Dino Rossi returns to Olympia with a really smart idea

Sometimes a proposal in Olympia has such a force of logic behind it, and is so clearly the right thing to do, that you know it’s probably doomed. Sen. Dino Rossi is prime-sponsoring one such brilliant and necessary bill.

The Legislature suffered a terrible loss when Sen. Andy Hill died, but Rossi has stepped into the role for this session in honor of Hill. It’s good to see him there; in a tough, budget-focused year, Olympia will benefit from Dino Rossi’s presence.

His new bill addresses a real problem: the political and financial coziness between the governor’s office and state employee unions. Those unions spend big money to elect a governor friendly to their interests, as they did with Gov. Jay Inslee. The governor who was just elected with the help of the unions’ millions then turns around and negotiates with them over state employee pay, benefits and work rules.

We have accepted, in Washington, this way of doing business that in other situations we would describe as corrupt. Giving the governor the sole power to negotiate contracts (even as legislators, the public, and the press are kept out) with the very unions that spend millions to elect him is clearly wrong. It’s time we stop blithely accepting it.

Rossi’s proposal, SB 5533, offers a simple solution to the terrible optics of our current negotiating system. With a simple amendment, our state’s campaign finance law would state clearly that “No entity that engages in collective bargaining…with the office of the governor or its representatives may make contributions…to any candidate for the office of governor, directly or indirectly.”

Talk about an easy way to remove suspicions that the governor’s office isn’t bargaining terribly hard on taxpayers’ behalf. To many, our current collective bargaining law sets up what looks like a nakedly quid pro quo system, where political contributions turn into state employee pay raises. The Rossi bill, which attracted seven co-sponsors, would eliminate the financial incentives and improve our governance.

So naturally, it has no chance of passing a Democratic-controlled House. The people who prefer the status quo will never let that happen.

They like the current system, and why wouldn’t they? The governor as political candidate has great leverage for attracting campaign contributions, and the unions then have great leverage in negotiations. Best of all (to them), because the negotiations are secret and the public is locked out, they don’t even have to pretend to bargain hard.

Rossi, of course, knows the political conditions here and his bill’s realistic chances. The logic of his proposal, though, is helping lay bare the stark realities of our messed-up collective bargaining system. It also gives a boost to proposals to open up negotiations, so the public can see for itself how its money is negotiated away. No doubt there’s a force of logic to that.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.