Archive for June 2009
We’ve lost another good one: Olympian reporter Adam Wilson is leaving to become the speechwriter for Gov. Chris Gregoire. With a young family to support and a longtime interest in politics and policy, the job seems like a good fit for Wilson in this age of pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs in the news business.
Wilson’s colleague, Olympian politican editor Brad Shannon, has the story about the move and what it means for the shrinking capitol press corps, which now numbers fewer people than a soccer team. From Shannon’s blog post:
Now a word on the downside. My back-of-the-envelope tally is this leaves the state with about eight full-time Olympia-based journalists to cover the Capitol, less than half what we had a year ago.
The state budget picture is much, much worse. From the Financial Times:
Once the US’s richest state, California now has the dubious distinction of having the worst credit rating in the country….
California’s fiscal year ends on Wednesday but as the state’s cash reserves are empty, IOUs will be issued to a range of creditors, including contractors, such as information technology companies and the food service groups that cater for prisons.
ALSO: An unrelated tech note. We’ve had some reports of RSS feed problems, which we think we’v now got fixed. If you’re having problems, please shoot me an e-mail.
Local farmers today filed a lawsuit against a large-scale feedlot in Franklin County, saying that the cattle operation could use hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater a day in one of the driest areas of the state.
The case could mushroom into more than just a Franklin County water fight. A critical change in water law came when Attorney General Rob McKenna — widely assumed to be a future candidate for governor — issued a controversial opinion in 2005. Wells for watering livestock have for decades been exempt from many water regulations, but the state Department of Ecology had long said that such wells are limited to pumping 5,000 gallons a day. In response to a query from Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls and then-Rep. (now Sen.) Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, McKenna, however, said that Ecology didn’t have the right to automatically limit such wells to 5,000 gallons. (McKenna also, however, noted that Ecology could step in and impose limits on any water withdrawal in critical problem areas. He also pointed out that lawmakers can modify water law however they wish.)
Now, according to the Spokane-basede Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Easterday Ranches Inc. wants to build a feedlot for up to 30,000 head of cattle, using the stock-watering exemption to pump up to 600,000 gallons a day.
“after over 100 years of conservative farming on some of the driest land in Washington, our lives and our livelihoods are in jeopardy from this huge industrial feedlot,” dryland wheat farmer Scott Collin said in a press release announcing the lawsuit today.
(The full text of the press release is below, after the jump.)
This sounds counterintuitive, until you look at the price of a box of macaroni and cheese versus that of a handful of stir-fry vegetables:
According to the private Washington State Budget & Policy Center, shoppers in rural Washington have a harder time getting fresh fruits and vegetables on their tables. From the group’s report:
…For those living in poverty and struggling to keep food on the table, financial and geographic barriers make it harder to shop at grocery stores. As a result, they often turn to corner markets or gas-station mini-marts for food, where there are fewer healthy options.”
“Ironically, in the areas of our state where much of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables are grown, families are having trouble finding them in the stores where they shop,” said Stacey Schultz, a policy analyst and author of the report.
She also cites an interesting recent study in Chicago that found that obesity rates increased as access to grocery stores decreased. It focused on the urban version of the problem, labeling vast stretches of the Chicago area “food deserts” (not desserts).
“While many of us take food options for granted, residents of the food desert
often cannot choose between eating an apple instead of a candy bar, a salad instead of french fries, or fresh skinless chicken instead of deep fried, high-fat chicken,” the Chicago study said.
Washington state’s government, as well as the feds, have helped by expanding eligibility and benefits for food stamps and paying for programs that focus on getting fruits and vegetables to children and seniors, she says. The state recently passed legislation that gives schools with a high number of low-income students more money to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. (I think the law also streamlined bidding rules to make it easier to buy the produce from area farms.) The Women, Infants and Children food program is also focusing more on fresh produce, and many farmers’ markets — including in Spokane — are starting to accept food stamps.
The Washington report (see page 4), includes a map that shows that across broad swaths of Eastern Washington and the Olympic Peninsula, the average drive to a grocery store is 15-38 miles. These are also often the areas of the state “with the highest poverty rates and high rates of food insecurity,” writes Schultz.
The report doesn’t however, try to gauge the impact of vegetable gardens, which poor, rural residents presumably are more likely to have.
It’s summer, and my blog numbers need a boost, so here’s this, from the Associated Press:
Fans of the giant Palouse earthworm are once again seeking federal protection for the rare, sweet-smelling species.
The worm has been seen only four reported times in the past 110 years, but supporters contend it is still present in portions of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.
The worm can reach 3 feet in length, is white in color and reportedly possesses a unique lily smell.
Environmental groups are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the worm as an endangered species.
The Bush administration rejected an earlier petition, but supporters hope to have better luck with the Obama administration.
From the print paper:
OLYMPIA – Encouraged by the large turnout this spring at anti-tax rallies, critics of government spending are planning a new round of demonstrations July 4.
Events are planned in more than 20 Washington cities, including Spokane Valley, as well as in Sandpoint and Boise. One rally in Olympia – the first of two – took place Saturday.
“It’s gotten to a point, with the out-of-control spending and the government nationalizing the auto industry, banking and things like that, that it’s woken the silent majority up,” said Dan Rehling, of Olympia, who’s organizing the July 4 demonstration at the Washington state Capitol. “This is my prediction: It’s going to be the biggest rally the Capitol has ever seen.”
The demonstrations are modeled on April 15’s anti-tax demonstrations, which drew thousands of people to the Statehouse and other sites across the state.
“We’re not against taxes. We’re against unreasonable taxation beyond the scope of the Constitution,” said Dann Selle, a spokesman for a group that is organizing the Spokane-area rally July 4. It’s tentatively slated for Plantes Ferry Park in Spokane Valley.
Much of organizers’ ire is directed at the Obama administration’s moves to try to right the economy, including federal stimulus spending.
“All these people are saying it’s just a bunch of right-wing extremists living on the fringe,” Rehling said. “I am not that person. I’m just an average Joe that is fired up.”
State Rep. Brendan Williams said the demonstrators’ passions are misplaced.
“It would have been nice if they were protesting the excesses of the Bush administration that got us into this economic calamity,” said Williams, D-Olympia. “Now they seem to be faulting Obama for trying to dig us out.”
From tomorrow’s paper:
OLYMPIA _ We’re still growing, but it’s slowing.
That was the verdict Monday from Washington’s Office of Financial Management, which churns out annual population estimates for the state, cities and counties.
Washington’s population as of April 1, 2009, the agency estimates, was 6,668,200. That’s up about 80,600, or 1.2 percent, from a year earlier.
That’s a big change from 1991’s increase of about 155,000 people, or 2006’s 125,000.
A major factor in the state’s growth is job-related migration here, said the state’s chief demographer, Theresa Lowe. The two top states And while Washington’s economic prospects are better than California’s or Oregon’s, she said, migration to Washington is less than half of what it was three years ago.
“Many job seekers are finding it difficult to sell their homes” and don’t want to risk having to pay two mortgages, she said.
Also, she said, immigration to America has slowed, and many immigrants here have returned home due to the lagging economy.
The city-population estimates also mean that Spokane maintains its claim as second largest city in the state. Spokane has about 205,500 people, an increase of about 10,000 in the past decade. Tacoma, which came within 600 residents of claiming the title in 2005, now has 203,400. Seattle has 602,000.
The state budget office extrapolates the numbers from changes in school enrollment, voting records, housing, driver’s licensing and other data.
Monday report shows that housing growth has slowed in most major metropolitan areas of the state except Seattle. New homes, including manufactured homes, numbered about 2,000 in Spokane County last year. That’s about half the rate in 2005-2006.
Most of the population growth since the 2000 census has been concentrated in Western Washington, according to OFM. The fastest-growing counties are Franklin (47 percent), Clark (25 percent), Thurston (21 percent) and Kittitas (20 percent).
A second set of numbers is due out Wednesday, when the U.S. Census Bureau will issue population estimates for July 1, 2008.
(After the jump, I included numbers for some cities in our readership area.)
Here’s to Two, Spokane.
The Lilac City continues to cling to it’s position as the state’s second-largest city, once again beating out the City of Destiny — Tacoma, that is — by about 2,000 people.
The state Office of Financial Management today released its annual population estimates as of April 1, 2009. Locally, here’s how cities stack up:
Spokane Valley: 89,440 (7th largest city in state, a position Spokane Valley’s held since 2006)
Pullman: 27,600 (37th)
State budget-cut fallout: trash in state-owned buildings only emptied twice a week, carpets cleaned once a year.
More state budget fallout: Health insurance costs likely to rise next year for state workers. On the most popular plan, the Uniform Medical Plan, would rise from $82 a month for a family to $126 a month. For individuals, the cost would rise from $26 a month to $41.
More state budget fallout: Fewer prisoners to fight forest fires.
More state budget fallout: The capitol visitor’s center, often a first stop for tourists swinging by Olympia, is closing Wednesday.
And the state’s Poison Center, which fields calls from panicked people whose children and pets have apparently ingested poisons, says that callers can expect to spend more time on hold, will initially get a phone-tree, and will be asked for a $30 credit-card payment before the staff answer poison questions about pets.
Retired Woodinville financial advisor Mike Dunmire’s been a lifeline for initiative promoter Tim Eyman, pouring a steady cash infusion into Eyman’s signature-gathering (and income-producing) funds.
So for people who watch campaign finance reports on the Public Disclosure Commisson site, it’s become a bit of a parlor game to try to predict the waxing and waning of Dunmire’s support. Is Dunmire tiring of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year bankrolling Eyman?
It doesn’t seem so. Dunmire was among the diners at a dinner Friday in which Eyman — a king of self-promotion — presented bobblehead figurines of himself, awarded to the highest bidders. (Price: $1000 for two.)
Eyman asked some of the two dozen people in attendance to send an email about why they support Eyman and his efforts. Here’s Dunmire’s:
Why do I support Tim Eyman? Tim is the only individual looking out for the average citizen and the tax burden government imposes upon them. Tim’s success is derived from several factors., however, first and foremost is that he has his finger on the pulse of the electorate better than anyone else in the state and is able to identify those key pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, limit-government-power issues that resonate most with voters. His effort to get initiatives on the ballot is relentless and his track record of success is astounding, especially considering his opposition invariably expends 10 times his resources. Tim has the average citizen’s interest at heart and taxpayers throughout the state owe him a debt of gratitude. My wife Phyllis and Mike live in Woodinville. Phyllis taught learning disabled children for 25 years and is now retired and spends her time with charities and showing horses. Mike, a retired financial advisor, spends his time involved with philanthropy, politics and poker.
Comments are welcome.
The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund today launched a free phone hotline and website to gather accounts of threats or other harassment of people gathering signatures for Referendum 71. The ballot measure asks voters to throw out a new law granting state-registered domestic partners, including same-sex couples, most of the same rights as spouses under state law.
“If you have been threatened or suffered retaliation after signing an R-71 petition, or someone prevented you from signing an R-71 petition, please tell us what happened,” the website says, urging people to fill out a “legal intervention request form.”
“Washington voters shouldn’t have to choose between being involved in the democratic process and opening themselves up to possible acts of retaliation as a result of having their personal information posted on the Web,” ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb said in a press release announcing the hotline and website.
The group maintains that the new law makes marriage and domestic partnerships “effectively the same except in name,” a premise that legislative proponents deny.
The ADF’s move is partly in response to whosigned.org, a group that’s vowing to publicize the names of anyone who signs the petitions to put the measure on the fall ballot. Opponents are also running a “decline to sign” online pledge in hopes of preventing social conservatives from getting the roughly 150,000 signatures they’ll need to trigger a statewide vote.
Wow. This just moved on the AP wire:
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he’d secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he’d been having an affair. He apologized to his wife and four sons and said he will resign as head of the Republican Governors Association.
“I’ve let down a lot of people, that’s the bottom line,” the 49-year-old governor said at a news conference where he choked up as he ruminated with remarkable frankness on God’s law, moral absolutes and following one’s heart. His family did not attend.
The woman, who lives in Argentina, has been a “dear, dear friend” for about eight years but, Sanford said, the relationship didn’t become romantic until a little over a year ago. He’s seen her three times since then, and his wife found out about it five months ago.
He told reporters he spent “the last five days of my life crying in Argentina” and the affair is now over. Sanford, a rumored 2012 presidential candidate, refused to say whether he’ll leave office.
“What I did was wrong. Period,” he said.
From the state fire marshal’s office:
Projected dry conditions will lead to above normal significant fire potential in areas of Eastern Washington this summer. “Due to the heightened fire danger, it is important for homeowners to start preparing for fire season now,” says State Fire Marshal Mike Matlick. Homeowners living in wildland areas should understand the basics of wildfire and be prepared for when a wildfire occurs. Fuels, weather, and terrain can significantly influence the path and spread of a wildfire. Homeowners should concentrate on reducing the exposure and flammability of their home by clearing debris from under decks, keeping their roof and rain gutters free of pine needles and other flammable material, and storing firewood away from the house.
It is also important to reduce and manage the fuels in the Home Ignition Zone:
Within 30 feet of the home – Plant fire-resistant vegetation and water plants and trees regularly to ensure that they are healthy and green, mow the lawn regularly. Prune shrubs and cut back tree branches, the lowest branches should be at least 6-10 feet high and should not overhang any part of your home.
Within 30 to 100 feet from the home – Any trees should be spaced 20-30 feet between crowns to prevent fire spread. Plant in small, irregular clusters or islands. Separate shrubs by at least 2 times their mature height. Create fuel breaks, such as driveways, gravel walkways and lawns.
Beyond 100 feet – Prune and thin trees and brush. Break up the fire ladder leading from brush up into trees. Thin dense tree groups so canopies are not touching to slow the spread of fire. Remove heavy accumulation of woody debris, such as piles of stem wood or branches.
The state legislative ethics board has dismissed an ethics complaint against freshman Rep. Shelly Short, saying that Short was wrong to post her legislative contact information on a campaign website, but that the matter is minor and was immediately corrected.
Short’s 2008 campaign website allowed visitors to send her emails. She was elected in November, and took office in early January. But people continued to send her emails through the campaign website until earlier this year.
State law bans the use of contact information on campaign websites. That’s because lawmakers cannot use public resources (like a state-paid email account) for campaigning. But lawmakers, to allow people to contact them, are allowed to provide a single link from their campaign website to their official legislative website.
In this case, board chairman David Draper said, there’s reasonable cause to believe that Short violated the no-emails rule.
“However, the violation was inadvertent, minor, and has been cured,” he wrote. “After consideration of all the circumstances, any further proceedings would not serve the purposes of the Ethics Act.”
The board dismissed the complaint.
The state Legislative Ethics Board has dimissed a complaint by a foster mother that state Sen. Pam Roach released confidential information — the foster mom’s identity — and abused her legislative power in a custody case.
Still, the board concluded that Roach and a legislative aide apparently hired at state expense solely to work on this single issue “resorted to questionable tactics” in dealing with the foster mom. A website by the legislative aide, giving contact information for the mother “could have resulted in a dangerous situation for the foster mother and the child.” If the website had been publicly paid for, the board would have concluded that Roach broke state ethics laws. But the legislative aide apparently did it on his own, the board said.
Starting last summer, Roach began posting information on her personal blog about a custody battle involving a young girl. The girl had been placed in foster care, and her grandparents feared that they’d lose contact with her, felt state officials were ignoring a law that says that children should be placed with relatives when possible, and they felt the girl wouldn’t be well cared for by the foster mother.
From here, I’ll let board attorney Mike O’Connell take over:
Initiative promoter Tim Eyman said today that his property tax measure, Initiative 1033, is close to having enough signatures to ensure that it’s on the November ballot.
“We’ve hit 270,000 signatures for I-1033,” Eyman emailed to supporters this morning. I-1033 would cap the growth of state, city and county general-fund taxes, with any dollars over the cap devoted to reducing property taxes.
To get a measure on the ballot, organizers need signatures from 241,153 registered voters. Since some people sign twice, or make up names, or aren’t registered to vote, etc., state election officials recommend a cushion of about 25 percent extra names.
Eyman says that his group’s validity rate is higher than average, at about 83 percent, meaning that 83 out of 100 signatures are deemed valid when the state runs a spot-check of the signatures to protect against fraud. So Eyman’s aiming for 292,000 signatures this year.
“We had an absolutely killer week last week,” he wrote. “Signatures really poured into our P.O. box in Spokane.” That’s where his colleagues, Jack and Mike Fagan, help administer the effort. Mike Fagan is also one of a crowded field of people running for Spokane City Council this year.
There hasn’t been much public opposition to the initiative yet, but opponents typically hold their fire until after a measure actually qualifies for the ballot, because most don’t.
NOTE: The description of I-1033 above was rewritten to more accurately describe it. RR
-Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who created a stir earlier this month by declaring himself a candidate for county clerk in tiny Wakhiakum County, has pulled out of the race.
“My protest is over,” he wrote recently in a column on the Seattle Weekly’s blog. He said his very-brief candidacy was a stunt to draw attention to what he sees as a grievous wrong about Washington’s new “Top Two” primary elections. Under the new system, which allows people to specify virtually any “party preference,” political parties have no control over who runs under their name. To demonstrate this, Novoselic filed as preferring the non-existent “Grange Party.” Writes Novoselic:
Looking back, perhaps I should have chosen an organization which would have been more willing to protect its trademark? How about the Prefers Starbucks Party? Maybe Microsoft? The best would be the Prefers Walt Disney Party—because claiming Disney would further demonstrate what a Mickey-Mouse system this is.
We undoubtedly haven’t heard the last of the topic from Novoselic, though. He’s the guest speaker at a lecture at the capitol July 2nd. TVW will tape it to play on the public affairs network statewide and on their website.
-Politico’s “lighter side of politics” column has the tale of a bizarre overreaction when Elizabeth Becton, the scheduler/office manager for Congressman Jim McDermott, was addressed as “Liz” in a quick email from someone wanting an appointment with the congressman.
Becton’s emailed responses — all seven of them — to this perceived slight start with an icy “Who is Liz?” and quickly move on to browbeating the woman:
“If I wanted you to call me by any other name, I would have offered that to you…Now, please do not ever call me by a nickname again…Sounds like you got played by someone who KNOWS I hate that name and that it’s a fast way to TICK me off. Who told you that I go by that name? They are not your friend.”
The executive assistant trying to set up the appointment apologized. Over and over. Six times, in fact. Becton was not mollified.
“In the future, you should be VERY careful about such things…Quit apologizing and never call me anything but Elizabeth again. Also, make sure you correct anyone who attempts to call me by any other name but Elizabeth. Are we clear on this?”
etc. etc. The story has generated hundreds of comments on Politico’s website, many suggesting a very different nickname for Becton. But I think the first one sums it up best:
“Settle down Liz. You sound like a sack full of crazy.”
-The Olympian’s Brad Shannon points out that the governor’s guidance on more budget cuts also calls for a hiring preference for state employees. From Gregoire’s memo:
If agencies need to hire, I want to reiterate my direction that agencies should not hire from outside state government until efforts to consider qualified candidates from among those affected by layoffs are exhausted. We cannot underestimate the value of trained and experienced state employees.
Multiple hat tips: Dave Ammons.
June 18, 2009
TO: Statewide Elected Officials
Presidents of Higher Education Institutions
State Boards and Commissions
FROM: Christine O. Gregoire, Governor
SUBJECT: Additional Budget Savings
On June 18th, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council announced an additional reduction to the General Fund State revenue forecast. Although there are encouraging signs in the national and state economy, the size of the revenue reduction necessitates quick action to curb spending in the 2009-11 biennial budget. Therefore, I am imposing a hiring cap on executive agencies equal to a 2 percent reduction in their 2009-11 General Fund, budgeted, full time equivalent (FTE) levels and I ask agencies to take additional spending reductions. Implementation instructions will be communicated by the Office of Financial Management before July 1.
I recognize that the 2009-11 biennial budget challenges all of us to deliver services with reduced resources. I have asked cabinet agencies to confront this challenge with bold action. This is an opportunity for executive agencies to reform the way it conducts business to make our government more nimble and effective. This will require great creativity and resourcefulness on the part of executive agencies, and therefore, you need flexibility to manage within your agency’s budget.
I had this story in the morning paper:
OLYMPIA – State tax officials recently gave several Spokane-area churches an ultimatum: Stop running farmers markets in your parking lots or start paying tax on that land.
“We have no choice here. The law is really clear,” said Mike Gowrylow, a spokesman for the state Department of Revenue. “When you’ve got a commercial business – no matter how small or homegrown – operating on tax-exempt property, then it runs afoul of the law.”
Two of the farmers markets – one in Millwood and the one in downtown Spokane – will stay where they are, according to the Rev. Craig Goodwin, of Millwood Community Presbyterian Church.
He said his church will pay the $700 or so in taxes on its parking lot to enable the farmers market to continue.
“I’m familiar with the Bible passage ‘Pay unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,’ and we’re willing to do that,” he said. But he said the markets are a crucial community asset that should be exempt.
There was also some good news, however, in state revenue forecaster Arun Raha’s predictions Thursday.
“It increasingly appears that we are finally approaching the end of this `Great Recession,’” he said. The bottom of the recession seems near, he said, and the “freefall” declines in economic indicators are easing. Critically, he said, 10 large banks have been deemed healthy enough by federal regulators to begin paying back billions of taxpayer dollars.
“Things are beginning to move sideways rather than due south,” Raha said. “In today’s economy, sideways is good, because that is the start of a recovery.”
Still, he said, home prices in Washington will likely continue to drop until the end of the year. The state’s unemployment rate, now at 9.4 percent, is expected to rise to 10.6 percent by mid-2010. Construction jobs, in particular, are likely to decline throughout much of next year he said, and many of the building-boom jobs “have gone away for good.”
The good news: Boeing still has a long list of aircraft orders, and demand remains good for single-aisle jetliners. Microsoft’s balance sheet is healthy, Raha said, with “robust” product development in the works. And the state will likely get an “afterburner kick” to the economy in late 2011, as international trade rebounds. Exports have dropped by a third as other countries were hit harder by the recession.
One big unknown is consumer spending. People are still sitting on their wallets, with a savings rate of 5.7 percent. Although auto sales have stabilized nationally, Raha said, the trend in Washington is still downward. Light truck sales, in particular, remain down, presumably due to less buying for construction work.
Raha thinks that spending will rebound sharply. There’s a lot of pent-up consumer demand, he said, and the savings rate shows that people have money in the bank. Last year’s holiday shopping season was one of the worst on record for retailers, he said. This year’s, he says, could be much different.
“That’s the biggest wild card in our forecast,” he said.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is ordering state agencies to cut their payrolls by 2 percent more, after the state’s revenue forecaster this morning whacked revenue projections by nearly $500 million.
“We have been aware of the likelihood of a negative forecast and are prepared to take action,” Gregoire said.
The order applies to the agencies Gregoire oversees, but she’s also calling on colleges, community colleges and other state officials to make the same level of cuts. Agencies can hire critical staffers to continue their missions, the governor said, but must meet the cost-cutting goal.
Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for Gregoire’s budget office, said that could mean more layoffs and furloughs. And limits on out-of-state travel, equipment purchases and state contracts will continue.
After cutting nearly $4 billion from the state budget, lawmakers left hundreds of millions in savings as a cushion against further drops in state revenue. But the changed forecast would eat up virtually all of that money. Even if the state spent all of its hard-to-tap “rainy day fund” savings, it would have just $53 million left. That’s a tiny fraction of the state’s $35 billion budget, and could easily be erased by even a slight budget uptick, such as more students enrolling in school.
“Certainly, this is nowhere near what we’d like to have in an ending fund balance” during good times, said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield.
Still, compared the $9 billion shortfall that lawmakers were wrestling with last winter, the decrease is relatively modest. If the state budget cuts required big swaths of bandages to stem the red ink,Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said, “now we’re looking at the band aid drawer.”
Some lawmakers also pointed out that there’s plenty of time to find the savings between now and mid-2011. And further revenue forecasts _ the next one’s due in September _ may be brighter. If the governor feels she can manage for now, Hunter said, it would be a mistake for lawmakers to rush to Olympia for a kneejerk reaction.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is ordering cabinet-level state agencies to cut their employee costs by 2 percent more than budgeted.
“Agencies can hire employees where needed to accomplish their core business and enact the reforms I am asking for, but they cannot exceed the cap I am instituting today,” she said.
She’s also asking higher education and state officials that oversee other agencies to also cut back.
“Initial claims for unemployment insurance appear to have peaked and monthly job losses are diminishing.”
That’s the word from economist Arun Raha, the state’s revenue forecaster.
The trough of the recession, however, will be lower than he and the state’s economic and revenue forecast council expected in March. And if plotted on a graph, he said, the recession will look more like a drawn-out U than a quick-recovery V.
That complicates things for the state, which now faces revenue $185 million lower than predicted in March for the 2007-2009 biennium, and $297 million less than expected for the 2009-2011 biennium.
The upshot: the June revenue forecast shows general-fund revenue down a combined $482 million from what was expected just a few months ago.
(Tech note: sorry, a glitch earlier cut off part of the end of this post. RR)
My story in the print paper this a.m. had more details about the suspension of Spokane attorney (and former Spokane city councilman, and current candidate for same) Steve Eugster:
OLYMPIA _ After a long-running battle over his handling of an elderly widow’s case, Spokane attorney Steve Eugster has narrowly avoided disbarment.
The state Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday that Eugster should instead be suspended from practicing law for 18 months. He will also have to pay $13,500 to the now-deceased woman’s estate.
“Eugster breached his duty to maintain his client’s confidences, used confidences to take action directly contrary to his client’s interests, and created a nightmare for his client who had to spend $13,500 defending a petition to declare her incompetent,” Justice Tom Chambers wrote for the majority. “However, Eugster’s misconduct was the first in a long career.”
The four-justice minority called for a harsher penalty.
“The only conclusion that can be drawn … is that Eugster should be disbarred,” Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote.
Shawn Newman, an Olympia attorney representing Eugster, characterized the ruling as a win. “Once the bar unanimously recommends disbarment, it is almost unprecedented to get that turned around,” he said.
Eugster declined comment on the ruling. But the former Spokane city councilman, who’s running again for a seat on the council, said he has no intention of dropping out of the race. “Why would I?” he said.
Washington’s highest court has ordered that Spokane attorney Steve Eugster be suspended from practicing law for 18 months.
But a divided state Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Eugster, a former city councilman who’s again running for a seat, should not be disbarred.
“We conclude that Eugster’s misconduct does not merit disbarment but suspend him for 18 months and impose additional conditions,” Justice Tom Chambers wrote for the majority.
Four of the justices said that the penalty should be harsher.
“The only conclusion that can be drawn from our well-settled sanction analysis and precedent is that Eugster should be disbarred,” wrote Justice Mary Fairhurst.
The state bar association had sought to have Eugster disbarred because of the way he handled the case of Marion Stead, an 87-year-old Colville widow who hired him in 2004.
Stead was upset and suspicious of how her only child, Roger Samuels, was handling her financial affairs. But Eugster said she also badly wanted to see her son and wanted to include Samuels’ daughter in her will.
Eugster, a longtime acquaintance, concluded that nothing was amiss. But when he tried to reconcile the family, his relationship with Stead soured. She hired another attorney, Andrew Braff.
By then, Eugster says, he felt she couldn’t handle her own affairs. Trying to protect Stead, he says, he asked a court to appoint someone as guardian.
Stead was furious. The bar association says she spent $13,500 successfully staving off Eugster’s effort to have her found incompetent. Friends, health care workers, her investment broker and others all said she didn’t need a court-appointed guardian. She died in November 2006, two days after signing a new will. It left most of Stead’s $273,342 estate to her son’s ex-wife and an animal shelter. Braff, according to Eugster’s attorney Shawn Newman, filed a complaint with the state bar association.
In January, a bar association board unanimously recommended disbarment. It said Eugster failed to abide by his client’s wishes, used her secrets against her and filed the court case without asking experts about her mental capacity.
Eugster “put his own financial interests above that of a sick, elderly client to gain access to her money,” the bar association wrote to the high court. “He betrayed his client by exploiting the difficult relationship she had with her son, leaving her and her estate isolated from family oversight, and manipulated the judicial system for his own benefit.”
Eugster’s attorneys argued that he did not seek to gain financially over the deal. Eugster says he was just trying to protect a client whom he though was losing her mental faculties and vulnerable.
“They want to typecast Eugster as this stereotypical greedy attorney out to rip off this poor widow,” one of Eugster’s attorneys, Shawn Newman said last year. But Eugster reduced his fee for Stead, withdrew as a trustee of her estate and didn’t want to be appointed guardian, Newman said.
Lawyers have continuing obligations to clients and special responsibilities to take protective action on behalf of vulnerable adults and others,” Eugster’s attorneys wrote to the court. “…To sanction Eugster would chill other attorneys who may feel their client or former client is being taken advantage of.”
The high court ruled Thursday that “Eugster acted knowingly and with intent with respect to the
consequences when he refused to turn over his client’s files and important papers as requested and when he filed a guardianship petition to have his client or former client declared incompetent.”
“In so doing he violated seven ethical duties causing actual and potential harm to his client and the profession for which he is suspended from the practice of law for 18 months and ordered to pay restitution to the estate of Mrs. Stead in the sum of $13,500.”
My colleague John Craig has the story: State Sen. Bob McCaslin, 83, has filed for a seat on the Spokane Valley City Council.
McCaslin, who last November was re-elected to his senate seat, could hold both posts. The challenge would be trying to balance simultaneous duties in Olympia and Spokane Valley. Writes Craig:
The question is whether McCaslin would run afoul of a state law that says council positions “shall become vacant” if a member misses three regular meetings in a row without being excused by the rest of the council. McCaslin said he would hope to be excused from council meetings while the Legislature is in session, but would drive home for an important council vote.
This story, from this morning’s New York Times, about the causes of the nation’s fast-mushrooming deficit:
There are two basic truths about the enormous deficits that the federal government will run in the coming years. The first is that President Obama’s agenda, ambitious as it may be, is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits, despite what many of his Republican critics are saying. The second is that Mr. Obama does not have a realistic plan for eliminating the deficit, despite what his advisers have suggested.
reporter David Leonhardt’s story begins. From there, it divides the deficit up like a pie, assigning blame proportionately for the problem:
-37 percent from loss of taxes from this recession and the one in 2001,
-33 percent from legislation signed by President Bush,
-20 percent from Bush policies that are being extended by President Obama,
-7 percent from the February stimulus bill,
-and 3 percent from Obama’s proposals for energy, health care, etc.
The story goes into much more detail, including the likely fallout for the coming years, and this sobering conclusion:
The solution, though, is no mystery. It will involve some combination of tax increases and spending cuts. And it won’t be limited to pay-as-you-go rules, tax increases on somebody else, or a crackdown on waste, fraud and abuse. Your taxes will probably go up, and some government programs you favor will become less generous.
It’s well worth the read.
As a reporter, I get upwards of 100 emails a day. But some just jump out at you.
“More than 6,500 scientists and doctors will convene at SLEEP 2009,” one recent one began.
It turns out that a group called the “Associated Professional Sleep Societies” hosts an annual scientific conference about, yes, sleeping.
They’ve been holding these conferences for 23 years.
The group also publishes a monthly journal entitled — you guessed it — SLEEP.
The trend won’t be a surprise, but the numbers are pretty startling: state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said this week that the number of Washingtonians with no health insurance has shot up to a record 876,000.
That’s 1 in 5 people between the ages of 19 and 64. And that number doesn’t include people whose employers have stopped offering insurance, or workers who can’t afford their employer’s health plan.
“These are not just statistics,” Kreidler said. “They are people you know — family, friends, neighbors, colleagues. Maybe even you.”
This year alone, he said, 150,000 Washingtonians will lose their health coverage, mostly because of being laid off.
Kreidler is pushing for universal health coverage that’s not linked to a job.
“If we fail to act,” he said, “we will see one million people living without health insurance in our state.”
From my weekly print column:
Getting a breather from the tax man:
Struggling to pay your property taxes? Some low- and middle-income homeowners can delay paying those taxes.
Here’s who qualifies:
-You must have had a household income of $57,000 or less last year,
-You must have owned the home for at least 5 years,
-You must have significant equity built up,
-and it must be your primary residence.
Here’s the catch: the taxes are only deferred, not eliminated. When you sell or move out of the home, those taxes must be paid, with interest. (The interest rate this year is 5 percent.)
To find out more, contact the state Department of Revenue at 360-570-5900.
-Next place to see unpaid furloughs: the statehouse
Like many of their private-sector colleagues, some state workers are being told to take unpaid time off in order to save their co-workers’ jobs.
“As you know, the Legislature did not exempt itself from the reductions that were made across the rest of state government,” Secretary of the Senate Tom Hoemann recently wrote to staffers.
The Senate’s cutting eight jobs; the House of Representatives is cutting 10. Workers in both must also take five days off, unpaid, this year and next year.
On top of that, House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker said, House employees volunteered to take a total of more than 4,300 more hours off without pay. That saves an extra $420,000, she said, and saves four jobs.
Elsewhere in state government, state agencies and worker unions have so far been reluctant to institute furloughs, although it’s been talked about. (A key difference: the people who work for the House and Senate aren’t union members.)
Interestingly, there’s one group whose pay cannot be cut: state lawmakers. The salaries _ which range from $42,000 to $50,000 a year _ are set by a citizen’s commission. And the state constitution bans the commission from reducing elected officials’ pay.
Legislators’ salaries can, however, be frozen, and that’s what the commission has ordered for the next two years.
If you’re approached by a Referendum 71 signature-gatherer and want to read the petition before you sign it, you’d better bring a magnifying glass, a chair and a cool drink.
As required by law, R-71 authors managed to squeeze the entire 114-page bill onto a single sheet of paper. A very big sheet of paper. Dave Ammons, with the Secretary of State’s office, reports that:
“The whole petition, when unfolded, is map-sized, nearly 2 feet by 3 feet, front and back.”
(Ammons is the guy holding up the petition in the photo.)
One of the budget items that gave lawmakers heartburn this year was the decision to trim the state’s Basic Health Plan — state-subsidized health insurance for the working poor — by 43 percent.
With the program covering nearly 100,000 Washingtonians, that would likely mean cutting about 43 percent off them off their health coverage. In the middle of a recession. But how to decide who got whacked? Would the state cut pregnant women off health care? People with cancer? Would it hold a lottery (this idea was actually floated) to decide who loses health care? Do you cut off everybody but the poorest people? Or cut off those who’ve been on the insurance the longest?
Now, Washington’s Health Care Authority says it’s come up with a way to avoid cutting people off coverage.
The state will increase the rates that covered people pay, rather than forcing anyone off the program. Today, an average person pays $36 a month. Taxpayers pay the remaining $209 that the coverage costs.
Health Care Authority administrator Steve Hill says that the new plan calls for the average enrollee to pay about $62 a month next year. Also, the $150-a-year deductible will increase to $250 in January.
“We are fully aware that this decision will impact many people in the program,” Hill said in a statement announcing the decision. “Even a $17 a month increase can be tough for a family struggling to get by.” But the rate increase was preferable, he said, to “arbitrarily” removing people from coverage.
The plan also calls for shifting as many people as possible — up to 8,000 of those now covered — onto Medicaid. The Health Care Authority will also increase audits to ensure that people are actually eligible.
“With a more stringent assets test and normal attrition, Hill thinks the program will be able to meet its budget challenge without forcing off any people who are qualified to remain with Basic Health,” the agency said.
Referendum 71 proponents have been saying for days that they’re on the verge of printing petitions, but the process has faced repeated delays, apparently from the technical challenge of compressing a 113-page bill onto a petition form that people can actually read.
“It will go to print this afternoon,” Faith and Freedom Network President Gary Randall wrote in an e-mail to supporters this morning.
“I and all of us working on this effort are fully aware of the number of days remaining until the names must be turned in to the state,” he wrote. (They need more than 120,000 signatures by July 25th.) Randall said the group plans to add a time clock, ticking down the minutes, to its website.
“We are aware that there are some who should be on our side but are not, for whatever reason. And are predicting our failure,” he wrote. “We are also aware there are those whom we knew would do all they could to oppose us and they have and are.”
He said “several thousand” people have requested petitions so far.
The group’s political action committee board includes three Republican state lawmakers: local Rep. Matt Shea, from Mead; Sen. Dan Swecker and Rep. Jim McCune.
Here’s a follow-up: my story from the print paper:
OLYMPIA – Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is running for clerk of tiny Wahkiakum County, one of the most sparsely populated counties in the state.
He made it clear Thursday that he doesn’t want the job. He’s voting for the incumbent clerk.
“I’m voting for Kay Holland,” said Novoselic, 44. “I love Kay. She works hard in that office and she’s a good public servant. I’m behind her 100 percent.”
So why run against her?
Because Novoselic, the county Democratic Party chairman and author of a book on election reform, is trying to shed light on what he called a “moral outrage” built into the state’s new top-two primary.
Under the current rules, candidates are allowed to list a party preference on the ballot. The parties have no say in who uses the name. The ballot includes a disclaimer noting this.
Making the point that the labels are meaningless, even misleading, Novoselic’s election paperwork says he prefers the “Grange party.”
“There’s no such thing as the Grange party,” he said. Yet candidates can say whatever they want on the ballot. Last year, candidates running for Statehouse seats said they preferred things like “America’s Third Party,” the “Cut Taxes G.O.P. Party,” and, famously, the “Salmon Yoga Party.”
Novoselic is making the same complaint that the state’s major political parties have: that candidates they don’t support can still use the party’s name on the ballot.
That cheapens the rights of those who band together as a political group, he said, and do the hard work of meetings, bake sales and agreeing on platforms.
“It’s an assault on grass-roots association,” he said.
At the next statewide Grange meeting, he said, he’s going to propose statewide changes that would ban people from using party designations without permission. That used to be the law, he said.
Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, says the new system works well, with safeguards for parties.
A lawsuit by the state’s major political parties several years ago briefly led to a wildly unpopular “pick a party primary,” in which voters had to select a party’s ballot and vote only among those candidates. That’s how the primaries work in Idaho and Montana.
After years of litigation and legislation, the state now has a hybrid: the top-two primary. Candidates declare a party preference. Parties have no say on that. And the top two vote-getters in the primary – regardless of party – face off in the November vote.
Ammons said about 75 percent of voters say they like the new system.
They key thing, he said, is that the primary is not a party nominating process. It’s simply a winnowing of candidates.
Parties can choose who will be their standardbearer, he said. And those candidates are free to trumpet that news in brochures, ads or in the voters’ pamphlet.
Ammons said he’s glad that Novoselic is adding to the debate, but in this case, “I think you’ve got a solution in search of a problem.”
And parties are free to publicly disavow people whose politics they question. The Franklin County Republican Party, for example, recently “censured” state Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, for allegedly voting too many times with Democrats.
Novoselic said he decided to run for county clerk because it was the only partisan election on the ballot near his Deep River home.
Novoselic is still in touch with his rock-star roots. He’s in a band, with a new recording due out soon.
But he’s also involved in the rural community where he and his wife make their home. He’s the master of the Grays River Grange No. 124, presiding over meetings and rituals. He and his wife grow cabbage and other crops. They’re trying to encourage a local-food movement. He speaks and writes on behalf of election reforms.
Thursday, Novoselic called Holland and “apologized for dragging her into this.”
But what if he wins?
“That’s a good question,” he said.
Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic has filed election papers to run for clerk of tiny Wahkiakum County, one of the most sparsely populated counties in the state.
The county auditor’s office confirmed to me this morning that Novoselic has filed not as a Democrat or Republican, but under the category “prefers Grange party.”
That’s a reference to Novoselic’s longtime involvement in the Grange, a rural community organization with its roots in agriculture and political populism. Novoselic is the Master of Grays River Grange No. 124, presiding over meetings and rituals.
“The formality of what Novoselic calls `The Orthodox Grange’ appeals to his sense of propriety and down-home togetherness,” state oral historian John Hughes wrote recently in his excellent profile of Novoselic. “The old wood-frame Grange Hall radiates history.”
The county is the third smallest in the state, with a population of less than 4,000 people. The county seat, Cathlamet, numbers just 565 people.
Novoselic has long been interested in the mechanics and promise of politics. In 2004, he wrote “Of Grunge and Government — Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy.” He’s a Democrat — in fact, he’s the chairman of the Wahkiakum County Democrats — but Hughes described him as “fundamentally a lower-case democrat who believes that partisanship and the politics of marginalization are harmful to the country.”
He’s also a longtime advocate of ranked-choice voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting.
In a grange blog announcing his candidacy, Novoselic notes that the group is nonpartisan. But under the rules of the state’s new “top two” primary, candidates are allowed broad latitude to describe their political beliefs. (In the new primary’s trial run last year, one man ran as a candidate of the hitherto-unheard-of “Salmon Yoga Party.”
Novoselic, saying he’s a strong believer in the constitutional right of free association, says its a mistake to let candidates describe themselves as members of a particular party, regardless of whether the party actually accepts them. The state’s Democratic and Republican parties have made the same argument for years.
“My problem is not really with a top-two runoff election,” Novoselic wrote on the grange blog. “My issue is with the way candidates can appropriate the name of a private group.”
He’s running against County Clerk Kay M. Holland, who was appointed to the post in January after the former clerk retired. Prior to the promotion, Holland had served as chief deputy clerk for 14 years.
Holland, a fellow Democrat, said she knows Novoselic from the county party meetings, but hasn’t yet talked to him about the decision to file for the seat.
“Nice guy,” she said.
Novoselic keeps his hand in music, playing periodically, but is clearly attached to his rural life and the sense of community he’s found. Here, in an appearance a year ago at Seattle’s Experience Music Project, he talks about trying to balance things:
Hat tip: to Kelly Haughton, at the blog Ranked Choice Voting in Washington.
I had this story in the print paper today:
OLYMPIA _ Citing a smaller population of female prisoners, state corrections officials plan to shutter one of two units at Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, the only women’s prison east of the Cascades.
The 359-woman prison in Medical Lake will shrink to 187 inmates. The rest will be transferred to West Side facilities.
About 30 of Pine Lodge’s roughly 100 staffers will lose their current jobs, the Department of Corrections said, but officials will try to find new jobs for them in the state prison system.
Prison officials said earlier this year they would close the entire prison and transfer all its inmates to a site near Vancouver, Wash. Closing Pine Lodge would save $14 million over two years, they said at the time. But that plan was shelved in favor of a statewide study – due late this year – to determine which prison to close.
Corrections spokeswoman Maria Peterson said Tuesday the unit closure at Pine Lodge is not a preface to closure of the entire facility.
“The plan right now is to run it at about 200 female offenders,” Peterson said.
No, not for a special session. Just for “assembly days,” the legislature’s periodic gatherings to hold hearings and figure out what to put on the plate for the next session — now just six months away.
This year, the meetings will be later than normal:
-Oct. 1-2 (Thursday and Friday)
-and Dec. 3-4 (also Thursday and Friday)
As Senate and House administrators noted in an email today, “the schedule also allows time for development of a legislative response to the September 17th revenue forecast, if necessary.”
Petitions are being printed today for Referendum 71, which asks voters to overturn a new law granting same-sex domestic partners many of the rights of spouses. But those who sign the petitions may be in for a surprise.
Some R-71 opponents have put up a Web site – www.whosigned.org – where they intend to post the names of all the required 120,577 signers.
“We think that it will help neighbors talk to each other,” said Brian Murphy, 45, a Seattle man who helped put up the site.
Referendum 71 organizers say the tactic is way over the line.
“It’s intimidation, there’s no question about it,” said Gary Randall, president of the Faith and Freedom Network, one of the groups backing the measure.
Randall scoffed at the idea that the site will help foster conversations over backyard fences.
“It’s a lie,” he said. “…They may want to get to know their neighbors who disagree with them, but not to have a friendly conversation.”
Mike Fagan, who for years has helped run Tim Eyman’s anti-tax ballot measures, has filed for a Spokane City Council seat.
“While the city of Spokane braces itself for some lean budget years…the taxpayers of this city deserve to be protected from wanton taxation in order to maintain basic services,” Fagan said in a press release this morning. He said he’ll file at the county courthouse late this afternoon, running for the District 1 seat now held by Al French.
Fagan’s clearly running on his initiative work, saying in his statement that:
Over the last ten years, I have had an impact on every taxpayer in Washington State through my sponsorship of citizen’s initiatives. These efforts have served to bring vehicle license tabs down to a reasonable rate, capped property tax increases, re-established the function of the state auditor, and reigned in the uncontrolled growth of Government. I will continue to serve the citizens of my district, and the city of Spokane with the same bulldog determination as I have portrayed in these endeavors.
Fagan is a disabled veteran, who served as a criminal investigator and contracting officer in the Army. He’s co-founder and co-director of “Voters Want More Choices,” a political action committee that runs Eyman’s measures. The initiatives are a profit-turning venture for Fagan, his father Jack Fagan, and Eyman, who solicit donations to a “compensation fund” for themselves.
A group opposing Referendum 71 says it will publicize the names of everyone who signs petitions to put Referendum 71 on the fall ballot.
The group, which has named the site whosigned.org, says that the referendum process “must meet a high standard of transparency to ensure a fair and open discussion in the public forum.”
The referendum asks voters to veto Senate Bill 5688, a new law granting domestic partners many of the same rights and responsibilities of spouses. From the website:
Once signature petitions for initiatives and referenda are submitted and verified by the Secretary of State they are part of the public record. When signatures for Referendum 71 have been verified WhoSigned.Org will:
-Work to make this public record signature information accessible and searchable on the internet.
-Flag the 3% signature sample that is certified by the Elections Division of the Secretary of State.
-Provide Washington State Voters with a way to check that the public record of their advocacy is correct.
-Provide Washington State Voters with a way of reporting when their signature has been recorded either fraudulently or in error.
(I’m hoping to hear back from Brian Murphy, one of the organizers of the site. Will update when I do.)
Washington Values Alliance President Larry Stickney has dropped his challenge to the ballot language for Stickney’s Referendum 71, and organizers say that petitions could hit the streets as early as tomorrow.
The measure asks voters to veto legislation that gives domestic partners many of the same rights and responsibilities as spouses, but not the right to actually marry.
The language, as is normal, was written by the attorney general’s office. Stickney last week filed a challenge, wanting to tweak some of the language. But proponents already face a very tight timeline — July 25th — to gather the 120,577 voter signatures required to get the measure on the ballot.
“After a meeting in Olympia yesterday, we decided to withdraw our filing in favor of having a few more days to collect signatures,” R-71 proponent Gary Randall said in an e-mail to supporters over the weekend. “We became aware of several things that were in motion to further delay our signature-gathering.”
Randall says that petitions should be available Tuesday. They’ll apparently be several pages long. That’s because Senate Bill 5688 was 112 pages long, and the initiative process requires that an entire bill be printed on the petitions that voters are asked to sign. (Virtually no one reads this text, but it has to be there.)