Sheldon blames governor for state’s worsening economic crisis, calls no-special-session decision irresponsible

Longest-serving lawmaker cites Inslee ‘failure of leadership’ – governor has shut out Legislature and people

Click here to read the complete text of Sen. Sheldon’s address, “The Cure Shouldn’t be Worse than the Disease.”

OLYMPIA – In a blistering address to the Washington Public Utility District Association, Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, calls Gov. Jay Inslee oblivious to the growing economic problems created by his response to the coronavirus crisis. By shutting out the Legislature, Sheldon says he’s going to make things even worse.

Last week the Seattle Times reported that the governor has decided he won’t call a special session at all. That means the Legislature – and the people of Washington – will have no say in critical decisions for the next six months, until the regular 2021 legislative session begins.

“What we really have is a failure of leadership by Gov. Jay Inslee,” Sheldon said. “The governor has been oblivious to the needs of business and utilities, and the 4 million Washington residents who work for a living. Right when we’re trying to get back to work, this is going to make it that much harder to put things back together again.

Sheldon continued, “If we keep going down this path, there are much worse things ahead. Now the health and survival of our economy is at stake. This failure of leadership isn’t just oblivious, it’s dangerous.”

Sheldon, the longest-serving member of the state Legislature, said the governor flabbergasted Olympia the past month with his decision not to call a special session.  The economic shutdown has left the state with an $8.8 billion shortfall. Under similar circumstances, every previous governor has called lawmakers back to Olympia to make quick cuts to spending. The governor’s decision means lawmakers will have to make even deeper cuts later.

Sheldon noted that there are a number of proposals for massive tax increases to be considered the next time lawmakers return to Olympia. By waiting until after the election, Sheldon says tax advocates avoid a public rebuke. “The left sees an opportunity to restructure our economy and society to its liking,” he said. “They want to take the ball and run with it, and make things even worse.”

In his remarks, Sheldon, a former commissioner in Mason County Public Utility District No. 1, observed that public utility districts face a financial crisis because of the governor’s executive order allowing customers to skip paying their electric bills. Sheldon acknowledges that the state needed to take quick action when COVID hit in March, and some disruption was inevitable. But Sheldon says Inslee’s blunt meat-axe approach has made things much worse than they need to be.

“He made economic activity the enemy. But the economy wasn’t the enemy. It was COVID-19.”

Rather than stopping activities that posed the greatest risk of disease transmission, Inslee’s shutdown orders targeted entire swaths of the economy. As a result of sweeping edicts, some 700,000 people are out of work – a tenth of the population.

Sheldon said the near-collapse of the state’s unemployment system shows the state wasn’t up to the challenge. “We gave a half-billion dollars to Nigerian princes. Some people still haven’t gotten their money.”

Other decisions appeared to serve the governor’s political agenda – like throwing open the doors of the state’s prisons, when adequate facilities were available to treat prisoners in isolation. Already prisoners released under Inslee’s program are being arrested for new crimes.

“I want to leave you with a final thought,” Sheldon said. “There is an old saying among Democrats. The saying goes, ‘a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’

“I guess the first thing you need to do is make sure there’s a crisis. State government seems to be doing a great job of that.

“I sure hope nobody is really thinking that way. This is my 30th year in the Legislature, and never have I been as frightened about the state’s future as I am today.”