Jayne: Splitting state is cutting off east’s nose to spite its face

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor



Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

There is nothing new and nothing newsy about these items, and yet they remain fascinating. They remain a curious study in human nature, cognitive dissonance, and shameless pandering to the easily hoodwinked.

A handful of legislators from eastern Washington have pre-filed a bill for next year’s legislative session seeking to urge Congress to split the state in two, dividing it along the Cascade Mountains. The idea has been introduced several times, dating at least to 1915, and while it routinely is dismissed as hubris, it speaks to an interesting divide in this country.

The notion is that the mostly rural counties of eastern Washington are culturally and politically different from the People’s Republic of Seattle, and that tax dollars from that side of the state should stay on that side of the state. That is where the cognitive dissonance comes in, because the population centers on the west side of Washington financially support those rural areas.

A report from the Office of Financial Management a couple years ago found that King County residents contributed 42 percent of the tax revenue to the state’s general fund, but the county received only 25 percent of that fund in return — adding up to a difference of more than $2 billion.

The report also found that poorer counties, mostly on the east side, received more bang for their tax buck, some of them getting more than three times as much as they pay to the state coffers. In 2013 in Clark County, we received $188 million more than we paid. Thanks King County!

Which makes this annual effort to leave the state something that is technically known as cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Not that eastern Washington is alone in buying into this “government is bad” mantra. The country, for example, just voted to leave Congress in the hands of Republicans, even though the party’s representatives are dead set upon repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The quirk is that the areas which have benefitted the most from expanded health care — including poor counties in Washington — were the most likely to support those Republicans. A recent story by Vox.com, headlined, “Why Obamacare enrollees voted for Trump,” detailed this dichotomy and quoted one Trump supporter as saying of Obama-care, “We all need it. You can’t get rid of it.” On the 10-point scale of facepalm-inducing quotes, that one goes to 11. The very people who voted for Donald Trump and for others who promise to scuttle the Affordable Care Act are the very people who need it most.

All in this together

Yet, there is plenty about this divide that is teeth-gnashingly absurd. There are intermittent and persistent efforts to merge southern Oregon and northern California into its own state, or have eastern Oregon join the more like-minded Idaho, or have eastern Washington become its own little fiefdom.

In each case, the goal is for the citizens to separate themselves from those darned big-city liberals and their darned socialist ways, with little attention paid to the fact that those darned liberals support rural communities with their tax dollars. At the federal level, of the 11 states that receive the highest return on their federal taxes — according to The Atlantic — nine of them voted for the Republican candidate for president and his party’s “small-government” policies.

The coming bill to split Washington reads, in part: “Since statehood, the lifestyles, culture, and economics of eastern and western Washington have been very different.” There’s no doubt about that. One side of the state makes a lot of money and pays for a lot of services, and the other complains about government while banking that largesse.

There’s no problem with that; it’s how communities work, and we’re all better off if we consider the entire nation or the entire state or the entire county to be one community. We are, after all, in this together.

And there is nothing new about that.