Published December 14, 2012
Sen. Hargrove's mantra for 2013: outcomes, outcomes, outcomesBrad Shannon
Two weeks ago veteran Sen. Jim Hargrove was voted unanimously by Senate Democrats to serve as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee next session. This week - after the defection of two Democrats to join 23 Republicans in a newly formed Senate Majority Coalition Caucus - Hargrove lost his chairman role. The Hoquiam Democrat told reporters in Olympia yesterday he is unsure what exact role he’ll play on the budget or whether the remaining 24 Senate Democrats will accept a Republican offer made Monday to chair six lesser committees. But Hargrove does expect to serve on Ways and Means and have a role on the budget, perhaps as ranking Democrat - although he says that is another decision for his caucus. Jim Camden of the Spokesman-Review had this piece yesterday on Hargrove’s description of the Republicans' claim they want to share power - it’s not power sharing, he said. I’ll not repeat that analysis and instead tell you about other things Hargrove addressed in his rare press conference, in which he showed off a new goatee that sprouted after the election. [By the way: Hargrove has a reputation for not liking to talk to the press, but he certainly was open and engaging.] The next 105-day legislative session starts Jan. 14. One reporter asked Hargrove to point out things he hoped reporters might keep an eye on and his answer sounded a lot like a mantra for better government, and it sure looks like a guiding principle for lawmakers governing near the center. “The biggest one is outcomes - outcomes, outcomes, outcomes,’’ Hargrove said. “I believe, and that’s probably why I am a Democrat, that government can make things better for people. But we’re not going to make thing better just by the amount money we spend but by spending it wisely so it actually solves structural problems in our society - whether it be educating our kids better, solving crime or serving, you know, the poor and disadvantaged better...” Hargrove left no doubt he will stay with the Democrats’ caucus and not join renegade Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom [of wealthy suburban Medina] and Tim Sheldon [of poorer, rural Mason County] in an alliance with Senate Republicans that puts Tom in charge of running the Senate. “No I’m a firm member of our [Democratic] caucus. I’ve been here 28 years. I’ve been in positions where I was the 25th vote and never switched to vote with the Republicans,” Hargrove said. He did note that he has voted with the GOP on individual issues where his conservative approach lined up. Hargrove also said new taxes are unlikely and that the state is looking at an $800 million to $900 million budget hole even before it considers additional funds - perhaps $1 billion by Gov. Chris Gregoire’s count - for K-12 schools. “My goal is that any money we do put in (for K-12) is going to somehow be tied to outcomes that improve educational achievement of our kids,” Hargrove said. “If we’re going to make a big investment, let’s make a big investment that is tied to outcomes that actually benefits kids, which by the way turns around and benefits the corrections system I’ve been working on for so many years.’’ How that might look remains to be seen, but Hargrove said he is working on legislation that could offer smaller reforms. Without getting into too many details, he suggested there may be ways the Legislature can give small amounts of money to schools to improve performance of everyone by fixing small things that get in the way of learning. One example he gave was finding help for teachers to deal with disruptive kids in classrooms by focusing on problems those kids might be having at home that carry over into the classroom. In that sense, Hargrove didn’t sound a whole lot different than Tom in the call to make government more efficient - in other words to reform it. And like Tom’s new team, which says taxes are off the table, Hargrove sounded like a man who won’t be going to Taxville anytime soon. But Hargrove did not rule out taxes for all of time. He said they are just not politically feasible next year. If any taxes are raised, Hargrove said they would have to be approved by voters, which he described as a long shot that won’t happen soon:
“So the point is, we are going to have to put something together over time, if we decide to go out [to the ballot], that is going have to have strong bipartisan support - and I’m not talking about two or three people on one side of the aisle or the other … - hopefully tied to outcomes … that would actually give them confidence that things would change. Can we get there in the next two to four to six years? I’m not sure.
“So right now the lay of the land is we have existing revenues, we have some options for cuts, we have some options for moving things around - maybe a little more federal money; there other things we can work on. But you’ve got to look at the lay of the land as it is right now. Anything in new revenues would be out several years anyway, so we can’t count on that this year.’’That would fit Gov.-elect Jay Inslee’s no-new-taxes approach, too, although Inslee has said closing of tax loopholes is part of his plan to pay for K-12 schools. We’ll see what outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire says Tuesday when she puts out her final budget.