Archive for April 2003
“Think of 23 thousand stacks of a million dollars.”
Rep. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, describing the state’s two-year, $23 billion operating budget.
“Things are going to have to be done in a new way. We know that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives.”
State Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald, vowing to improve the agency’s accountability to taxpayers as it spends a proposed new five-cent gas tax.
“I will enjoy not hearing that song anymore.”
Rep. Jeff Gombosky, who chairs the House tax committee, complaining about lawmakers singing The Beatles’ song “The Tax Man” to him, over and over.
Setting up a facedown with the state Senate, Democrats in the state House of Representatives narrowly passed a budget late Saturday night that includes more than $270 million in new taxes and revenue.
“I stand with a caucus who dares to care,’’ said Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup.
Republicans spent hours fighting the proposal, arguing that the taxes, touted as being for kids and schools, will mainly pay for raises and benefits for public employees.
“I find this entire package totally disgusting,’’ said Rep. Jack Cairnes, R-Kent.
The plan now heads to the Senate, where Republican leaders said they’re sticking by their no-new-taxes version. It passed weeks ago while Democrats struggled to win enough votes for taxes.
“The fight begins,’’ said Sen. Larry Sheahan, R-Spokane. “We feel very strongly about this.’’
The gulf between the two proposals is relatively small – $22.8 billion in the Senate versus $23.2 billion in the House – but there’s a much greater philosophical divide between how the money’s spent.
In the House, Democrats say their taxes are critical to protect programs for children.
In the Senate, Republicans say taxes would cripple the economy.
“He consistently wears the ugliest ties I have ever seen.”
Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, on Sen. Don Carlson’s tropical electric-pastel tie earlier this week.
Carlson’s response: “No respect…”
The Legislature has passed a bill that broadens the definition of “potentially hazardous litter.”
Provided that Gov. Locke signs the bill, that means that people littering with lit cigarettes, glass, nails, tacks, bottles, hypodermic needles or “raw human waste” will face up to a $500 fine.
Raw human waste may not seem like it would be high on the list of things to hurl out the window of a speeding car, but apparently it is. Youth litter crews, according to bill sponsor Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, picked up thousands of so-called trucker bombs by Washington’s roadsides last year.
“Some truckers, in order to avoid losing valuable time by stopping at a rest area, often relive themselves in bottles and throw them by the side of the road,” he explained.
The bill includes one other change: it removes the widely-ignored state requirement that drivers keep a litter bag in their cars.
“We are more concerned with what people throw out their windows, not what they do with the garbage inside their car,” said Upthegrove.
Some House Democrats say they’re getting very close to settling on a package of state budget cuts and new taxes.
Agreement is also very close between the House and Senate, according to Gov. Gary Locke, on a gas tax increase and other taxes and fees to pay for transportation projects. (Lawmakers have been considering a 3-cent to 5-cent hike in the state gas tax.)
Many lawmakers continue to maintain that they’ll have everything wrapped up in time for the end of the session at midnight Sunday. Others say that negotiations are likely to take somewhat longer, throwing the session into legislative overtime.
House Democrats continued to tweak their budget recipe Monday, rushing to try to find a palatable mix of budget cuts and new taxes.
Dead is last week’s proposal to boost the state sales tax from 6.5 percent to 6.7 percent. That idea – which would have raised $350 million over two years – collapsed when several Democrats balked. Democrats hold 52 of the 98 House seats.
“The sales tax is gone. We don’t have the votes for that,” said Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.
It doesn’t help that Democratic unity in the house was bloodied Friday night in a battle over a proposed third runway at SeaTac airport. One lawmaker was in tears, another quit his leadership post.
So what now? Democrats say they’re looking at smaller taxes, mostly discretionary items. That fits with their other tax proposals, which target booze, candy and gum. A key player in all this: Spokane Democratic Rep. Jeff Gombosky, who heads the House tax committee.
Republicans, many of whom are backing a no-new taxes plan proposed weeks ago by the Senate, are happy to wait.
“Obviously, someone in there is having some consternation, saying `I don’t want to be a tax-and-spend liberal and you’re not going to make me,’” said Rep. Brad Benson, R-Spokane. “It is nice to see they’re having trouble getting 50 votes to raise taxes.”
Stung by public ridicule over a tit-for-tat legislative standoff, the Senate on Thursday night finally passed HB 1001, which bans photography up the skirts of unsuspecting women. The bill — which now goes to the House for a vote — fixes a loophole in the state’s voyeurism law.
“Thank you for putting this (bill) through, because people are watching, and I personally don’t want them to think of Washington as `Wow! They are very liberal. Look what you can do there.’ So thank you,” said Jolene Jang, who caught a man photographing up her skirt at a Seattle food festival.
The man — a chronic voyeur — was seized by bystanders and arrested, only to challenge his conviction due to the loophole. The Supreme Court agreed with him.
Lawmakers had rushed to defend the integrity of Washington women’s skirts early in the session, launching this bill in the first days. But a standoff ensued when Senate Majority Leader Jim West decided to sit on bills sponsored by Rep. Pat Lantz, as a way to pressure her into changing her objection to capping medical malpractice damage awards. And the up-skirt bill was one of Lantz’s.
“There is absolutely no linkage between the two (bills), and he knows that,” Lantz, D-Gig Harbor, said last week.
West said he didn’t realize at first that the voyeurism bill was caught up in the dispute.
“It never was our intent to kill this bill,” he said.
To no one’s surprise, it passed the Senate unanimously.
Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Veradale, had some parting words for Jang.
“I can assure you,” he said, “that the vast majority of the people of the state of Washington support you over the Supreme Court.”
On Wednesday, House Democrats proposed coming up with more money for health and schools by increasing the state’s Keno lottery game from once a day to once every five minutes.
Within 48 hours, anti-gambling forces opened fire in a joint statement signed by more than two dozen officials, including Cheney City Councilwoman Teresa Steuckle and Snoqualmie Mayor Randy “Fuzzy” Fletcher.
The Keno games, they said, would turn community eateries and taverns “into dark, smoky keno lounges where gamblers sit around watching numbers called on video monitors.”
As of this writing, there are eight days left in this year’s Legislative session. It’s widely expected to go into overtime.
Before everyone goes home, here are some of the key things Gov. Gary Locke says he wants done:
-Required statewide high-school graduation standards for math, reading and writing by 2008, plus science by 2010.
-Prescription-drug help: a “preferred drug list” for people on state prescription plans; a bulk-buying consortium for state agencies, senior citizens and the uninsured; and a clearinghouse to help steer senior citizens to low-income drug programs.
-Several water bills, including those promoting water storage.
-A gas tax and other fees or taxes to help pay for transportation projects.
The state Senate this week trimmed controversial new forest-road maintenance rules, saying the regulations were intended for timber companies, not mom-and-pop forest owners.
These so-called RMAP rules are a big issue in northern and northeastern Washington, which sent dozens of small-forest owners to Olympia this year. They feared they’d get hit with tens of thousands of dollars worth of road and culvert work to forest roads that are hardly ever used.
Among the changes: instead of an expensive, big plan, small forest owners can fill out a simple checklist. The bill also puts limits on how much they can be forced to pay to remove fish barriers.
“The optimal outcome would be to have the state pick up 100 percent of all the costs,” said Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient. “However, this bill improves things for our state’s small forest owners.”
House Democrats on Friday proposed $2.4 billion in construction projects around the state. Housing, education and the University of Washington all fared well in the plan.
But several Spokane-area projects — a new crime lab, an armory, the Chewelah Peak Environmental Center, the Fox Theater and WSU among them — fared worse than in a competing Senate plan. In some cases, much worse. The House budget includes NO money for the crime lab, armory, or learning center, for example.
Want to see how your pet project fared? Here’s a comparison of the three proposals, one from Gov. Gary Locke, one from House Democrats, and one from the Senate: click here
With tempers and tension heating up in the statehouse this week, we particularly appreciated this headline, from the Longview Daily News:
“State Senate passes three fishing bills: No one complained about any of them.”
House Democrats were huddled Tuesday, putting the finishing touches on a budget that’s reportedly gentler than the no-new-taxes version the Senate’s suggesting.
Here’s how: the Associated Press is reporting that the House’s version includes about $670 million in new taxes, including a sales tax boost, candy taxes, higher liquor and cigarette taxes and a new every-few-minutes Keno game, like Oregon has. The House also reportedly has $100 million in old tax exemptions in its gunsights.
What that would pay for: a small pay raise for state workers, pay hikes for teachers, Medicaid funding to avoid cutting 40,000 children off health programs, and restored prenatal care for the children of illegal immigrants.
The Senate was working into the night Monday, breaking for a quick dinner and then heading back to the Senate floor at 7:30 p.m.
Most of the late afternoon was dominated by arguments over tax breaks. Republicans successfully renewed several tax breaks, including measures for call centers and high-tech business.
Democrats tried to shrink the tax breaks or tack on requirements that companies reveal the number and pay of any resulting jobs.
A particular target: a high-tech R&D tax break that’s three times higher than the tax rate on most high-tech firms. It’s comparable to someone claiming a $900 tax exemption for spending $300 on childcare, said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. She and other Democrats wanted to shrink the tax break down to actual R&D costs.
Sen. Luke Esser defended the break, however, saying that such breaks help an industry that provides good jobs and clean industry.
“Let’s remember that we are in a keenly competitive environment,” said Esser, a Bellevue Republican.
Quote of the day:
“This is the classic case of the bowl of butter with the tigers fighting over it.”
Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle
State Senate leaders on Thursday proposed a $2.7 billion construction budget for the next two years. That’s about $300 million more than Gov. Gary Locke recommended in his first-out-of-the-gate budget proposal last December.
Locally, the potential winners included the Fox Theater and Chewelah Peak Environmental Learning Center, both of which are slated for $2 million grants. The Fox had wanted more — $6 million — but neither of these projects were included at all in Locke’s version.
Other apparent winners include WSU and Eastern, which would get tens of millions of dollars for maintenance and renovations.
Among the losers: Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake, which would get about $1.5 million less than Locke suggested for renovation of the hospital’s activity therapy building.
None of this is a done deal — the state House of Representatives will also have a big say in what ultimately gets money and what doesn’t. They haven’t yet released their construction proposals.
That’s the quick look — for a more detailed overview of the proposal, see tomorrow morning’s newspaper.
Moved by television images of U.S. troops and Baghdad residents toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein, Sen. Don Benton on Wednesday praised the American military effort in Iraq.
“It’s awfully hard to contain your pride and enthusiasm for what America’s been able to accomplish in three short weeks,” he said in a speech on the state Senate floor Wednesday.
Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, was less happy with the television coverage. He said he’s tired of reporters and pundits “trying to second-guess” the military.
“Our troops are not only fighting the Iraqis. They’re also fighting the reporters,” Deccio said.
He added that reporters in a war zone shouldn’t blame the military if they get killed. A U.S. airstrike hit an Arab TV network this week, killing one journalist. And an American tank killed two more reporters when it fired on the Palestine Hotel, home to hundreds of journalists, many of them American.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, stuck up for the press, saying that the Bill of Rights and press freedom have made America strong.
“With all due respect, I think it’s very important to acknowledge that those in the press and the media who have gone over to Iraq are also risking their lives to get us coverage,” she said.
“I know none of you are reading any of these amendments…But I wish you’d pay just a little bit of attention to this one.”
–Sen. Shirley Winsley, R-Fircrest, to the Senate during debate on the state budget.
(Her amendment, raising the cost of a marriage license $10 in order to pay for a child-abuse prevention program, passed.)
As lawmakers struggle with a $2.6 billion budget hole, they’re getting a bit of help from, of all people, a travel insurance company in Pennsylvania.
Insurance Company of North America has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle state charges that it sold tens of thousands of unapproved insurance plans to Washington consumers. Many of the plans were for travel insurance.
The money, insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler said, will go into the state’s general fund.
Several lawmakers are out sick these days, a phenomenon that’s not too surprising considering the close quarters and all that hand-shaking. It’s like an adult version of daycare.
Among the sick: Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, was home with the flu Tuesday. Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane, is sidelined by pneumonia. Some controversial bills, with each side needing every vote they can get, are stalled until the lawmakers recover.
A few lawmakers are working sick. Laryngitis-stricken Sen. Don Carlson, R-Vancouver, managed to rasp and croak his way through a brief speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
“I did notice it shortened his speech considerably,” teased Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham. “And I would encourage him to continue that for the rest of the session.”
Despite negotiations that lasted until 3 a.m. Wednesday, Gov. Gary Locke and key Democratic and Republican lawmakers couldn’t quite agree on a new transportation tax plan. They’re close, though, various red-eyed or hoarse lawmakers reported Wednesday morning.
All three plans are anchored by a 3-cent to 5-cent increase in the state gas tax. The key point of dispute: how much to spend on roads versus how much to spend on mass transit.
Apparently tired of waiting for House Democrats to agree on their budget proposal, the state Senate this afternoon plans to release its version. The Republican-written Senate plan is heavy on budget cuts.
We’re working on a story about this for Wednesday morning’s paper…
Not an April Fool’s joke: Gov. Gary Locke, trying to pressure lawmakers to agree on new transportation taxes, is calling key lawmakers to his office Tuesday to negotiate late into the night.
“I’m prepared to stay up all night to make this happen,” Locke said.
If lawmakers agree, expect your gas to cost 3 to 5 cents more, starting in July. Truckers and anyone buying a new or used vehicle could also face higher fees.
Locke said every penny in additional gas tax, if used to pay off construction bonds over the next decade, equals $500 million. The resulting projects would ease congestion and provide jobs now, he says.
Many Republicans — particularly in the House of Representatives — want more dollar-stretching reforms first.