in a more dangerous a position as we were in March,” he said last Sunday as he announced the latest proclamation further restricting many activities for four weeks. “And it means, unfortunately, the time has come to reinstate restrictions on activities statewide to preserve the public’s well-being, and to save lives.”
Among the list of restrictions, Inslee ordered bars and restaurants to halt indoor service; further limited the number of people who can gather socially; and shut down indoor gyms and fitness centers, bowling alleys, museums and movie theaters.
“These were very difficult decisions that have very real consequences to people’s livelihoods,” said Inslee, whose actions have kept the state of Washington among the leaders in managing the spread of COVID-19. “I recognize that and don’t take those impacts lightly, but we must act now and act quickly to slow the spread of this disease.”
We’re not suggesting otherwise. And generally accepted safety procedures touted by Inslee and health experts have clearly worked. When Valley residents got serious about wearing masks, our infection rate went down. The rate is climbing again, but evidence suggests it’s social gatherings that are largely responsible, not any failures related to mask-wearing and social distancing in public, frequent hand-washing and sanitation procedures.
But where is Inslee’s quick action — and leadership — on the economic front? The Governor’s Office is continuing its infuriating pattern of reactive, not proactive, economic strategy to a pandemic that has been raging for months. His original ambition to institute a $50 million grant-loan program for small businesses would have offered an average of about $3,000 per business — not nearly enough.
His new $135 million plan announced Friday — broken down as $70 million for business grants, $30 million in business loans, $20 million in rental assistance and $15 million to help low-income residents pay utility bills — more than doubles the original figure, but we have severe doubts as to whether it will do what’s needed.
And we’re not alone. The package is a start but is not nearly enough, said state Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville in a statement Friday. “If the governor truly wants to provide adequate relief for Washingtonians, he must call as special session immediately,” he wrote.
State Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican who has worked well across the aisle in his leadership positions on the Senate Transportation Committee, echoed the same sentiment: “Businesses are barely hanging on. We have to do something to make sure they survive; that’s where the jobs are. … One person should not make these decisions for the state of Washington. Delivering this money is the responsibility of the Legislature. The Legislature needs to be called back in to figure out how we’re going to salvage the economy under the restrictions he put in place.”
Inslee also blames Congress for not providing more financial help to the states, but Congress’ inaction is not stopping other states — Colorado is one notable example — from stepping up and offering meaningful help within their borders.
Equally infuriating is Inslee’s insistence on making these decisions in a vacuum. Nine lawmakers — all Democrats like Inslee — recently asked him to loosen restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants, and their suggestions should be considered. And while many Democrats agree with Inslee that input from the Legislature can wait until January, when the regular session begins, not all of them do. It’s not just minority Republicans who want a say in how pandemic-related relief is decided and dispersed.
Inslee has been ignoring calls for a special session from both parties pretty much since the close of the regular session in March. Even then, the pandemic was blossoming and lawmakers knew that dark days could be ahead. Yet Inslee has offered flimsy and disingenuous excuses in avoiding a special session and continues to shut out the Legislature.
The Herald-Republic reached out to several local legislators last week — before the $135 million package was announced — asking directly if a special session focusing on financial relief for affected businesses is warranted, as we believe it is. All were adamant in answering yes.
“We have three ‘equal’ branches of government, yet only the executive branch is making decisions affecting our lives and the economy,” wrote state Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale.
Yes, it would be helpful if Congress offered a meaningful financial bailout to the states soon. But with yet another favorable state revenue forecast last week — about $1 billion more than previously forecast is expected to reach state coffers through 2023 — and no hope of Congress acting any time soon, we can’t wait. The time is now for more comprehensive financial relief for Washington businesses. And because the governor is showing no signs of grasping the need, the time is now for Inslee to call forth the elected lawmakers from across the state to take part in this vital process to save businesses and their workers. Lawmakers want to help. They should help. It’s their job.
Call a special session, governor. You have no excuse.