Archive for April 2007
Two days after two “incendiary devices” were thrown through a window at the state Department of Corrections field office in Bremerton, the department’s Longview office was evacuated briefly today after a bomb threat.
A search of the Longview office found nothing, according to the department, and employees returned to work.
The nighttime firebombing of the Bremerton office Saturday caused about $3,000 in damage. No one was injured.
The agency’s field offices are where community corrections officers — formerly called probation officers — work.
Somebody left a Sine Die surprise in a fountain pool near the state capitol recently…
“When they start singing, you know it’s time to go home.”
— Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a point of sharper disagreement among Inland Northwest lawmakers than the issue of whether the state transportation budget approved this morning by the House of Representatives is a good thing or a bad thing for Spokane.
Local Democrats Chris Marr and Alex Wood say it’s a good thing indeed. In a year when virtually all new money was spent just trying to keep cost-surging projects on track, anything new was a victory, they say. And the budget includes an extra $2 million for the Geiger rail spur and $860,000 to start a new rail loading facility, both near Spokane. And budget writers set aside $99 million to keep up with inflation on the first phase of the North Spokane Corridor, aka the North-South Freeway.
“I came to Olympia to make sure nothing interfered with the progress of the North South Freeway, so today was a very satisfying day,” Marr said in a victory-lap press release Saturday.
Across the aisle, however, Republicans blasted the budget Saturday. Rep. Lynn Schindler said Democratic leaders broke a 1993 promise to devote a certain slice of the sales tax — a-tens-of-millions-of-dollars slice — to the North Spokane Corridor. Instead, much of that money has been shifted to Puget Sound projects, she said.
“We didn’t get any new money for the major project that we need it for,” Schindler told fellow House members Saturday. “Somebody has to finally stand up and protest that we are not getting our fair share.”
Spokane is increasing a donor county, she said, watching its gas-tax dollars pay for projects elsewhere in the state.
“It’s about time that somebody stood up and said `Enough is enough,’” she said.
Seconding that was Rep. John Ahern, who said he voted for the budget only because of the rail money.
“Seattle gets the gold mine and we get the short end of the stick,” he said.
After weeks of negotiations, state House and Senate lawmakers released their agreed-upon capital budget for 2007-2009 tonight, with a vote coming soon.
For the blog’s Spokane-area readers, here’s a look at some of the local projects slated for cash:
*Mirabeau Point Children’s Universal Park: $800,000.
*Spokane whitewater park: $530,000.
*Avista Stadium renovations: $2 million.
*Spokane Valley Community Center and Food Bank: $260,000.
*Chewelah Peak Environmental Learning Center: $1 million.
*Eastern Washington State Historical Society (the Museum of Arts and Culture): $2.2 million.
*Fox Theater: $2 million.
*Sex-offender treatment program building at *Airway Heights prison: $5 million
*Colville armory: $942,000
*Washington State University, including $58 million for a biotechnology building in Pullman and $29 million for two classroom buildings in Vancouver: $190 million.
*Eastern Washington University, including $10.8 million to renovate Hargreaves Hall and $2 million toward a remodel of Patterson Hall: $38 million.
*Spokane Community college, including $2.4 million for a technical education building: $3.4 million.
*Spokane Falls Community College, including a chemistry and life science building, music building 15 renovation: $6.3 million.
*Gladish Center, Pullman: $48,000.
*Salvation Army, Spokane: $275,000.
*N.A.T.I.V.E. Project, Spokane: $375,000.
*YMCA of the Inland Northwest (new facility in North Spokane): $800,000.
*Fish Lake Trail: $1 million.
*Spokane YWCA/YMCA joint project in Spokane: $2.5 million.
*Spokane East Central Community Center: $150,000.
*Spokane Emmanuel Center: $500,000.
*Buying Antoine Peak land: $1.4 million.
*Spokane’s Northeast Community Center: $1 million.
*Buying land for a community park Spokane’s Greenacres neighborhood: $306,000.
*Fishing dock at Newman Lake: $250,000.
To scan the 286-page budget bill for yourself please click here.
For a shorter, 50-page summary, click here.
There was one final flurry of debate yesterday on SB 6001, a measure aimed at curtailing Washington’s contributions to greenhouse gases. (This is a bill that drew no less than 45 attempted amendments this year.)
The bill was back in the Senate for a final stop before heading to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s desk. It passed 37-10, but not without some heated protests by several Republicans unhappy with what the bill’s supporters see as a key plus:
“This is a big step forward to closing the door to pulverized coal,” explained proponent Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle. The changes in the bill, he said, will encourage power companies to build new plants “clean, not just cheap.”
Responded Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood: “We are the Saudi Arabia of coal.”
Ignoring that resource, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said, will only drive up up people’s power costs needlessly here, while China continues to build polluting power plants.
Some critics of the bill disagree with the widespread conclusion that human activities are playing a key role in global warming.
“I’m not going to drink the Kool-Aid,” announced Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland. “…The earth changes naturally, and I think it’s very arrogant of man to say we can affect climate change.”
“I don’t think we’re drinking the Kool-Aid,” responded Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “I think that we are leading the nation in a time of a bit of a vacuum at the national level on this issue.”
For months, the Governor and Senate have been calling for an amendment to the state constitution to steer a little of the state’s revenues into a hard-to-tap rainy day fund.
Virtually all lawmakers seem to agree that it’s a good idea. You don’t have to go back to far in history — try three years — to read about legislative hand-wringing and tooth-gnashing over billion-dollar-or-more budget shortfalls.
But House and Senate budget writers squared off this year over how much of a lockbox to build around the account. The Senate and Governor want to require a 60-percent vote of the Legislature, unless the economy sours or the governor declares an emergency, in which case a simple majority would be enough.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Helen Sommers, however, has argued throughout the session that there’s no need for such a rigid restriction. Legislative common sense and self-restraint should be lockbox enough, she said.
On Monday, her committee flirted with the idea of a modified proposal that would have exempted from the 60-percent requirement money intended for some school programs. But after a long caucus with fellow Democrats behind closed doors, Sommers withdrew the amendment. The committee — with Sommers and 10 other lawmakers voting no — decided to go with the Senate version.
Here’s what’s proposed:
-1 percent of the state’s general revenues would go into the fund every year. That’s about $135 million a year, starting in fiscal year 2009.
-To tap it with a simple majority of the Legislature, forecasted job growth must be less than 1 percent,
-or the governor must declare an emergency to deal with a catastrophe “that necessitates government action to protect life or public safety.”
-Otherwise, it takes a much-tougher 60 percent vote.
-Once the account exceeds 10 percent of state revenues — something not expected to happen for about a decade at best — any extra money would go into the state’s school-construction fund.
Some lawmakers worry that the savings may be seen by citizens as a “surplus.” That was part of the rallying cry behind Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695: why are you paying hundreds of dollars in car-tab fees a year when government is sitting on billions?
Voters, not surprisingly, approved I-695.
“I think fiscal responsibility is great, but I don’t think the public, in the end, is terribly supportive of this level of fiscal responsibility,” said Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park.
Miscellanea: Best moment during Monday’s Appropriations hearing: When Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget director, Victor Moore, prefaced the answer to a lawmaker’s question with a light joke: “I’m proud to say I am not an economist…”
Unfortunately, the lawmaker in question happened to be Rep. Jim McIntire, D-Seattle, who is famously proud of being, yes, an economist.
As lawmakers roared with laughter, Moore, a longtime Appropriations staffer, stammered out an apology. But McIntire, who was among those laughing, waved it off as unnecessary.
Most of the action remains subterranean right now, with a handful of key lawmakers hashing out deals behind closed doors.
After an informal poll of staffers and lobbyists, the betting seems to be for the budget to come out sometime Wednesday, with the session wrapping up Saturday…or possibly Friday night.
One thing that doesn’t come across on TVW or much of the news coverage out of Olympia is how choreographed and scripted most (but not all) of the House and Senate floor debate is. Daily, tourists and visitors sit in the galleries, presumably expecting some Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moments, a chance to see lawmakers’ passionate debate changing their colleagues’ minds as they weigh public policy for the state.
Although there is plenty of passion during debate, most of the debate — how many speakers, how many amendments, how long to talk — is predetermined through agreements between Democratic leaders and the Republican minority. And many of the speeches borrow heavily from talking points prepared by staffers or lobbyists.
So it was a rare moment recently when Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, stood up and argued against a seemingly uncontroversial bill, HB 1994. Requested by local courts, the bill says that courts can keep overpayments of court fees, so long as that overpayment is less than $10.
Marr didn’t like that idea of government keeping the change. As a former auto dealer in Spokane, he said, there would occasionally be cases in which a buyer overpaid the state licensing fee by a few dollars. When the dealership sent them a note and a little refund check, he said, the goodwill earned was well worth a little administrative overhead.
If government’s going to keep an overpayment, Marr said, it should be no more than what you’d put in a tip jar.
“Nobody looks at $10 and says `Hey, keep it,’” he said.
But when he mentioned this on the Senate floor, the shoo-in, minor bill, which had passed the House nearly unanimously, failed. Twenty six lawmakers voted no, 20 voted yes. Lawmakers and staffers were startled. (Marr says he’d unwittingly violated protocol: If you’re going to speak against a bill, give a heads-up first to the committee chairperson dealing with that bill.)
“So much of what we do here is orchestrated,” Marr said. “Then you hit the unexpected, and it kind of grabs everyone’s attention.”
Leaders brought the bill up again later that day, and it was approved, 38-9, with Marr again one of the no votes. The bill passed.
“Pretty much everyone hates seeing someone driving while they’re talking on a cell phone. I hate it, and I do it all the time.”-Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum.
State vegetable? Check.
State frog? Check. (Oh, pardon: state amphibian.)
Lawmakers moved to right that wrong Wednesday, as the Senate approved Rep. Brian Blake’s bill to declare the Aberdeen-based Lady Washington as the state’s official ship.
“The bill sometimes hit rough waters, but it’s now sailing on to the Governor and hopefully into law,” Blake allegedly said, according to a press release about the bill’s success.
The ship — built in Aberdeen — is a life-size replica of the first American vessel to visit the West Coast 219 years ago. That original Lady Washington, which was nearly 40 years old when it rounded Cape Horn in search of Pacific Northwest sea otter pelts.
Her modern namesake, launched in 1989, has been several movies, including “Pirates of the Caribbean — Curse of the Black Pearl.”
The House yesterday approved SB 5088, an anti-jackass bill intended to discourage people from cutting in line while waiting for the state ferries. As things stand now, the only penalty at state officials’ disposal is to send the offender to the back of the line.
The bill would make cutting in a ferry line a traffic infraction, meaning a likely fine of $101. (And you’d still be booted to the back of the line.)
But for at least one ferry, Rep. Lynn Schindler felt, there’s little point to such a fine. The Martha S., State Route 21’s little Keller Ferry, which for nearly 60 years has been trundling on its 10-minute trip across the Columbia River between Ferry and Lincoln counties, isn’t exactly known for vast backlogs of Puget Sound commuters quivering with barely-suppressed road rage. The nearest towns are Wilbur, 14 miles to the south, and Republic, 53 miles to the north.
In fact, there is usually no set schedule for the 12-car Keller Ferry. When you show up on either bank, the little boat’s crew sees you and comes to get you. (Also, the ferry’s free, a fact best not mentioned to the Puget Sound multitudes…)
So Schindler got an amendment put on the bill, exempting the Keller Ferry from the new rule. That’s right: Cut at will, Highway 21 travelers. At worst, you’ll be send to the back of the line. If you can find a line, that is.
“I don’t think if one car goes in front of the other car” that anyone should be fined $101 dollars, said Schindler, R-Otis Orchards.
Majority Democrats agreed. “I think she has pointed out something we need to address,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.
So, in a rousing show of bipartisanship, the House approved Schindler’s amendment. Rep. Bob Sump, R-Republic, who’s battling laryngitis at the moment, gave the measure a thumbs-up.
In the Senate, an amendment to ban idling your car in a ferry line (for more than 3 minutes if gas-powered, or 5 minutes for diesels) was withdrawn. (It included an exemption for very hot or cold days, or trucks with refrigeration, etc.)
Senate Bill 5336 passed 63 to 35.
A sampling from the debate:
“This legislation is not about civil rights…There are no pink triangles. There are no straight-only restrooms…The reason we have the amendment is bec this is ultimately a debate about the institution of marriage.”-Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City
“I wish we were here to talk about marriage. Unfortunately, in my opinion, we are not.”-Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle
“This is really a sad day.”-Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane
“I’m going to go home proud to face my constituents and tell them we did something that will help families who care and love one another.”-Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam
“I beg of you to think very seriously about the road that we are going down, and about how we are going to be changing our civilization from here on in.”-Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards
“It’s not marriage. But it does provide for some of the rights and obligations that we ask people to undertake when they’re in loving relationships recognized by the state.”-Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle
Barring an unexpected veto by Gov. Chris Gregoire, this little frog is about to become Washington’s official “state amphibian.”
The state Senate a few minutes ago unanimously passed a bill to bestow that title on the Pacific chorus frog, known to science as Pseudacris regilla.
“We didn’t hear a word from the salamander lobby, so evidently the frog is it,” said Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Seattle.
It’s the state’s most abundant frog, apparently, and a remarkably loud one, according to Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.
“They can sing so loud they can drown out traffic and even hit 90 decibels,” she told the Senate.
“I recommend to you this 1 1/2-inch-long little frog that sings in choruses,” she said.
It’s a good fit for the Evergreen State, Fairley said, since this type of frog is found in both Eastern and Western Washington and their presence indicates a clean environment.
“Frogs are indeed the canary in the coal mine for our air quality,” she said, “and they are going away.”
The Senate vote capped a lobbying campaign by third graders at Olympia’s Boston Harbor Elementary School, who wrote lawmakers and testified on behalf of the creature in front of House and Senate committees. The students played a recording of the frog’s croaking, and noted that the species also eats mosquitoes.
When one lawmaker asked a boy at a House hearing earlier this year why this croaking amphibian would be a good choice for a state symbol, the boy thought for a moment.
“It has a beautiful sound,” he said.
(Photograph courtesy of John Sullivan, of www.wildherps.com)
Mea culpa: An earlier version of this post misspelled Pseudacris as “Pseudocris.”
Excerpts from GOP legislative leaders’ meeting Friday with capitol reporters:
“Easter being the season of hope and renewal, we’ll go and take a break and come back with hope and renewal.”
(Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis)
“I think that they want to run it as an initiative and they want it to be a little more ugly than it is. And so I think that that’s the reason I don’t think it will come up on the floor. I think they used the session to just get the message out there.”
(DeBolt, who predicts an initiative that splits the 2-cent-an-hour tax between workers and business instead.)
“Other than the capital budget, it was pretty unpleasant.”
(Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, who said he feels Republicans have largely been shut out of the budget process this year. Republican budget amendments — one for as little as $11,000 — were rejected by majority Democrats one after another, he said. “That was as partisan as I’ve seen in 7 years here,” he said.)
“We haven’t really had the opportunity to comment. It’s a big freight train that’s moving forward.”
“Things for us have gotten a little tense over there because of the lack of our ability to have our voice and put our fingerprints on it (the budget)…It’s like the guards and the prisoners…The guards make the rules and sometimes the prisoners get frustrated. But it’s still the guards are in charge.”
(DeBolt, quoting an analogy that he said came from a Democratic House member.)
“We have one amendment…What it says is that the rules should apply to everyone that are roommates, that it doesn’t matter if the relationship is physical or not. But if you’re roommates and you have a caring relationship, you should have the same access to these rights as anybody else.”
(DeBolt. Note: A similar amendment failed in committee.)
“That bill’s not going. I don’t make bets often, but I don’t think that bill is going.”
I can’t vouch for the math, but here’s a very interesting way to graph data: inflation-adjusted home prices, 1890 to present, as a roller coaster. (Thanks to The Slog.)
“NGA, CCSSO, NASBE Officials to Offer Briefing on NCLB Recommendations”
— Press release this morning from the National Governor’s Association and other groups.
Great Western Sports, Inc., which for two years has been eyeing and trying to convince lawmakers to steer millions of local tax dollars into a NASCAR track on the Kitsap Peninsula, has given up on the project.
“We’ve just made this decision, and now we’re going to sort of regroup internally” before considering the next step for a Pacific Northwest speedway, said spokesman Lenny Santiago. “We don’t have any other sites for it on, quote, unquote, the back burner.”
Locally generated taxes, including an admissions tax, would have paid for more than half of the $368 million track complex. Great Western Sports would have then leased the facility under a long-term contract.
Th deal-killer, Great Western Sports president Grant Lynch said in a written statement, was a series of “significant revisions” that people were calling for in order for the tax plan to process. The changes, he said, would have hurt the profitability of the track.
“Washington is a great state and home to some of the best motorsports fans I have ever encountered,” Lynch said. “As a company, we still believe the Northwest represents a significant opportunity for a speedway development and we remain interested in the region.”
Santiago wouldn’t elaborate on what precisely the hitch was.
“It doesn’t behoove us to get into the details,” he said.
He noted, however, that the company was willing to abide by a local public vote on the proposed track, spend $1 million on environmental conservation and other changes.
Lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire had floated the suggestion that the track might be a better fit in rural Lewis County, about and hour and a half south of Seattle. The county recently lost hundreds of high-paying jobs when a coal mine closed. Track officials said in February that they’d look at the area, but that it was critical the track be close to thousands of hotel rooms and a major media market.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, from this morning’s weekly “availability” with capitol reporters: