Opinion

There are fiscal conservatives, and cheapskates

The so-called fiscal conservatives have joined forces with the small-government types to promote a gloomy picture of the economy, and, it would follow, diminished fiscal capacity at every level of government. Hello, all you amateur economists, the recession’s over! And it’s been over for years. A recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of declining GDP. Nationally, the Great Recession ended in the second quarter of 2009. Last year, U.S. GDP grew 2.4 percent, up from 2.2 percent in 2013.

Washington state experienced a double-dip recession, with a second, milder recession in late 2010 and early 2011. Growth resumed in the second quarter of 2011 and has continued at a solid clip ever since. Since the second, mini-recession ended, Washington’s average growth rate in personal income has been a robust 4.0 percent per year. True, this 4 percent rate overstates the growth in the income of the average household because it includes a 1.1 percent annual average increase in Washington’s population, but it in an economy with sub-2 percent inflation, 4 percent growth is not too shabby.

The implicit message from political leaders has been that once we return to pre-recession growth, we’ll stop talking about surviving the next budget cycle and go back to investing in the future. But wait, maybe we don’t want to return to the economy of 2006-07. Maybe the pre-recession growth was the anomaly. Maybe a healthy, sustainable economy does not rely for its growth on selling over-priced homes to people who can’t afford them using mortgages for which they’re unqualified. Perhaps 2 percent to 3 percent growth in GDP is not just the new normal, it’s about right for a mature U.S. economy.

So it’s not the economy, smarty pants. For sure, the gap in wealth and income between the very rich and everyone else has widened, but the overall level of economic activity as reflected in GDP and personal income has been healthy.

Why the harping on economic gloom? Republicans get a thrill out of bashing President Obama and Gov. Jay Inslee for not doing enough to help businesses recover from the recession. And a tale of economic woe supports the fiscal austerity agenda of Republicans and libertarians.

I admit, you’re not going to motivate your electoral base with a message of, “we’re doing fine, and the economic outlook is good.” And it’s obvious that not all of us are doing fine. Legions of people who want to work find their skills have become obsolete. Too many of our students don’t gain the basic skills required to function in a modern office or manufacturing environment. At the same time, opportunities abound for college-educated young people and for others with in-demand skills like programming or welding.

We citizens have let political leaders of all stripes lower our expectations. We should be asking more of our governments, not settling for less. It’s time we raised our expectations about how much and how quickly state and local government can raise our “common wealth.”

Education will near the top of anyone’s list of items deserving more public financial support in Washington State. Almost as important for me is providing some relief to long-suffering commuters and other travelers. By the way, how can there not be a commuter train from Olympia to Tacoma, Sea-Tac and Seattle?

Then there are the libraries. Why is every public library in Thurston County closed on Sunday? A library is essentially a retail operation. Can you imagine Costco or Safeway being open library hours? How would we eat?

The list of worthwhile but woefully underfunded programs is long. But the next time someone tells you we simply can’t afford it, remind them of how much money was available from Washingtonians for the purchase of Seahawks playoff tickets.

Or how much those dazzling, lifted F-250s cost. (One dealer in Olympia has an 2015 F-250SD available for the low, low price of only $58,700.)

Then ask yourself whether you’re talking to a principled fiscal conservative or a cheapskate.

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