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Eye On Olympia

Archive for September 2008

Legislative candidate fined for not filing campaign documents…

After a contentious hearing, the state’s campaign-finance watchdog has fined a statehouse candidate $300 for failing to file any reports after months of campaigning.

Republican Chris Bowen, who’s challenging state Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane, told investigators that he put the reports in the mail and that’s all he’s required to do. It’s not his problem, he said, if the state Public Disclosure Commission didn’t get them or lost them.

Wrong, PDC Chairman Ken Schellberg said during a telephone hearing Thursday.

“We need the reports. I’m sorry, this is not a utopia,” he told Bowen. “At some time in our life, I think most of us have to learn to keep copies of something we’ve sent in the mail.”

In an email to a reporter before the hearing, Bowen said he’d done everything needed to: fill out the forms and mail them.

“This mishandling of my information is not new,” he wrote. “So I have a great policy that allows me to do everything I am required to do, and at the same time not concern myself with others’ mistakes.”

He said at the time that he had spoken with the PDC and that “it is understood that the matter is laughable.”

Not sharing in the laughter: Schellberg. In cases like this, he told Bowen, a candidate simply provides copies of the reports.

“You’re just making laws up to cut me down on certain fines,” responded Bowen. “You’re the lawman. You read it to me where it says it doesn’t matter what the reason is.”

Schellberg said Bowen could appeal the ruling if he wants to. Then he hung up on Bowen.

On Saturday, Bowen – still not saying what he does for a living – said he plans to appeal.

“I won the case, but they were focused on fining me no matter what,” he wrote. “It was not a shock. This is a regular thing for me.”

Click here to listen to an excerpt of the discussion between Bowen and Schellberg.

When schedulers attack…

Think the tussle over tonight’s presidential debate has been strange? Look at what’s happening here.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and challenger Dino Rossi have for weeks been planning a debate in Vancouver, hosted by The Columbian newspaper.

Apparently, the paper and the two campaigns agreed on noon on a date reportedly picked by Rossi’s side: Oct. 13. Then the time was changed to 11 a.m., again reportedly at the request of Rossi’s campaign.

“Yet again, we compromised, rearranged the Governor’s schedule and agreed to adjust the governor’s schedule to accommodate the 11 a.m. start,” Gregoire spokeswoman Debra Carnes wrote in a memo to reporters.

Then last week, Carnes said, Rossi wanted to change the time again, this time to 10:30 a.m.

Gregoire’s side refused, saying it wasn’t going to juggle her schedule yet a third time.

Rossi’s side, citing an 11:30 a.m. lunchtime fundraiser for which the invitations had already been mailed out, held firm. Afton Swift, Rossi’s campaign manager, called the memo “petulant.”

“Last I heard, the two campaigns were only half an hour apart,” he wrote in a memo of his own.

The plan now: Gregoire plans to appear at 11 a.m., as planned, and instead hold a town-hall-style forum.

“The facts are the facts,” Carnes e-mailed Swift. “We both agreed to an 11 a.m. debate and your campaign pulled the plug. We’re still planning on being in Vancouver at 11 a.m. on Oct. 13. Our commitment has never changed.”

Watch excerpts from Thursday night’s gubernatorial debate…

Taxes, spending, and leadership in tough times — click here to see a series of excerpts from Thursday night’s gubernatorial debate at the Association of Washington Business’ conference in Blaine, Wash.


Pollster Stu Elway, on “GOP” vs. “Republican” in the governor’s race…

For those with doubts about whether the state Democratic Party’s lawsuit over “GOP” versus “Republican” on the ballot matters, pollster Stuart Elway offers some interesting results from his recent polling. (Elway’s appearing on a panel here in Blaine this morning.)

Elway’s work has shown a strong lead — more than most polls — by Gov. Chris Gregoire over challenger Dino Rossi. (Elway attributes that to his “softer” questioning, which he said allows for more nuance in the answers.) But there’s a marked difference, he said, between how the governor does when matched against a “GOP” opponent or a “Republican” candidate.

Rossi and the state Republican Party say the lawsuit’s pointless, and that just about everybody knows that the GOP and the Republican Party are the same thing. Rossi points out that he’s long identified himself in ads as a member of the GOP.

But here’s that interesting result from Elway’s poll: “When it is GOP Rossi, she (Gregoire) leads by 4 points. When it is Republican Rossi, she leads by 9 points.”

Hearing Friday in GOP/Republican ballot tussle….

King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie will hear arguments Friday at 9 a.m. over halting printing of ballots describing Republican Dino Rossi’s party preference as “GOP Party.”

Saying that a significant number of voters don’t realize that GOP and Republican are synonymous, the state Democratic Party is suing to try to force Secretary of State Sam Reed to have the ballot say “Republican” next to Rossi’s name. In a close race, Democrats maintain, the confusion could add tens of thousands of votes to Rossi.

Reed’s position: “It was the candidates’ call, not for the government to mandate.” He noted that one candidate described himself as a member of the “Salmon Yoga” party. Some candidates listed no party preference at all.

State Elections Director Nick Handy says some counties have already printed their ballots, even mailing some already to military voters.

“The proverbial train has left the station,” Handy says.

The Budget and Policy Center says the unspeakable…

And here it is: “Tax increases will be necessary in order to avoid the negative economic effects of deep budget cuts.”

Those are words that very few politicians in Olympia, and definitely not those in close races, like Gov. Chris Gregoire, are willing to utter a few weeks before the election.

But the liberal-leaning Washington State Budget and Policy Center — a private think tank — say that tax increases are likely to do less damage to the economy than cuts to state spending.

With Washington’s state government facing a projected $3.2 billion budget shortfall in the next two-year budget cycle, the center’s budget analysts offer up some ideas. Among them:

-Tapping the state’s new $700 million Rainy Day fund to help pay some of the bills,
-Careful state budget-trimming, rather than across-the-board cuts,
-Revisiting the state’s hundreds of tax breaks to see if they’re really justified. From 1995 to 2007, the group says, state lawmakers approved more than 100 tax breaks that total a combined $1.6 billion in the next two-year state budget cycle.
-Boosting the state’s sales tax. Each increase of half a cent per dollar spent would yield another $1.1 billion in new money.
-Offsetting that boost for some low-income families by offering them a state match for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

Households with two or more kids can earn nearly $40,000 a year and qualify for the EITC. In Washington, that’s 350,000 families that would get an average of $250 a year back from the state. That, the center says, is about twice what the same family would pay in additional sales tax.

“An increase in the sales tax should not be seen as a permanent solution to our fiscal problems,” write study authors Jeff Chapman and Stacey Schultz. “A sunset clause would ensure that we can address our current revenue needs while planning a longer term solution that would include broadening the tax base, taxing income, reforming business taxation, and a robust Working Families Rebate.”

Thousands more Washington families can qualify for food stamps…

From today’s paper:

Like a lot of moms with a family to feed, Spokane Valley’s Lisa Sandefur shops carefully for groceries.

She goes to the Dollar Store frequently for canned goods. She buys big bags of store-brand cereals. And she forgoes things like juice in favor of Kool-Aid.

“Fruit kind of gets left by the wayside,” she said Wednesday. “And I used to think that hamburger was cheap. It’s not so cheap anymore.”

Help may be on the way. Starting Oct. 1, Washington is easing its eligibility requirements for the state’s food-stamp program. The change means tens of millions of dollars in food for an estimated 23,000 more families statewide.

The average benefit is $181 per month.

“It’s really timely, with food costs as high as they are,” said Linda Stone, who heads up the Eastern Washington efforts of the Children’s Alliance. The advocacy group was one of several that pushed lawmakers this spring to approve the change.

As things stand now, it’s only available to people living on less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s about $27,000 for a family of four.

Now, however, families earning up to 200 percent may be eligible. The same family, in other words, may now qualify if they’re earning as much as $42,400 a year.

The cost to the state budget is minimal: about $1.1 million a year to pay for 28 new staffers to process the thousands of expected new applications. The federal government will pick up the estimated $51 million cost of the food payments.

State officials stressed Wednesday that eligibility is based on more than just income. Housing costs, utilities, child support, childcare and other expenses are part of the calculation to see if a family qualifies, and for how much. But the same officials also said that even minimal benefits can qualify a family for other help, like reduced telephone rates and free school lunches.

––

Note: To get an idea of whether you may qualify under the new eligibility guidelines for food stamps in Washington, go to the state-run website www.foodhelp.wa.gov or call 1-877-514-3663. You can also apply for benefits online at www.parenthelp123.org, which is run by an advocacy group called Within Reach.

And the state budget news is, yes, bad…

In minutes, the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council will predict that general fund revenue will be down $529 million for the remainder of this biennium and the next one.

Gov. Chris Gregoire will tell her budget office to find an additional $200 million in savings “without affecting vital programs.”

State revenue for the current 2007-2009 biennium is now expected to be $273 million lower than expected just a few months ago. For 2009-2011, the decrease is projected to be $256 million.

Crystal ball for the coffers…

ER, FC.

The state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council will meet later this morning to peer into the crystal ball and forecast the state of the state’s treasury over the next two years.

Looking at the headlines over the past several days (Wamu? Hello?), it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking the news might be good. And the state’s already facing an estimated $2.7 billion shortfall over the next two years.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has spent much of the spring and summer disputing that number and stressing that Washington’s fundamentals — like foreclosure rates — were way better than in other parts of the country. But this week, as major investment banks and other financial titans struggled to avoid becoming dominoes, Gregoire instead turned her focus on George Bush and on her Republican challenger, Dino Rossi.

“Americans cannot afford four more years of this in the White House and Washington state cannot afford a Bush Republican, like my opponent, bringing those policies to our state,” Gregoire said in a statement sent out by her campaign. “…The failure to police Wall Street by Bush and the Republican leadership in Washington D.C. has put our country in this situation.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continued to churn out press releases, the essence being something along the lines of “things here suck. Really.”

“Our state is headed for a budget train wreck and Christine Gregiore is driving with her eyes closed because she can’t bear to look at the mess she’s created,” said state GOP chairman Luke Esser. He pooh-poohs recent attempts by Gregoire to tighten spending now, such as a call for state agencies and colleges to freeze most hiring, conserve fuel and put off new purchases.

Meanwhile, groups like the private, liberal-leaning Washington State Budget and Policy Center are left to propose changes for how to address the budget shortfall. (Look for a white paper on the topic next week.) One recent idea that’s been floated: a “high-incomes tax” — which a large percentage of the state wouldn’t have to pay — that would allow the state to reduce some existing property or sales taxes.

Stay tuned.

State insurance commissioner: AIG insurance policyholders, fret not…

As attention from Wall Street’s financial firefight turned to the federal bailout of American International Group Wednesday, Washington insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler said the companies insurance clients shouldn’t be sweating things.

“Many policyholders have expressed concerns in light of the recent news surrounding AIG,” Kreidler said in a press release. “This is a fluid situation, but I can assure you that the insurance companies owned by AIG are in good financial shape and capable of paying claims.”

The multibillion-dollar bailout is likely to stabilize the company, he said.

“But regardless of what happens to the parent company, AIG, there is a firewall in place that guards the assets of the insurance companies and protects policyholders,” he said. “The parent company cannot move assets upstream without the approval of state insurance regulators.”

Kreidler said he and the other regulators can prevent AIG from “raiding” its insurance companies. Here’s the critical part:

“If you have a policy through an AIG insurance company, whether it’s an auto policy, homeowner policy or even an annuity, your coverage is safe,” Kreidler said. “Do not cancel your policy or cash in your annuity…Even under the worst case scenario, policyholders’ claims will be paid.”

Four-day workweek becomes a reality for hundreds of state workers…

At the urging of state workers, Gov. Chris Gregoire has agreed to let hundreds of them in nine state agencies switch to four-day work weeks.

The move — which means working four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days — is intended to reduce energy use, janitorial costs, and commuting.

Gregoire said she’s willing to try it, so long as the agencies can maintain the level of service that taxpayers expect.

The chosen offices include about 650 workers and 260,000 square feet of building space.

Among the other energy-savers being tried in state offices: software that automatically shuts down unused computers.

7th District: sharp elbows in GOP vs GOP race…

The northeastern Washington legislative faceoff between longtime legislative aide Shelly Short and architect Sue Lani Madsen is looking a lot like a grudge match.

Short got slightly more votes in the primary than Madsen: 26.7 percent to 26.4 percent in a five-way, all-Republican primary. Both are well-known: Madsen ran in 2004, losing to state Rep. Joel Kretz, and Short has spent the last 14 years as the local contact to members of Congress and Kretz.

Just days before the Aug. 19th primary, Short’s husband, Mitch Short, was charged with aggravated first-degree theft. Amid mounting family debts, he allegedly stole more than $3,000 from a local fair organization he headed. He has denied any wrongdoing.

In fundraising letter to supporters last week, Shelly Short claimed victory in the primary, briefly addressed the fair controversy and lambasted Madsen as a stealth liberal.

“The vicious attacks on my husband, Mitch, came as a complete surprise,” she wrote, saying that she’s confident he’ll be exonerated. “I hope and pray that you will keep faith in us.”

Short blasted Madsen for accepting campaign contributions from “Westside, pro-choice, environmentalist supporters. Those supporters have also given tens of thousands of dollars to (the) likes of Christine Gregoire, Gary Locke, Naral Pro-Choice Washington, Emily’s List, Moveon.org, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton to just name a few.”

Madsen scoffs at that.

“Apparently I’m on speaking terms with Obama and Biden, too,” she said. “It’s just so outrageous it’s silly.”

BIAW’s campaign accounting draws fire; case headed to AG for investigation

With only weeks to go before Election Day, one of the deepest-pocketed political players in Washington is in trouble.

State regulators on Monday decided that a subsidiary of the Building Industry Association of Washington and another builders’ group “committed multiple apparent violations” of the state’s election finance law. They’re asking the attorney general to investigate. Click here for links to the two PDC investigations discussed today.

In nearby Thurston County Superior Court, meanwhile, a recently-filed lawsuit charges that the BIAW and its affiliates are wrongly spending millions of dollars on politics. Critics are seeking an injunction that the builders say would “cripple” the politically-active trade group in the final weeks of a seemingly-tight governor’s race.

On Monday, attorneys for the builders told the state Public Disclosure Commission that any violations were an accounting misunderstanding, not an effort to hide anything. As a big-spending group on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi and other conservative candidates, they say they’re being unfairly targeted.

“It’s harassment,” said BIAW attorney Tim Harris. “It’s an attempt to shut down political speech.”

Critics scoffed.

“We don’t see this as a simple oversight but as a calculated disrespect for the law,” said Cheryl Murfin, with the liberal political advocacy group Fuse.

At issue is about $585,000 that the builders set aside in July 2007 to spend on this year’s governor’s race. The money and where it came from wasn’t reported until Aug. 20, 2008, when it was dumped into a BIAW-backed political committee opposing Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“It doesn’t take a chorus of pin-dancing angels to tell me this is not the spirit or the letter of the law,” said Ken Schellberg, chairman of the state Public Disclosure Commission. “I think it is an egregious lapse of judgment.”

The Spokane Home Builders Association was the

Robert Yates asks high court to stay his Sept. 19th execution…

Arguing that his lawyers were ineffective and that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, serial killed Robert Lee Yates Jr. on Monday asked Washington’s highest court to stay his Sept. 19th execution while he appeals further.

He’s also asking for a court-appointed attorney to help prepare the appeal. It is Round 2 of three possible rounds of court appeals; he’s already lost the first one.

Yates was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 for separately killing two women in Pierce County. Last year, the state’s highest court affirmed that sentence, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the case.

Last week, Pierce County Superior Court Judge John McCarthy signed a death warrant setting Yates’ execution date for Sept. 19.

But under state law, Yates can have that execution stayed while he files what’s called a “personal restraint petition.”

Paperwork filed Monday with the state Supreme Court indicates that he intends to use the petition to raise several challenges to his conviction. Among them: that his trial attorneys were ineffective and that “Washington’s method of administering its lethal injection procedure constitutes cruel and unusual punishment” that’s contrary to the U.S. Constitution.

Developing…

Apparently there’s a Birdman of Walla Walla…

The Humane Society of the United States said this morning that its state director, Inga Gibson, filed a complaint with the state Department of Corrections and Department of Fish and Wildlife over reported mistreatment of pheasants being raised at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.

An inmate’s relative contacted the group to report that approximately a thousand birds had died “of overcrowding, heat exposure and improper care,” according to HSUS.

The pheasants are reportedly used by Fish and Wildlife to stock wildland for hunting, or as HSUS termed it, “released into the landscape solely as living targets for shooters.”

The relative also reported that the birds are fed garbage and have their beaks “mutilated”, according to the group, which says that such inhumane conditions will “horribly undermine” efforts to reform prisoners and instill empathy.

I found a couple of references to a pheasant-raising prison program in old legislation, but couldn’t find anything regarding the status of the program recently. Am awaiting a response from the Department of Corrections; will post it here when it arrives.

High court weighs yanking I-1029 from the ballot…

It’s not what I said, it’s what I meant.

That, in essence, was the case made Thursday in the state’s highest court by proponents of a ballot measure that would require more paid training for home health-care workers.

In what could turn out to be a very expensive glitch, a Service Employees Intentional Union local and its allies spent months and more than $450,000 to put Initiative 1029 on the fall ballot, only to discover at the last minute that some wrong wording in the text could derail the entire effort.

The petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of voters wrongly say that it’s a proposal for state lawmakers, rather than straight to voters.

“You’ve got to admit, your folks made a bit of a mistake here,” Chief Justice Gerry Alexander told a lawyer for the initiative’s backers.

“And that’s all it was,” responded attorney Mike Subit.

Sitting in the gallery,

Brown, Chopp: state-worker unions like Gregoire because of “shared philosophy”, not quid pro quo…

In an op-ed piece in the Seattle P_I today, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, take umbrage at the suggestion that state-employee support for Gov. Chris Gregoire is driven by the substantial pay increases that many workers have received since Gregoire took office.

The law allowing state workers to collectively bargain for pay and benefits dates back to 2002 — two years before Gregoire was elected — and has improved government efficiency and reformed the state’s arcane civil service rules, the two lawmakers write.

It’s no great surprise that working people support Gregoire. That’s because she’s honest about the important role that government services play in the lives of Washingtonians and because she understands what it takes to ensure the greatest efficiency and effectiveness of those services.

A big part of that is attracting and retaining talented and dedicated state employees, they write.

After all, those are the people who teach the ABCs to children, prepare young adults to enter the work force and patrol state roads. They ensure the safety of the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. They stand guard in prisons, provide help to families in need and assist honored veterans in finding health care.

If unions back Gregoire, they maintain, “it’s because they share a basic philosophy about employment issues, not because they are using the campaign to buy a better contract.”

Press releases to file under “Huh?”

From the Department of Natural Resources this afternoon:

“Subject: BNR Approves Hamma Hamma Balds NAP”

Duly noted.

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

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