U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers chose this fight.
She's made Washington state tuition hikes the subject of multiple negative ads, accusing her opponent, former Washington state Senate Majority leader Lisa Brown of being responsible for the steep tuition hikes that beset Washington state colleges and universities during the Recession.
We've detailed extensively the role that Brown played regarding college tuition during the Recession. Heck, McMorris Rodgers even quoted our article in one of her ads — digitally altering a picture of the article in one TV ad to remove criticism of the accuracy of her original ad.
But we've also noted just how dire the budget gap was during the Recession. And the gap could have been even worse if not for the stimulus, which McMorris Rodgers voted against.
Not only that, but unlike the federal government — which continues to rack up massive budget deficits under Republican leadership — the state Legislature has the misfortune of being legally required to balance its budget every year.
McMorris Rodgers has been pummeling Brown on Recession-era higher ed cuts while simultaneously slamming her for being too eager to raise taxes. If you can't raise taxes, go into deficit or cut into higher ed, what was the state Legislature supposed to cut instead?
In a sit-down interview this morning, the Inlander pressed McMorris Rodgers on that question. She didn't have an answer.
Here's the transcript of the most relevant section:
INLANDER: You were critical in the recent debate, of Lisa Brown for cutting higher education funding during the, uh, during the Recession.Finally, the Inlander changes the subject to ask about pension cuts. Pensions are one area where conservatives have been critical of liberals for funding too much. But McMorris Rodgers' campaign has also been attacking Lisa Brown for a proposal to consolidate and reduce the size of certain pensions during the Recession.
What should have been cut instead? Obviously there was a massive budget deficit, as you know, during the Recession. What should have happened instead of those cuts? What should have either been cut instead or revenue raised during that time?
CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS: The Constitution of the state of Washington says that education is the "paramount duty" in the state of Washington.
That applies to basic education not higher education.
Lisa Brown says that education will always be her top priority. And yet, when she was majority leader, she did not prioritize education or higher education. In fact, she cut the state support of higher education, dramatically. And it should have been the priority.
What should have been the —
— and I believe that the Republicans, the coalition majority in the Senate put together the package the following year that fully funded education instead of cutting taxes.
That was 2013 vs. 2009, when the big higher ed cuts were happening...
Right. "What should have been done instead?" I guess I'm asking. These are tough choices that need to be made. I'm kind of doing the opposite of when I'm asking Lisa Brown the same [sort of ] question: "If you were in Congress..."
If you were in the state Legislature, what would you have done?
It's about priorities.
Right. What would you have taken from to help fund higher ed?
Uh... when you look over the, uh... [12-second pause, during which background conversations and the beeping of the buttons on the coffee shop microwave can be heard] There's other places in the state government that could have seen the cuts.
What places are you thinking?
I don't believe that the government needs to be doing everything that it's doing.
Uh, well... [13-second pause] I wasn't there at the time so I hesitate to try to...
"We should never cut pensions," McMorris Rodgers told the Inlander. "That's a commitment that is made. We should also fulfill the commitment that we've made, people have made, to those pensions. They're dependent on those pensions."
Again, the Inlander asks what should have been cut during the Recession instead.
"When you look over the last 10 years as to the priorities within the state budget, it used to be that a much higher percentage of Washington state went to education and higher education," McMorris Rodgers says. "What has been happening is the state of Washington has been putting more of that burden on property owners, because schools will have to pass levies. Or, in the case of higher education, students had to pay higher tuition in order to fund other aspects of the state budget."
In other words, McMorris Rodgers isn't just hitting Brown from the left on higher education. She's hitting Brown from the left on K-12 education. She's saying that the state Legislature needed to be pouring more money into the school system.
But if McMorris Rodgers knows where all that money should come from, she's not saying.