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Eye On Olympia

Archive for February 2009

As session nears the halfway mark, lawmakers still have little to say about what they’re planning to do…

The TNT’s Joe Turner today blasted House and Senate leaders for their continued radio silence on major cuts and tax increases under consideration. Both House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown seem unhappy that reporters haven’t paid more attention to recent legislation that trimmed state spending about $300 million this year and backfilled another $300 million of this year’s deficit with federal dollars.

With this year’s legislative session nearly halfway over, as Turner points out, “that doesn’t address even one tenth of the $8 billion budget deficit they are facing.”

We keep hearing rumors that interest groups are polling, holding meetings and doing focus groups to figure out which tax increases a recession-era public would most likely support. Legislative leaders, asked about this, say very little. And Brown, in particular, is unhappy that reporters are asking about tax increases instead of writing about budget cuts. Writes Turner:

See, Brown considers the Press Corps merely an extension of the Senate Democratic propaganda machine. If we aren’t with them, then we’re against them. There is no middle ground. Now, I probably would write some of those stories but for one thing: They haven’t happened yet. And they aren’t going to happen until or unless the state actually cuts spending on those programs.

What we have right now are lots and lots of folks predicting what will happen IF their particular program is cut. And Brown wants us to write those the-sky-is-falling stories. We in the Press Corps are supposed to soften you up. You voters. We’re supposed to write stories about how bad things are going to get if you, the voters, don’t agree to approve whatever tax package they put before you.

He’s not the first to publicly voice frustration. Late last week, public radio’s Austin Jenkins decried the “big lack of straight-talking going on in Olympia” when it comes to either major cuts or tax hikes.

It’s a bizarre situation. Lawmakers — particularly in the Senate — are issuing a flurry press releases, blog posts and online videos telling what a dire (awful/horrendous/devastating/bad) budget situation the state faces. And Brown’s hoping to open a heart-to-heart dialogue with voters about cuts-versus-some-tax-increases. Then, when asked what they’re doing about it — or even what they’re thinking about doing — the answer from lawmakers is essentially “We’ll let you know what we decide.”

There are some legitimate reasons for waiting to make key decisions, such as March 19th revenue forecast and an upcoming caseload forecast. But reporters are increasingly skeptical that lawmakers, staring down the barrel of one of the worst state budget shortfalls in the nation, aren’t deep into the planning about what to do about it while they wait for those March numbers to roll in.

Also, they seem to be actively resisting reporters’ efforts to find out what they’re doing. In January, I and at least two other capitol reporters filed records requests with the state Department of Revenue, asking for any documents involving any statehouse requests for information about tax increases. The idea: to see what lawmakers are talking about.

The exact same request involving the department’s communication with the governor’s office was released a week and a half ago. (These records were routine fiscal stuff.)

But the legislative records? I was initially told the records would be available Feb. 13. Then the 17th. Then the 24th. And now March 9th.

“The Department and the Legislature are currently evaluating whether any exemptions or privileges apply to the documents,” said the most recent response.

“We are of course neutral on this bill…”

Nonprofit groups walk a bit of a tightrope when lobbying for or against something, which is why press releases from them often come with a peculiar caveat like this one: “Nothing in this publication should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation or ballot measure.”

So it wasn’t particularly surprising when the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Scott Dilley started his comments on a bill (unionizing child care workers) yesterday with this sentence: “We are of course neutral on this bill.”

But given what followed, lawmakers seemed pretty skeptical of that neutrality. Watch.




New website to help combat fraud, unlicensed businesses…

Worried about “fly-by-night roofers, unlicensed movers and fake mortgage brokers,” among others, the state Department of Revenue has set up a website where you can quickly check to see if a business is licensed, has paid its taxes, and find out where to get help if you’ve been defrauded.

In a press release, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the idea is to get people to “check with the state before it’s too late. We don’t want your pain to be their gain.”

State officials estimate that the underground economy costs the state treasury $457 million a year, with more than a third of that loss from contractors. Much of the loss comes from businesses that are happy to charge their customers sales tax — and then keep the money. (That’s a felony.)

The new website’s called www.suspectfraud.com.

Gregoire sick, misses speech to state’s largest labor group…

Gov. Chris Gregoire is sick today, her office says. That meant missing a scheduled appearance this morning before the state Labor Council, where Gregoire planned to talk about the federal and state stimulus efforts and to field questions from the crowd.

She sent her labor advisor, Peter Bogdanoff, to read a statement on her behalf.

Spokane’s rapping mayor

Mary Verner at a recent community event.



Dead Senate bills include same-sex marriage, school-funding overhaul…

Today was a critical deadline for many bills to clear their first committees in the Senate. If they didn’t, they’re probably dead. (A similar deadline fell Friday in the House.)

So what great legislative ideas fell to the cutting room floor this evening? Here — with great thanks to whoever put this list together in the Senate — is a list of dead bills. Caveat: In some cases, similar bills may still be alive in the House. If you’re worried, try running a keyword search at www.washingtonvotes.org, which tends to be better at finding stuff than the Legislature’s own site.

Here are a few of the bills that died. Click on the link below for more.

SB 5338 –     Cloned animal food labeling (Jacobsen)
SB 5188 –     Requiring school districts to provide or pay for any necessary remedial education to college students that they issued high school diplomas to. (Stevens)
SB 5674 –     Recognizes the right of all citizens in Washington state, including same-sex couples, to obtain civil marriage licenses. (Murray)
SB 5476 –     Abolishes the death penalty. (Murray)
SB 5216 –     Criminals would face an enhanced sentence if they wear body armor while committing a crime. (Carrell)
SB 5675 –     A car dealer must disclose any known car defects in writing. If a buyer discovers an undisclosed defect within 6 months of purchase, the buyer can seek remedies and void the transaction – if the buyer can prove the seller knew of the defect. (Murray)
SB 5444 –     Phasing in recommendations of the Basic Education Finance Task Force over a six-year period, beginning in 2011. (Jarrett)
SB 5607 –     Implementing the Full Funding Coalition proposal in regards to the Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance, including a funding increase this biennium. (McAuliffe)

The mechanics of — and a preview of the arguments for — a tax increase vote…

Lawmakers have been hinting heavily — or in a few cases simply saying outright — that they’re likely to ask voters to approve tax increases to offset budget cuts. From an Olympia luncheon with Spokane child-advocates earlier this week:

It’s “more than likely,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said, that Olympia will be coming to voters with a tax proposal “and saying what kind of Washington do you want to live in?”

First, Rep. Timm Ormsby added, lawmakers will put together a budget that doesn’t include any new taxes.

Lawmakers will “put that out and see what kind of stomach the public has for that,” he said, “and go from there.”

So how would such a vote work? According to the Secretary of State’s office, lawmakers could pick from already-authorized spring election dates, like April 28 or May 19. Either would give the state Department of Revenue a little lead time to lay the groundwork for additional tax collections at the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

Being lawmakers, they could also simply create their own special election, as was done for the Seahawk’s stadium vote several years ago. Other than those, the only scheduled elections are the August primary and November’s general election.

And if you’re looking for a preview of some of the major arguments to try to convince voters to pay more, see this document, from Senate Democrats. It’s titled “Budget Myths vs. Budget Realities,” and addresses several of the primary criticisms raised by Republicans.

For example: the argument that the state should just freeze spending:

“That’s assuming that the state doesn’t allow any children to enter school, doesn’t send any more offenders to prison, and passes a law that requires every business that the state does business with to not raise their prices. It’s not realistic — or responsible. Just continuing existing programs for Washington’s growing population costs $3 billion.”

And for a preview of some potential what-if-we-don’t-do-this arguments, see the second page. Under a section entitled “What they’re proposing” — “they” clearly being Republican lawmakers —  the summary argues for preserving General Assistance for the Unemployable, expanding full-day kindergarten and protecting the state’s Basic Health Plan.

Brown, meanwhile, wishes reporters were writing as much about potential budget cuts as they are about taxes. On her Senate blog, she cites the case of a Spokane center that treats frail elderly people, saying it would likely close its doors under a nothing-but-cuts budget. Writes Brown:

Everyday I hear from people who are depending on lawmakers not to cut funding to services and jobs that are critical to communities all across the state. And everyday I hear from reporters eager to report on what they see is the big story: when will lawmakers ask voters to raise new revenue to pay for these critical services. The revenue question is always asked in a negative frame – as in, “when are lawmakers going to do exactly what the public hates and decide it’s time to raise new revenue?”

I think this assumes that raising new revenue is the worst thing that can happen in the 2009 session. But hearing from the nurse from North Central Care Center in Spokane and others makes it clear to me that there are far worse things that can happen than that.



 

An impassioned plea for arts funding in a time of cutting…

Here’s an audio excerpt from the Senate Ways and Means Committee earlier today. The bill being discussed is SB 6051, which extends a state law steering part of King County’s hotel/motel tax to museums and other arts and heritage programs.

Committee chairwoman Margarita Prentice’s advice to the panel: “Keep it brief, get to the point, and remember, we’re about dollars and cents here.” The audio recording picks up shortly after that.

Fairley jokes — I think — about patronage posts in the time of deep budget cuts…

Yes, golden parachutes on state boards are nice, Sen. Darlene Fairley says, but there’s serious budget cutting to do.

At issue was Senate Bill 6065, which would save $728,000 over the next two years by replacing the three-person, paid Liquor Control Board with part-time volunteers. The agency would be run by a full-time director.

“I keep saying: It saves over three quarters of a million,” Fairley told lobbyists unhappy about the proposed change.

Olympia code…

But I reckon they all would like to see “all options on the table,” which has come to mean “raise taxes” in much the same way “tax reform” means “pass an income tax.”

                                             -Richard Davis, in a blog post about a spat over the economist credentials of a group recommending that lawmakers increase some taxes.

Fish and Wildlife bracing for more than 100 layoffs…

Managers at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife have been telling more than 100 workers this week that their jobs may be axed, a victim of the state’s $8 billion budget shortfall.

On the chopping block: biologists, administrative staff, fish hatchery workers, computer technicians, budget people and enforcement officers. The layoffs would begin in April.

“We made every effort to reduce impacts to public service and to our employees, but there’s just no way to absorb a funding cut this large without a lot of pain,” said the agency’s interim director, Phil Anderson, in a statement announcing the plan. He said payroll and other staff costs are about 80 percent of the 1,550-person agency’s budget.

Gov. Chris Gregoire in December proposed cutting $35 million from the agency, which has a two-year budget of about $348 million. About 170 positions are affected by the planned cuts; some are already vacant.

Lawmakers propose a back-to-basics plan for $341 million in federal road money…

Top House and Senate lawmakers this afternoon unveiled their plan for spending $341 million in federal transportation money that’s coming to the state from President Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen described the plan as a back-to-basics, fill-the-potholes approach. Rather than building new road, she said, it’s time for Washington to spend money maintaining the system it already has.

“We’re fixing the roof,” she said. “We’re been adding rooms for a long time.”

Here’s the list. Locally, it includes $2.4 million for asphalt work on U.S. 395 from the Spokane County line to Loon Lake, and another $9 million to continue that work from Loon Lake to Immel Road.

Another $151 million is slated for the entities — e.g. regional transportation authorities — that oversee local roads. Of that, $78 million goes to Puget Sound, $10 million to Spokane, and $9 million to Vancouver. The remaining $54 million goes to smaller jurisdictions around the state. Another $179 million is destined for transit projects statewide. See here for more on that.

Conspicuously absent from the state list: money for mega-projects like Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct or the North Spokane Corridor. (The plan does include millions for work on Interstate 90, however.) Instead, the money’s spent on things like repaving, strengthening cable barriers and adding rumble strips to startle drivers dozing off at the wheel.

Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, said the list was “driven by criteria and not by something you do to pick up votes or make a PR statement.”And Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, noted that billions of dollars in federal grants are also available for projects that didn’t make the proposed list.

Speed and jobs were important, said Rep. Judy Clibborn. The projects are expected to create about 3,300 jobs. Much of the work would start within 90 days.

Still, it’s important to remember that this joint proposal is still just that: a plan. And Gov. Chris Gregoire is one of those people who’d like to see some changes in that list.

“I had requested funding for the Mercer Street and (Seattle’s) Spokane Street projects, and I will continue to work with the chairs to get something included in the Legislature’s final recommendations,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire. “…We need to work together and move forward this year with key projects of statewide significance, from Seattle to Spokane, to keep people and goods moving and put people to work.”

Late Rep. Hailey’s spouse plans to run for his seat…

Lawmakers must speak well of Olympia to their family members.

Yesterday, the state House of Representatives welcomed new Rep. Laura Grant-Herriot, D-Walla Walla, who was appointed to the seat recently vacated by her late father, Rep. Bill Grant.

Now Pat Hailey, wife of former state Rep. Steve Hailey, R-Mesa, says she’ll run for the seat held by her late husband. Steve Hailey died of cancer in December. Former state Rep. Don Cox agreed to come out of retirement to take over Hailey’s spot.

On a recent visit to Olympia, “many of Steve’s colleagues in the House encouraged me to run and have offered to endorse me,” said Pat Hailey. She said she traveled extensively with her husband on campaigns and legislative work, getting a feel for the sprawling 9th district and the people who live there.

Owner of a family farm and a former school employee, Hailey was elected to North Franklin school board in 2005, resigning last October because she’d expected to be in Olympia with her husband for the session. She’s a Republican precinct committee officer.

Hailey said she’s talked over her plan with Cox, who she said hasn’t decided whether he’ll run this year for the seat. If he does, Hailey said, she’d drop her bid this year and happily volunteer to campaign for Cox — but that she’d still plan on running in 2010.

Tired: With millions of dollars in road damage a year, Spokane lawmaker proposes banning studs…

OLYMPIA – To state Sen. Chris Marr, it’s a simple cost-benefit analysis.

The cost: an estimated $18.2 million a year in state road damage from metal tire studs hammering away at concrete pavement.

The benefit: better traction only during a relatively rare driving condition: a roadway slick with sheet ice. Washington drivers, according to the state Department of Transportation, encounter those conditions only about 1 percent of the time.

With Washington facing a $500 million transportation budget shortfall, Marr, D-Spokane, thinks it’s time to ban studs.

“Before, we could view it as a price we pay to accommodate people’s insecurities about not having their studs,” he said. “Can we afford to throw those dollars out the window?”

His Senate Bill 6066 would ban the sale or use of the tires. The co-sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. Marr says he’s open to phasing out the use of the tires over several years to avoid penalizing people who just bought them.

Other Eastern Washington lawmakers say a ban would be a dangerous mistake.

“I’d invite Senator Marr to come visit me in January,” said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. “It’s a huge safety thing. I am not convinced that there’s any alternative that really works on ice.”

Maybe there’s a way to set up a geographic limit, Kretz said. He said he feels a little bad when driving around in Olympia, with his studded tires clicking away on roads that rarely see snow or ice.

“I am sympathetic,” he said. “There is a lot of damage done.”

According to legislative research, studded tire sales in Washington fell by half from 1997 to 2003. In 2003, the last year for which data was available, roughly 140,000 of the tires were sold in the state.

Marr’s not alone in proposing legislation to lessen the impact of studs on roads. State Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, wants to establish a $100 annual fee for each vehicle with studded tires. His bill is Senate Bill 5859.

To defuse the argument that the bill puts an undue hardship on Eastern Washington, Marr’s bill would also set up a $10 million account for grants to cities and counties wanting to repair ruts or other damage from studded tires. Since such damage is likely to be worse in Eastern Washington, the money would largely stay east of the Cascades.

Studded tires were banned in Washington until 1969, when lawmakers voted to allow their use year-round. By 1971, with nearly a third of all the cars in the state having studded tires, worried state officials got lawmakers to limit their use to between November 1 and April 1.

In 1977, as ruts worsened, the state Transportation Department issued a report saying that studded snow tires give drivers “about a 10 percent advantage over conventional tires” for stopping on glare ice and hard-packed snow. The rest of the time, the department said, there was no advantage. On wet asphalt, studs were worse.

For the past 25 years, state transportation officials have been trying to convince lawmakers to

Spokane County’s long-simmering health district tensions draw attention in Olympia…

OLYMPIA – In what one senator described as “Spokane versus Spokane,” health and government officials clashed Monday over a proposal to remove most of the elected officials who now oversee the Spokane Regional Health District.

“Unfortunately, our regional health district has been politicized,” Sen. Chris Marr told a Senate committee.

Marr’s SB 5812 would replace most of the politicians on the board with doctors, business people and others. Nearly 2  1/2 years after the board fired Dr. Kim Thorburn as the county’s chief public health officer, he noted, no permanent replacement has been found.

“It presents tremendous risk,” he said. “… Overwhelmingly, my constituents are saying that this is something that needs to happen, and it needs to happen before we are subjected to a major public health crisis in Spokane County.”

There are now nine local elected officials on the board, plus three citizen members. Marr’s plan would pare that down to three elected officials and six others, including two doctors and two business people. Two of the elected officials would be county commissioners; the other would be from Spokane.

The health board doesn’t like the idea.

“As elected officials, we are responsible for a $24 million budget,” said Bill Gothmann, a Spokane Valley city councilman and vice chair of the district’s board. It’s a bad idea to have so small a percentage of elected officials on a board responsible for so much public money, he said.

He also suggested that if the elected officials go, so will the money.

“City health board members are crucial if any local dollars are to be raised for health departments,” he said. “No participation, no dollars.”

At “Homesick for Spokane” gathering, local childrens’ advocates urge budget cutters to look elsewhere…

Armed with barbecued chicken and ribs, children’s advocates from Spokane made the pilgrimage to Olympia Monday to urge local lawmakers to look elsewhere when making billions of dollars in budget cuts.

Setting the theme: tin cups, apples for a nickel, and a song: Bing Crosby’s 1932 classic, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

“We decided that because everyone’s kind of depressed anyway, we’d kind of go with the theme of the Great Depression this year,” said Marilee Roloff, president and CEO of Volunteers for America. She’s helped organize the annual event – dubbed “Homesick for Spokane – for a decade.

One after another, local advocates urged that their programs be spared. Protect kids and vulnerable families, they said. Help abused and neglected children, runaway teens, foster kids and children in need of free health care. Take the cuts from administration and middle management, some suggested, or increase health care costs for state employees instead.

“This is the toughest we’ve ever seen it in terms of surviving, but we will survive,” said Robert Faltermeyer, executive director of Excelsior Youth Center.

They urged lawmakers to try to keep in-home parent education, to eliminate school-lunch fees for poor kids, and to protect the social safety net for the homeless or disabled.

”I don’t think our community is ready to see what would happen when all those people get dumped out of that net,” said Roloff.

Lawmakers warned that state’s $8 billion budget shortfall is dire.

“People need to know that bascially every decision we make is a choice between two bad choices,” said Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said that even after deducting billions of dollars in federal aid, draining most of the state’s rainy-day fund, foregoing employee raises and other savings, she’s still left with a $3.5 billion budget problem.

“And I don’t have anything else on the list,” said Brown.

It’s “more than likely,” she said, that Olympia will be coming to voters with a tax proposal “and saying what kind of Washington do you want to live in?”

First, Rep. Timm Ormsby added, lawmakers will put together a budget that doesn’t include any new taxes.

Lawmakers will “put that out and see what kind of stomach the public has for that,” he said, “and go from there.”

Gary Locke for Secretary of Commerce?

Looks that way. The Associated Press is reporting that:

“A senior administration official says that President Barack Obama’s likely third pick for Commerce secretary is former Washington Gov. Gary Locke.”

Marijuana, trees, mystery taxes and a state budget problem that’s among the nation’s worst…

Much going on today. In the meantime, here’s some lunchtime reading:

-Effin’ Unsound parses last week’s discusson of a marijuana bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling it “surreal at times.”

-Sen. Pam Roach and husband plant two trees for the future: “Jim just bought two walnut trees and planted them. Neither of us will ever eat their fruit because we will be dead by then!”

-Schmudget, a blog from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, ranks Washington’s FY 2009 and 2010 budgets, compared to other states. Result: “among the worst in the nation.” The group’s Jeff Chapman says that 2009’s 8 percent deficit ranks Washington 13th worst. The year after, that mushrooms into a 23 percent deficit, which — just behind disasters like California, Arizona and Nevada — would be fifth worst.

-Austin Jenkins at Crosscut is frustrated that lawmakers clearly are thinking about tax increases and yet won’t say anything about specifics.Writes Jenkins:

“…For now Democrats are waiting to have a frank, public conversation with voters about specifically what’s on the chopping block and what taxes might be proposed.”

-Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, on her blog, says she’s telling the truth when she says “I don’t know.” From Brown:

“I have not begun discussions with either senators or my House counterparts about these options yet, preferring to wait until there is more consensus among legislators that we need to go there. Since we are planning to take any revenue options to the public to vote on, it is safe to say that nothing is going to be imposed on people or businesses in the middle of the night and there will be ample opportunity for public debate.

Democratic lawmakers trying to get out the word that budget picture is bad, bad, bad…

Economist Arun Raha’s revenue prediction yesterday, was met without much apparent surprise by the folks on the state forecast council.(“I don’t think this has changed a lot from what our internal expectations were for the last couple of weeks,” etc.)

But that has been follwed by a wave of statements, videos, posts and press releases from Senate Democrats trying to highlight how dire the budget situation is:

“I cannot tell you how difficult the budget situation has become, and how awful our choices are becoming,” writes Sen. Karen Keiser on her blog. “…Revenues are falling like a rock. One senator said our roof is caving in and we need to save our foundation, so we’re trying to find lots of big blue tarps.”

“There’s no way to sugar coat it. The challenge we face is simply horrendous,” said Sen. Rodney Tom.

“The impact of what we’re facing is nothing short of devastating…The decisions in front of us are beyond difficult,” said Sen. Phil Rockefeller in a press release.

“The magnitude of what we’re facing is simply devastating,” said Sen. Chris Marr. “There just isn’t a way to cut our way out of this without clear-cutting right through our state’s core priorities and basic services.”

“None of us have ever lived through something like this,” said Sen. Fred Jarrett. “I don’t think people get how bad it is.”

And that may be the problem. If lawmakers are to avoid a backlash from deep cuts — and win voter support for a tax package to offset deeper cuts — they have to be sure the public feels the same sort of urgency that the budget-writers do.

Revenue forecast numbers:

For the remainder of the 07-09 biennium: down $721 million from what was thought in Nov.

For the 09-11 biennium: down $1.587 billion. Biggest drops: sales and use tax ($823 million) and real estate excise tax ($394 million).

Total loss from November’s numbers: $2.3 billion.

Lisa Brown estimates budget shortfall at close to $8 billion…

Three months after a state revenue forecast left Washington looking at a $5.7 billion budget shortfall over the next year and a half, a top legislator says she expects things to be $2 billion worse when that forecast is updated in about 15 minutes.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that we’re getting a couple billion dollars of bad news in about an hour,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said at a meeting with capitol reporters at her office.

Lunchtime reading for you: tax proposal on the way, porn tax dead, and longshot plan would free up money for Spokane’s megaproject…

Worthwhile reading on your lunch hour:

-Unions, others are polling on what state tax increases voters would find palatable. From the Tacoma News-Tribune’s Joe Turner:

Meanwhile, the shadow legislature of unions and other stakeholders is out their holding “focus groups” in communities. They’re trying to figure out how much a tax increase (just a temporary one, I’m sure) the public can stomach, which taxes they would vote to increase or which tax exemptions they would vote to remove, which wholesome programs the money should be spent on to make the taxes more palatable (pay raises for state workers probably won’t cut it, but warm, fuzzy stuff for school kids and colleges might) and, of course, how much money the tax increases should raise.

-House Democrats say they may put a tax increase on the ballot.

-Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who’s been hinting at the same thing for months, says that an all-cuts budget doesn’t cut it:

I heard today from our community health clinics, who told me that health care for 14,000 people in Spokane would disappear if we move forward with this kind of approach. It’s staggering to think that so many people in our community would no longer have a viable option to receive needed medical care. It’s also a mistake to think that the accounting savings realized from cutting these funds will translate into actual savings.

-State workers are urging tax increases to save their jobs.

-Richard Davis says there is not all-cuts budget:

Even after they take those cuts, however, this will not be an “all cuts budget.” Spending on many  education and health care programs will likely be up from the previous biennium. Many employees will receive pay hikes, because so-called “step increases,” regular pay hikes for seniority, will continue to take effect. Some jobs will be reclassified so allow promotions. To pay for necessary increases, lower priority programs will get cut. It’s a recession. That’s to be expected. But there’s little rhetorical flair in decrying the “some cuts budget.”

-The state teachers’ union is running radio ads warning against cutting education.

-Rep. Dan Roach wants to sell the land under the Alaskan Way Viaduct and use the money to help pay for the proposed tunnel that will replace it — as well as raise hundreds of millions more for other transportation projects. (How much for Spokane’s mega-project, the North Spokane Corridor? $200 to $250 million, says Roach. But with Republicans far outnumbered in the legislature, don’t start scouting out prime waterfront condo-space under that concrete just yet.)

-and the  proposed state tax on porn is dead.



And the award for needlessly panicking pet owners across the state goes to…

Whoever wrote this summary of Senate bill 5870. It summarizes the bill like this:

Declares it is the duty of the sheriff or any deputy
sheriff to kill any dog found running at large (after the first
day of August of any year and before the first day of March in
the following year) without a metal identification tag.
(Note: Someone apparently read this post, because it’s now been corrected. But here’s what the original version looked like.)

A free-fire zone on all unlicensed Fidos? Holy cow! Who would dare propose such a thing?

NO ONE.

Weirdly, the bill digest above isn’t even for SB 5870. It’s a mischaracterization of a completely different dog bill, SB 5200.

The provision listed above has been in Washington’s lawbooks for nearly a century. Lawmakers want to REPEAL the antiquated law. Here’s the bill report for SB 5200 and here’s the complete bill itself. And if there’s any remaining doubt about the purpose of the bill, here’s recent testimony by its prime sponsor, Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham:

“You run across pieces of the law periodically, and you actually say to yourself, `I can’t believe this is still on the books.’ There should be no question about doing away with this section. It is clearly not something that the Legislature would authorize today.”

So no one’s gunning for Fluffy, despite the outraged blog posts out there. (Sample: “What if his collar comes off? Law enforcement will now be able to use him for target practice. It’s sick!”) We’ve started getting calls about the bill at our Spokane newsroom.

All of which brings me back to the original bill. What is SB 5870, really? It’s another cleanup bill, repealing an old section of law regarding pets killing livestock. From the bill report:

The requirement that a dog owner kill his or her dog within 48 hours of
receiving notification that the dog was found killing a domestic animal is repealed.

Again: repealed. But given  the astounding resilience of Senate bill 6900, a dead-on-arrival car-tax proposal last year that’s still trumpeted regularly on Internet sites as an imminent threat to red-blooded V-8 lovers everywhere, it’s probably safe to say that lawmakers will be getting email from outraged dog owners for months to come.

Cap and trade bill clears a key committee, but is much stripped down…for now, it’s mainly cap, not much trade…

In tomorrow’s paper:

A controversial “cap and trade” plan that would put Washington at the forefront of efforts to combat global warming has been dramatically watered down under pressure from businesses and rural Republicans.

Nonetheless, proponents say they remain optimistic. The bill, requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire, cleared a key House committee Tuesday.

“It’s still viable. It establishes a real cap” on greenhouse gases, said state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. “That’s a critical first step.”

Among the sharpest critics of the bill: Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda. Saying that the plan will destroy rural industries, he’s blasted it as “cap and extort” and says that trading pollution credits would spawn cronyism. He’s publicly suggested that disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich would be a good fit to run it.

“He’s well-suited to run a system like that,” Kretz said in an interview Wednesday. “And he’s looking for work.”

House, Senate honor Japanese-American internees and veterans…

Some emotional speeches this morning in the House and Senate, which honored Japanese-American war veterans and the roughly 12,000 Japanese-American citizens who were rounded up and herded into internment camps in 1942 under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.

The House passed House Resolution 2009-4617 this morning on the 67th anniversary of Roosevelt’s signing the internment order. The resolution honors the veterans’ and internees’ “patience, heroism, sacrifice and patriotic loyalty.” Watching from the gallery were Japanese-American veterans who served as translators in the Pacific and infantrymen in Europe, as well as people who spent the war behind barbed wire in camps like Idaho’s Minidoka.

Decades later, Congress declared that there was no military or security reason for uprooting the thousands of Japanese families from their farms, homes and businesses. The move, Congress said, could be attributed to bigotry, war hysteria “and a failure of political leadership.”

Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, noted that some neighbors and friends stood by the immigrants, sending books for children in the camps, or writing regularly to the interned families, or keeping pets and property for their return several years later. Still, he said, the internment of U.S. citizens “serves to diminish us all as Americans.”

Sen. Steve Hobbs, who like Marr is Japanese-American, said it was absurd for 70-year-old grandmothers and 10-year-old girls to be considered enemies of the state. And he praised the heroism of Japanese-American military intelligence specialists and the Army’s famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of Japanese-American soldiers, many recruited from the internment camps. (Among the veterans of the latter unit: Spokane’s Fred Shiosaki.)

From the Seattle Times, March 30, 1942, front page: “Tears, Smiles Mingle as Japs Bid Bainbridge Farewell”:

There were mothers with babies in arms, aged patriarchs with faltering steps, high school boys and girls, and some children, too young to realize the full import of the occasion. The youngsters frolicked about, treating the evacuation as a happy excursion.




 

The wisdom of the crowd, or at least the wisdom of people I bumped into this morning…

Tomorrow we’ll get the revenue forecast council’s best “preliminary” guess of how the state’s budget shortfall is likely to over roughly the next two and a half years.

In December, the shortfall was a forehead-smacking $5.7 billion — which, in retrospect, some lawmakers now view as the good old days.

In a very informal survey of folks I bumped into this morning from the legislature, governor’s office and the press, the betting ranged from $7.5 billion (reporter) to 8.3 (two Democratic lawmakers) to a high of $8.8 from a Republican lawmaker.

The real number will come at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Higher ed mascots turn up the lobbying heat…

The state’s public colleges are putting on a full-court press in Olympia today, with mascots prowling the capitol, Cougar ice cream being handed out, and bands in the rotunda. The most feared mascot seemed to be the Evergreen State College’s geoduck, which male lawmakers and lobbyists seemed reluctant to hug. Go figure.

 

Sen. Murray: Stimulus package was best Congress could do, but will take time to work…

The $787 billion economic stimulus bill to be signed tomorrow by President Obama “is not the end of what we need to do,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said Monday.

She said the package, which includes billions for transportation, education, unemployment benefits and other help, was the best compromise on a controversial plan. But more remains to be done, she said, to shore up the banking industry and deal with the rapid increase in home foreclosures. Members of Congress have been warned that Obama’s budget proposal, to be released soon, will be a tough budget “in terms of cutbacks,” she said.

Murray was in Olympia Monday, meeting with Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Speaker Frank Chopp and other state officials.

The plan will help state budget writers somewhat. It includes $2 billion in new money for Medicaid, $2 billion for cleanup work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, as well as $812 million in state stabilization money, most of it for education.

“That was a significant debate,” Murray said of the stabilization money. Key lawmakers, she said, were concerned about accountability over how that state money gets spent.

“There was a lot of concern among them about sending money out to the state that wasn’t going to be accountable, and having, a year from now, midnight basketball thrown back at us if that’s what the money was spent for,” she said.

And with the state wrestling with a budget shortfall estimated at at least $6 billion, Murray said that state lawmakers will still have tough choices to make. Lawmakers were clearly hoping for more state dollars, she said, but are grateful for the federal help nonetheless.

Some $500 million in new cash for the state’s roads and bridges will be largely up to the state Department of Transportation and local transportation authorities to divide up, she said.

But Murray urged patience, saying the money will take time to work its way into the economy.
“I think my worst fear is people are going to think things are better next Friday,” she said. Some economists, she cautioned, say that the stimulus might not start turning around the economy until the end of the year.

“But the alternative of doing nothing,” she said, “we would see an impact almost immediately.



Washington state citizens initiative filed to protect “The Supreme Ruler of the Universe”…

A woman in Blaine is proposing Initiative 1040, which would “prohibit state use of public money or lands for anything that denies or attempts to refute the existence of a supreme ruler of the universe, including textbooks, instruction or research.”

Senate, House pass first round of cuts…belt-tightening metaphor now extended to trousers…

The state Senate and House this morning each approved spending cuts this morning, in the first of what will be several whacks at state spending.

“For those that say you want to cut more, just sit in your seats,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. “You’ll have a chance.”

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, clearly responding to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s criticism of lawmakers’ budget-cutting pace earlier in the week, said that no Washington legislature has ever approved budget reductions this early in a legislative session.

Brown also said lawmakers were proud to preserve a state plan to allow families living on up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($63,600 for a family of 4) to buy into the state’s health insurance plan for kids.

“The sacred cow here is kids’ health,” she said in a press release. “We are keeping a commitment.”

In the House, Rep. Gary Alexander said that the bill there is a first step in state belt-tightening. But he warned that “we’re going to have to go many, many, many notches further.”

Pushing the metaphor further, Alexander suggested that lawmakers might, in fact, have to “take our pants off and go back and purchase a pair that are about three sizes smaller.”

Tough words yesterday from House lawmakers re: the state budget mess…

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There was some blunt talk yesterday from members of a House committee, as officials from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture tried to argue against deep budget cuts that they say will backfire by hurting local fundraising.

In this clip, Reps. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, and Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, respond that things are bad — much worse than expected — and that saying that cuts will be hard “is falling on our deaf ears,” as Darneille put it.

Governor appoints Eastern Washington Republican to head state Department of Agriculture…

Gov. Chris Gregoire this morning appointed state Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, as director of the state Department of Agriculture.

“As a farmer and state legislator, Dan brings a wealth of experience to the Department of Agriculture and understands the important role agriculture plays in our state’s economy, culture and our future,” Gregore said in a statement announcing the appointment.

Newhouse, elected to the House in 2002 and the son of longtime lawmaker Irv Newhouse, said he’s excited “to bring a farmer’s perspective to this agency, as well as a diverse point of view to the governor’s cabinet.”

Newhouse’s marching orders: expand international markets and work with state environmental officials “to identify new water sources for Eastern Washington communities, farmers and fish.”

Newhouse will assume the post on Feb. 18th, at a salary of $122,478 a year.

 

MAC attack turned partly back…

This one’s of interest mainly to readers in Spokane. From tomorrow’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ A controversial proposal to merge the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture with its Western Washington counterpart appears to be dead.

One of the state’s most powerful lawmakers said Thursday that the Senate will not be approving the plan, which was proposed in December as a cost-cutting move by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“The bill is on my desk. It’s not going to be introduced in the Senate,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

So it’s dead on arrival, a reporter asked.

“It is,” responded Brown.

The bad news: torpedoing the merger won’t necessarily shield the museum and its operations from state budget cuts. Gov. Chris Gregoire in December proposed cutting the MAC budget by $524,000 over the next two years, which is about a 13 percent cut. And the state’s budget picture is now believed to be much bleaker.

Stopping the merger, however, would keep the MAC as a distinct organization, separate from the Tacoma-based Washington State Historical Society.

Brown’s comments came on the same day that MAC officials were in Olympia, urging skeptical House lawmakers not to allow the merger or deep budget cuts.

“Simply saying that it’s going to be hard or that it would be impossible is falling on our deaf ears,” state Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, warned CEO Dennis Hession and development officer Lorna Walsh Thursday. “…We’re looking at just the most dire of budget circumstances.”

When Gregoire called for the $524,000 cut, state budget writers thought they faced a shortfall of

What we’re reading, (besides lots of bill reports)…

Lunchtime reading for you:

The New York Times had an interesting story recently about Japan’s experience with massive government spending, much of it on public works projects of dubious value. (Having lived in Japan for a few years, I can attest to the absurd scale of some of these projects.) Writes the NYT’s Martin Fackler:

Japan’s rural areas have been paved over and filled in with roads, dams and other big infrastructure projects, the legacy of trillions of dollars spent to lift the economy from a severe downturn caused by the bursting of a real estate bubble in the late 1980s. During those nearly two decades, Japan accumulated the largest public debt in the developed world — totaling 180 percent of its $5.5 trillion economy — while failing to generate a convincing recovery.

Far better, the article suggests, to spend the money on human capital:

Japan’s experience also seems to argue for spending heavily to promote social development. A 1998 report by the Japan Institute for Local Government, a nonprofit policy research group, found that every 1 trillion yen, or about $11.2 billion, spent on social services like care for the elderly and monthly pension payments added 1.64 trillion yen in growth. Financing for schools and education delivered an even bigger boost of 1.74 trillion yen, the report found.

And if you want to feel really good about your home’s stats on Zillow — and the state’s economy, read New Yorker writer George Packer’s story about life in the suburban ghost towns of half-built subdivisions and abandoned homes in Florida.

Hot-button issue: state grants for college students who are illegal immigrants…

In tomorrow’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ Emotions ran high Wednesday, as state lawmakers discussed allowing illegal immigrant students – many of them brought to this country as young children – to qualify for millions of dollars in state college grants.

“As I look into their eyes and their hope for the future, I say let’s not draw a line around them,” said Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, who’s proposed House Bill 1706.

The proposal faces heated objections, however, from citizens unhappy about illegal immigration.
“Please turn off the bird feeder,” said Yakima valley resident Robert West. “The pie is only so big…I wonder what you’re going to tell those students who are U.S. students: `I’m sorry, but we gave your money to others who are here illegally.’”

One after another Wednesday, high school and college students, some without immigration papers, urged lawmakers to expand eligibility for state “need grants.” The grants are available to state residents whose families live on 70 percent or less of median income. Last year, some 72,000 students qualified for $182 million in help.

“We’re here and we’re ready to do something for this country. We love this country,” said Luis Ortega, a university student who said he’s maintaining a 3.5 grade point average.

“We are not asking for a free pass,” he said. “I believe in hard work. All I’m asking for is the opportunity to share the American dream.”

Over and over, the students described watching their parents toiling to make things better for their families. College is the ticket to a better future, they said.

“These are the doctors, the engineers, the teachers,” one woman told lawmakers, indicating rows

Eastern Washington University’s turn: what deep budget cuts would mean…

From tomorrow’s print paper:

OLYMPIA _ When he took over as acting president of Eastern Washington University, John Mason was given a sign for his office.

“Thou shalt not whine,” it reads.

On Wednesday, Mason mostly stuck to that commandment, even as he described how proposed state budget cuts would affect the school and its students.

“I’ve been telling everyone at Eastern Washington University that there is no part of the university that will not be impacted,” he said.

Under the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in December, Eastern estimates that its state funding would drop about $17 million, which is about 14 percent.

Since state revenues have continued to fall below expectations, the Senate has also asked the school to show what it would do in the face of a $25 million – or 20 percent – budget cut.

Trying to write a budget that copes with a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion, lawmakers this week held hearings to find out how officials at each state college would handle deep cuts. No final budget decisions are likely, however, until at least April.

“None of us love the cards we’ve been dealt,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. “We have control over how we play them.”

Under either budget scenario, Mason said, “we will see a reduction in jobs. There is no way that will not happen.”

How many? A minimum of 150 to 225, he said. And those figures assume a 7 percent tuition hike this year and next.

Mason said Eastern would try to protect teaching and learning, but that fallout is inevitable. The

Lisa Brown: Amid pressure to cut the budget quicker, Brown says wait for next week’s federal and state figures…

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, writing on her blog, says that the federal stimulus bill “is not a state bailout bill.”

The money it includes for state “is just not big enough to make up for the deep dive our state revenues have taken” she writes. And the Senate version had less than originally proposed for both state budgets and building/renovating schools. Writes Brown:

The tax cuts in the bill are popular and everyone could use a little extra cash, but from an economic stimulus perspective, direct infrastructure investment would create more jobs and more flexible allocations to states would save more jobs.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Brown’s Republican colleagues have both said that they’re frustrated by Democratic legislative leaders’ slow pace enacting cuts. Brown has said that she didn’t want to cut people off of health care or aid, for example, only to find out later that federal help or changing economic news rendered those cuts unecessary.

Two key numbers will come next week, Brown writes. On Monday, President Obama’s slated to sign the final version of the stimulus bill. And on Thursday (Brown says Tuesday in the blog post), the state’s economic weather forecasters will deliver an unusual early “preliminary forecast” of state revenues.

Brown’s clearly not expecting good news, writing that those two numbers will give lawmakers critical information “about how much larger our budget-writing challenge is than the one facing the governor just two months ago.” She writes:

“That’s when our conversation with the public about a positive direction forward will begin in earnest.”

What’s that mean? Turning to the public and asking for support of at least some additional taxes in order to support critical programs. Unlike Gregoire, who pledged — and delivered — a no-new-taxes budget proposal, Brown has for months been hinting that the solution the state’s deep budget woes is likely to include some tax increases. That, after all, is what’s happened in Olympia in every other economic downturn for the past 40 years.

And Brown is convinced that voters, if shown the need, will support paying more. In late 2002, for example, Washingtonians supported a 9-cent gas tax increase and vehicle sales tax hike in order to raise billions of dollars for transportation projects across the state. They voted to make it easier for schools to raise property taxes. Locally, voters in Spokane have increased their own taxes to pay for mental health treatment, and in Central Puget Sound, as recently as December, they’ve done the same thing for rail and transportation projects.

Brown is largely sticking to a course of action she laid out more than two months ago at a legislative forum hosted by Greater Spokane Inc., a local business group.  In this clip, watch how she responds to budget criticism from Rep. Bill Hinkle, a Republican from Cle Elum.

(Tech note: This works in Internet Explorer and Safari; I haven’t gotten it to work in Firefox. Also, to replay this clip, hit refresh on your browser first.)

In the Senate: a proposed tax break for newspapers…

A surprisingly bipartisan group of 15 senators is proposing a tax break for newspapers.

Senate Bill 5942, introduced this morning by Sen. Margarita Prentice, would lower newspapers’ business and occupation tax rate from .484 percent of gross to .2904 percent from 2010 to 2015. No fiscal note’s been prepared yet to show how much the tax break would cost the state treasury.

 

More on the porn tax…

From an interview last night with Rep. Mark Miloscia, who’s proposed tacking on an extra 18.5 percent sales tax onto adult videos, cable shows, etc.

“Somebody brought this to me and I said `Wow. Well, why not?’” said Miloscia, D-Federal Way.

His bill is actually a nearly-verbatim copy of a 2004 proposal from Sen. Val Stevens: SB 6741. That bill never even got a hearing.

Unlike a lot of business taxes, Miloscia said he’s not worried about hurting the business climate for porn.

“My constituent, while they care about Microsoft or Boeing, I don’t think the adult entertainment industry is an industry that my constituents would worry about going out of state,” he said. He also said that in a decade in the statehouse, this is the first tax bill he’s ever prime-sponsored.

He gives his own bill “low odds” of passing.

“Tax increases tend to be the issue that people do not support,” he said. To improve its odds, he’s willing to have a statewide vote on the proposal. He said he’s confident that voters would approve.

But even if it passed, one big loophole would remain: Internet pornography.

“The Internet is really tough to tax,” said Miloscia. “The Internet is wild west.”

He spent much of Tuesday fielding calls from reporters about the proposal.

“I didn’t think it was going to get as much attention as it has,” he said.

Eastern Washington University: how would it handle deep budget cuts?

A day after Washington State University started to reveal its plans for handling proposed deep budget cuts, it’s time for another local school to do the same.

Late this afternoon in the Senate’s higher education committee, Eastern Washington University will detail how it would be affected.

In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire called for deep cuts to higher education spending as part of a broad plan to deal with a budget shortfall then estimated at $5.7 billion over the next two years. The Senate, worried about continuing erosion in state revenues, has asked the universities to model what it would look like to take cuts that are 50 percent larger than what Gregoire called for.

Yesterday, officials from both WSU and UW laid out their general plans under such cuts. Both are clearly expecting to raise tuition at least 7 percent over each of the next two years. Both predicted a drop in the number of expected student enrollments. And both said that while they would try to shield instructional programs from the brunt of the cuts, support services and administration would be cut deeply, and instructional fallout would be inevitable. UW President Mark Emmert suggested that it might take students 1-2 more quarters to get the courses they need to graduate.

Early out of the gate: a bill from Driscoll

The state Senate is scheduled this morning to pass a bill, HB 1113, sponsored by local Rep. John Driscoll.

The bill is a $133 million sale of state bonds to pay for school construction projects that are already underway.

The work was already planned, but inflation and faster construction than the state expected means that the school construction fund was running out of money. The bond sale refills that pot of money.

“It would be foolish to stop projects that are halfway done,” said Driscoll.

The list, Driscoll said, include work at the Ferris, Shadle and Rogers high schools, as well as on school buildings in the Mead and Nine Mile Falls districts. All told, there are 167 projects in 67 districts.

“If school districts showed up for reimbursement and we said `Sorry,’ that would give another shock to the economy, a shock we don’t need,” said Hans Dunshee, chairman of the House construction-budget committee.

In broad strokes, WSU officials lay out their plans if deep budget cuts become reality…

From tomorrow’s paper:

Washington’s two largest public universities painted a bleak picture Tuesday of looming budget cuts as the state grapples with a budget shortfall that lawmakers say could reach $8 billion.

State lawmakers won’t finalize the budget for another two months, but state colleges and agencies have all been asked to show how they would deal with deep budget cuts.

The proposed cuts would mean “600 to 800 jobs, it’s a 2-6 percent decline in enrollment…and it’s 1-2 quarters of added time to degree,” University of Washington President Mark Emmert told lawmakers.

In Pullman, Washington State University officials are “doing our best to minimize the number of warm bodies that will lose their jobs,” Provost Warwick Bayly said. “But it is inevitable that there will be some.”

(Note: I included a TVW video of Bayly’s entire testimony in this post. Click on the “continue reading” link below for more of this story and the embedded video.)

Under Gov. Gregoire’s budget proposal, WSU would face a 12 percent cut in state funding. Boosting tuition by 7 percent – the current maximum – for the next two years would reduce that to just under 7 percent.

With Washington’s revenues getting steadily worse, state lawmakers have asked both institutions to draw up plans for even higher cuts: 50 percent more than what Gregoire called for. Cutting that 18 percent would mean WSU would have to slash $93 million from its budget over the next two years.

Officials from both schools said they’re not ready to name specific programs or services that definitely would be axed. But they sketched out the broad picture. At WSU, Bayly said, such cuts would reach deep – 41 percent — into WSU’s research and public service operations.

“We are trying to protect instruction to the extent that we can,” he said. Public services includes things like agricultural and natural resource outreach programs, nutritional services and small business development centers.

“They are all on the table and would in all likelihood be impacted by the reduction here,” Bayly said.

Also targeted in the plan: student services and administration. Student services includes things like recruiting, the registrar’s office, tutors and admissions.

“Each and every one of those may suffer to some extent,” Bayly said.

Both Emmert and Bayly said they would like to hold tuition increases to 7 percent a year, although Emmert argued that tuition increases of even 14 percent would be preferable to the

Another sin to tax: porn…

With Washington’s sin taxes pretty much maxxed out — we have among the highest tobacco and liquor taxes in America — one state lawmaker has a novel idea for a new source of state revenue: a tax on pornography.

In essence, the proposal would tax porn and use the money raised to provide health care and $339-a-month stipends to people deemed unemployable, often due to mental health issues. The aid program is called General Assistance (for the) Unemployable, or GA-U.

Rep Mark Miloscia’s House Bill 2103 would slap an 18.5 percent tax on “adult entertainment materials and services.”

What’s that mean? According to the bill, it’s things that “are primarily oriented to an interest in sex,” including magazines, photos, movies, videos, cable TV programs, “telephone services”, audio tapes, computer programs, “and paraphernalia.”

Books or magazines with no photos would be exempt. So would videos that don’t contain X-rated sex., according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s standards.


Budget: not getting better…

The news continues to get worse for Washington’s treasury.

The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council today said that state revenue is down about $63 million lower than expected over the past four weeks. Revenue from Jan. 11 to Feb. 10 — which due to delays in tax payments largely reflects December sales and business — were expected to go down less than 6 percent over the same time a year ago. But the drop was steeper: just over 10 percent.

Since November, revenues are $197 million less than expected.

“Preliminary industry detail of tax payments…shows widespread weakness,” today’s report says, with particularly large drops in furniture sales (-30 percent), car dealers (-27 percent), gas stations and convenience stores (-20 percent), and clothing and accessories (-19 percent).

“The auto sector, the largest retail trade category, has now reported a year-over-year decline in tax payments for thirteen consecutive months,” reads the report, written by senior economic forecaster Eric Swenson.

The number of real estate transactions in December was down 24 percent from a year earlier — and the average price was down by a third.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and some Republican lawmakers want the Legislature’s Democratic leaders to move faster on budget cuts. Gregoire yesterday said she’s frustrated at lawmakers’ pace, and the GOP budget person in the Senate, Sen. Joe Zarelli, says that the state now faces the prospect of cutting a billion dollars in spending between now and June 30. Zarelli’s been calling for immediate legislative cuts since early December.

“While the Legislature waits, non-entitlement caseloads grow, salary increases for union employees continue to be granted, and agencies seeking flexibility to make cuts are hamstrung,” he said in a written statement. That will mean deeper cuts, “more one-time money and gimmicks” to balance the budget, and “tax increases will be proposed,” he said.

Not safe for work, but spot-on parody of tiresome techno-marketing…

HEADS UP: THE VIDEO BELOW, from the fake-news site The Onion, IS CHOCK-FULL OF EXPLETIVES.

But it’s also a pitch-perfect mockery of the sorts of gotta-have-it electronics marketing that we’re all immersed in, all the time. If you’re at home and the kids are out of earshot, click on the video.



Sony Releases…

Payday lending debate returns to Olympia. But this year it might be different…

It happens every year. Poor people and advocates descend on the capitol, decrying usurious rates ($100 loan rolled over for a year: 391 percent APR) and saying that the payday lending industry traps people in a nearly unbreakable cycle of high-interest debt.

Lawmakers propose bills — cap interest at 12 percent, cap interest at 36 percent — and the bills die, generally in the House financial institutions and insurance committee. Chairman Steve Kirby has for years defended payday loans as a needed product for people who simply cannot qualify for credit cards or bank loans.

This year, things may end up differently. Kirby himself is prime-sponsoring 5 bills that he says will preserve the industry while making it harder for people to get trapped in debt and easier to get out. The hearing’s going on right now — I’m watching it live on TVW while trying to get a column written.

“This is the year to address the problems within this industry, and I intend to make a side career…out of hammering some sort of agreement” between the industry and its critics, he said.

Consumers, a credit counselor and the enforcement chief for the state Department of Financial Institutions have all testified about harassing collection practices some of the lenders have used: berating people at work, visiting them at home, verbally abusing them (“I’m going to be your worst nightmare”), etc. One formerly-homeless woman just said she eventually paid $2,694 in fees after initially borrowing $300.


 

“I was appalled at what I saw. It was the most unsanitary, disease-ridden, disgusting thing…”

Kettle Falls’ Brandon Hatch silenced the room this morning, telling what he saw recently when he visited a lifelong friend who happened to be running a puppy mill breeding operation in Gold Bar.


(Tech note: To replay this clip, first hit refresh on your browser.)

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles’ SB 5651 is aimed at these sorts of operations. It would limit the number of breed-able dogs that people could own, require regular veterinary visits, and set standards for how the dogs are housed.

Also testifying Monday were other dog breeders, who suggested that the bill is too strict and will wrongly criminalize legitimate, sensible dog-breeding practices.

Roundup: Nafziger, Davis, Roach…

Ouch: Senate Democratic chief of staff Rich Nafziger, on his personal blog, blasts Gov. Chris Gregoire for continuing to favor budget cuts over a tax increase. Nafziger, tongue firmly in cheek, names Gregoire the recipient of his new weekly Herbert Hoover award. (Vast 1930s’ tent cities of the impoverished homeless, you’ll recall from your Great Depression history, were known as “Hoovervilles.”)

“It is clearly in the Hoover tradition to cut programs to the needy who spend all their money and cut jobs for public employees who join the ranks of the unemployed and curtail spending. Obviously this is better than taxing businesses or individuals who sit on their money, or oil companies who earn enormous profits…” writes Nafziger. (UPDATE: The post has disappeared from the blog.)

But wait, there’s more: Also drawing fire from Nafziger: lobbyists with bloated egos:

“Last week, lobbyists in Olympia were horrified that that the head of a major regulator(y) agency was not able to testify at a committee hearing. Despite his eminence and importance, the poor guy was forced to wait up to an hour and stomped out of the room in anger…” he wrote.

“The fact of the matter that the public hearing process in Olympia could be improved. Citizens are unable to take time off of work to come down make their opinions. Meanwhile, lobbyist earning 7 figure incomes clutter the hearing dockets and roam the halls. This is broken.”

It’s absolutely true that the hearing process favors the pros. I’ve sat in many hearings, listening to politicians, lobbyists and state agency staffers testifying at length, only to have regular-Joe citizens subsequently be told they’ll get only two minutes. (This comes complete with a humiliating little system of warning signs or red lights.) These are often citizens who have never testified before. Many have driven long distances and taken the day off from work. Some carry photos of family members or little hand-written speeches they’ve labored over. And they end up being told — always with a quick apology — to please keep it short.

-Richard Davis: Writes in the Puget Sound Business Journal that instead of keeping jobs, the churn of lawmaking in Olympia “seems designed to stimulate business departures.” Business is unhappy with a proposed ban on calling mandatory workplace meetings to oppose unionization, for example, and proposals to tap the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund to improve benefits. Writes Davis:

And with manufacturing layoffs piling up like pizza boxes after the Super Bowl party, lawmakers are considering job-threatening climate change regulations. They call this stimulus?

-Pam Roach’s advice: In the wake of economic advisor Robert Reich’s congressional testimony that the federal infrastructure dollars should not simply go to professionals or to white male construction workers, state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, has these words of warning for those workers:

The plan is the same. Pay off all debt including the house. Put away an emergency fund. Plant fruit trees. Plant a garden. Store a three month supply of food for your family. Learn to do with less.


 

Gregoire on lawmakers’ progress on the budget: “It’s no secret I’m frustrated.”

Asked if she’s satisfied with lawmakers’ pace approving early budget cuts, Gregoire said no.

“It’s no secret I’m frustrated,” she said. “And I’ve had my conversations with leadership in the House and the Senate. I think we need to move. And we needed to move consistent with the fact that we’re in a crisis.”

More details…

Here’s the list of boards and commissions slated for elimination or reconsideration.

In a press conference, Gregoire talked about needing to “de-layer state government” and make it more nimble and relevant to Washingtonians’ needs.

The 154 boards and commissions she’s ending (or recommending that lawmakers do) are part of a massive network of advisory groups that “were created over decades of the best of intentions,” she said. But too often, she said, there’s little to show for the effort except “lot of paper and per diem payments.”

She also said she plans to introduce legislation to revamp the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, which Gregoire said has morphed into a catch-all agency when no one can figure out where to put a particular mission or function. She wants to split off those duties and return CTED to its core mission as a (renamed) state Department of Commerce. It’s mission: bringing and keeping businesses and attracting family-wage jobs.

She’s also looking at moving the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s enforcement jobs to the State Patrol.

“We need to re-tool how we serve Washingtonians,” Gregoire said. “We need to reboot.”

For too long, government has been afraid to rock the boat too much, she said.

“It’s past time for us to do exactly that: mess with the status quo,” she said.

Gregoire also said that future reforms might include a call for combining emergency response efforts, particularly in rural Eastern Washington.

“Do we really need 25 separate call centers for 9-1-1?” she said. “I’m not sure that we do.”

Some things were clearly too important to do away with, she said, such as the commissions that regulate doctors, dentists and other health professionals. But she said many of the groups were formed to consider a particular problem, and then were never disbanded.

“Some of these boards and commissions report to no one,” Gregoire said. “To no one. And no one knows what they do. That out to be a red flag right there.”

Gregoire: time to pare back, consolidate, streamline government…

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has repeatedly vowed to “blow past the bureaucracy,” today proposed blowing parts of it away.

Gregoire wants to eliminating 154 of the state’s 470 boards and advisory commissions. Among those on the chopping block:

• Interagency Task Force on Milfoil Control,

• Acupuncture Ad Hoc Consulting Group,

• Migratory Waterfowl Art Commission,

• Oversight Committee on Moral Guidance,

• and, something called the Board of Registration for the Onsite Advisory Committee.

Gregoire also wants to consolidate several state agencies, including merging the state’s health coverage agency with its system for retirees. The state archaeology department would become part of State Parks.

“All Washington employers public and private will emerge from this recession forever changed, Gregoire said in a written statement. “And so will state government.”

Locally, Gregoire is pushing ahead with her call to merge the historical societies that oversee the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture with the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. Officials at both institutions question whether the merger would save the expected $500,000 a year. Dennis Hession, the MAC’s interim CEO, has warned that local donations might drop.

With nearly half of car license tabs being now renewed online, Gregoire wants to close some offices but expand online services. The state Department of Licensing, for example, plans to soon let you renew your driver’s license, apply for a personalized license plate, or schedule a driving test online.

The plan also calls, however, for gradually closing more than two dozen driver-licensing offices around the state. Part-time offices in Newport, Republic, Chelan and Coulee Dam, for example, would be closed in the summer of 2009. The state would instead have a licensing van that travels to smaller communities on a regular schedule.

She wants more online courses through community and technical colleges, for example. She also wants to make it easier to use credit- and debit cards to pay state fees.

Gregoire said more changes are coming.

“What we’re launching today is significant,” she said, “but it is also just the beginning. This is not about short-term thinking it is about changing the way we do business for the long term.”

Who’s that in the jury box?

Gov. Chris Gregoire has delayed the 9:30 a.m. rollout of a series of government reforms because she’s been called for jury duty at the county courthouse.

“No, I am not kidding,” Gregoire spokesman Pearse Edwards wrote in an e-mail announcing the delay.

Lawmakers propose that a 15-person commission spend months studying, among other things, the Legislature’s “representativeness” and “informedness”…

In the Senate, legislators are mulling “creat(ing) a commission within the legislature to evaluate the legislature.”

I’m guessing that means studying whether Washington needs a full-time legislature, but judge for yourself. After some rhetorical throat-clearing, here’s how the bill starts out:

“WHEREAS, Questions arise as to whether the Washington state legislature is structurally, functionally, operationally, and procedurally satisfactory for resolving today’s complex and divisive issues…”

It goes on to say, in many more words than this, that lawmaking’s more complicated than it used to be, and demands more of lawmakers’ time.

And so, Senate Concurrent Resolution 8405 calls for a 15-person committee to spend most of the rest of the year evaluating things like legislative procedures, independence from interest groups/the governor/etc., “representativeness” (meaning diversity and pay), and “informedness” (meaning, it seems, do they have enough time to know what they’re voting on).

No hearing’s been scheduled yet.

Double your odds of catching that fish, with a fishing pole for each hand…

Newly returned state Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax, and a dozen other lawmakers want to change state law so that for an additional $10 fee, anglers in some places would be allowed to use two fishing poles at once.

The bill is HB 1993.

Domestic-partners hearing, by the numbers…

(And thanks to the helpful person who compiled this for me.)

28: Number of sign-in sheets required for the standing-room-only crowd that testified in a House committee Thursday.

197: Number of people who signed in.

43: In favor of the bill, which would grant domestic partners virtually all the rights and responsibilities of married couples.

142: Opposed.

7:40: The number of minutes and seconds it took Rep. Roger Goodman to read the names of everyone who had signed in.

Unemployment checks: adding $45 a week is on fast track through the capitol…

With unemployment levels nationwide at the highest rates since 1992, Washington’s House of Representatives on Friday voted to temporarily boost benefits for jobless workers by $45 a week.

“An extra 45 bucks can mean a meal’s on the table for the kids,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.

The House overwhelmingly approved the plan, 91 to 2. All local lawmakers voted for it, except Rep. John Driscoll, one of four House members excused from the Friday session.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she expects the Senate to approve the same plan next week. Gov. Gregoire is expected to quickly sign it into law.

“Our understanding is that if we’re able to get this to the governor’s desk by Feb. 16th, that the benefit increase could start in May for unemployed workers,” Brown said. It would last through Jan. 3, 2010.

National unemployment stands at 7.6 percent, up nearly half a percent from last month. Washington’s jobless rate last month was 7.1 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Spokane, it was 7.4 percent.

“Behind all these numbers are real people, and they need help,” Chopp, D-Seattle, told reporters Friday at the capitol.

Current unemployment insurance benefits in Washington range from $129 a week to $541. The state pays those benefits for up to 26 weeks; federal emergency aid can extend payments for up 

Adult day health programs: Hope in the state Senate…

Back on Tuesday, more than 150 advocates for saving adult day health programs fanned out around the capitol campus to make the case for preserving the centers. These are places where elderly or otherwise frail adults can go to take part in activities, meet people, and often get some counseling or health screenings. They also provide families and other caregivers with a break for a few hours.

In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed cutting the programs — which serve about 1,900 elderly or developmentally-disabled people — in order to save a little over $20 million over the next two years. (The federal government also contributes about $20 million.)

The state is wrestling with a $6 billion budget shortfall, although it’s looking more and more like Gregoire will be the bad budget cop to the Legislature’s good budget cop. Unless the recession gets much worse or lasts a long time, it looks like whatever budget lawmakers ultimately agree on won’t be as bad as the deep cuts proposed in Gregoire’s no-new-taxes plan. That’s because Gregoire counted on abotu $1 billion in federal help when she wrote her budget last fall; it now looks like it will be substantially more than that.

Adult day health also has some powerful defenders in Olympia, including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. It may be trimmed, she said in a recent meeting with reporters at the capitol, but lawmakers hope to find a way to avoid cutting it entirely. House Speaker Frank Chopp — who’s clearly been hearing from Brown on the topic — also seems to be leaning that way.

People involved with the program are looking at ways to make it more efficient, Brown said, particularly with transporting the people to the centers. But overall, she said:

“Many legislators believe that is not a program that should be eliminated, and I don’t see it being eliminated. It fits within the whole continuum of care for long-term and deverlopmentally disabled people that it just doesn’t make sense to us to cut it out.

“You could be essentially putting people into emergency rooms and nursing homes and more costly settings. That (cut) is one that we disagree with.”

Like the fog of war, but with Roberts’ Rules…

Rich Nafziger, Senate Democrats’ chief of staff, does a good job of capturing the headlong feeling of a legislative session, with 147 lawmakers trying to make sense of a thousand or more bills spiraling through the capitol at once.

In general, for most of the legislative session, legislators are working in the fog. As they labor through the process of studying bills and talking to constituents, they only can barely see the outlines of what is happening in other committees with other bills or with other staff people.

This spawns “conspiracy theories” among lawmakers and staffers, he says.

Behind all these conspiracies is a deeply held view that somebody must be in charge and is running the place. Their friends and allies are in the loop and everyone else is left out. Unfortunately, such command and control management is rare.

This is generally also true of day-to-day newspapering, as I periodically remind politicians convinced that we’re out to get them.

News release headline of the day…

From the state Parks and Recreation Commission:


“State Parks Commission holds special meeting

to change location of next regular meeting”

Voices: quotes from the House and Senate hearings on Washington’s everything-but-marriage bill for domestic partners…

Rather than try to shoehorn my lengthy print story into a blog post, here are some quotes from yesterday’s standing-room-only hearings on the “everything but marriage” law for state-registered domestic partners in Washington.

“You may not consider my family a family, but I know in my heart that they are. So will you please pass this bill, so that everyone can know that this is my family?”
-Benjamin, the 10-year-old son of one Seattle lesbian couple

“Genuine marriage has provided for the foundation of healthy and harmonious family living for civilized societies for centuries. It does not exist just for the emotional satisfaction, affirmation or validation of individuals, but for the greater good of the social order.”
-Larry Stickney, with the Washington Values Alliance

“When our kids now ask us if we’re married, we say, ‘Not in the eyes of the law, but yes, we are married in our hearts.’”
-Amie Bishop, a social worker and mother of Benjamin.

“It was said that (same-sex marriages briefly performed in Oregon) never existed. It was a devastating and humiliating experience. All of sudden, we felt totally negated, and that we and our relationship did not exist and there was no protection for us.”
-retired National Guard Col. Grethe Cammermeyer.

“They should be satisfied withthe status quo. Enough is enough.”
-a grandmother whose name I didn’t get.

“I say this respectfully, but there’s going to come a time when we’re all going to have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for things done in the flesh.”
-Roy Hartwell, pastor of a church near Olympia.

“We’re here, we’re coming, we’re voting…We’re voting in your districts … We’re voting for this.”
-David Iseminger of Seattle.

“We vote as well…We will be back.”
-Gary Randall, with the Faith and Freedom Network

(For more context on the quotes, click on the story link above.)

Labor and business clash over captive-audience meetings: unions call it a privacy issue, business says it’s a gag rule…

From the print paper:


OLYMPIA – For nearly two years, Dan Joy says, his boss at a Spokane grocery store badgered him and other employees to go to the boss’ church.

It would, they were told, help their careers.

Joy declined, over and over. He said his boss finally mocked him as just “a trinket-worshipping Catholic.”

Shortly after that, he says, he was fired over an unsubstantiated customer complaint from one of the boss’ fellow church members.

In what’s shaping up to be one of the biggest battles between organized labor and business in the statehouse this year, lawmakers are considering making it illegal to require workers to attend mandatory meetings if the topics are unionization, politics, religion or charitable donations.

Companies would still be free to hold the meetings. But they could no longer require employees to attend. If they try, workers could sue.

“It allows workers the right to choose not to listen to or participate in unwanted communication with their employer on issues of individual conscience,” said Rick Bender, president of the 500-local Washington State Labor Council.

Voting, donating to a charity, practicing one’s faith and joining a union “are all private decisions,” he said, and employers shouldn’t be allowed to compel workers to listen to pitches on those topics. Without such protection, Bender said, many employees dare not challenge the practice.

“What worker can afford to lose their job, particularly today?” he said.

The bill drew a standing-room-only crowd in Olympia Tuesday, with workers and company officials spilling into the hallway outside a hearing room.

Kris Tefft, general counsel for the Association of Washington Business, called the proposal “clearly the most divisive, controversial bill that this committee has heard in probably a decade.”

Spokane worker sparks change in organ-transplant law…

From the printed paper:

OLYMPIA – Fred Watley’s need for a liver is changing state law.

A year ago, the Spokane man nearly died while waiting for an insurance-law loophole to expire so he could get the liver transplant he desperately needed. His insurer finally relented.

On Thursday, Watley – with a new liver – urged state lawmakers to close the loophole so that people no longer have to risk their lives waiting.

The near-tragedy prompted newly elected state Rep. John Driscoll, D-Spokane, to sponsor House Bill 1308, which would reduce the wait in such cases.

“I wasn’t planning to make history. I just wanted to save his life for our 11-year-old son,” said Watley’s wife, LiAnne.

The change is backed by Watley’s health insurer, Group Health, and other major health insurers in the state.

“It’s a loophole that needed to be cleared,” said state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who said he was stunned to learn that when employers switch health plans it restarts the waiting period of at least six months allowed for organ transplants.

Builders v. Homeowners: new-home warranty battle continues at the capitol…

From the print paper this morning:

Shortly after moving into her new home three years ago, Karen Veldheer and her family noticed water leaking through the foundation.

Then another leak.

And another.

Those trickles and a host of other problems with the home launched Veldheer on a long and expensive trip through arbitration and court. She has won in both arenas – after racking up more than $20,000 in lawyer fees – but says the builder still won’t pay, apparently out of fear of setting a precedent for neighbors with similar complaints.

Lawmakers in Olympia are considering several proposals to make it easier for homeowners faced with major construction defects to take builders, subcontractors and suppliers to court. Homeowners have little protection, proponents say, in a system that often requires buyers to sign away many rights as a condition for getting the home.

“We have to look out for the consumers who are obligating themselves to 30-year mortgages,” said Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia. The bills include HB 1045 and HB 1393.

Builders don’t object to some of the ideas, like stricter contractor licensing or having the state track complaints to see how bad the problem is. But they’re fighting hard against the idea of making it easier for homeowners to sue. That, they say, will spur lawsuits, drive up their insurance costs and hurt an already-struggling industry.

“Builders are not opposed to warranties,” said Damon Doyle, former president of the Building Industry Association of Washington. “Builders are opposed to broad, vague and involuntary mandatory warranties.”

There are numerous protections already, said BIAW general counsel Timothy Harris. “Existing law allows a number of ways for homeowners to sue,” he said.

And the percentage of contractors who’ve had claims filed against them, Doyle said, is less than 1.5 percent.

“All of the evidence available indicates that the problems are limited to an extremely small percentage of my colleagues,” Doyle told lawmakers. “… We can’t allow the risk of huge cost increases to further hamper an industry that is hanging by a thread.”

Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, bristled at that.

“If lawyers only have 1 ½ percent of them that are crooks, we have laws about that,” he said. “People are pissed. I’m pissed. … I didn’t hear a single remedy from you about what the needs are for the people who can’t afford the lawyers you so cavalierly tell them to run to.”


Brown, Chopp say they’ll fight for GA-U funding…

From the print paper this morning:

A few years ago, a homeless woman named Lee Ann Winters was nearly run over by a car while walking across a downtown Spokane intersection. She yelled at the driver, saying she was in a crosswalk and had a green light.

“What does it matter?” she recalls the driver yelling back. “You’re homeless!”

Now 52 and living in her own apartment, Winters is worried that the homeless will be dismissed the same way by state lawmakers looking to cut spending.

A program called General Assistance for the Unemployable that once provided Winters a critical lifeline – health care and $339 a month – is among budget cuts that state officials are considering.

GA-U now benefits about 21,000 people statewide, including about 1,400 in Spokane County, who are deemed too physically or mentally disabled to hold a job. The program is intended to provide short-term help for people transitioning to long-term and largely federally funded assistance programs.

In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested that state lawmakers eliminate the program, which would cost taxpayers $411 million over the next two years, saying the state must solve its budget mess without raising taxes…

 

(snip)

…As the Legislature tries to write a budget for the next two years, GA-U has two key allies in Olympia: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp, the two most powerful lawmakers in the state, both with roots as anti-poverty activists.

“We’re going to make it a high priority to preserve that funding,” said Chopp, D-Seattle. “It is a matter of life and death in many cases.”

Brown, D-Spokane, says it would be foolish to throw people off the program only to see them on the streets and turning up for expensive last-resort care in emergency rooms, shelters and jails. There may be reductions, she said, but “we’ll try to moderate it.” She’s floated the idea of saving money by changing the way the health coverage is administered.

The big question, however, is whether the state’s budget problems will override legislative leaders’ hopes to keep the program going. November’s state revenue forecast stunned lawmakers, slashing nearly $2 billion from what was expected. Similar forecasts are scheduled for March, July and September.

Click on the link above for the complete story.

Former state Rep. Mary Skinner dies at 63…

Former state Rep. Mary Skinner died this morning at her home in Yakima, less than a year after announcing that she was stepping down from her legislative seat to battle colon cancer. She was 63.

Elected to the House in 1994, Skinner served 14 years in Olympia, including two as vice chair of the House Republican caucus. The daughter of migrant workers in California, she spent virtually all her life in the Yakima Valley, moving to Wapato with her family when she was 3 months old.

Among the bills she championed in Olympia: double fines in school zones, a car seat safety law, hiring a state poet laureate, and extending insurance coverage to cover colon cancer screening. She pushed for state money to revamp Yakima’s downtown, including the Capitol Theatre.

Skinner was diagnosed in early 2006, undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. After a brief remission, the cancer returned.

Skinner was married for 40 years to Henry Harlow “Hal” Skinner Jr., a surgeon. Dr. Skinner died Jan. 17 at 88.

The two will be honored at a joint funeral service, which is still being scheduled.

 

State Sen. Pam Roach back under the ethics board’s spotlight…She calls it a “witchhunt” and “public lynching”….

State Sen. Pam Roach is apparently under investigation again by the state legislative ethics board.

“Yes, Dear Readers…they are on the hunt. And, they intend to find SOMETHING…ANYTHING to punish me,” she writes on her personal blog today.

Roach has been involved in a long-running battle with state social workers over the return of a young girl to her family.

“It will be a public lynching,” Roach writes about the investigation. “You will read about it here. I will not cower to this intimidation, retribution, waste of taxpayer funds, and political payback.”

I called Mike O’Connell, the ethics board’s lawyer, but he’s apparently out of the office for the afternoon.

It’s not like Roach is an unknown to the board, however. She was investigated in 2007 over a claim that she’d used her legislative clout to get one of her sons out of prison early. (He served time on a drug charge.) The board found no evidence that she’d broken any law.

She was also investigated in 2003 for allegedly wrongly releasing “confidential” emails. That case was dismissed when the board said it didn’t have jurisdiction in such matters.

Roach is no stranger to controversy. Over the years, she’s been repeatedly reprimanded for violating the Senate’s “respectful workplace policy.” The Senate offered her training on how to treat employees better, and agreed to pay $2,500 for counseling for one traumatized employee.

White House: what’s in the Obama stimulus plan for WA…

The White House has posted a list of what President Obama’s stimulus plan would mean for Washingtonians.

It doesn’t detail some of the major investments in education and transportation infrastructure that’s being planned. It’s more of a consumer’s-eye-view of the plan.

From it:


Creating or saving 79,700 jobs over the next two years. Jobs created will be in a range of industries from clean energy to health care, with over 90% in the private sector. [Source: White House Estimate based on Romer and Bernstein, “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” January 9, 2009.]

Providing a making work pay tax cut of up to $1,000 for 2,450,000 workers and their families. The plan will make a down payment on the President’s Making Work Pay tax cut for 95% of workers and their families, designed to pay out immediately into workers’ paychecks. [Source: White House Estimate based on IRS Statistics of Income]

Making 67,000 families eligible for a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to make college affordable. By creating a new $2,500 partially refundable tax credit for four years of college, this plan will give 3.8 million families nationwide – and 67,000 families in Washington – new assistance to put college within their reach. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of U.S. Census data]

Offering an additional $100 per month in unemployment insurance benefits to 404,000 workers in Washington who have lost their jobs in this recession, and providing extended unemployment benefits to an additional 44,000 laid-off workers. [Source: National Employment Law Project]

Providing funding sufficient to modernize at least 138 schools in Washington so our children have the labs, classrooms and libraries they need to compete in the 21st century economy. [Source: White House Estimate]

Hat tip: Jerry Cornfield.

Another guilty pleasure…

As long as we’re looking at silly videos, here’s another, from Talking Points Memo.

(hat tip: Camden.)


Your TVW nightmare: accidentally dropping an F-bomb in the middle of testifying…


I’ll stipulate at the outset that this is juvenile, but it’s funny nonetheless.

Yesterday, Bill Robinson, with the state chapter of the Nature Conservancy, was testifying about legislative efforts to revamp the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to defuse a perceived impasse among commercial and sport-fishing groups on the board.

More on that in a bit. First, here’s the moment:


Tech note: Unlike YouTube, TVW does not have a “replay” option. Once you view this, clicking play again will take you to the rest of the testimony. Workaround: To view this short segment again, hit the refresh button on your browser.

Here’s what’s going on.

First, Sen. Ken Jacobsen remains deeply unhappy with most of the current commission for last year publicly snubbing longtime commissioner Fred Shiosaki, a Spokane angler who was in line to become chairman. The commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, argued that it was their call, and that they wanted someone less deferential to the agency’s director and staff. (Shiosaki resigned soon afterward, and in December, F&W director Jeff Koenings also left.) Jacobsen’s refused to give Senate confirmation to the commissioners, but other than being a slight public poke in the eye, it doesn’t matter much — they can continue to serve without being confirmed.

Fish and game have always been political lightning rods in Washington, and that’s exactly what spawned the citizens initiative that years ago formed the commission. It would de-politicize wildlife management, the argument went.

It hasn’t worked out that way, according to most of the folks who testified in yesterday’s Senate hearing. Tribal fishing groups, hunters and sport fishing interests are all backing a bill by Jacobsen to essentially strip away the current commission and make the head of Fish and Wildlife answer directly to the governor instead.

Jacobsen says the commission is “a board gone overboard.” He says there’s major tension between commercial and sports fishing interests, and that the commissions not doing a good job of balancing the two. “We need a new cast of characters,” he said.

“The general sense is that it’s broken and it needs to be fixed,” said Ed Owens, a hunting and fishing lobbyist. He said hunters who try to testify at commission meetings “are being berated,” among other problems.

Carl Burke, who lobbies for boat builders, fishing-gear dealers and other recreational fishing interests, said the change would be a mistake. The commissioners invest hundreds of hours to get up to speed on complex wildlife issues, he said, and demoting them to mere advisors would make it highly unlikely that the unpaid commissioners will invest that time.

“Reducing their numbers, tenure or authority would render the commission pointless,” he said.

Governor orders flags flows at half-staff in honor of Colville soldier killed in helicopter crash…

Flags across the state will be flown at half-staff Tuesday, in memory of Chief Warrant Officer Benjamin H. Todd, a soldier and Colville resident who died last week in a helicopter crash in Iraq.


Senate bills takes aim at inhumane conditions in “puppy mills”…

Declaring that dogs “are neither a commercial crop nor commodity,” several senators are proposing legislation to require humane practices in commercial dog breeding.

“Without proper oversight, puppy mills can easily fall below even the most basic standards of humane housing and husbandry,” says Senate Bill 5651, prime sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

No state agency regulates the operations, Kohl-Welles says, and abuses can lead to unnecessary suffering and an expensive problem — abandoned or neglected dogs — for local authorities.

The bill would ban people from having more than 25 dogs, unless they’ve been neutered or spayed or are under the age of four months.

For anyone with 11 or more such dogs, the bill spells out how much space the dogs should get, and how much exercise and how often (no treadmills. Seriously.). It requires adequate ventilation, a working smoke alarm and fire suppression and lighting, Temperatures would have to be kept between 50 and 85 degrees

It requires annual veterinary exams, details the size and construction of kennels and runs, and limits female dogs to one litter a year. There are exemptions for animal shelters, researchers and other facilities. 

The bill’s been referred to the Senate labor committee.

Marr, Pettigrew: collective bargaining for child care workers…

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate want to let child care workers collectively bargain with the state over how much the state pays to subsidize low-income families, professional development for the workers, benefits and grievance procedures.

Low state reimbursement for care makes it hard for some child care centers to survive, said state Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle.  He’s sponsoring the House version of the bill, HB 1329.

In the Senate, the prime sponsor is local Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. His is SB 5572.

Darneille takes another run at broadening felons’ rights to vote upon release from prison…

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that even after felons are released from prison, the state can bar them from voting until they pay off all their court-ordered fines and fees.

For poor people with big bills and few options for employment, this can effectively mean a lifetime loss of the right to vote.

State Rep. Jeannie Darneille wants to change the law. Getting out of prison and off probation, she says, should be enough to restore a person’s right to vote.

“It’s not real freedom if you’re excluded from any say in decisions that govern your life,” she said in a press reelase. “Basing anyone’s voting right on how quickly they can pay a financial debt is unfair and un-American.”

The bill is HB 1517.

Darneille, a Tacoma Democrat, has pushed similar bills for the past eight years. But her colleagues were reluctant to endorse earlier plans that would have allowed voting by people still on probation. Among those backing the new version: Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican.

In July 2007, the state’s high court upheld the law banning voting until felons have completed all the terms of their sentences, including payments.

“Convicted felons…no longer possess that fundamental right as a direct result of their decisions to commit a felony,” wrote Justice Mary Fairhurst. In a dissent, Justice Tom Chambers blasted the law, saying it restricts voting “to those rich enough to buy it.”

Fellow dissenter Gerry Alexander, the state’s longtime chief justice, said it’s wrong to require people who’ve served their time to “pay to play” and vote.

Among the plaintiffs in that case: Beverly DuBois, convicted in Stevens County of growing and delivering marijuana in 2002.

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

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