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May 22, 2022

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In Our View: Partisan discord stymies solutions

The Columbian
Published:

As we tepidly move into 2022, the focus for leaders at the city, county, state and federal levels must be to fix long-standing problems. For too long, solutions have been overwhelmed by discord, leading to questions about whether the United States still can achieve great things.

At the local level, the primary issue is homelessness that has people living in squalor and diminishes the quality of our community. The city of Vancouver has launched an ambitious program to provide dedicated campsites that include sanitation facilities and can link unhoused people with social services. We hope it can make a dent in what has been a vexing issue.

At the same time, city officials have correctly recognized that Clark County is the lead agency in dealing with homelessness. Encampments are not exclusive to Vancouver; they are evident in other cities as well as unincorporated areas. County officials must take the lead in coordinating an effective response throughout the region.

That is only one example of an issue that has reached a critical point, and a proposed supplemental budget from Gov. Jay Inslee has effectively spelled out myriad issues that warrant attention. The $61.8 billion proposal looks to increase state spending on homelessness, climate change and salmon recovery.

The proposal builds on the state’s two-year operating budget for 2021-23, but does not include any tax increases. It instead taps into federal COVID-relief funds and takes advantage of a strong economic recovery following the pandemic downturn. It also likely will fall by the wayside as lawmakers pursue their own priorities; budget proposals from the governor traditionally are little more than suggestions.

When the Legislature convenes on Monday, lawmakers must make climate legislation a priority. Washington has been a leader in recognizing and addressing the challenges of a changing climate, but the threat continues to grow. Creating incentives for reducing carbon emissions and providing funding to improve forest health are two examples of imperative climate initiatives.

Most important, those issues must be approached in a manner that benefits both urban and rural areas. Residents in rural regions long have felt disenfranchised, believing that big-city liberals have little interest in rural issues.

That is somewhat unavoidable, with the Seattle metropolitan area accounting for 45 percent of the state’s population and with urban areas accounting for about six-sevenths of the population. But finding common ground in Olympia is essential to the future of the state.

The same can be said for Washington, D.C., where partisan discord has prevented big ideas from turning into big solutions. Congress in 2022 must focus on preserving our environment through climate initiatives, and on preserving our democracy. Both are under attack.

All of this needs to be done amid a lingering pandemic, which has highlighted the nation’s political and cultural divides. Of the eight states with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases, seven of them voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election; the 10 states with the lowest rates all were won by Joe Biden. Coronavirus has provided a real-time measure of our political divide and how it impacts the lives of Americans.

Chipping away at that divide, identifying issues where we can reach agreement, and emphasizing results rather than disharmony are essential for what could be a crucial year for the United States. Governments at all levels will help set the tone for the public.

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