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Eye On Olympia

Archive for July 2009

Be well…

As I blogged about a week and a half ago, I’m moving on to a new job. (Here’s my farewell column.)

I’ll set up a URL redirect on www.eyeonolympia.com in the next day or so. Tempting though it is to steer you faithful readers to The Onion, I’ll probably set it up to go to the excellent political blog of Jim Camden. It’s called Spin Control.

Keep it bookmarked. And thanks for reading.

 

Unemployment up, but just a little…

The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate is now 9.3 percent, up 2/10ths of a percent from May’s revised rate of 9.1 percent.

“We are beginning to see signs that our economy may be stabilizing and recovery efforts are working, but it will take time,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

Where are the jobs being lost? Government cut 4,600 jobs, retail cut 2,100, and education/health-care services and construction each lost 1,200 jobs.

Compared to last year, Washington had 117,800 fewer jobs than a year ago.

The state’s Employment Security Department estimates that 329,983 Washingtonians are unemployed and looking for work.

R-71 signature-gathering: Halfway there, with two weeks to go…

The Faith & Freedom PAC, one of several groups trying to get a referendum on the November ballot to repeal the state’s “everything but marriage” law for domestic partners, says that it has gathered more than half the signatures it needs.

“Conservatively, we have a little over 75,000 signatures to date,” PAC president Gary Randall said in an email to supporters Friday.

To get Referendum 71 on the ballot, proponents need 120,577 valid voter signatures. Campaigns typically figure on a “cushion” of about 25 percent more to compensate for unregistered voters, etc. So the R-71 people are about halfway there.

“We think this is good news, however it points out exactly how much work is left to do in just two weeks,” Randall wrote Friday. (The signature deadline is July 25th.)

“Please be sure to see that petitions are in your church during the next two Sundays,” he continued. “If your pastor will mention it from the pulpit, that would be very helpful.”

He also said that the Knights of Columbus were launching a statewide push for signatures this past weekend.

Opponents of the measure have laid the groundwork for an opposition campaign, but seem to be waiting first to see if the measure actually gets on the ballot. The clock’s ticking, and it looks like an uphill battle to get enough signatures in the final days. But stay tuned.

Capitol press corps loses another…

And this time, it’s me.

After nearly 9 years covering Olympia for an Eastern Washington audience, I’m taking a public-affairs job with the state insurance commissioner’s office.

I love what I do, and am deeply grateful to the Spokesman-Review and to everyone who’s clicked on this blog or read my stories. But given the worrisome state of newspapers — round after round of layoffs, a pay cut, a furlough — it would have felt irresponsible to not jump at a job that feels like a good fit and a new opportunity.

S-R management is still figuring out what to do, but early indications are that they’ll replace me and keep the bureau open. That’s good news. I’ve watched the permanent press corps here dwindle down to 8 people, and Eastern Washington in particular needs some eyes on the puzzle palace that Olympia can be.

I’ll have more to add on my last day, later this month. For now, I’ll end this the way I end all my e-mail replies to readers:

Thanks for reading.

Boeing’s latest move: Is that a bead of sweat on the brows of state officials?

Much talk — particularly from Republicans — today about Boeing’s decision to spend $580 million to buy a South Carolina plant that makes parts for the delayed new 787 aircraft.

First out of the gate, at 5:45 a.m. this morning, was the governor’s office, releasing this statement by Gov. Chris Gregoire:

“Yesterday, I spoke with Scott Carson, who informed me of Boeing’s decision to purchase the Vought facility in South Carolina. I recognize that this announcement underscores that Boeing wants to ensure that it manufactures the 787 Dreamliner as efficiently as possible, thus they have made the decision to buy Vought. In my conversation with Scott, he assured that no decision has been made on a potential second line for the 787, and that today’s announcement doesn’t have anything to do with that. Washington state is proud to be home of the world’s best airplane manufacturer and most skilled aerospace workforce.”

State officials are clearly nervous at the prospect of Boeing launching a full-on jet assembly line anywhere outside Washington state. Those same jitters are what prompted then-Gov. Gary Locke to champion a $3 billion package of tax incentives for the company in 2004.

Republicans and business leaders seized on the move as evidence that Washington’s not doing all it can to keep the massive employer (and taxpayer) expanding here. Most pointed to strikes by Boeing workers as a big part of the problem.

“Work stoppages over the past several years have cost Boeing $9 billion in revenue and $2 billion in lost profits — and Washington had the most aerospace work stoppage days of any state in which the company does business,” said state Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.

Hewitt cited a recent aerospace competitiveness report that listed top concerns as labor-management relations and costs like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and taxes. He blasted Democrats for “a myriad of business-busting bills” in Olympia. And he said that Boeing and other aerospace jobs are 15 percent of the state’s economy.

Business leaders issued their own, similar statements. A sampling:

“Unless things change, Boeing’s future will be outside the Northwest and that will be devastating to the Washington economy…Airlines simply can’t make billion-dollar decisions on new aircraft and then face the prospect of delivery delays because of labor disputes…If Seattle wants to keep Boeing, they better stand up and show it, because there are dozens of other states that will welcome the jobs and the economic activity.”
-John Stanton, chairman of the Washington Roundtable

“Boeing and aerospace are as important to the vitality of this region as the Mariners and the Seahawks. They need to know how much they are valued.”
-Phil Bussey, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce president

“This is our wake-up call.”
-Don Brunell, Association of Washington Business president


Patty Murray proposes $11 million new safety complex at Spokane’s Fairchild Air Force Base…

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray says she’s included $11 million in a senate spending bill for a new “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” training facility at Fairchild Air Force Base.

The SERE training teachers aviators what to do to avoid capture and survive if downed behind enemy lines. The current training facility is more than 50 years old, Murray said, and increasingly outdated. Maintenance alone on the buildings costs more than $140,000 a year, she said.

The bill is the 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill. It now heads to the Senate appropriations committee for consideration.

“The top 10 human poisonings list”…

Ran across an interesting list recently while writing about budget cuts to the state Poison Center, (the logo for which probably makes the state’s tourism folks squirm.)

The budget-cut changes, by the way, include forking over $30 on your credit card to get advice about a poisoned pet. The center fields a surprising number of these calls, including from owners of iguanas, guinea pigs, spiders and fish.

Deaths from unintentional drug overdoses are now the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths in Washington, according to the center’s medical director, Dr. William Hurley.

For humans, here’s the center’s “top 10 human poisonings list for 2008”:

-Ibuprofen
-Benzodiazepine (tranquilizer)
-diaper-rash products (eaten, presumably)
-ethanol (meaning alcoholic beverages)
-children’s acetaminophen/Tylenol
-antihistamines like Zyrtec and Claritin
-antidepressants
-silica gel (those little white “do not eat” packets that keep dry foods dry)
-regular acetaminophen/Tylenol
-systemic antibiotics (often used for acne)

What you’ll see on the ballot: Eyman made it (probably), R-71 folks are still gathering signatures, and everyone else derailed…

So what measures will voters see on the fall ballot?

Well, they won’t see Initiative 1043, which would have required the state to verify that someone’s a citizen or legal immigrant before issuing them a driver’s license or most public benefits. It also would have banned nonprofit groups from offering job-seeking help unless people could prove that they weren’t an illegal immigrant.

Backers apparently tried to put the measure on autopilot, printing full-size petitions in papers in Yakima and Spokane (including the Spokesman-Review) and then watching the mailbox in hopes of getting the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed.

It didn’t work. At least not in time. The deadline for signatures was Thursday.

“Though Respect Washington’s mailbox recently overflowed with petition returns following placement of 186,000 petitions in newspapers statewide, more weeks would have been necessary to accumulate the required 241,153 signatures,” the group said in a recent email to supporters.

The group says it intends to try again next year.

Also not making it this year are measures that would have:

-banned “use of public money or lands for anything that denies or attempts to refute the existence of a supreme ruler of the universe,”
-repealed the state’s business tax in favor of a flat corporate income tax,
-created a state-run health insurance agency,
-and repealed the state’s helmet law for motorcyclists, as well as the laws requiring people to wear seatbelts and wear orange for some hunting.

Still in play is Referendum 71, which asks voters to do away with a new law granting registered domestic partners most of the rights and responsibilities of spouses. Since it’s a referendum rather than an initiative, the deadline is three weeks later.

And last but not least, Tim Eyman and Spokane associates Mike and Jack Fagan on Thursday dropped off what they said was 314,277 signatures for their Initiative 1033. The measure would limit city, county and state general-fund revenues to increasing at the rate of inflation and population growth. Anything over that would be put in a special fund that would go toward lowering property taxes. With about 70,000 signatures more than required, Eyman said the measure’s “a slam-dunk” to make it onto the ballot. (Still, election workers will check, comparing a sample of signatures to those on voters’ registration cards.)

Here’s a thumbnail of the arguments you can expect from both sides in the coming months:

Eyman: “This is a clear message from the voters to all governments in Washington State that we don’t have bottomless wallets.”

Opposition spokesman Christian Sinderman: If it passes, Washingtonians will less maintenance of roads and sidewalks, less care for senior citizens, more crowded classrooms “and a general degradation in the things we hold dear.”

Four months ‘til Election Day.

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

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