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Eye On Olympia

Archive for January 2009

Bunnies, video games, ATVs…

Sen. Val Stevens, re: a proposal to require kids under 18 to have a driver’s license to ride an ATV on certain roads. (The law now: anyone 13 or older can ride one on those roads.)


A new term…

House Bill 1835 would replace old references to mental retardation in state law with the gentler phrase “intellectual disabilities.”

Tax on plastic proposed…

A senator from a struggling timber district has come up with an interesting idea: a tax on plastic.

The money would go into a special “climate protection forestry account,” which would be used to pay for incentives to the forestry industry. The goal: to reduce carbon, presumably by growing trees. The incentives would be for forest management, including thinning and fertilization, and encouraging the use of wood in construction, “instead of the more intensive fossil fuel products such as concrete, plastic, and steel.”

Senate Bill 5747 comes from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, a self-employed forester.

Plastic- and plastic-container makers in Washington would have to pay a tax equal to about one-fifth of 1 percent on the value of the products they churn out.

The bill has been referred to the Senate environment committee.

Home builders erect a new pinata: “Rep. Williams is the new Sen. Weinstein”…

Interesting stuff from the latest newsletter from the Building Industry Association of Washington: Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, has replaced former Sen. Brian Weinstein as the building group’s great Satan.

Weinstein drew the builder’s ire by championing legislation that would have made it easier to sue builders for shoddy construction. The builders said the change would have been open season on them, spawning frivolous lawsuits, driving up home prices and driving them out of business by pushing their business insurance higher.

No love was lost between the two. Weinstein browbeat the builders in hearings; the builders blasted him back as a “builder-hating trial attorney.” They put a photo of his home in their newsletter. They also got his bill killed. Repeatedly.

The BIAW’s now unhappy with Williams for backing a bill to dramatically improve the warranties on new homes (HB 1045). The arguments are similar: the builders say it’s unreasonable and would devastate an already-reeling industry.

This time, however, the builders are a more fractured presence in Olympia. A longtime ally, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, has apparently parted ways with the BIAW on this issue.




Planned Parenthood staves off cut to family-planning nurses…

Planned Parenthood has managed to un-do a budget cut, convincing lawmakers and the governor to overrule a state agency’s decision to ctop paying for 70 family planning nurses across the state.

The Department of Social and Health Services had decded to end those contract positions today. But heavy lobbying to Planned Parenthood and its supporters reversed that decision, getting the nurses’ contracts renewed through June.

Advocates said the nurses are key to getting birth control information to people, particularly in rural areas with few health resources. They also argued that it was foolish to cut a program that returns $9 from the feds for every $1 spent by the state.

The road to same-sex marriage: Both sides weigh in….

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced bills to broaden the rights of couples who register with the state as domestic partners. So far, nearly 5,000 couples have signed up for the registry. Many are same-sex partners; others are heterosexual senior citizens. (The latter group could marry, but doing so would mean that some widows and widowers would lose pension benefits or other rights linked to a deceased spouse.)

Two years ago, lawmakers approved the registry and granted the partners rudimentary rights, such as being able to visit each other in the hospital and make health care decisions for each other.

Last year, those rights and responsibilities were expanded to cover property rights and set up a formal process for dissolving the partnerships.

This year’s legislation — a first draft was nearly 2,000 pages long — is an attempt to give those couples virtually all the rights and responsibilities of married couples in Washington. It covers about 300 things, including pension benefits, estate taxes and things as mundane as automatically transferring a business license to the surviving family member.

For the purposes of this chapter, the terms spouse, marriage, marital, husband, wife, widow, widower, next of kin, and family shall be interpreted as applying equally to state registered domestic partnerships…

the bill says repeatedly. The couples would not, however, be married. Two other bills would allow same sex marriage, but neither of those is expected to pass this year.

“It is not marriage, but it is everything that heterosexual families have currently,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

Marriage, he and other proponents say, remains the goal.

“What we know

Gregoire: Don’t look for a revenue uptick until December, folks…

I spent a couple of hours yesterday sitting in on meetings between state officials and a large group of business/political/community leaders from Spokane. Among the things that came up:

-Gov. Chris Gregoire said she expects the state’s revenue picture to keep getting worse for a while. The March, June and even September revenue forecasts, she believes, will all be worse.

“The hopes are that it won’t be down in December,” she said.

-If she mentioned a source on this I missed it, but by way of good news, Gregoire also said that Washington is the second best-positioned state to emerge quickly from the recession.

-She said that the likely federal infrastructure money — $535 million — was less than the billions the state had been hoping for.

-And she also repeatedly cautioned that that other federal money will come with a lot of strings, conditions and restrictions attached, rather than just being a big check that state budget writers can use to backfill any cuts.

“They (the feds) have kind of learned the lesson of giving $350 billion to Wall Street with no strings attached,” she said.

-Also, one observation: this is a business-organized trip, but this year, business people were pretty scarce among the 85 Spokane-area folks who made the trip. Far more numerous: local government officials (mayors, city council members) and people with a direct stake in how the state’s budget pie is divvied up (WSU, hospital folks, community organizations, the Armed Forces and Aerospace Museum, SIRTI, the MAC, etc.). In a year of cuts, organizer Rich Hadley said, many were there largely to play defense.

Here’s the print version:

OLYMPIA _ Gov. Chris Gregoire once was asked by a reporter if there was anything she didn’t like about the job.

Yes, she said. She hated getting the news that a child in the state’s care had died.

Four years later, Gregoire says there’s a second thing she doesn’t like: getting notice after notice that companies are about to lay off workers.

“And it comes in a wave, every day,” she said.

Gregoire spoke Thursday to politicians, business leaders and other Spokane-area officials on their annual lobbying trip to Olympia. Some 85 people from the region are spending three days in the capital pushing local priorities and trying to keep Spokane on lawmakers’ radar.

The message from Gregoire and top lawmakers: Things are bleak, but Washington is well- positioned to rebound quickly. And as in the other Washington, Olympia is trying various tactics to kick-start the economy.

“No one knows what to do right now, to be perfectly honest with you,” Gregoire said. “We are in uncharted territory.”

The state’s economy relies 

Another dispatch from the water wars…

There’s another interesting farmers-versus-environmentalists water battle shaping up in the statehouse this year.

Farm groups are backing a reform that sounds utterly common-sense: changing decades-old laws that require farmers to use every drop of their water allocation or, after a few years of failing to do so, losing that valuable water right.

“It’s better to leave it in the ground than pump out on the ground and let it evaporate,” Craig Grub, with the Spokane County Cattlemen, told lawmakers at a yearing recently.

But it’s not that simple, environmental groups responded. They say that allowing people to sit on their water rights indefinitely, instead of putting them to beneficial use, would allow people who don’t actually need water to keep an unfair hold on it.

State Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville, repeatedly made it clear that he wants wells metered to ensure that people aren’t pumping too much.

“Without meters,” he asked cattle ranchers, “how can you tell us that your’e conserving water and only using what you’re supposed to?”

A new round of an old fight: water dispute pits cattle industry against environmental groups…

Environmentalists and cattlemen clashed Thursday over a decades-old law that allows largely unlimited pumping from wells – with no permit – as long as the water is used for livestock.

To ranchers, that’s a common-sense exception that helps agriculture and dates back many decades.

To environmental groups and some Indian tribes, it’s a glaring loophole that’s being wrongly applied to industrial-scale feedlots.

“We don’t have water left to be giving away exempt water rights in large quantities,” Spokane environmental attorney Rachael Paschal Osborn told state lawmakers Thursday. If the Legislature wants to encourage the cattle industry and feedlots, she said, “they can go out and buy a water right just like everyone else in this state.”

Are you willing to pay $40 a year for a family medical leave stipend you might someday need? House and Senate lawmakers hope so…

More from the print paper:

In 2007, jubilant Democratic lawmakers approved $250-a-week stipends to workers who take unpaid time off to bond with a new baby.

Two years, later without paying anyone a dime, paid family medical leave has stalled. Gov. Chris Gregoire halted computer work on it to save money. And no one agrees how to pay for the estimated $40 million annual payout.

But they may be getting closer. Lawmakers in the House and Senate are now calling for a 2-cents-an-hour fee on all workers, with the money used to pay the stipend. And the benefit wouldn’t just apply to parents. Anyone with a sick family member could use it.

For a full-time worker, the fee works out to about $40 a year.

“If you’re going to ask everyone to pay, then everyone has to benefit,” said state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, who introduced one of the bills Wednesday. “It’s just fairness.”

Not illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student? Lawmakers in full “there oughta be a law” mode…

Lawmakers, unhappy with a recent court ruling saying that it’s not illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student, so long as the student’s 18, are trying to now make it illegal.

The recent court ruling “opens the door for this being open season on our 18-year-old students,” said Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland.

At a hearing at the state capitol Wednesday, a spokesman for the state association of criminal defense lawyers argued against criminalizing sex with 18-year-olds, even if they’re students. It’s like “taking the proverbial sledgehammer to a fly,” he said.

“For the 18- or 19-year-olds, at some point in life, we have to say you’re old enough to make your own choices,” said Wade Samuelson.

Click here to read the print story.


The future of the newspaper industry: the view from 1981…

Fascinating and depressing, here’s a 1981 look at a quirky new technology: reading your newspaper on your “home computer” via signals transmitted over phone lines.

The news report has Tomorrowland feel to it, fat monitors with tiny screens, clunky keyboards, a guy setting a phone handset into a modem. Most outdated of all: the observation at the end that online news is unlikely to pose much of a challenge to the dominance of the 20-cent printed paper.

Hat tip: Horse’s Ass.

Governor seeks storm help for businesses…

Gov. Chris Gregoire is asking the federal government to declare a statewide “economic injury disaster” for Washington’s businesses due to the heavy snow storms in December.

The move by the federal Small Business Administration would free up low-interest loans for businesses at a time when credit’s already very tight, the governor said.

Here’s the request.

Charging stations on the freeway, car insurance by-the-mile, and lots and lots of weatherstripping and insulation: Senate D’s propose energy/jobs plan…

Echoing similar plans in the other Washington, Senate Democrats in Olympia Tuesday detailed their plans to combine “green jobs” with a renewed push for conservation and alternative sources of power.

“We now have a partner in the federal government in a way that we haven’t had a partner in the past,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. The Obama administration wants to spend $150 billion and create 5 million new jobs over the next decade with clean-energy efforts.

In Olympia, some of the proposals touted Tuesday were low-tech, like boosting efforts to weatherize drafty homes.

Others look further into the future. With some help from tax breaks, for example, Sen. Fred Jarrett said, he envisions electrical charging stations dotting Interstate 5 “from Vancouver to Tijuana.” When the parking lots full of charged cars aren’t driving, he said, they can be tapped as a massive battery to feed electricity back into the power grid at peak times.

Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, wants to reduce driving by encouraging auto insurers to offer some insurance plans linked to miles driven.

Among the skeptics: Todd Myers, who works for a conservative think tank called the Washington Policy Center. Lawmakers are gambling millions of dollar clutching at the latest “eco-fads,” he said, when they should be encouraging the private sector for better fixes.

“They were wrong on electric cars, biofuels and green buildings,” he said. “Now they want to create charging stations. But a few years back they were talking about the hydrogen highway.”
Myers thinks a better solution would be to charge people for their carbon emissions – encouraging them to limit the pollution – and spend the money on tax breaks to encourage innovation.

“These decisions are not best made in Olympia, Myers said. “They’re best made in Redmond, Seattle and the rest of the state.”

Anti-smoking advocates call for a $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes…

The American Heart Association, cancer society, and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids are calling for $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes, saying that less smoking saves the state a lot of money on health costs.

“It’s not about revenue, it’s about health savings,” state Sen. Rodney Tom said in a press release minutes ago. Tom, D-Medina, today introduced Senate Bill 5626.

“The societal cost of a pack of cigarettes is over $15,” he said. “So we’re subsidizing smoking.”

Washington already charges a fifth-highest-in-the-nation cigarette tax of $20.25 a carton, plus sales tax. This would add $10 per carton to that.

Tom’s bill would steer the additional money into anti-tobacco programs, the state’s general fund, a water quality fund, a violence-reduction and drug-enforcement account, a fund for schools, and anything left over would go to the state’s health services account.

Proponents say the changes would mean nearly $100 million a year in new taxes and would reduce smoking.

 

Attorney General’s office challenges settlement that allowed Jan. 1 Avista rate hike…

The state attorney general’s office says that a Dec. 29 legal settlement between the power utility Avista, state regulators and others contains critical flaws that cost ratepayers millions of dollars more than should be allowed.

The AG’s Public Counsel Section is appealing the deal, today filing a petition for review in superior court in Olympia. If the appeal is successful, a judge could order refunds or order the case back to state regulators for changes.

The deal allowed a 9.1 percent hike in the company’s revenues from electrical rates and 2.4 more from natural gas, according to the Attorney General’s office. Tat’s an additional $37.3 million for electricity and $4.8 million more for gas.

The Public Counsel section had recommended that rates be allowed to increase no more than $24.8 million for electricity and $3.4 million for gas.

The state’s argument:

-that regulators failed to subtract the cost of advertising, charitable donations and some other company expenses from the rate hike,
-that current ratepayers are wrongly being asked to pay $39 million that Avista paid to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe as compensation for the utility’s longtime use of the lake water for power.
-that Avista was allowed to bypass a normal 10-month review process for new rates.

Lunchtime reading for you…

What we’re reading:

-This analysis, by a private think tank called the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, of the differences between House Democrats’ recent cost-cutting plan and a similar proposal from Gov. Chris Gregoire. Researcher Jeff Chapman concludes that the House would reduce the budget by $172 million more than the governor, largely because its plan ignores “maintenance level” changes like counting the 1,700 more students than expected who are enrolling in schools.

-This article in The New Yorker, detailing the views of the worst-case-scenario crowd. Among them: a Russian emigre who sold his Boston apartment and moved onto a sailboat, the better to flee (and trade commodities like apples) in the coming financial apocalypse. The story includes peak-oil folks, fans of gold bullion, Vermont secessionists and an upstate New York author who argues that postwar suburban sprawl will prove a massive national mistake.

-This post, by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly, who argues that the recent election of Spokane’s Sharon Smith as vice chair of the state Democratic Party “signals an increasing presence for Eastern Washington’s Democrats.”

Connelly doesn’t mention the fact that the previous vice chair, Eileen Macoll, lives in Pullman. But he points to two other big Democratic victories east of the Cascades recently: November’s victory for Okanogan’s Peter Goldmark as lands commissioner and, two years earlier, Sen. Chris Marr’s ousting a Republican in a largely suburban Spokane district.

House passes first bills…

Local Reps. Matt Shea and John Driscoll made their opening floor speeches Monday, making the case — although it didn’t have to be made, judging by the unanimous voice vote — for passage of a resolution honoring the state’s National Guard troops.

Shea, a former company commander in the 81st Brigade, recounted the death of one of his soldiers, killed by a 500-pound bomb detonated a few feet from the Sgt. Jeff Shaver’s humvee. He talked about getting a letter shortly after that from the 26-year-old’s fiancee, a woman named Charity. She said she took comfort knowing that he’d found true love before he was killed.

“Charity sacrificed her future husband on the altar of freedom,” said Shea, R-Mead. ” And I think we need to each ask ourselves: what price will we pay?”

Driscoll, D-Spokane, also said he was proud to honor the troops for putting their lives and families on hold out of their sense of duty.

“Our state, our nation and our world is a better place because of what you do,” he said.

House lawmakers on Monday passed their first bills of this year’s legislative session. Among them:

-HB 1049, which lets National Guard veterans tap local relief programs,

-HB 105, which changes the state hiring preference for veterans,

-and HB 1034, which allows more public use of National Guard armories.

Amid recession and friendly fire, lawmakers put shoulder to wheel on school reforms…

In Tuesday morning’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ Trying to launch a big boat in rough waters, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Monday began making the case for a sweeping overhaul of Washington’s education system.

“All in all, we think this is the first comprehensive reform of the public education system in at least three decades,” said Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island.

Lawmakers began a full-court press for the bill Monday, with the first of several hearings.

Mary Jean Ryan, chairwoman of the state board of education, called Senate Bill 5444 landmark legislation that “offers a way out of the cellar of national education statistics in which we find ourselves.”

The plan, hashed out in many hearings last year, would:
-more broadly define basic education and commit the state to paying for it,
-dramatically rewrite how teachers are paid and trained,
-boost from 19 to 24 the number of credits needed for high school graduation,
-boost the number of state-paid classes in high school from 5 a day to 6,
-and add help for low-income schools and students learning English.

Supporters say the changes would mean higher pay for teachers, billions of dollars more for schools, and the state – instead of local school district taxpayers — covering far more of the cost of education. Ultimately, they estimate, the proposal would mean about 50 percent more money for Washington’s schools. But many of the changes wouldn’t start until 2011, and even then, would be phased in over six years.

“Getting the structural changes in place is much more important than getting a specific (budget) number this year,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina. The state, he said, can start adding money as the economy improves. “You’re not trying to just put more money into the system. You’re trying to change how the system works.”

Trying to boost school spending 50 percent during a deep recession, said, Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, “doesn’t meet the straight face test.”

The proposal faces stiff competition from a competing plan backed by the associations representing school principles, teachers, administrators, non-teaching school staffers, and school

House Democrats propose more than $600 million in cuts for the next six months…

House Democrats have just released a 48 page list of budget cuts that they say will save $640 million by June 30,2009.

Among them: less spending on nursing homes, local mental health treatment and hospitals.

“We know there is going to be significant pain as a result of actions we’re going to have to take, House Ways and Means committee chairwoman Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said in a written statement.

Here’s the list.

How the neighbors are doing…

CNN has an interesting map up this morning, showing unemployment rates by state.

The upshot: We’re no Wyoming or North Dakota (when did you last hear that?), but Washington’s still doing the best on the West Coast.

Of bacon, longhorns and seaweed-eating sheep…

Here’s the quiz:

a) Where does the cattle-calling nickname “Bossy” come from?
b) Why is bacon not so tasty anymore?
c) And what is the world’s only seaweed-eating sheep?

Find out all this — and much, much more — in three minutes of testimony by Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle.

Driven by the same impulse that leads gardeners to cultivate old “heirloom” tomato varieties (among them: Mike Gregoire), Jacobsen is proposing a state recognition program for “heritage livestock and poultry breeds.”

From the notebook…

“At this very moment, we’re not losing anybody, because where would you go?”
          -Attorney General Rob McKenna, telling a state salary commission that he’d like to pay his lawyers more, but that the recession has curtailed turnover for now.

“I’ve never been flipped off more times in my life.”
          -new state Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, recalling what it was like to stand at an intersection waving signs during the campaign.

From the bill pile…

…comes this one, one of several dozen from Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle:

Senate Bill 5520: “An act relating to requiring agencies to provide truthful information to legislators.”

McCaslin: Keep the prosecution clock ticking on scam artists…

Sen. Bob McCaslin’s Senate Bill 5380 would keep the clock ticking longer for prosecution of thieves preying on the elderly.

As things stand now, the statute of limitations expires six years after the crime is committed. In caes where the thief tries to conceal the crime — who doesn’t? — McCaslin wants to keep the clock ticking to the time that the theft is discovered.

“People might not even know they’ve been swindled for years,” he said.

What we’re reading…

This story, from the New York Times, notes Great Britain’s diversity of unintentionally naughty place names, starting with a matter-of-fact resident of Crapstone and moving on to, well, Butt Hole Road. The latter being a reference to a barrel, thank you very much.

It’s a great story — the most popular one on the NYT website today —  and I’m posting it on a Saturday so you can read it at home, and not set off any alarm bells in your IT department.

 

Troopers boost drunken-driving patrols for the Superbowl…

Fair warning: The Washington State Patrol is boosting patrols this weekend in order to crack down on drunken Superbowl fans who get behind the wheel. In Spokane, they’re teaming up with Idaho and Montana troopers for a three-state sweep.

“We don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun,” Chief John Batiste said in a press release. “But getting in a collision is not the way to celebrate a major sporting event.”

Higher ed: Cut us and it’ll cost ya…

Go to any budget committee in Olympia and it will quickly become apparent that the near-universal argument for anyone seeking state money is this:

“Spend on this worthy program now. You’ll save money down the road.”

At the moment, some of the bigger voices in this chorus come from the state’s colleges. The state Higher Education Coordinating Board on Thursday released a report saying, in essence, that the colleges should be spared severe cuts because they’re so valuable. It’s title: “The Benefits of Investing in Higher Education: A Return on Investment.”

The board, recalling previous downturns, is clearly trying to head off deep cuts combined with big tuition hikes.

Eollege-educated people earn more money, pay more taxes, commit less crime, volunteer more and vote more, the HEC Board notes. Parents without a college degree, it says, use food stamps and welfare more. The colleges also “serve as incubators for growth and innovation” and provide a steady supply of trained workers, the report says.

Instead of cuts, the study suggests that the state should put more money into colleges now. The federal government, through the G.I. Bill, poured money and students into schools in 1946, at a time when the nation feared a fall into recession.

And it’s not just the graduating students. The report pointedly notes that Eastern Washington University’s payroll, for example, means $77 million in spending in Spokane County. (2004 figures.)

State’s biggest business group to lawmakers: Step away from the $4 billion unemployment trust fund…

As lawmakers plan to tap the state’s $4 billion unemployment insurance trust fund, the state’s biggest business group is trying to stop the train.

In a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire recently, Association of Washington Business President Don Brunell said nobody knows how bad unemployment is going to get, and that tapping the money for things other than unemployment checks “is a risk not worth taking.”

Democratic legislative leaders say the fund is the healthiest in the nation. They’ve said they’d like to dip into it to boost benefits, perhaps $45 a week. That would cost about $200 million over the next two years. AWB objects to this, spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said, for fear of draining the fund faster than it should be in tough times.

Lawmakers have also floated the idea of using another $200 million from the fund to pay for a new tax break for businesses, or of using some of the money for job training. AWB thinks that, too, is a bad idea.

According to Brunell, Washington businesses pay the second-highest unemployment rates in America: $637 per worker, compared to a national average of $281. He also points to California, which is trying to borrow money to replenish its dwindling unemployment coffers.

“Other states are in similarly dire circumstances,” Brunell wrote. “We do not want to join them.”

School-library advocates continue to lobby like the pros…

“We need to pack the gallery! East siders, don’t make the trek yet — we’ll let you know when to pull out the stops. West siders, please stand in for us.”

-part of a memo from school-library advocates backing HB 1410, a 111-page bill spelling out the basic educational components that lawmakers commit to paying for. The advocates — three Spokane-area mothers — pushed hard last year and won extra money from the legislature for school libraries and librarians.

Brandland: add teachers to the state health plan…

Saying it would probably save money for schools, teachers and state government, Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, wants to put school employees onto the state health plans.

Schools would pay the same rate that state agencies do to cover their employees.

As things stand now, Brandland says, schools spend a large chunk of their local property-tax levy dollars to buy health coverage. And he says the state plans “are generally more affordable” than what school districts offer. (See below.)

As for the state, it would get a larger pool of employees, giving it more bargaining leverage with insurers and hopefully boosting economies of scale.

State rates for medical and dental coverage in Spokane County:
-Individual: $25 to $112 per month
-Entire family: $79 to $318 per month

Rates for other areas are here.

Gregoire pushes ahead with anti-global-warming proposal; rural lawmakers call it “fanatical”

Interesting exchange this morning between rural Republican lawmakers and state Department of Ecology head Jay Manning, who was describing Washington’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative, which targets global warming.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, is one of several rural lawmakers who are extremely leery of the proposal. He doesn’t want Democrats’ big focus on “green jobs,” he said, to come at the cost of blue-collar jobs.

Manning suggested that the risk of global warming to the region’s forests — increased insect damage is widely believed to be due to warmer winters — will hurt Kretz’s constituents more than anyone.

“The fire risk we will be facing is very different and very much greater than anything we’ve faced before,” said Manning.

And he suggested…

Dismay…

Only the second week of session, and already my desk looks like this.

Republicans blame Democrats for ramping up spending, Seattle senator blames Tim Eyman for starving government…

Republicans blame Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democratic lawmakers for the state’s budget mess. Gregoire and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown blame the Bush Administration.

Add another to the mix: state Sen. Adam Kline blames initiative pitchman Tim Eyman. From Kline’s Senate blog:

My last post spoke of the magnitude of our budget shortfall. I’ll talk about why we find ourselves in this terrible situation. A succession of Tim Eyman-inspired tax cutting initiatives made our cities, counties and the state extremely vulnerable to this nation-wide economic downturn.

He cites Eyman’s I-695, which — with a big assist from then-Gov. Gary Locke and state lawmakers — largely did away what Kline says was the state’s only progressive tax: the pay-more-for-an-expensive-car license tab fee. The came property tax limits (I-722 and 747).

Guess what? We’re now taking in so little revenue that we can no longer afford the services that are among the core missions of any government.

Kline writes. Now — courtesy Eyman’s I-960 and a predecessor — lawmakers wanting to increase taxes to keep key government services going have two choices. They can muster a two-thirds vote from state lawmakers — which is unlikely — or they can ask voters statewide to approve the increase. Kline continues:

We would have to go easy because most folks in Washington are experiencing their own budget crises….As the price for my vote to raise taxes, I would insist that we not just raise some existing tax, but literally overhaul our tax structure and aim the tax directly at the discretionary income of wealthy people.  Under our current post-Eyman tax structure, the wealthy escape taxation to a distressing degree.

Pine Lodge gets a reprieve, at least…

Officials at the state Department of Corrections are backing away, at least for now, from a plan to close the only women’s prison east of the Cascades: Pine Lodge.

S-R writer Lisa Leinberger has the story. From it:

The Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women may not close next year as previously announced by the Department of Corrections.

Superintendent Walker Morton of the facility reassured the Medical Lake City Council as well as many of the facility’s employees who attended the council meeting intending to rally support to keep the center open.

“It has been reported that this is part of the governor’s budget plan to reduce spending due to the revenue shortfall,” Eldon Vail, secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, said in an e-mail to Morton. “Based on the questions raised by Pine Lodge Superintendent Morton Walker (sic) and his staff, we have decided and are announcing that our previous decision to close Pine Lodge was premature.”

The e-mail went on to explain that the state will undertake a cost/benefit study before any final decision is made and the number of inmates the DOC may be required to house may change as well.

Supremes on public records…

Justice Debra Stephens writes the majority opinion this morning in a public records case out of the state Supreme Court. Rules for the requestor in a complex case. Justice Barbara Madsen dissented, saying the ruling would upset a delicate balance between penalties for violators and misuse of the records act.

Would post more, but too much going on this a.m.

Hat tip: EFF.

Not a surprise, but now it’s official: Seattle P-I files notice with state for 181-person layoff

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has filed paperwork with the state Employment Security Department officially notifying state officials that it intends to permanently lay off 181 employees March 18th.

Lisa Brown: An early contender for the 2012 governor’s race?

From my weekly column:

OLYMPIA _ The last person to make the jump from Eastern Washington to the governor’s mansion was a Democrat who, in tough times, argued for public spending to help stabilize the economy.

That was Clarence Martin, seven decades ago. But Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown may be hoping that history repeats itself.

Brown, a Democrat from Spokane, recently told the Seattle Times that although she hadn’t made a decision yet, she’s considering running for governor in 2012.

A spokesman for Brown subsequently said she wouldn’t elaborate on the comment. And Gov. Chris Gregoire, just starting her second term, has given no public indication of her plans.

If Brown does run, though, it wouldn’t be a big surprise. She’s been in the statehouse for more than 16 years, rising from local activist to become the Senate’s chief budget writer and Majority Leader.

Eastern Washington candidates have to work harder to win over Puget Sound voters, certainly. But fellow Democrat Peter Goldmark in November proved it’s not impossible. Goldmark blended his rancher roots with an alliance of Puget Sound environmentalists and political donors to oust Republican Doug Sutherland as the state’s commissioner of public lands.

Brown’s also built some Puget Sound credibility, particularly on high-profile things like transportation.

“Now I can debate the merits of viaduct proposals, 520 alignments, Sound Transit and RTID merits and demerits from a West Seattle, Belltown or Bellevue perspective,” she said in a recent post on her Senate blog.

“She’s smart, she has academic credentials, political experience – and she’s a woman,” said Sen. Bob McCaslin, ticking off Brown’s strengths in Washington’s political climate. Among Democrats, he said, “she’s got as good a chance as anyone.”

Brown would be a strong candidate and formidable fundraiser, said state GOP chairman and former Senate colleague Luke Esser. But he said he thinks Brown is too liberal to win.

“I think you’d be hard-pressed to name me one major issue where she’s right of center by even one degree,” said Esser. While her record plays well in Brown’s central Spokane legislative district, he said, “I’m not sure it plays very well statewide.”

Stay tuned.

Dairy Day takes on new meaning…

From former colleague Jim Hagengruber, now at the Christian Science Monitor:

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Protesters hurled dairy products and rage at their elected leaders here during increasingly violent demonstrations this week over the handling of the country’s collapsing economy.

Parliament was suspended Wednesday and the prime minister’s limousine was attacked with snowballs and eggs…

 

And none for judges either…

A push to give judges a 2 percent pay raise next year died, 6 votes to 8, so the salary commission is recommending no raises for any state elected officials for the next two years.

Next up: hearings around the state. But with most state officials saying “no raise, please,” it’s pretty hard to imagine a groundswell of recession-saddled citizens flooding the hearings to insist that taxpayers be allowed to pay politicians more. Final decision: May.

No raises recommended for most state elected officials for the next two years…

That, unanimously, is the recommendation of the Washingon Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.

The group, voting minutes ago, agreed to freeze salaries for executive branch and legislative branch elected officials. A final decision’s due in May, after public hearings.

They’re still voting on judges’ salaries. A proposal for no increase this year and a 2 percent increase next year for judges just failed.

No raises, thanks, most elected officials say. But new schools chief says the $121k salary’s not enough to draw top-tier candidates…

Yesterday and today, the state commission that sets salaries for elected officials has been meeting at a hotel in downtown Olympia.

So far, most of the politicians who’ve testified have said there should be no raises over the next two years, seeing as how Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed no cost-of-living increases for state workers and teachers.

One exception: newly elected state school superintendent Randy Dorn.

Dorn, who’s trying to hire staff for his office now, this morning stopped short of explicitly calling for more money. But he strongly hinted that the $121,000-a-year salary isn’t enough to keep attracting top talent to the public position.

By comparison, he said, 121 of the school superintendents across Washington are paid more than he is. The top 20 or so make considerably more — $200,000 or more, he said.

As he tries to hire people, he said, he’s finding that school district administrators typically are paid 15 percent to 25 percent more than the state pays school administators in his office. 

Dorn said he personally took a $25,000 pay cut to become state school superintendent. (He was the head of a union representing public school support staff.)

He said he knew that when he chose to run. But he said his employer was unusual in letting him keep his job while campaigning nearly full time. Most employers wouldn’t, he said. And that’s especially true for the top-rank pool of school superintendents. Why would they give up a year of their life to campaign, Dorn said, “and then take a $75,000 cut in pay?”

“How do you get quality people into the position? I think you’re going to have to make it more attractive than it is,” he said.


Today: Potato Day

Today is Potato Day, a popular day, when growers descend on Olympia to hand out hundreds of baked potatoes to lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists and whoever else is around. Also popular: Dairy Day, which tends to involve free ice cream.

Large anti-abortion rally at capitol…

Forgot to post this before going home last night:

More than 4,000 people crowded the Washington state Capitol steps Tuesday to decry abortion.

“Let’s make sure the Supreme Court can hear all of us today,” newly elected state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Mead, said. He dismissed the dozen counter-demonstrators on the state Supreme Court steps as “static” and led the crowd in a chant: “Life, life, life, life!”

Organizers have long held annual anti-abortion rallies at the Capitol, but Tuesday’s gathering was the largest in recent years. Buses crowded the Capitol lawn, and the crowd spilled over the Capitol steps. Many people came with church groups.

“If your neighbor is thinking about abortion, talk her out of it,” said state Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace. “… Because the economy’s in the tank, the abortion problem is going to get worse unless we work to prevent that.”

At Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest, public policy director Jet Tilley said she’s not anticipating any major efforts to restrict abortion in the statehouse this year.

“We have a pretty solidly pro-choice House and Senate,” she said. The main issue, she said, will be trying to protect funding for family planning. It’s particularly critical in rural parts of the state far from other health care, she said.

“We’re really looking to protect patients and protect the family planning safety net,” she said.

Also speaking at Tuesday’s rally was new state Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy. She recounted the story of a woman who kept a child even though the doctor said the baby probably wouldn’t live.

“That young mother is now my mother-in-law,” Short said, and the baby is her husband, Mitch.

Across a small lawn, the dozen abortion rights demonstrators shouted back at the crowd.

“I love my rights!” they chanted.

“If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one,” one woman said.

From “Most Uncomfortable Moments in Interviews, 2009 edition”…

This from Blatherwatch: Apparently a KIRO radio interviewer, in the middle of an inauguration-day chat with the governor, asked her if she’d prepped for the event with a shot of Botox.

Click on the link for the full account.

For those wanting a historic souvenir: How to get a flag flying over the state capitol today…

In honor of the inauguration of President Obama, Washington state’s Secretary of State is selling U.S. flags that are being flown at the state capitol today. (Yup, there’s some person who’s going to be busy hauling flags up and down all day. Really.)

You can buy the 3-foot by 5-foot flags for $14 if you pick them up at the Secretary of State’s front desk, or they’ll mail you one for $17.25.

“People just snatch them up,” said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed. Each comes with a certificate, state seal, and Reed’s signature. Any proceeds go to thestate capitol historical furnishings fund.

If you’re interested, call Suzette Black at (360) 902-4151.

Presidential inauguration: the view from the state capitol…

The capitol rotunda and hallways were like a ghost town this morning, as staffers and lawmakers crowded around TVs to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

In the darkened state Senate, about a dozen lawmakers sat at their desks, peering up at a big-screen projection on the wall. Up in the public galleries overhead, dozens of visitors also watched in silence.

Below, in the Democratic caucus room, exuberant senators laughed as Chief Justice John Roberts and Obama stumbled over the oath of office. Then they cheered.

“I think we’re entering a more hopeful period,” said Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. As he watched the nation’s first African-American president sworn in, Marr said, he thought of the racial dark days of the OJ verdict and Rodney King beating.

“To think that we would stand up this day a few short years later is pretty amazing,” he said.

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, watched in his office.

“I had a little lump in my throat for those who’d worked so hard otherwise,” he said of the Democratic president’s victory. “It would have been more joyful the other way.”

In the House Republican caucus room, beneath portraits of Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, a few lawmakers and staffers sat in silence, watching a projection TV. Nobody spoke.

Across the chamber, people were crammed into the standing-room-only House Democratic caucus room, where a sheet cake waited on a staffer’s desk. “Go Obama!” it read.

Lawmakers, some wiping away tears of happiness, looked up at the screen. Outside, a toddler squealed with delight and wheeled a stroller around the abandoned floor of the House of Representatives.

What’s Dorn planning to do with the WASL? Here are some hints…

Speaking of new state school superintendent Randy Dorn, he sent out an interesting invitation recently, saying that tomorrow he’ll unveil his plans for the controversial Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

Dorn was a state lawmaker when the original law passed, launching the WASL. But throughout last year’s campaign, he’s said that the intent of the law wasn’t the sort of expensive, high-stakes albatross that many teachers and parents see the test as today. Teachers have long complained that the grading takes so long that they don’t get the results until far too late to help struggling students.

From the press release:

In recent years, a consensus has developed within the state Legislature and the public that changes to the assessment system are needed. A less complex and more responsive system of measuring students’ progress is critical to help them achieve the basic skills they need.
 
While the WASL will be administered as planned in 2009, by spring 2010 the state assessment – including its name – will change and resemble what lawmakers, educators and the public want, Dorn said.

I caught up with Dorn in a Senate hallway this afternoon. He was reluctant to say much, but it sounds like he wants a computerized test that can provide results within a 30-day window, so that teachers can use the results to tailor their instruction for individual students.

“We can make it shorter, we can make it diagnostic, we can hook it up to technology, and then (shorten) the turnaround time, so teachers can use it as a tool,” he said.

More Wednesday on this.

Dorn opens with tough talk to lawmakers…

Newly elected state superintendent of public instruction Randy Dorn threw down the gauntlet on school funding Monday in his inaugural appearance before the state Senate education committee.

Money for schools must come first, Dorn told them:

“We’ve really never matched up the standards and how you fund education…I will be reminding the legislators that the number one, primary, paramount duty you have is to fund education. That doesn’t mean kinda number one, close to the top, it means beyond the top and out in front of everything else that you look at. That has to be your number one priority.

“That is a hard shift because there’s many many things that come to view that just strike you that we’ve got to do something about that. And it’s hard to place education absolutely above everything else. But you don’t have that choice. Your constitution says — and you take an oath of office — that you will follow that. So that’s what has to create all the decision-making…that’s where the funding has to be.

The lawmakers showed little reaction. Some shuffled papers; others gazed, showing no emotion, straight at Dorn.

Committee chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe said the budget remains a reality, and she wants input from Dorn to help lawmakers face the challenge.

“I’m asking you if you could help us, prior to seeing budgets released, could you give some input?” she said. “Because I think that’s critically important that you take this opportunity between now and a few weeks to kind of let us know, in this budget crisis, what would you do?

“I know you said it’s the number one priority,” she continued, “but we’ll take some share, you know that. While we will protect basic education, as we should. That is the paramount duty.”

Funeral homes, cemeteries unenthusiastic about Jacobsen’s buried-with-your-pets proposal…

From tomorrow’s paper:

On Monday, while many people had a day off, state Sen. Ken Jacobsen was facing a state Senate committee, trying to convince his fellow lawmakers to let people be buried with their pets.

He’s absolutely serious. The idea to him a couple of years ago, when his beloved, 23-pound cat Sam died from cancer.

“I asked the kids to bury him in the back yard and I told them that when I’m ready to go, I’d like to take Sam with me,” said Jacobsen, 63. “Because he really was one of my best friends.”

The buried-with-your-pet proposal is one of 46 so far this year from Jacobsen, a Seattle Democrat who tends to be the legislature’s most prolific filer of bills. Barely a week into this year’s legislative session, Jacobsen has proposed an airline passenger’s bill of rights, allowing pet dogs in bars, designating a state oak tree, and giving tax breaks to taverns that install on-site breathalyzers.

Last year, he lobbied unsuccessfully to restore a centuries-old tradition of outfitting the state poet — yes, there is one — with a large barrel of wine. This year, he wants to hire a state bird-watching expert, and to declare the marmot Washington’s official “endemic mammal.”

Jacobsen says his proposals may be quirky, but that they’re not frivolous. If a good idea strikes him, he says, it’s his job as an elected official to throw it into the mix.

“It’s that theory of chaos,” he said. “You put things on the table and you never know what the interactions are going to be.” And he welcomes ideas, holding court regularly with constituents at a local Burgermaster.

Sometimes, Jacobsen said, what sound like wacky ideas are actually trendsetters. In the mid-80s, for example, he was mocked for championing state labeling of organic food.

“When I started the first time, I was treated like I was talking about kinky sex,” he said.

The bill that’s raised the most eyebrows this year…

Anti-poverty groups rally at capitol…

About 300 people from anti-poverty groups and other organizations held a rally on the capitol steps Monday afternoon. They called for restrictions on payday lending, more health care, and preservation of the General Assistance to the Unemployable program, which provides health coverage and monthly stipends of $339 to people who cannot hold a job, often due to mental health problems.

Who greets the legislative session each January with glee?

Restaurants, florists, and the city of Olympia’s traffic-fine fund.

New Washington political website…

From the folks who brought you Horse’s Ass, it’s “Publicola, the Washington news elixir.”

From HA founder David Goldstein:

“The sudden collapse of our local news industry and the resulting mass exodus of political reporters is a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who believe that maintaining a vibrant Fourth Estate is absolutely critical to maintaining a vibrant democracy… but… well… every crisis also presents an opportunity.

That’s why I’m pleased to be playing my part in the launch of Publicola, Washington state’s newest news and opinion site.  Largely the editorial creation of former Stranger news editor Josh Feit, Publicola strives to help fill the void in state political reporting, while providing the kind of fresh writing and analysis online readers demand…”

Don Cox returning to Olympia…

Former state Rep. Don Cox, who stepped down two years ago, is headed back to Olympia.

County commissioners from the 9th Legislative District today chose Cox to replace Rep. Steve Hailey, who died Dec. 28th after a year-long battle with colon cancer.

Cox, 69, was almost immediately sworn in by Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Frazier. He officially became a member of the legislature about 90 minutes ago.

A Whitworth and WSU grad, Cox served in the Legislature from 1999 through 2006. His 35 year career in education —  Colfax school superintendent, teacher, counselor, school administrator, associate professor at WSU — quickly made him a GOP point person on K-12 education and higher education in the House. Likely committee appointments for him this session: the House education committee, education appropriations, and transportation.

 ”I know he will remain a tireless advocate for education, agriculture and fiscally sound government,” state GOP chairman Luke Esser said.

This ain’t the Great Depression, Senate’s chief of staff says…

Rich Nafziger, the chief of staff for state Senate Democrats and a longtime Olympia school board member, has a personal blog that’s heavy on ruminations about the economy and the times.

In this recent post, Nafziger argues that “there are at least four good reasons to be optimistic.”

Among them: policy makers have far more economic tools to stave off a collapse. (As if to underscore this point: As I write this, state regulators are declaring the Bank of Clark County insolvent and appointing the FDIC to settle the bank’s accounts.)

Nafziger predicts that growth will resume “by mid-summer.” But click on the link and read the whole thing. You’ll feel a little better.

UPDATE: Yes this is a depression, says Sen. Pam Roach.

House budget writer: “potentially some kind of tax package”…

From TVW’s Inside Olympia program, here’s House budget chairwoman Kelli Linville and Sen. Joe Zarelli, making predictions about how the session will go.

“I’ll predict right now that there will be potentially some kind of tax package,” Linville says.

Hat tip: TVW’s Niki Sullivan.


No smoking in cars with kids and other proposals in the early legislative mix…

Yeah, it’s all about the budget this year, but there’s some interesting — if short-lived — stuff going on in the margins:

Wary Christmas: Just weeks after the contentious battle-of-the-holiday-placards between Christians and an atheist group in the state capitol’s third floor, Rep. Jim McCune, R-Graham, has introduced House Bill 1301, which would declare any conifer erected in the capitol rotunda during December to be “the official Christmas tree of the state of Washington.” 
Remember your mailbox in October? Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, wants to require anyone mailing out a political ad to file a copy with the archives. (SB 5096)
Airline passengers’ bill of rights:
Jacobsen also wants to require airlines to provide food, water and clean bathrooms to people stuck on the ground in planes. He also wants to create a new state “airline consumer advocate” to investigate complains and seek refunds of up to $1,000 per person. (SE 5068)
Moles beware:
In the latest round of a long dispute between ranchers struggling with coyotes and suburban homeowners dismayed at lawn damage, Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, wants to create an exception to the state’s anti-trapping law. Under Senate Bill 5123, traps used to kill moles would be declared OK.
-Driving in a cloud: Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, wants to make it illegal to smoke in a car containing anyone under the age of 18. (HB 1151)
-Best Friends Forever: Jacobsen’s SB 5063 would allow people to have their deceased pets buried alongside them in the family’s cemetery plot. (No horses, though – the bill only covers dogs and cats.)
The Birdman of Olympia:
Washington already has a state climatologist and a state poet. Jacobsen – an avid fan of bird-watching – thinks it’s time we had a state ornithologist. Among this person’s tasks: helping teach the public about bird-feeding and designing bird-friendly yards. (SB 5066)
-Kids in cars
: Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, wants to make it illegal to leave a child under 12 in an unattended car. (This is already illegal for anyone under 16 if the engine is running.) A second violation would be a misdemeanor. (Senate Bill 5126.)
-Hold the bags: Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, wants to ban free shopping bags unless they’re compostable, recyclable or thick and reuseable. (HB 1189)
-But paper bags are OK: Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and other timber-area lawmakers want to ban cities and counties from trying to charge shoppers for a bag – so long as it’s made of paper. (HB 1154)
-Hold the art: Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and half a dozen mostly-Republican lawmakers have proposed a two-year break from the public building requirement that half of 1 percent of the project’s cost be spent on art. (SB 5163).
-A state income tax: Entitled “An Act Relating to Fiscal Reform,” Senate Bill 5104 would set up a state income tax ranging from 2.2 percent to 6 percent, with the highest rate applying to anyone with taxable income of more than about $60,000 a year. The proposal comes from Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. The change would require that voters also agree to amend the state constitution, which Franklin included in a separate measure, SJR 8205.
-Hiking brightly: Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, wants to require all hikers in recreation areas to wear bright orange clothing during hunting season. Hikers in regular clothes would be subject to a fine. (HB 1116)

Behold the gentle marmot…

Speaking of Jacobsen’s bills, he’s also back with a proposal to declare the Olympic marmot the official “state endemic mammal.”

The bill describes the creatures in language similar to how my onetime neighbors in Coeur d’Alene used to describe Californians:

Olympic marmots hibernate from September to May. During the morning and afternoon on summer days they feed and spend time sunbathing on rocks. In the evening, they return to their burrow. Olympic marmots are relatively easy to see during the summer months along Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. Olympic marmots eat herbs, grasses, and flowers. They prefer plants that are soft and easy to digest. They may also eat fruits, legumes, and insects.

Olympic marmots are highly social and may live in groups of over a dozen animals. Gregarious bonds are made between individuals in a family. Olympic marmots identify each other by touching noses and smelling cheeks.

Alas, it remains unclear that this will be the Year of the Marmot in Olympia. An identical proposal failed to pass last year.

OK, this is madness…

All 31 of Washington’s Democratic state senators now have their own blogs.

Dogs in bars is back…

Among Sen. Ken Jacobsen’s 46 bills so far in this first week of the legislative session is Senate Bill 5192, Jacobsen’s second attempt at changing state law to allow anyone to bring their dog into a bar.

Under the proposal, owners of taverns, pubs, bars, etc. would be free to “allow well-behaved, leashed dogs accompanied by their owners” to patronize the establishment.

Shades of “Escape from New York”…

State Rep. Al O’Brien, the lawmaker who brought up the pistol-bullet-registration bill referenced in the post below, also wants the state to look into whether it can implant chips into the bodies of sex offenders in order to track them.

From House Bill 1142, which calls for:

(b) An identification of the ways in which current subcutaneous radio frequency identification technology may be used to electronically monitor sex offenders, including an evaluation of the costs and benefits of using the technology compared to the costs and benefits of methods currently being used to monitor sex offenders;

Hat tip: Joe Turner.

SB 6900 continues to get more mileage than a Prius…

One of Democrats’ greatest gifts to Republican lawmakers in recent years was Senate Bill 6900, a 2008 proposal for an engine displacement tax. It went nowhere — didn’t even get a hearing — but continues to live on in the blogosphere. 

On WashingtonVotes.org, the bill continues to be one of the top 3 most-viewed bills, right up there with the similarly go-nowhere HB 3359 (requiring registration for pistol ammunition) and this year’s early offering: SB 5104 to create a state income tax. (Of 147 lawmakers, SB 5104 has only a single sponsor.)

The specter of paying $325 a year displacement tax for that 350 under the hood has been a sure-fire torches-and-pitchforks line for rural Republicans, some of whom delighted in touting the (dead) bill in town meetings and newsletters.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” one said.

McGann’s gone…

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s print edition disappears in two months, but it’s capitol reporter is disappearing now. P-I writer Chris McGann has quit to take a job as communications director for newly elected state treasurer Jim McIntire.

The statewide list…

Click on the link below to see the long list of projects across the state. (I’ll have a pdf link up soon.)

Gregoire economic stimulus plan: the details:

Trying to kick-start the state’s lagging economy, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday unveiled a $1.2 billion proposal that includes more than $90 million in buildings at Spokane-area colleges, repaving local highways, and $15 million more for the North Spokane Corridor.
“We can quickly create thousands of new jobs this year and next by accelerating nearly $1 billion in public works projects,” the governor said in a written statement. “The plan will create a legacy of roads, schools and green-collar jobs to thrust our state firmly into the 21st century.”
The plan includes $427 million in construction projects that Gregoire says are ready to break ground within the next few months, if lawmakers approve. She also wants to spend another $390 million on ready-to-go transportation projects.
The plan — plus the 1,400 state-funded transportation projects already underway – will mean about 20,000 new jobs over the next two years, the governor said.
About a third of the money — $400 million — would come from Washington’s $4 billion unemployment insurance trust fund, which Gregoire’s office said yesterday could pay 20 months of unemployment checks.
Those checks currently top out at $541 a week; Gregoire wants to add $45 to that. She also wants to tap the unemployment fund to pay for “a temporary, across-the-board tax reduction” for employers.
-Gregoire also wants to:
-expand eligibility for training benefits, a stipend that unemployed people can get while retraining or going to school. As things stand now, the benefits are typically available only to dislocated wokers. Gregoire wants to allow such payments for disabled workers, veterans and low-income people.
-expand the “shared work” program, which pays unemployment benefits to workers whose hours have been reduced, but who are still on the job.
-perhaps make broader changes, including more worker benefits and permanent tax reductions for businesses.
Gregoire’s plan comes as Democrats in Congress are finalizing their own, much-larger economic stimulus plan. The $850 billion federal plan is expected to include $300 billion in tax cuts. Among the proposals: a $3,000 tax credit for businesses that create or preserve jobs.
From Gregoire’s project list: (click on link below)

Republican reaction to Gregoire…

Mixed reviews from the GOP side of the aisle to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s call for an economic stimulus plan, government reform and other changes this year:

“This is a financial wreck that she spent four years creating, and then to be shocked when it comes due is a little scary for me. We’ve been saying for 3-4 years this would be a wreck.” (Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda)

“I’m excited to look at these things, but the proof’s in the pudding.” (Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax)

“This session can’t be about platitudes and it can’t be about slogans. It has to be about real solutions.” (Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis) (In fairness, this line is becoming a bit of a slogan in itself. It’s at least the second time DeBolt’s used this line in news conferences.)

Teachers greet governor with inauguration day call for better school funding…

Shortly before Gov. Chris Gregoire’s inauguration day speech today, hundreds of teachers, parents and school officials held a rally just across the street.

Their message: despite the state’s budget shortfall — which Sen. Joe Zarelli on Wednesday suggested could rise to $7.5 billion over the next two years — education is not the place to cut.

“We’re not here for us,” one organizer said. “We’re here for the kids.”

The president of the state teachers’ union, Mary Lindquist, reminded the crowd of a similar rally held on the same ground, same day, 6 years ago. Some things, like who’s governor, have changed since then, she noted.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed is that our classrooms are still underfunded and our students are still not getting the resources they need for their future,” Lindquist said.

She blasted those who suggest that, given the state’s economic crisis, schools should be happy with the money they’re getting.

“Those people are wrong,” she said. “We must say to them that this is the best time to invest in education.”

She urged teachers and school advocates to make sure Olympia hears that message.

“You have staked a righteous place to plant your feet and stand firm,” she told the crowd.

Look for lots more demonstrations — state workers, teachers, advocates for the poor — in the coming weeks.

Stuff we’re reading…

From Joshua Green’s profile in The Atlantic of New York Sen. Chuck Schumer:

He attributes his success these past four years to a small but critical insight into the nature of the American middle class: namely, that it is more affluent and doesn’t want the same things from government as does the “middle class” as normally conceived by politicians, policy makers, and academics. Schumer sees this group as the key to the electoral balance of power, and believes he has figured out how to reach it.

Working-class families, Schumer argues, can earn significantly above the median household income of $48,000 and still be facing middle-class struggles.

This has important policy implications, because most of these households don’t qualify for the government programs Democrats are likeliest to bring up. “People who make $80,000 a year expect to be solidly middle class,” Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor whose studies of the middle class have strongly influenced Schumer, told me. “They’re making more than their parents did, but they also work harder and they’re much less secure—laying out a king’s ransom to buy a house where they feel they need to live for their kids to get a good education. That’s a wholly different set of issues than living on the margin of poverty.” These are the people Schumer says Democrats need to help. “Too often, the focus is on the top 10 percent, who don’t need it, or the bottom 10 percent,” Schumer says. “The broad middle is forgotten.”


 

Gregoire calls for courage, jobs and reform

Calling it “our time to show courage,” Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday urged lawmakers to back her plan to create 20,000 new jobs, boost unemployment benefits, and use the economic crisis to forge a more nimble state government.

“When this recession ends, and it will end, we must be ready for a new economy,” Gregoire told cheering state legislators at the capitol.

The economic crisis is hitting the state hard, she said, calling it “the most difficult and trying times maybe since the Great Depression.” Families are struggling with bills, businesses are trying to keep their doors open, and unemployment claims last month were up 75 percent over the same time last year.

But the state cannot just ride out the hard times and return to business as usual, Gregoire said. By planning well and making tough decisions now, she said, state government can “lay a platform for a better tomorrow.”

Her plan includes:

-a roads and transportation plan that Gregoire says will create 20,000 new jobs and spawn a “green economy” for the future. The state should tap Washington’s healthy unemployment fund for better benefits. She also indicated that a tax break for business is in the works, although she didn’t provide details.

-a balanced state budget that focuses on basic needs, like protecting children, schools and colleges, public safety, the environment and the economy.

-reforming state government, doing away with decades of layered-on bureaucracy in favor of a more responsive system.

It could be worse…

In case it’s needed, here’s another entry for your “Jobs Worse Than Mine” file:

“Feces-throwing monkey on the loose in Tampa Bay.”

From dogs in bars to cats in graves…

Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, known for his many (and often quirky) bills, wants to change state law to allow people to be buried with their pets.

The Times has the story.

Senate Democrats plan…

From the print paper:

OLYMPIA – Trying to spark job growth, Democrats in Washington’s state Senate on Tuesday proposed a “middle-class jobs package” focused on retraining, environmental jobs and building infrastructure such as statewide high-speed Internet access.

“We believe our first job is about jobs,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

She said the proposal could spawn 25,000 new jobs in Washington over the next two years. It’s designed to work in conjunction with a similar federal stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.

Republicans are skeptical of the plan, saying it doesn’t offer Main Street employers much help.

“It’s a lot easier to preserve jobs than to create them,” said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, “and Senate Republicans would have emphasized that point had we been invited to help develop this package.”

The Senate plan is the first of at least three economic stimulus proposals from Olympia in the next month. Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to unveil her plan Thursday. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives say they’ll offer their own plan within a few weeks.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said the goal of the Senate plan is to foster a climate in which workers are well-trained and businesses can thrive. Innovation and job-creating breakthroughs typically comes from small, entrepreneurial companies, he said.

The plan includes:

•A new state entity to help high-speed Internet service reach rural areas. Broadband access will prove as important to rural areas’ growth as the interstate highway system has been for the state as a whole, Kastama predicts.

•Offering help to homeowners and businesses in increasing their buildings’ energy efficiency and boosting weatherization work to cover 20,000 more homes per year.

•A Business and Occupation tax credit for small companies with 10 to 15 employees that hire new workers.

“This is a time when we think a targeted small business tax credit would really be worth the money,” Brown said. The amount of the tax break has yet to be determined.

•Expanding tax-increment financing programs that use future tax dollars to pay for public works projects such as the roads, sewers, and water lines needed for growth.

•A sales tax exemption for the purchase of high-efficiency green construction materials used to retrofit buildings and homes.

•Streamlining the permit and regulatory process so that ready-to-go construction projects can get under way.

•Using the state’s unemployment insurance fund to revamp job training to focus on preparing workers for high-demand fields such as health care. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said the state has 12,000 vacancies in nursing and other jobs now.

Proponents had few specifics on cost, although Brown said most of the changes would cost relatively little. Lawmakers said they are waiting to see how much federal stimulus money the state will get before providing more specifics.

Zarelli said the plan falls short. He and other Republicans, he said, would rather see more tax credits “to give employers hope that Washington’s business climate will change for the better.”

Tomorrow the budget, tonight the chocolate fountain…

From the print paper:

OLYMPIA – Thursday, state lawmakers will resume their pick-and-shovel work with the state budget, trying to find the least painful ways to bridge a $6 billion budget shortfall.

But first, some tapenade with smoked tomato crostini.

In a tradition dating to the mid-1800s, thousands of gown- and tuxedo-clad revelers will flock to the Capitol tonight for Gov. Chris Gregoire’s second inaugural ball.

Three ice-carving companies have been called in for the occasion, along with hundreds of volunteers to serve up a long list of hors d’oeuvres, including Moroccan lamb tagine, crab mousse, grass-fed beef carpaccio and tartlets. Shellfish companies are offering up raw geoduck and four types of oysters. A Yakima Valley company made a wine especially for the ball.

“It’s lots of beautiful gowns and men in tuxes,” said Lisa Cosmillo, a volunteer spokeswoman for the ball. “It’s really just a beautiful event.”

Asked about the contrast between the spectacle and the reality of the state’s budget crisis – which includes looming layoffs, cuts to health care and a leaner social safety net – organizers note that the $225,000 event is paid for by corporate donations and the $100-a-person tickets.

“It’s not something that is in any way paid for by taxpayer dollars,” Cosmillo said, “so it’s not anything that we felt obligated to cancel …  The ball goes on, no matter what.”

The ball’s roots date to 1853, when Olympia residents organized a welcome dinner at a local hotel for newly arrived territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens. In the 1930s, the balls were held at a local American Legion hall, and later, at a National Guard armory, hotels and a college. Since 1985, the balls have been held at the state Capitol.

Not all lawmakers attend.

“I don’t look good in a tuxedo, and my wife isn’t interested in going,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. He’s only been to one inaugural ball, for former Gov. Mike Lowry.

Said Schoesler, the Senate Republican floor leader, “Twenty-eight years of Democratic governors is not really our cause for celebration.”

In a nod to the nation’s recession, Gregoire asked participants to donate to local food banks. “These are tough times and our challenges are many,” the governor wrote in the official program. “But in partnership with all of you, and in a spirit of hope, determination and generosity, we will emerge stronger than ever. Tonight, let’s celebrate. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, and our bright future ahead in One Washington.”

“There’s never been any thoughts of canceling it,” said ball President Dan Neuhauser. “It went on during the Great Depression. We’ve got a lot of tradition to go forth with it.”

Besides, he said, canceling the popular event would leave many people unhappy. “It’s always sort of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t sort of deal,” he said. “You catch it either way.”

Deep boring and big money…

This is more of a Seattle topic, but since everybody’s going to be paying for it:

After years of chin-pulling and line-in-the-sand drawing, the governor, King County executive, Seattle’s mayor and the CEO of the Port of Seattle have agreed to replace Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a “deep bored tunnel” under Seattle’s downtown. The $4.2 billion plan also includes more bus service, improvements to side streets, an upgraded waterfront and a new seawall.

“There are privotal moments when great cities make history,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. The plan, he said, improves public transit, while “reclaim(ing) our destiny as a true waterfront city, tearing down an elevated highway and re-connecting Seattle to Elliott Bay.” (The decades-old viaduct is a raised concrete double-decker highway running along downtown Seattle’s waterfront.)

The state has pledged $2.8 billion toward the project, which it hoes will pay for the two-mile-long, four-lane tunnel and restoring the land under the soon-to-be-demolished Viaduct to a four-lane street.

House Speaker Frank Chopp had a lukewarm reaction, saying he’s worried about the potential for cost overruns.

“This plan already requires at least $1.8 billion in additional taxes from Seattle and King County residents,” he said in a statement (which I’ve posted in its entirety below). “Will they also be on the hook for the overruns? Boston’s `Big Dig’ was estimated to cost $4 billion. It ended up costing many billions more.”

UPDATE: Look for some unease in the Senate with this plan, seeing as how the Senate thought only $2.4 billion in state money was set aside for this project. (The other $400 million was shifted into a “risk pool” that would include cost overruns on the SR 520 floating bridge replacement project.

Catching up…

From the print paper:


Each January, by tradition, Washington’s top lawmakers choose theme songs for the upcoming session. Most are lighthearted.

Speaking to reporters last week, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown read from a Bob Dylan song.

“Broken hands on broken plows, broken treaties, broken vows,” she read. “Broken pipes, broken tools, people bending broken rules.

“Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking, everything is broken.”

Welcome to Olympia, on the eve of a $6 billion state budget shortfall. Brown and the state’s other 148 lawmakers on Monday will begin a high-stakes battle over what to cut, what to save, and whether they can persuade a recession-saddled public to support tax increases. The state’s budget woes are fixable, Brown says, but it won’t be easy.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said state Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.

The $6 billion gap is unprecedented, although as a percentage, the state’s faced worse.

“It’s not even remotely close to what the 1933 and 1935 legislatures faced,” said historian Don Brazier. Still, he said, “this is the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve been here 42 years.”

Click here to read the story.

But wait, there’s less. Weak economy strips another $134 million from the treasury…

Yesterday, the Tacoma News-Tribute had a screamer headline about the flooding: “IT’S BAD — AND IT COULD GET EVEN WORSE TODAY.”

They should paste that headline on the wall at the state Economic and Revenue Forecast, where the budget news just seems to be getting worse.

State tax collections dropped $134 million last month from what was expected, according to senior economic forecaster Eric Swenson.

That’s a steep decline, and it covers the key holiday shopping period: Dec. 11 to Jan. 10.

From the just-posted report:

This month’s adjusted year-over-year decline is the largest since Revenue Act reporting in its
current format began in January 1989. Prior to this month, the largest decline was 7.2 percent
in the January 11 – February 10, 2002 collection period.

This decline, by comparison, is 13.9 percent from the same period last year.

The biggest-declining sectors were car and truck dealers, furniture sellers, building materials and garden stores, and gas stations and convenience stores. Compared to the same month a year ago, taxes from auto dealers have now dropped every month for a year.

The good news, such as it is, was for electronics and appliance sellers, which held steady, and drug stores, which dropped just 1.9 percent.

Also dropping: real estate excise tax, property tax payments, liquor tax collections and, to a lesser degree, cigarette tax collections.

Hearst’s statement re: the Seattle Post-Intelligencer…

Hearst Corp. says it lost $14 million running the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last year and anticipated deeper losses in 2009.

The paper has a circulation of 114,000, the company said, with 500 million page views last year and an average of 4 million unique website visitors per month.

Just posted on Hearst’s corporate website:

Hearst Corporation announced that it is offering for sale the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) and its interest in the Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) under which the P-I and The Seattle Times are published.

Hearst said that should a sale of the P-I not occur within 60 days, it will pursue other options for the property. These options include a move to a digital-only operation with a greatly reduced staff or a complete shutdown of all operations. In no case will Hearst continue to publish the P-I in printed form following the conclusion of this process.
 
Regarding speculation over Hearst’s possible interest in acquiring The Seattle Times newspaper, Hearst said such an acquisition is not under consideration.
 
The P-I, which Hearst has owned since 1921, has had operating losses since 2000. The P-I lost approximately $14 million in 2008 and its forecast anticipates a greater loss in 2009.
 
“Our journalists continue to do a spectacular job of serving the people of Seattle, which has been our great privilege for the past 88 years,” said Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers. “But our losses have reached an unacceptable level, so with great regret we are seeking a new owner for the P-I.”
 
Operating under a JOA since 1983, the P-I and the Times have maintained separate news operations, with The Seattle Times Company handling production, circulation, advertising sales and all other non-news operations for both newspapers. The agreement provides that the revenue taken in by the Times’ business operation, after deducting operating costs, is shared 60 percent to the Times newspaper and 40 percent to the P-I. The newspapers must then pay for their editorial operations from their shares of these funds.
 
The P-I, founded in 1863 as the Seattle Gazette, has daily circulation of 114,000, according to the most recent report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The Sunday newspaper, which is a joint enterprise of the Times and P-I, has circulation of 382,000, according to the same report. Seattlepi.com, the newspaper’s Web site, had page views of approximately 500 million in 2008, and has an average of 4 million unique monthly visitors, according to the Web site’s internal logs.
 
Hearst has retained newspaper industry investment bankers Broadwater & Associates of New York to search for a buyer for the P-I.

Hearst: If we can’t sell the P-I in 60 days, we’ll shut it down…

It’s in the P-I.

Officials from the chain told staffers this morning that if they can’t sell the paper within two months, they’ll cease printing the paper and produce only a much-pared-down online version, or perhaps just shut down completely.

Boeing to shed 4,500 jobs

Boeing says that it’s Commercial Airplanes workforce will shrink by about 4,500 jobs in 2009 “as part of an effort to ensure competitiveness and control costs in the face of a weakening global economy.”

The cuts, according to the company, will bring employment at its Commercial Airplanes division to about 63,500, or about the same as it was at the start of last year. The division added 5,000 jobs in 2008.

From the company’s press release:

“We are taking prudent actions to make sure Boeing remains well positioned in today’s difficult economic environment,” said Scott Carson, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“We have made significant strides in recent years to achieve greater efficiency and productivity, but we still face challenges that we must address,” Carson said. “We regret the disruption to those affected by this decision, but we believe that acting now will allow us to be in a financial position to adapt to market uncertainties, meet our customer commitments, continue investing in our current and future product lines, and protect our competitiveness in a fiercely competitive business environment.”

The company says that attrition and reduced use of contract labor will account for some of the lost jobs, but that “layoffs of Beoing employees also are necessary.”

Many of the job reductions will be in overhead functions and other areas not directly associated with airplane production. This will enable Boeing to continue focusing on successfully executing new airplane development programs, delivering airplanes to customers, continuously improving productivity and quality, and supporting customer airplanes in the fleet.

Most of the reductions are expected to occur in Washington state in the second quarter of the year. Affected employees will receive 60-day notices beginning in late February. 

In Olympia, Gov. Chris Gregoire called the move “sad and disappointing, and yet more evidence of the deepening national recession.”

She said she’d talked with Boeing CEO Scott Carson. I have been in touch with Scott Carson, Boeing’s chief executive and president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“While I understand this was a business decision, I feel for those workers and their families,” she said. She pledged rapid help with unemployment claims and job-seeking from the state’s Employment Security Department for laid-off workers.
 
As Gregoire pointed out, Boeing’s move follows record-high unemployment claims filed last month in Washington. She said she’s working with Congress and President-elect Obama on a federal stimulus plan. Gregoire also says she’ll soon announce a state stimulus plan “to fund ready-to-go projects.”

In Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Patty Murray calle the news another reminder that the recession’s hitting Washington.

“Boeing is part of the lifeblood of our region and when Boeing hurts, Washington state hurts,” she said. She echoed Gov. Gregoire’s comments about working with the new administration.
 


U.S. News: WA tops for starting a small business…

Although there’s a constant “we’re great/we suck” debate on virtually all attempts to gauge Washington’s business climate, here’s the latest one: U.S. News and World Report gives the state high marks as a place to launch your company. Tops, in fact.

From the report:

1. Washington. The Evergreen State tops the list by coming in second on the New State Economy Index and fifth on the Small Business Survival Index. Washington is first among the states in steps toward energy efficiency and using more alternative-energy sources. It also has a highly productive manufacturing sector, signaling high wages and a tech-intensive economy. Washington leads the nation in value added per production hour as a percentage of the national average—the difference in value between inputs in the production process and the value of the units as finally sold. But in addition to these nonpolitical factors, Washington also has very low taxes, making the costs of growing a business quite low. It does not have its own income or capital-gains taxes, either personal or corporate.

The list ranked the top 7 states, in US News’ view. Idaho and Oregon? Sorry.

Hat tip: Northwest Republican.

UPDATE: Among those underwhelmed by the news: Richard Davis, with the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy. Davis looked at the underlying studies used by the magazine to create its list, and says the results are skewed, partly because Washington has no income tax.

Writes Davis:

Put the “7 best” article in the entertainment file. Combining a tech-centric index with a flawed small business measure does not yield anything like a “best place to start a new business.” Next week the Legislature convenes, with economic recovery the top agenda item. The fluffy “best places to start a business” story should not become a distraction.

The return of Don Cox?

Former state Rep. Don Cox, a Republican from Colfax, may be headed back to the statehouse.

Cox, 69, who stepped down two years ago in order to spend more time with his family, is local GOP officials’ top pick of three replacements for late state Rep. Steve Hailey, R-Mesa. Hailey, who’d been battling colon cancer for the past year, recently died.

The top three contenders — who will be decided by commissioners from the six Eastern Washington counties that make up legislative district 9 — are:

1) Don Cox
2) Jeff Holy
3) Hans “Jochen” Engelke

Holy, 53, is a longtime attorney and Spokane police detective who lives in Cheney.

Engelke, 51, is a farmer from the Mesa, the same small Franklin County community as Hailey.

Cox, who served in Olympia from 1999 through 2005, is a former principal and school superintendent who specialized in education policy in Olympia.

The sprawling district covers the Palouse and much of southeastern Washington, including all or part of half a dozen counties: Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield, Spokane, and Whitman. Key cities: Colfax, Colton, Connell, Othello, Ritzville, Cheney, Pullman and Clarkston.

Hat tips: Tri-City Herald and Adam Wilson.

Storm update…

From the governor’s office, where Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is filling in for Gov. Chris Gregoire, who’s headed back from a troop visit in Iraq.

Heavy rains pounded much of Western Washington Wednesday through early Thursday, with most rivers flooding, many at record or near-record levels. In Eastern Washington, rains today heighten concerns of minor urban and small stream flooding, and about heavy snow loads on the roofs of homes, businesses and public buildings, especially schools.
 
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, Gov. Gregoire’s Chief of Staff Cindy Zehnder, Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, Washington National Guard Assistant Adjutant Gen. Gordon Toney, Washington State Patrol Deputy Chief Paul Beckley, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Administrator Susan Reinertson will visit shelters in flooded areas today in Southwest Washington, as well as meet with local officials.
 
Owen and Brigadier General Gary Magonigle visited Spokane yesterday to meet with local officials and view the damage caused by the record snowfall. Hammond, Beckley, and the Governor’s Chief of Staff Cindy Zehnder visited flooded areas in Western Washington.
 
Hundreds of families have evacuated from impacted areas. The extent of the voluntary evacuations appears unprecedented in recent history. The American Red Cross reports that more than 260 people spent Wednesday night in 27 shelters, with the majority in Lewis County shelters.

 

Tech note…

Ahh, so that’s where everyone went. We’ve updated our RSS feed, which wasn’t redirected in a recent redesign. Sorry for the confusion. You shouldn’t need to change anything.

Teachers greet governor with inauguration day call for better school funding…

Shortly before Gov. Chris Gregoire’s inauguration day speech today, hundreds of teachers, parents and school officials held a rally just across the street.

Their message: despite the state’s budget shortfall — which Sen. Joe Zarelli on Wednesday suggested could rise to $7.5 billion over the next two years — education is not the place to cut.

“We’re not here for us,” one organizer said. “We’re here for the kids.”

The president of the state teachers’ union, Mary Lindquist, reminded the crowd of a similar rally held on the same ground, same day, 6 years ago. Some things, like who’s governor, have changed since then, she noted.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed is that our classrooms are still underfunded and our students are still not getting the resources they need for their future,” Lindquist said.

She blasted those who suggest that, given the state’s economic crisis, schools should be happy with the money they’re getting.

“Those people are wrong,” she said. “We must say to them that this is the best time to invest in education.”

She urged teachers and school advocates to make sure Olympia hears that message.

“You have staked a righteous place to plant your feet and stand firm,” she told the crowd.

Look for lots more demonstrations — state workers, teachers, advocates for the poor — in the coming weeks.

CNN’s continuing quest to become The Onion…

Actual headlines on CNN’s home page as I head home for the night:

-“Woman says knife left in head 3 years”

-“A nod to cute things falling asleep”

-“World’s oldest person credits bacon”

and “Joe the Plumber heading to Gaza.”

Really.

Olympia’s handing out sandbags…

The city’s giving up to 10 sandbags apiece to city residents facing flooding problems.

Details here.

(Hat tip to Olyblog.)

I-5 may be closed soon north of Tacoma

State emergency officials say that they may have to close Interstate 5, the main north-south freeway linking Western Washington, “within the next few hours.”

“There is potential for the freeway to be closed prior to the conclusion of this afternoon’s rush hour,” said a statement from the state’s emergency operations center. The area they’re concerned about: near Fife, north of the Puyallup River Bridge. (Possible workarounds for drivers: SR 167 and 512.)

The state is using computer models, river gauges and state troopers on the scene to monitor river levels.

“It is not clear how long the freeway and surrounding areas will be under water,” the statement says. “Once the water recedes it will be necessary for engineers to check the roadbed for safety and make any needed repairs before reopening.”

Major highway road closures reported include SR 106, SR 410, SR 539, SR 9, SR 546, SR 202, SR 162, SR 112, SR 165, SR 10, SR 8 and SR 20 due to mudslides, water over roadway, roadcuts and safety concerns.

The aging of the presidents…

There’s a certain Baby New Year element to most presidential inaugurations: a vibrant, rested and ready candidate takes the oath of office, settles in at the White House and then, judging from the way they look, the weight of the world quickly settles on them. After 4 or 8 years, they’re all but wheeled out, brow heavily furrowed and hair much grayer.

CNN’s got a story on the phenomenon — with pictures of what Barack Obama may look like by 2013.

Pend Oreille mine closure becomes official: layoff notice for 165 filed with state

Canadian mining company Teck Cominco has filed paperwork with Washington state, three weeks after announcing that it intended to temporarily close its Pend Oreille zinc mining and milling operations near Metaline Falls, has made it official.

The company’s notice says it intends to lay off 165 workers, effective Feb. 16.

“This layoff is permanent,” reads the layoff notice, filed with the state Employment Security Department. (I have pasted a copy of the notice in the extended version of this post.)

The company announced Dec. 15 that “due to reduced metal demand and the persistent weakness in zinc prices” it would temporarily shut its Pend Oreille operations. The closure followed a recent decision to reduce zinc refining at its Trail site in British Columbia, the company said.

The company says that in February, its operation “will move to a care and maintenance status” to keep the mine compliant with environmental and other permits and “in prime condition to return to production when market conditions improve.” The workers will get severance pay and other benefits, the company said.

Teck had re-started the mine in 2004. According to the company, it has produced 170,000 tons of zinc.

The notice was filed by Teck Washington, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Teck Cominco Limited.



 

Eyman, still owing money from last initiative, borrows more…

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who says he still owes $175,000 on a second mortgage he took out on his home to pay for last fall’s unsuccessful Initiative 985, is borrowing more.

In an email to supporters, Eyman says he’s borrowing another $50k against his home’s value to launch his latest ballot measure, which would cap growth in most state and local taxes at the rate of inflation.

The new money will pay for a fundraising letter and for the legal work drafting the measure. 

Bookmark it now: TVW launches its own legislative blog

Washington’s public-affairs network, TVW, has launched its own news blog about state government matters. Given who they’ve picked to run it — former Tacoma News-Tribune reporter and blogger Niki Sullivan — it’s pretty safe to predict that it’s going to become a must-read. It’s called capitolrecord.org.

It’s true: TVW, Washington state’s version of C-SPAN, “dares to be dull.” But the point of TVW starting a blog is to make government and public policy accessible — and the aim of accessibility extends to writing in plain English about the things that affect you.

Sullivan writes.

Interestingly, the blog won’t allow comments. If you got comments on what you see, Sullivan says, tell them to your lawmakers.

What’s really being discussed when public officials are hunched over their laptops?

Great story from the Olympian’s Matt Batcheldor recently, in which he details what council members seem to be doing on their computers during meetings: secretly working out how to vote and mocking a member of the public who showed up to testify.

The paper got the council’s email records for half a dozen meetings over several months. Among the exchanges:

During the Oct. 14 meeting, in an e-mail to (councilman Craig) Ottavelli, (councilman Jeff) Kingsbury made a derisive comment about Gerald Reilly, a member of a citizen’s group that wants to turn much of the area between Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet into a park.

“Jerry Reilly can’t even look anyone in the eye. Coward,” Kingsbury wrote.

Asked about that, Kingsbury told the paper that Reilly was a friend and he wouldn’t comment on the e-mail.

The Olympia council also felt the love from the Tacoma News-Tribune, which editorialized:

We may be interlopers from outside Olympia, but the idea that a council could have what amounts to a secret meeting under the cover of an ostensibly legal and public one should be troubling to anyone concerned with ensuring that public business is done in public.



Third lawsuit filed by union members unhappy with Gregoire budget

A new lawsuit was filed Tuesday by child care providers, asking a court to force the governor to ask lawmakers for more money for the workers.

It’s the third such suit involving a proposed union contract. After negotiating agreements covering thousands of state-paid workers last summer and fall, Gregoire’s budget director said last month that the deals were not feasible in the face of the state’s budget shortfall. Gregoire didn’t include the proposals – including millions of dollars in cost-of-living increases, more training, and additional benefits – in the budget she proposed to lawmakers Dec. 18.

Service Employees International Union Local 925 filed the suit Tuesday with the superior court in Olympia.

A second local of the same union, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, has filed a similar suit. At stake are raises of 22 cents to 25 cents over the next two years for 23,000 home care workers. The health aides, who earn less than $11 an hour, are paid by the state to help senior citizens and the disabled.

The home care workers’ contract included nearly $27 million in raises, health benefits and training, none of which Gregoire included in her budget suggestion.

Gregoire says the workers deserve the raise, but that the state – wrestling with an unprecedented $6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years – can’t afford it.

Also suing Gregoire over raises and contracts is the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 40,000 workers.

National Guard to help out in Spokane, worries about rain on the way…

The state is deploying up to 200 soldiers and airmen to Spokane to help remove snow from school roofs and other structures, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office said a few minutes ago.

State officials (see the full press release below) are particularly worried about “a warm, moist Pacific air mass” bringing “significant precipitation” to western Washington over the next day and a half.

“Spokane can also expect to see warm and moist subtropical air, causing rain and melting snow,” reads the statement from Gregoire’s office.

So yes, the dreaded “rain on snow” phenomenon, better known as “flooding.”

From the statement:

Significant hazards will be created by the warm rain, including risks of flooding, landslides, avalanches and potential roof collapses caused by snow and rain accumulation on roofs.
 
The avalanche threats will be greatest in the next 24 hours.  Snow levels are expected to rise to 5000-8000 feet, causing extreme avalanche danger for the Olympics and Cascades.  The risk of landslides also will be greatest on Wednesday. The rain will then cause a flood threat for nearly all Western Washington rivers and streams beginning Wednesday and peaking on Thursday.
 
Flood impacts may include the need to close US-12 at Randle and I-5 in Lewis County.

Full text below.

KB Toy gift card? Run, don’t walk, to the nearest store…

Got a KB Toys gift card? Spend it ASAP. 

The state attorney general’s office is warning anyone who got a gift card for KB Toys to use it immediately. The chain’s lawyer has told the AG’s office that the company is closing its stores and won’t accept the cards or store credit after Sunday.

Here’s the bad news for Spokane readers: the gift cards can’t be used at KBToys.com, the chain’s online arm, which is a separate business. And the chain only has three stores in Washington: North Bend, Centralia and Vancouver. The only one in Idaho is in Boise.

Under Washington’s gift card law, gift certificates and gift cards sold by retailers usually never expire and cannot include fees that quickly eat away the value of unused cards. (This protection doesn’t cover Visa and MasterCard gift cards.) According to the AG’s office, however, when a company files for bankruptcy, it’s up to a judge to decide which of a corporation’s financial obligations are honored.

Photo of Gregoire in Iraq

Gov. Chris Gregoire had dinner with troops at Camp Prosperity, in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Thanks for reader Patrick McDonald, a deployed Army reservist from Washington, for sending the photo.

 

Where’s Waldo? In Iraq.

From the governor’s office this a.m.:

Gov. Chris Gregoire this week met with Washington Army National Guard troops in Iraq. The governor is visiting Iraq with a delegation including Governors John Corzine (D-NJ) and Rick Perry (R-TX).
 
“In August, I had the honor of participating in the farewell ceremony for the Washington Army National Guard troops in Yakima as they left to serve Operation Iraqi Freedom.  I promised I would visit them and it is with great humility that I acknowledge their critical service for our state and our country,” Gregoire said. “These servicemen and -women show the utmost courage and strength as they face unimaginable circumstances each day. On behalf of all Washingtonians, I thank the troops, as well as their families at home, for their great sacrifice.”
 
While in Iraq, Gregoire and the delegation met with service members from Washington state and around the United States, senior military and public officials. Prior to leaving, the delegation met with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. Secretary Gates thanked them for their continued support of the troops and making this important visit a priority.
 
Approximately 2,500 members of the Washington National Guard are currently serving in locations around the world.  Of that number, about 2,400 are members of the 81st Brigade serving in Iraq. The Brigade’s focus in Iraq is convoy security and force protection operations. The 81st also served in Iraq from March 2004 to March 2005.
 
“We come away with a better understanding of the incredible circumstances the troops face each day and how we can better support the troops and their families while they are abroad,” Gregoire added.
 
Gregoire reminds all Washingtonians that these citizen soldiers are our friends, neighbors and co-workers, and deserve our utmost support.

Later this week the governor’s video message to the troops will be available for viewing on www.TroopTube.tv and www.governor.wa.gov

UPDATE:

Gregoire’s office didn’t have specifics of where she’s visited so far, although the governor was expected to provide details later this morning.

“She’s in Iraq, that’s all I know,” said spokesman Pearse Edwards.

In Washington, D.C. before the trip, Gregoire met with Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gregoire arrives back in Washington Thursday night, Edwards said.

Washington state covered Gregoire’s travel costs to Washington, D.C., Edwards said.

“The Pentagon paid for all other costs,” he said.

Also: It turns out that The Olympian’s Adam Wilson wins the pool.

Speculathon: Bloggers (yes, including me) try to ferret out the governor….

Good grief. The search for out-of-state-but-no-one’s-saying-where Gov. Chris Gregoire continues, with thinly sourced reports saying that she’s not quitting Olympia for a D.C. job and lots of speculation about an announcement planned by Gregoire’s office tomorrow morning.

Kudos to the Bellingham Herald’s Jared Paben, who actually located a guy who says he was a passenger on the same plane as Gregoire — a plane headed for D.C.! — but that the governor didn’t happen to mention what she was doing there.

The Olympian’s Adam Wilson notes that the last time this happened to him, the governor (Idaho’s Dirk Kempthorne, in that case), turned up in Iraq, visiting troops.

At this point, the governor’s mostly-mum press office has (inadvertently?) raised expectations very high indeed for whatever tomorrow’s announcement will be. I just hope it won’t be about the Department of Revenue’s audit.

Second property tax initiative filed…

Homeowners unhappy with property taxes have filed a second citizen’s intiative Monday, trying to virtually freeze tax valuations.

Linda Courtney Cox of Chelan and Kenneth Sinibaldi, a doctor from Lopez Island, filed a measure today on behalf of Washington Voters for Fair Property Tax.

For property bought in 2004 and earlier, their plan would freeze the taxable value at 2005 levels. For newer purchases, the value would be the purchase price plus any renovations. Taxable values could rise only 1 percent a year unless the property’s sold, at which point the value would be the actual sale price.

Washington’s property tax “is driving people out of their homes,” Cox said in a phone interview. Under their plan, she said, people staying in their home would have a predictable, fair tax.

“You’re not taxed based on what your neighbor bought his home for,” she said. “You’re taxed on what you agreed to pay and what you felt you could afford.”

Getting any measure on the ballot this year will not be easy. Proponents need to come up with more than 241,000 voter signatures by July.

In search of the governor…

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who was supposed to be giving a pre-session talk to capitol reporters in Olympia tomorrow, is somewhere, but not here. She’s cancelled, and is out of state. Her office won’t say where.

This, coming on the heels of Gregoire friend Bill Richardson bowing out of his new gig as Secretary of Commerce, has prompted some interesting speculation about whether Gregoire might be in the other Washington auditioning for a role in the Obama administration.

Fueling the speculation: the fact that Gregoire’s office, which tends to hold its announcements at the capitol-press-friendly times of 10 a.m. or so, plans a major announcement tomorrow at 8 a.m. or earlier. (Hello, D.C….)

The Stranger’s been working overtime on this today. (And here.) But despite its not-safe-for-work ruminations about what type of governor we’d have if Lt. Gov. Brad Owen ascended to the job — “less qualified to be lieutenant governor than an empty bag of chips…a one-eyed dog, and a man without a website” — it sounds like Gregoire’s not going to be moving out of the governor’s mansion anytime soon.

Stay tuned.

Update: In an effort to flush the governor out, The Stranger has started a Where’s-Waldo online poll about where the state’s executive is. Currently leading the voting: “Brokering truce in Seattle hiphop wars from undisclosed location.”

Eyman’s new offering: a cap on all state and local taxes…

Undeterred by voters’ rejection of his last ballot measure at the polls in November, initiative pitchman Tim Eyman — baby in hand — today filed his “Lower Property Taxes Initiative” for this year.

The measure caps the total revenue from taxes and fees at this year’s level, plus the rate of inflation each year. Any “excess revenues,” say from a future surge in real estate taxes or booming economy, would go into a fund to reduce property taxes the following year. As with Eyman’s earlier property-tax initiative, I-747, voters could override the cap.

“We believe a majority of citizens are going to find it reasonable that governments continue to grow, but that they grow at a rate that we can afford,” Eyman told reporters at the Secretary of State’s office this morning. “When you have 6,7,8 percent increases in our tax burden every year, that compounds every year and it gets exponential to the point that we can’t afford it anymore.”

“Government isn’t getting smaller,” he said. “Even with the initiatives that we’ve passed, government has never gotten smaller. All that we’ve really managed to do is slow down the rate of growth of government.”

The formula in Eyman’s measure, however, doesn’t seem to take into account population growth or other changes, like tough-on-crime laws keeping more people to prison at nearly $30k a year each. (Eyman’s response: that voters can always vote for more if government makes a good case for it.)

Eyman said he expects to start circulating petiitions by February. He and his signature-gatherers will need to collect about 300,000 signatures by July in order to get the measure on the November ballot.


 

Bill Grant dead at 71…

State Rep. Bill Grant, who had been quietly battling lung cancer, has died.

He was 71.

Grant, D-Walla Walla, was a rare Eastern Washington Democrat in the statehouse, and late into the night, his raspy voice would call House Democrats into caucus meetings.

“Bill was one of a kind,” House Speaker Frank Chopp said in a statement sent out a few minutes ago. “He was a man of the land, and he brought his farmer’s values of community, hard work and perseverance to the House of Representatives, where he served for 22 years…I was proud to call Bill my colleague and grateful to call him my friend. He will be deeply missed.”

Yes, the budget, but what else? Breathalyzers in bars, a ban on novelty lighters, and the Candy Wars…

If you just have to have that novelty cigarette lighter shaped like a rubber ducky, grenade or a certain part of human anatomy, you’d better buy soon.

Washington’s legislative session won’t begin until Jan. 12th, but lawmakers already filed a long list of proposed changes in state law.

Among them: Banning novelty lighters, limiting property taxes, making drivers prove they’re not illegal immigrants, and building a fifth state war memorial to honor casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With the state facing a nearly $6 billion budget shortfall, leaders have been urging restraint in the number of bills lawmakers try to pass this year.

The message in a nutshell: “If it costs money, be very careful,” said Melinda McCrady, a spokeswoman for House Democrats.

Still, lawmakers have “pre-filed” more than 100 bills so far, with hundreds more on the way.

Among the proposals so far:

-Novelty lighters: Prompted by calls from fire officials across the country, lawmakers in multiple states want to ban cigarette lighters that don’t look like cigarette lighters. Manufacturers churn out lighters that look like bullets, poker chips, cows, Santa, a toilet and, in at least two variations, a fist-shaped lighter sporting an upraised middle finger. (One of those models speaks every time you spark it up, and you can guess what it says.)
A dozen Washington lawmakers want to ban such lighters, citing cases of children who have been burned or started fires playing with lighters that look like toys. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission says that about a billion cigarette lighters are sold each year in the United States. Nearly half are imported from China.

-Breathalyzers: Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, wants to give a small tax break to bars that install breathalyzer machines for patrons.

-Continuing a years-long effort, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and three other lawmakers have submitted a nearly 400-page bill intended to stamp out gender bias from state law. In hundreds of places throughout the state’s law books, the bill would rewrite references like “he” to “he or she.” “Workman” would become “worker”, “patrolman” would become “patrol officer” and “white men” would become “Europeans.”

-Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, wants to require applicants for a state driver’s license or identification card to prove that they’re a U.S. citizen or here legally.

-Property taxes: There are several competing proposals for reducing the bite of property taxes. One would require annual assessments, so homeowners aren’t stunned by massive increases every few years. Others would gradually eliminate the state’s share of the property tax or limit increases in assessed value.

-As others have written already, Rep. Armstrong also wants the state to declare Applets and Cotlets candy to be “the official candy of the state of Washington.” Expect resistance from Tacoma natives, who several years ago fought an unsuccessful battle to win the same honor for their local Almond Roca. And Armstrong’s proposal has already drawn fire from the local newspaper in Chehalis, which argues that the local Chehalis Mints – flavored with Eastern Washington mint oil — “would represent the entire state.”

But what the hell do lawmakers do, anyway?

Lots of meetings, apparently. Sixteen times a day.

Here’s the daily to-do list for Jan. 21st, posted by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown on her blog:

9:00 a.m. Meet with Sen. Jim Kastama and Rep. Hans Dunshee to discuss their scholarship bill

9:30 a.m. Meet with Sen. Mike Hewitt to discuss bond bills and homeless bill

10:00 a.m. Meet with Public School Employees from the 3rd District

10:15 a.m. Meet with Tony Lee, Pam Crone and Kim Justice to discuss the removal of asset limits in public benefit programs

10:45 a.m. Meet with the Washington Student Lobby

11:00 a.m. Meet with Marilyn Watkins of the Family Leave Coalition

11:15 a.m. Meet with the Planned Parenthood Teen Lobby

11:45 a.m. MLK Day Summit and March on Capitol

12:00 p.m. SEIU lobby day lunch

1:00 p.m. Meet with Cathy Mann of Voices and members from Spokane to discuss affordable housing, children and family services issues

1:45 p.m. Meet with Joe Dear and Liz Medizabal of the state Investment Board about legislation to recruit and retain state investment officers

2:00 p.m. Meet with Local 1199 members from the 3rd District

2:15 p.m. Meet with Local 925 members from the 3rd District

2:30 p.m. Meet with staff to discuss next week’s schedule

3:00 p.m. Washington Education Association weekly meeting

3:30 p.m. Meet with Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest

4:30 p.m. Meet with Gov. Gregoire

5:00 p.m. Storm Event Work Group meeting to review budget and policy proposals relations to storm damage response, recovery and restoration

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

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