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Eye On Olympia

Archive for May 2003

Oh, yeah…the Legislature…

You might not know it from the empty parking lots (and empty restaurants) around the capitol, but the state Legislature is technically in session.
In reality, only a handful of budget negotiators are actually here. They’re doing the same thing they’ve been doing for weeks: batting back and forth occasional proposals for a state spending plan. The thus-far-elusive goal: building something that most of the Senate and most of the House of Representatives can vote for.
The long, slow slog has been bad news for state-paid in-home health aides, who have seen their $97 million raises-and-benefits proposal whittled down to a reported $35 million that doesn’t include any health insurance. But that fight’s still going on.
Lawmakers and staffers are hoping to bring the political circus back to Olympia around the middle of next week. The special session ends June 10, so that ticking clock is some incentive to get things done.
A bigger incentive, though, is the looming date of June 19, when the state’s top economist will again peer into his crystal ball and forecast what state revenues are going to do in the near future. Some lawmakers fear that that report will be grim, and they’re anxious to get the budget done — and themselves out of town — before the state’s already-bad budget picture gets even worse.

More cash for you…maybe…

Remember that apartment deposit you never got back? Or that Christmas Club bank account you never tapped?
Thousands of people have unclaimed property — uncashed paychecks, dormant bank accounts, forgotten safe deposit boxes — that’s been left in the hands of the state Department of Revenue.
The state has to at least make some effort to find these folks, and the thing that’s worked best so far is an online computer database at http://ucp.dor.wa.gov (or just click here .) Last year, Revenue paid $15 million in such claims to 33,000 people.
According to the agency, there are now more than 900,000 people on the list. The state says that gives people about a one-in-seven chance of turning up some old money they’d forgotten about. And unlike a lottery ticket, it’s free.

Convicts allowed out early to save taxpayers’ money…

Some prison inmates will be released early, under a bill signed into law recently by Gov. Gary Locke.
Senate Bill 5990 will save taxpayers about $50 million — and will toughen some penalties for the most violent criminals.
“It turned out to be good policy while saving some money,” bill sponsor Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, told the Associated Press.
Some offenders, mostly those convicted of non-violent drug- and property crimes, could see have their sentences erased for good behavior.
Hargrove told the AP that a typical non-violent offender will serve two or three months less now, which he called a negligible risk to public safety.

Home care workers lose…

The union representing 26,000 state-paid home health aides said Tuesday that lawmakers are at an impasse over whether to approve the $97 million contract, and so are rejecting it. Lawmakers want the workers and their union, Service Employees International Union, to return to the bargaining table.
The contract would have given the workers a $2.07-an-hour raise over the next two years, as well as state-subsidized health insurance.

Trapping ban hangs in the balance…

Lawmakers have voted to repeal much of the three-year-old ban on body-gripping traps. The bill’s now sitting on the desk of Gov. Gary Locke, awaiting his signature — or his veto. A spokeswoman said the governor’s office is still researching the bill.
The most effective lobbyists for the change turned out to be moles and gophers. Their burrowing in soccer fields and lawns won some urban votes.
“That (digging) has got a whole lot of the urban Seattleites who voted for this thing pretty jaw-clenched,” said trapping proponent Ed Owens. “The moles and gophers were eating up their $25,000 landscapes.”
Others are appalled at the proposed undoing of the ban. Doris Mussil gathered dozens of signatures for the initiative. All her life, she’s felt that trapping is barbaric. If she could, she’d even ban those glue traps that people use to catch mice.
“Even a little mouse has feelings,” the Spokane Valley woman said. “To have them stuck on a little board, struggling, until they starve to death — that’s no way to treat even a mouse.”
Locke must decide what to do by Tuesday.

The mustard-seed bug pays off…

On Wednesday, Gov. Gary Locke signed into law a bill granting some tax exemptions for construction and equipment used to make bio-diesel, a much more environmentally-friendly form of diesel fuel that’s made from crops like rapeseed. Proponents want to build a manufacturing plant in Spokane County.
Much of the credit for the bill goes to the Spokane County Conservation District, which has driven its mustard-seed-oil-powered Volkswagen bug over to Olympia many times in recent years, trying to convince lawmakers to cut the fledgling biodiesel industry some slack.

Budget deal…

No 50-cent tax hike on cigarettes. No four-minute Keno in bars. And children can keep scarfing down Skittles, Paydays and gobstoppers tax-free.
House and Senate negotiators, after nearly three weeks, have at last decided how much they have to spend. Their agreed-upon $23 billion budget includes $184 million in new revenue, but the only new tax is a boost in the liquor tax.
Now lawmakers can get down to brass tacks: how to spend that money. There are major differences between House and Senate proposals so far, mostly over health care for the poor, raises for teachers and state workers, and approving a $97 million contract by newly unionized home health aides.
Stay tuned…

Candy…

“I suppose it’s not a sin.”
Gov. Gary Locke, asked if a proposed sales tax on candy could be considered a “sin tax,” like those on liquor.

How to look up who’s paid what…

Want to see how much a specific state employee is paid? You can look up their salary data by clicking here and then clicking on the agency where they work. The data includes people who work at Washington State University, Eastern and local community colleges.
If you want to take things a step further and look up salaries of workers at local school districts, the city of Spokane, Spokane County or similar entities, go to Louis Bloom’s website. Bloom, who lives on Camano Island, has made a hobby out of filing public-records requests for salary data, then posting it on the Internet.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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