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Eye On Olympia

Archive for March 2009

Running the numbers on proposed WSU budget cuts: A big cut, yes, but not as bad as it seems…

If it’s possible to sound stunned in a prepared statement, Washington State University President Elson Floyd did so earlier today:

“Hard as it is to imagine, today’s House budget is even more draconian, with a more devastating impact, than the Senate budget proposed yesterday. Words are inadequate to describe the havoc this will wreak,” he says.

WSU is describing the latest budget plan as stripping away $151.4 million from the university, which would be a pretty astounding 29 percent cut.

But while the university makes a valid point about the state backing away from its support for higher education, it should also be noted that those scary numbers above don’t include $19.7 million in expected federal stimulus dollars for WSU. Nor do they include the $40.4 million the school is projected to get if it takes lawmakers’ advice and hikes tuition 10 percent a year for the next two years.

If you take those things into account, the state cut amounts to $91.2 million.

Still a big number, yes. To put it in perspective, WSU’s total budget for FY 2007-09 was $1.181 billion. Keeping things the same for the next two years is estimated to cost $1.240 billion. That’s what the cut numbers are based on.

Here’s what may make people at WSU feel a little better: The House budget would leave the university with $1.148 billion, or about $33 million less than it had in the last budget.

And while we’re at it, lets see how things look in the Senate budget proposal, released yesterday:
Proposed state cut: $104 million
Offset by federal stimulus dollars: minus $15.7 million
Offset more by 7 percent higher tuition: minus $28 million
Total: About $60 million cut.

WSU’s total 2007-2009 budget: $1.181 billion
Stay-the-course budget for the next two years: $1.240 billion
Senate total budget proposal: $1.179 billion

In other words, under the Senate plan, WSU’s total budget for the next two years would be just about what it was for the last two.

(Eastern Washington University folks: If you want a similar breakdown, shoot me an email or note it in the comments field below and I’ll post those numbers.)


 

House budget details: some higher fees, dramatic cuts to health care, Adult Day Health gone, millions less for mental health, etc.

The House plan includes no tax increases, although hunting and fishing licenses would cost more. Vehicle owners would also be asked to pay $5 more in annual licensing fees, with the voluntary payment supporting state parks.

Here are some of the details from the House budget proposal:

Education


-Teachers would get no cost-of-living increases for the next two years, saving $357 million.
-Teachers would lose two learning improvement days, saving $72 million. This is like a 1 percent salary cut for teachers.
-A $4-per-student allocation to buy library materials would be eliminated. Savings: $8 million.
-$768 million would be cut from the Student Achievement Program, although about a third of that would be replaced by federal dollars.

Higher education


-The state would provide $34 million more in financial aid.
-Tuition increases would raise a $231 million.

Social services


-Adult day health, which provides meals and daytime programs for the elderly and disabled, would be eliminated. The state would save $21 million.
-The state’s juvenile boot camp in Connell would be closed.

Mental health


-Regional Support Networs would lose $23 million, as well as millions more in increases they’d expected.

Health care


-Rates paid by the state to hospitals and doctors who see state patients would be reduced by millions of dollars.
-Health coverage for people judged unemployable would be reduced. So would coverage for people incapacitated by drug-or alcohol addiction.
-Care by in-home health aides would be reduced.
-Nursing homes would lose $101 million in state and federal dollars.
-An HIV early-prevention program would be cut slightly, saving $1 million.
-State spending on free cancer screenings for low-income senior citizens would be eliminated, saving $4 million.
-The state would stop providing most vaccines to doctors for free, saving $54 million.
-Local health districts would get less state money. Savings: $20 million.
-State funding for the poison control center would be cut in half, saving $2 million.
-The Basic Health Plan, which provides state-subsidized coverage for the working poor, would be cut by 43 percent, saving $252 million.

Other


-Seven of the state’s 88 fish hatcheries, including one in Colville, would be closed, saving $8 million.
-State pension contributions would be reduced by $430 million.

Thousands of teachers laid off? A look at the House budget and “trickle-down pain”…

A day after the Senate, House lawmakers proposed a budget plan that cuts much deeper into higher education but spares K-12 education from some major cuts.

The House plan would strip $683 million from colleges, even while raising tuition at four-year schools 10 percent a year.

“We are asking them to take the biggest cut” despite the fact that the schools are engines of innovation and worker retraining, said Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton. “They will have to do the hardest work to figure out how to get through these tough times. But I know they can do it.”

The Senate plan, which would cut $513 million, is estimated to mean 2,500 fewer higher education jobs. House officials wouldn’t put a number on their proposal, saying they would leave it to the individual colleges to meet budget targets.

As for K-12 schools, the House would cut $625 million, compared to the Senate’s deeper $877 million in cuts. Much of that money would come from a voter-approved measure designed to shrink class sizes by hiring more teachers.

But even under the House plan, Haigh predicted, many teachers will lose their jobs.
“If we can keep other funds whole,” she said, “maybe we won’t lose more than 3- or 4,000 teachers.”

A top Senate budget writer, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, also estimates that 2,000 state workers will lose their jobs.

“This is not a very pleasant day for any of us,” said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler.
Lawmakers will spend the next few weeks agreeing on a final plan.

State spending would still rise

Both budgets total about the same: $32.3 billion, compared to the $33.7 billion budget approved two years ago. That doesn’t include $2 billion to $3 billion more in expected federal help. And both the House and Senate budget would reduce state pension payments by hundreds of millions of dollars and use millions more in long-term construction dollars to support the operating budget.
In other words, the state will still be spending significantly more in this budget than in the last one.

“We now know where the Enron accountants turned up: writing this budget,” said Rep. Doug Erickson, R-Bellingham, criticizing the fact that that the federal aid wasn’t included in the budget.

“Today we got the status quo,” said Erickson, indicating the House budget. “We’re going to borrow more, we’re going to spend more, and we’re going to pass the debt on to our kids.”

He and other Republicans say the budget crisis was a chance for long-term spending reforms, but that majority Democrats resisted that. Over the past 4 years, state spending rose $8 billion. Republicans argue that the state must overhaul state spending to ease the burden on taxpayers and businesses.

“It’s really hard to imagine people who are having difficulty meeting payroll in their small businesses, and yet our state employees have one of the richest health care plans that’s out there,” said Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “I find that just amazing.”

House budget writers said Tuesday that they tried to preserve basic education and the state’s social safety net, as well as state-subsidized health insurance for kids.

Taxpayers are likely to be asked for a tax increase to help avoid some of the cuts, said Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. But what tax and how much have yet to be worked out.

Wherever possible, Haigh said, lawmakers want to set a budget amount and let school districts, state agencies and colleges figure out the best way to meet it. Many wanted that flexibility, lawmakers said.

“There was trickle-down economics,” said Haigh. “Well, this is trickle-down pain.”

UPDATE: Local higher-ed breakout:

How the House and Senate budgets would affect local universities:

Locally, Eastern Washington University would fare about the same under either plan, with about an 18.5 percent cut from what it would cost to maintain current programs. Washington State University would lose 17 percent to 18 percent. The deepest cuts under either budget would be at the University of Washington, which would lose $134 million under the House plan.

Re: Higher ed:

the house budget would cut operating costs $713 million, which — after tuition hikes — works out to a net decrease of 10-17 percent at the state’s four-year schools and 13 percent at community and technical colleges.

House budget proposal: goes easier on K-12, worse for higher education…

-suspend I-732 cost of living increases for teachers and school staff

-reduce I-728 (class sizes) by $508 million

-Higher ed: “major reductions in spending — resulting in lower enrollments”

-Basic Health Plan reduced by $252 million

-postpone $432 in pension payments

-rate reductions to social service providers, nursing homes, fewer hours for home care workers

-mental health RSNs reduced

More details soon…

Fish and Wildlife battle: not over yet…

The battle to strip the state Fish and Wildlife Commission of some of its powers — mainly hiring and firing the director of the agency — continues.

Commercial fisherman say the board is tilted too far in favor of sport/recreational anglers. The latter say that the board is simply making the hard decisions necessary to preserve the region’s fish runs, and that rod-and-reel anglers are inherently more selective than folks who scoop up fish with nets. Here’s a story with a lot more details.

Last week, Rep. Brian Blake tried to hash out a deal that would have stripped the commission of direct control over the agency director. It would have also taken the commission out of regulating commercial fishing. The deal fell apart when another lawmaker wanted to eliminate many game fish and all hunting from regulation by the commission as well. The bill, SB 5127, was dead.

But the idea wasn’t. Sometime between last Monday and today — the online bill record isn’t as detailed as I’d like on this — similar provisions were quietly tucked into another bill that’s parked in a committee chaired by Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle (above). Jacobsen’s the one who’d prime-sponsored 5127.

Result: Just like Jacobsen’s bill, House Bill 1778 would now shrink the 9-member commission to 7, shorten their terms, and give the governor the authority to pick a director for the agency. (The commission would offer up three names for the governor to select from.) The bill report is here; don’t bother looking at the text of the bill, which doesn’t seem to be the latest version.

It looks like the provision stripping the commission of the ability to regulate commercial fishing is gone, however. But the bill does say that the governor’s pick of a director and commissioners “must be made with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

The amended bill will likely pass the Senate, since it already passed the original version of Jacobsen’s bill. The key moment, presumably, will be when this amended House bill lands back in the House.

Stay tuned.

Lawmakers re: the Senate’s plan to bridge the budget shortfall…

“This is a real budget and a balanced budget. It is a budget that attempts to share the sacrifices of this very difficult time.”
     -Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown

-“The Senate budget will add over 7,000 people to the ranks of the unemployed.”
     -Sen. Margarita Prentice

-“These are tough decisions. But people are living through tough decisions every day.”
     -Sen. Chris Marr

“There isn’t anyone in this room…who isn’t looking and finding things that they care about. This truly is devastating on all of us.”
     -Sen. Prentice

-“We’ve heard the message loud and clear that the public is skeptical of whether or not these cuts are real.”
     -Sen. Brown

“Instead of streamlining government and delivering services more efficiently and effectively, the Senate proposes to use nearly $5 billion in one-time federal and state money to backfill the overspending of the last four years.”
     -Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia

-“…the Senate Democrats are choosing to increase K-12 classroom sizes so they can allocate more taxpayer dollars for state-employee health care, cut access to our colleges and universities in favor of continuing health care for illegal immigrants, and reduce support for nursing homes instead of freezing wages for all state employees.”
     -Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield

-“The last thing we wanted to cut was education…We’re not playing games here…This is a gut-wrenching day.”
     -Sen. Tracey Eide

House transportation budget: less for North Spokane Corridor, more for dangerous U.S. 195 intersection…

The $7.5 billion House budget plan, released this afternoon, includes $4.6 billion for more than 400 transportation construction projects across the state.

In the face of shrinking revenues, the plan maintains — mostly — funding for the state’s “mega-projects”: $2.4 billion for Seattle’s aging/sinking/crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, $1.5 billion for a Tacoma-area HOV-lane project. Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass would get $600 million, and the SR 520 floating bridge replacement would get $1.2 billion in new money, much of it from tolls on that bridge.

But instead of the $350 million proposed over the next several years for Spokane’s mega-project, the $3 billion North Spokane Corridor, the House sets aside $302 million.

What happened? According to House transportation committee member John Driscoll, some of the difference ($14 million) would instead be spent to build a bridge separating traffic at the dangerous intersection of U.S. 195 and Cheney-Spokane Road. A 16-year-old motorist trying to cross traffic died there in January after being broadsided by a pickup traveling down the highway.

The accident sent community- and family members flocking to Olympia to call for changes at the intersection, which Driscoll said saw two more collisions just last week.

“We’re looking at that intersection as very dangerous,” said Driscoll. “We need to get on that right away.” The House plan, he said, would have the bridge finished within four years.

The Senate plan had far less — $250,000 — for work at the intersection. That would have paid to realign a turn lane to improve visibility for cars trying to cross.

Driscoll also said that many projects included in a $341 million project list for federal stimulus dollars now look like they’ll come in under-budget. If so, he said, the Spokane region might be able to get some of that money for North Spokane Corridor work.

Also in the House budget: local repaving and other road-maintenance work, projects on U.S. 2 north of Spokane, and work on the port of entry on I-90 at the Idaho border.

Want more? Here are the details.

Budget reaction: the short form…

 I’ll have lots more reactions later today, but here’s the abbreviated version of reactions to the state Senate budget plan released this morning:

“…Devastating…”
-Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina

“…Devastating…”
-Diane Sosne, Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199 NW

“…Devastating…”
-Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton

“…Devastating…”
-Tom Geiger, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 21

“…Devastating…”
-Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association

“…Devastating…”
-Bill Lyne, English professor, Western Washington University

The Senate’s proposed budget: the details…

After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and speculation, lawmakers in the state Senate this morning proposed a budget to bridge the state’s $9 billion budget shortfall over the next two years.

It calls for closing the state prison on McNeil Island, doing away with hundreds of millions of dollars in cost-of-living increases for state workers, college staffers and teachers, and cutting nearly half a billion from higher education. Drug- and alcohol treatment would be cut, and 3,000 people judged unemployable — often due to mental illness — would be cut from a $339 monthly stipend and health care.

The plan is largely a no-new-taxes plan, although it would include a voluntary $5 annual fee per vehicle to stave off the closure of dozens of state parks. It also does away with a real-estate tax exemption for foreclosed homes sold by banks. It includes far more in tax breaks, including a $2.1 million tax break for newspapers.

Some local things: (I’m still combing through the phone-book-sized documents, so this is nowhere near a complete list)

-a 17 percent budget cut to the Eastern Washington State Histocial Society, otherwise known as the Museum of Arts and Culture.
-an 11 percent cut to the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute.
-a 17 percent but to Washington State University, including a projected 406 fewer full-time employee slots.
-an 18.5 percent cut to Eastern Washington University, including 100 fewer employees. (Note: both WSU and EWU decreases would be partially offset by a 7 percent-a-year increase in tuition.)

The details:

The $32.1 billion budget proposes:
-no state cost of living increases over the next two years for state workers, college staffers or teachers, and no additional money for home-care and child care workers.
-$485 million less for the state’s colleges,
-tuition increases of 7 percent a year at four-year colleges and 5 percent at community and technical colleges,
-not paying school districts $754 million they were slated to get to reduce class sizes and train teachers,
-eliminating $582 million in elementary school staffing and “levy equalization” to help poor schools,
-cutting 120 beds for civilly committed people at state psychiatric hospitals by September, saving $29 million,
-closing the state prison on McNeil Island. Savings: $16 million.
-cutting spending on the Basic Health Plan — subsidized coverage for the working poor — by 42 percent,
-$107 million less in reimbursement for hospitals who care for people who cannot pay,
-cutting room for more than 3,000 expected students from the state’s colleges,
-cutting 3,000 people — plus another 3,000 who were expected to sign up — from a state program that provides health care and $339-a-month stipends to people who cannot work. Half of the recipients are mentally ill; some are homeless. Health benefits would also be changed. Savings: $190 million.
-$38 million in cuts to payments for state-paid patients in nursing homes,
-Cutting transportation services and making other changes to adult day health programs that care for elderly or disabled people: savings: $19.5 million.

Parks would remain open

The Senate plan includes a $5 voluntary donation included in vehicle registrations, with the money going to pay for state parks. Although some people will refuse to pay, the change is expected to raise $28 million, which would allow all state parks to remain open. Otherwise, park officials say they’re prepared to close dozens of parks across the state, possibly including Mt. Spokane State Park.

Deeper cuts avoided


To avoid even deeper cuts, Senate budget writers shifted some money and made other accounting changes. They saved $411 million, for example, by changing the formula for pension contributions for state employees, teachers, and some other public employees. Both the state and workers would pay less.
Budget writers also shifted $743 million that would normally be spent on  construction — into the state’s operating fund.

Some spending increased


K-12 schools would get more money for basic education, which would rise from $11 billion over the past two years to $12.9 in the next two — an increase of 16 percent. The Senate plan also includes hundreds of millions of expected federal dollars for schools.
Some other spending rose, including $110 million more for an expected 25 percent rise in the number of families on welfare over the next two years, as well as $2.5 million more for food stamps.

UPDATE: But wait, there’s less.

A spokesman for the Washington Education Association says that what looks like increased basic education spending isn’t the good news for schools that it seems. Rich Wood says the money is due to more students and to current budget obligations, like paying the last few months of the current school year’s cost-of-living increase. Says Wood: “The 16 percent increase in basic ed is not new money or some kind of discretionary increase in spending.”

Battle of the potatoes…

Gov. Chris Gregoire has bet a batch of Washington-grown potatoes that Gonzaga’s Bulldogs will trounce the UNC Tar Heels tonight in Memphis.

North Carolina’s Gov. Bev Perdue’s countered with NC sweet potatoes.

Whoever wins, the potatoes will go to a food bank.

Fish and Wildlife commission dodges a bullet — deal to strip it of some powers falls apart at the last minute….

In a surprise move, a bill to restrict the power of the state Fish and Wildlife Commission abruptly died Friday as lawmakers deadlocked.

“There just weren’t the votes to move it out of committee,” said Rep. Brian Blake, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. After meeting with other Democrats behind closed doors in a last-minute attempt to keep the proposal alive, he abruptly adjourned Friday’s committee meeting without a vote on the bill. It was the last meeting before a key deadline Monday, meaning that the bill is almost certainly dead.

“It was kind of tenuous throughout the day,” Blake said.”…There was no hope.”

Blake had tried to work out a compromise version of Senate Bill 5127, which would have stripped the commission of the authority to hire and fire the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. It also would have ended the terms of the 6 current members of the 9-person commisson.

Some key lawmakers are unhappy with the commission, saying that it favors sports fishing over commercial fishing and isn’t tolerant of dissent from the public. Other lawmakers and recreational anglers defend the commission, saying its members have a thankless job and are trying to defend struggling fish stocks.

Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat, joined with some Republican lawmakers to hash out a more modest overhaul, shrinking the commission to 7 people, giving the director authority over commercial fishing, and saying that the governor — not the commission — can fire the director.

A key wrinkle, however, came when Rep. John McCoy proposed putting more restrictions on the commission’s authority. McCoy, a Marysville Democrat and member of the Tulalip tribe, wanted to do also away with the commission’s authority over hunting, shellfish and fish like salmon. Those things would instead be regulated by the director. The commisson’s authority would have been limited to non-game wildlife and warm-water game fish like trout and bass.

The resulting disagreement left Blake with too few votes to get the bill out of committee, he said.

Trying to broker a way out of a longstanding fish war…

From this morning’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ Trying to broker a truce in a long-running dispute, state lawmakers are considering stripping the state Fish and Wildlife Commission of its role overseeing commercial fishing.

The move – likely to be voted on in a House committee today – caps a tug-of-war with high emotions on both sides.

The nine-member citizen commission, appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, oversees fishing and hunting policy.

Critics – including some key lawmakers and Indian tribes – say the current members are biased in favor of sport fishing.

But the commission’s defenders say the group is simply doing the best it can to preserve struggling fish populations. And fishing with a rod instead of a net, they say, is far more selective at a time when the state’s trying to preserve wild fish runs.

The commissioners “are acting on behalf of conservation,” said Ed Wickersham, a sport fisherman from Ridgefield. “They’re frightening interests that have lived by exploiting these resources.”

One of the most high-profile critics of the commission is Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle. He has allowed the Senate to confirm just one of the commissioners, Spokane’s George Orr.

Jacobsen is unhappy that agency director Jeff Koenings – perceived as a commercial-fishing ally – resigned under heavy pressure in December. He’s also offended that the commission snubbed commission vice chairman Fred Shiosaki two years ago, deciding against making the Spokane angler chairman. Shiosaki later resigned from the commission.

“He’s a wonderful gentleman, and they blighted his career at the end,” Jacobsen said.

This year, Jacobsen proposed a bill to shrink the commission, shorten the terms, and strip it of authority to choose the head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The governor would do that instead.

“They’ve managed to enrage the tribes, the commercial fishermen, the hunting community. And that’s pretty hard to do,” he said. “They’ve proved it doesn’t work.” The Senate approved the bill and sent it to the House earlier this month.

Jacobsen’s clear about the goal.

“If this bill passes,” he told lawmakers this week, “we neutered ’em.”

Lawmakers watching their bills die as Senate cutoff looms…

This can be a stomach-churning time for lawmakers trying to shepherd pet bills over the finish line. If you need any evidence of that, ask Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane.

Parker, a freshman who narrowly ousted Democrat Don Barlow in November, was one of the first out of the gate this year when he introduced House Bill 1001. He filed it Dec. 8, standing in the rain on the capitol lawn to meet a handful of veterans who supported it.

The bill would allow the state Department of Veterans Affairs to claim human remains sitting unclaimed or abandoned by family members at funeral homes across the state.

Parker badly wants his bill to become law. And yet it’s parked in a Senate committee, where it will soon die.*

“Being that it was the second bill (introduced) this session, and the day after Pearl Harbor Day, you’d think there could have been a hearing by now,” Parker complained the other day. So he went to see the committee chairwoman, Sen. Darlene Fairley.

At this point, the two versions of what happened diverge.

Parker says he waited patiently for Fairley, and finally got a moment with her to urge her to move the bill ahead.

Fairley has a somewhat different take on what happened. She said, in essence, that Parker accosted her as she was trying to get somewhere on her electric scooter. She repeatedly described him as a “bully,” and said that Parker threatened to complain loudly to the press.

Fairley says there’s a simple reason she didn’t hold a hearing or vote on the bill: there’s a similar version from Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane.

“Marr’s bill is alive and well,” she said. “It does the same thing. The House sent me millions of bills. I can only hear so many. We’re going with Marr’s bill.”

UPDATE: But wait, there’s more: Republicans have apparently launched an effort to horse-trade and save Parker’s bill. It ain’t over yet.

Domestic partners bill clears House committee…

A controversial bill to give same-sex and senior-citizen heterosexual domestic partners virtually all the rights and responsibilities of married couples was voted out of committee 7-4 earlier today over the objections of Republicans. The bill, SB 5688, has already cleared the Senate.

Local Rep. Matt Shea, R-Mead, was one of the no votes, saying that he worried that the changes in the bill would cost the state millions of dollars. Voting yes was local Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane.

State Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, said that he feels the proposal should be sent to the ballot for a decision by voters. He said he feels that advocates are winning “on a technicality” rather than taking it to the public.

“My district is contacting me more on this bill than on any other bill,” said Ross.

Committee chairman Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat who is gay, said that most of the projected cost of the bill stems from changes in the health care benefits of heterosexual couples who have registered. And those costs, he said, are likely much lower than projected.

The bill would not allow same-sex marriage. (A bill that would have, HB 1727, died early in Pedersen’s committee.) Critics — more than 2,000 of whom showed up last week for a rally at the state capitol — maintain that 5688 will provide a legal framework for a court challenge that does lead to same-sex marriage.

Petersen and other gay lawmakers have said that marriage equality remains the eventual goal, but that the state is not ready for that yet. And SB 5688, they say, will provide key protections, such as allowing the partner of a dead police officer or teacher to get pension benefits they’re now denied.

“I don’t think we can as a state achieve equality of treatment…until we achieve full access to marriage,” Pedersen told fellow lawmakers today. “But I don’t think we have a consensus or anything near it at this point. In the meantime, we have families that need protection.”

Kline on the budget and possible fixes: sin taxes, a sales tax coupled with a low-income tax credit, and eventually a high-incomes tax…

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, has posted a lengthy note on his blog describing the state’s budget situation — he says flatly that people will literally die because of the cuts — and talking about what’s likely to happen next.

At this point, it looks like we will be utilizing several strategies to get through this crisis: we’ll use some of our Rainy Day Fund; we’ll make good use of the Federal Stimulus Plan; we’ll do our best to cut waste and inefficiency in government; we’ll raise new revenue; and we’ll be making serious cuts in important state programs.

The depth of our revenue shortage means that we have no choice but to make severe cuts in most state programs. For reasons I’ll discuss below, I strongly believe that we can’t just cut our way through this crisis. We must raise money to pay for essential programs. It is likely that the Legislature will send a referendum to the voters asking for their approval on a tax that will pay for a portion of specific education or health care programs. We need to find revenue sources that won’t unduly burden Washingtonians, many of whom are already experiencing their own budget crises.

The easiest way to come up with new money now, Kline said, is to raise sales tax or boost “sin” taxes (liquor, tobacco, candy, gum, etc.). The latter, according to the state Department of Revenue, wouldn’t raise much money compared to the state’s budget shortfall. And as other lawmakers and advocates have noted, sales tax falls heavily on the poor, who tend to spend virtually every dollar they have.

Kline, interestingly, says he would only support an increase in the sales tax if it’s paired with a state tax rebate patterned on the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.  That way, presumably, those in the lower tiers of the economy wouldn’t be hit as hard by a higher sales tax.

Over the longer term, Kline says, the state should consider an income tax.

“Some recent polls show that a slim majority of folks would support an income tax for folks who earn over $250,000 a year,” he writes. “My preference would be (to) institute an income tax for individuals who make over $100,000 a year” or twice that for couples.” And Kline pointedly notes that the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved the federal income tax —which was targeted at high earners — during the Great Depression.

Although several attempts have been made to institute an income tax (in Washington) since the Great Depression, all have failed. I’m well aware that it’s an uphill climb to reform our tax system so that it’s stable, progressive, adequate, and fair, but I’m in this work for the long haul.

Lawmakers call for look at paying road taxes by the mile, rather than at the gas pump…

From today’s story about the Senate transportation plan:

The Senate is also calling for a study of how the state, which relies heavily on gas tax revenue to pay for roads, can keep paying those bills as motorists continue switching to high-mileage and electric vehicles.

“We have a long-term problem: Cars are getting more efficient, and people are driving less,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. While that may be good for the environment, it also means that the state is collecting less gas tax than expected.

In fact, Haugen said, it now looks like recent gas tax increases that were expected to pay for 16 years’ worth of transportation projects will be used up by 2015. So the budget also calls for a study of how else to get people to pay to use the roads.

“The fact is, gas tax is the most unreliable tax going forward,” said Haugen. “I don’t know what the fuel of the future will be, but I doubt it will be petroleum.”

Several lawmakers said Wednesday that the state may eventually have a “vehicle miles traveled” tax based on how much people drive. Haugen also said that toll roads will become more common.

“We’re looking at those sorts of things. They’re years away,” said Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island.

(State Sen. Chris) Marr said he’s talked with electric-car advocates about whether they’re willing to pay a tax in lieu of gas tax. They seemed open to the idea, he said.

“Let’s face it, (electric cars) create wear and tear and congestion on the highway system,” said Marr. It’s not fair, he said, for the costs to be born just by gas and diesel users.

Conservative group calls on governor to make across-the-board cuts within days…

The conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation is calling on Gov. Chris Gregoire to make immediate across-the-board budget cuts, as the size of the deficit in the current fiscal year (now until the end of June) grows.

Here’s the letter the group delivered to Gregoire’s office. EFF’s Bob Williams, a former lawmaker, says that state law requires the governor to make such custs “if at any time during the fiscal period the governor projects a cash deficit in a particular fund or account.” He argues that the state cannot use federal dollars and the state’s rainy day fund to solve the problem this year: “The RCW (law) does not permit these actions; under the law you are required to make across-the-board cuts.”

Specifically, Williams is calling on Gregoire to order $50 million in cuts by Wednesday, and to produce a plan for $300 million more in cuts to send to lawmakers.

Gregoire made it clear earlier this week that she has no intention of writing second budget proposals this year. And a spokesman for the state budget office, Glenn Kuper, said that Gregoire’s willing to let lawmakers continue to work out a fix to the problem. (The state Senate plans to unveil its operating budget proposal at 10:30 Monday morning.) It’s far better, Kuper says, to have lawmakers weighing cuts “rather than doing the blunt instrument of an across-the-board cut.”

The same issue was raised by Williams in 2002, prompting an attorney general’s opinion from Solicitor General Narda Pierce. Pierce opined that state law requires such moves if there is a deficit “at the end of the fiscal period, after all disbursements and receipts are accounted for.” In other words, as long as the governor believes that mid-course corrections are underway that will leave the state with enough money at the end of the fiscal year, there’s no need for an immediate across-the-board cut.

“That’s there for when there are no other solutions,” said Kuper.

Senate transportation budget: $38 million more for the North Spokane Corridor, $250k for U.S. 195 interchange at Cheney-Spokane Road

The budget includes more than 400 projects $4.3 billion. Among them:

• I-5/SR 161/SR 18 “Triangle” - Interchange Improvements

• SR 3/Belfair Area - Widening and Safety Improvements

• SR 6/Willapa River Br - Replace Bridge

• SR 9 Corridor Improvements

• SR 11/I-5 Interchange - Josh Wilson Rd - Rebuild Interchange

• US 12/Frenchtown Vicinity to Walla Walla - Add Lanes

• SR 27/Pine Creek Bridge - Replace Bridge

• SR 28/Jct US 2 and US 97 to 9th St - Stage 1

• US 101/Hoh River (Site #2) - Stabilize Slopes

• SR 167 New Freeway

• SR 167/8th St E to S 277th St - Managed Lane

• I-205/Mill Plain Interchange to NE 18th St - Stage 1 & Build Ramp

• SR 502/I-5 to Battle Ground - Add Lanes

• SR 510/Yelm Loop - New Alignment

• SR 522/Snohomish River Bridge to US 2 - Add Lanes

• Increased funding for the Department’s significant maintenance backlog ($16.8M)

Locally, the north-south freeway dollars are “in acknowledgement of efforts to cut the cost” of the Spokane region’s transportation mega-project, said Sen. Chris Marr, vice chairman of the Senate transportation committee. Earlier this year, Marr and Senate Majority Lisa Brown, both D-Spokane, proposed a “six-year solution” that would slim down the next phase of that $3 billion project, which is a highway-speed link between U.S. 395 with Interstate 90. The budget would not, however, pay for new projects after 2015. Lawmakers say the state needs a new source of dollars to press on, particularly in the wake of lower gas taxes due to less driving, more use of public transit and higher-mileage cars. “All of those undermine the principal source of revenue for the transportation system, which is the gas tax,” said Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island. The budget also shifts $120 million in bonding capacity out of rail projects, although lawmakers say they hope rail projects can recoup some of that from federal stimulus dollars.

Who will replace the late Bill Grant as House Democrats’ caucus chair?

…and thus get the dubious honor of telling people to hustle their butts into yet another long caucus meeting several times a day?

Dawn Morrell.

House Ds elected Morrell, a Puyallup Democrat, to take over the job Grant held from 1993 until his death in January.

Local stuff: a years’-long tug-of-war over Spokane’s aquifer and mobile homes, and a struggling local railroad…

Here’s why the blog’s been a little light lately:

It doesn’t look like a battleground, but a Spokane Valley mobile home park is once again at the heart of a state clash between environmental concerns and affordable housing.

For years, Pinecroft mobile home park has been resisting state and local pressure to abandon its septic tanks and hook up to local sewers. The park says it could cost up to $1 million, which residents can’t afford. And the septic system is working fine, manager Ed Wolfe said.

“If there was a problem, then I could understand it,” Wolfe said. “But there isn’t.”

But county officials, some state lawmakers and the state’s environmental regulators point to what’s underneath Pinecroft and some other local mobile home parks: the sole-source aquifer that supplies the region’s drinking water. With county taxpayers and local industries spending millions of dollars to scrub phosphates and nitrates from wastewater, they say, it’s time to do away with a 1998 law that treats mobile home parks differently.

Click here for the story.

And…

Two years after the state signed an agreement with an Illinois company to run trains on 110 miles of taxpayer-owned rail lines west of Spokane, the deal is in jeopardy over the struggling railroad’s failure to maintain the old tracks.

The state has given notice that it’s canceling its lease with the Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad, effective July 3.

“We felt we didn’t have a choice but to issue the notice of termination,” said rail project manager Mike Rowswell. “We do continue to talk.”

Click here to read that story.

An ally for the public works department: foes of bottled water…

Gov. Gregoire on Monday announced $38 million in proposed federal dollars for about two dozen drinking-water projects, including a couple in Ferry and Pend Oreille counties.

Normally, such grants are little-noticed except by public works officials and local folks who no longer have rusty or boiled water to drink. These are not the sorts of things that have people chanting on the capitol steps.

Now they do. The nationwide “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign is visiting Olympia this week to urge Gregoire to push for yet more federal drinking water dollars. Why? Because good drinking water from the tap means fewer bottled water bottles clogging landfills.

The group also wants the state to stop buying bottled water. And it’s tired of seeing all those little plastic bottles sitting beside government officials at meetings.

“When our public officials are drinking bottled water themselves, it really sends a contradictory message,” said the group’s Carolyn Auwaerter.

Earlier this session, state Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, proposed HB 1859, which would have banned any state agency from buying small petroleum-based plastic beverage bottles for use in state buildings or at state-sponsored events. And by 2012, the bill would have banned anyone in Washington from selling or distributing such bottles, unless they were compostable. The bill died in committee.

The “Spokane Moms” remain in the game…

Last year, local young mothers went to bat in Olympia to win more state dollars for school libraries. They proved to be savvy grassroots lobbyists, and succeeded against pretty long odds.

Now, the same group is trying to put some meat on skeletal bills aimed at revamping school funding. After a year of work, a small group of advocates and lawmakers had proposed sweeping changes in how teachers are paid and evaluated and what the state pays for.

But some groups — notably the state teachers’ union — balked at the overhaul. And some lawmakers argue that a recession with a $9 billion state deficit isn’t the time to commit the state to billions of dollars in new spending.

“There is no money now,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said yesterday when asked about the plan. Yes, she said, the state needs to change what it considers basic education (and thus pays for), but she said there’s no sense in doing it now while the state’s still trying to dig its way out of a budget hole.

“I don’t believe you move forward now with putting something on the books when you don’t have any money to pay for it,” she said.

Undeterred, Spokane’s Lisa Layera Brunkan and Susan McBurney have gotten thousands of signatures in an online petition.

“With 2 million parents in the state, we can do this!!!” they wrote in a recent e-mail to supporters.

Idaho state workers headed for a 3 percent pay cut…

Our Boise correspondent, Betsy Russell, reports that Idaho’s joint legislative budget committee has voted this mroning for a 3 percent pay cut next year for all state employees in Idaho. Writes Russell:

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 14-5 to impose the 3 percent pay cut on all state employees next year, as part of an overall 5 percent cut in personnel funding statewide. The joint committee had been debating between requiring 2 percent or 3 percent as the required cut; Gov. Butch Otter favored no across-the-board cut, leaving all decisions on how to meet the 5 percent reduction up to state agency heads.

Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, was among those opposing the 3 percent figure. “Why would we intentionally go to a 3 percent salary reduction when we don’t know for sure that we have to go that deep?” he asked. “We are still not competitive in terms of how we compensate our employees.”

Backers of the move said they want fairness and uniformity in how cuts are handled among state agencies. “What we really want to do is to keep as many jobs as we can,” said Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley.

The revenue forecast, and what those cuts are likely to look like….

From tomorrow’s paper:

With a final piece of bad news Thursday — $552 million less than expected for the upcoming budget — state lawmakers are scrambling to put the finishing touches on a “devastating” two-year budget plan to be unveiled next week.

The state’s budget shortfall, which in December was pegged at about $6 billion, now stands at nearly $9 billion. Bridging that gap, key lawmakers say, will likely mean major layoffs, a freeze in cuts to teacher pay and schools, and deep cuts to health care, social services and higher education.

“We’re going to have to look at a situation I never dreamed I’d be seeing,” said Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, who chairs the Senate’s budget committee.

In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire stunned supporters and lawmakers with a no-new-taxes budget plan that proposed eliminating stipends for homeless people, spending less on health care for the working poor, and cutting deeply into higher education and parts of the social safety net. Advocates labeled the plan “the nightmare before Christmas.” Even Gregoire said she hated the proposal.

Then things got worse. In February and again Thursday, lawmakers were told to expect hundreds of millions of dollars less than they were counting on.

Even after factoring in billions of dollars in federal help, hundreds of millions more in early “belt-tightening” by lawmakers, and draining some of the state’s savings, Senate budget writers say they still have to find a way to save $4.2 billion.

“It’s a lot of money to cut,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and other lawmakers have said that the budget will likely include:
-no cost-of-living increases for state workers or teachers,
-a pay freeze for state administrators
-and increased premiums and co-pays for state employees.

The state Basic Health Plan — subsidized coverage for the working poor — may see a freeze on new enrollments or changes in what it covers.

And Prentice said she now “doesn’t see a way out of” cuts to General Assistance for the Unemployable, which provides health care and $339-a-month stipends to thousands of disabled people. Among them: 2,200 in Spokane.

Washington’s economy: bleak, but some hints of bottoming out?

Washington’s battered economy likely won’t resume significant growth until next summer, a top state economist said Thursday.

Reporting to state lawmakers, Raha painted a significantly bleaker picture than he did last month.
But Raha also said the current economic crisis is nowhere near the scale of the Great Depression. And he hinted at some signs that the economy is starting to bottom out.

First, the bad news: Raha said that weakness in housing and auto sales has now spread to other sectors, including other construction, manufacturing, aerospace, software and retailing.

Household net worth has dropped 20 percent over the past year. Job losses continue, credit remains tight, and consumer confidence remains at record lows.

“Consumers are either not able or willing to spend,” he said.

Still, he added, some of the data indicates that Washington’s nearing the low point of the recession.

“In the face of an economy that appears to be in free fall, it is easy to miss the early signs of a recovery,” he said.

He said that after a very weak holiday season, for example, retail sales seem to be stabilizing. Housing starts seem to have bottomed out. Used-car prices have firmed up. Some larger banks say they’ve been profitable in January and February. And investors seem to be returning to the stock market.

Raha said he expects to hit the lowest point of the recession in the third quarter of this year, with unemployment — hiring typically lags during a recovery — hitting a high of 10 percent in the second quarter of 2010.

It’s $522 million less…

The March revenue forecast shows state revenue down $552 million more for the remainder of this biennium (07-09) and the upcoming one (09-11).

“The (economic) outlook is worse, both for the nation and the state,” said Arun Raha, the state’s chief economic revenue forecaster.

This morning’s news means that the state’s budget shortfall is now about $9 billion.

Labor council to Democratic leaders: Revive dead bill and vote…

The state labor council is not going quietly, when it comes to a key union prioritiy this year: a bill that would have banned companies from requiring workers to attend meetings to discuss unionization, religion or charitable giving.

The governor and the top two Democratic lawmakers declared the bill dead and called police last week after seeing an email to some lawmakers from a labor council staffer. The note urged union leaders to tell lawmakers that they’d get “not another dime from labor” until the governor signed the bill into law. The state patrol subsequently said the email wasn’t a crime.

Fast forward to today. The labor council is now calling on Gov. Gregoire, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp to revive the dead bill and bring it up for a vote.

From the labor council’s long message, (which I pasted at the “continue reading” link below):

It no longer passes the straight-face test to blame what was clearly an internal email among labor leaders — one that had inadvertently been forwarded, not to you, but to a handful of legislators who already supported the bill — for denying a vote on the Worker Privacy Act.

It is time to take a principled stand.  All we ask is for a fair vote.  If it fails, so be it.  Our elected representatives are adults.  They can explain why they voted “yes” or why they voted “no.”

At this point, maintaining what is already being criticized as a political effort to “shield” legislators from taking a tough vote only exacerbates the embarrassment to the institution of the State Legislature.

It is time for a moment of truth.

Epilogue (I think) on the “not a dime” e-mail…

Last week: Lawmakers kill a labor-backed bill and called police after some lawmakers got an e-mail indicating that elected officials would get “not one more dime” from labor until they passed it.

This morning: The head of the State Patrol says the e-mail wasn’t a crime. He says he’s sending the info to the state’s campaign-finance watchdog, the Public Disclosure Commission, at its request.

This afternoon: Washington State Labor Council President Rick Bender calls lawmakers’ move “a gross overreaction.”

“This whole thing should never have happened,” he said. Someone mistakenly forwarded the e-mail to several lawmakers, he said, all of whom already supported the bill.

“To characterize this internal e-mail as some kind of threat to legislative leaders — or a possible crime — is absurd,” said Bender.

This evening: Um, we never asked to see any of this stuff, the Public Disclosure Commission says.

“The Commission did not ask for materials concerning the State Patrol investigation or request that the State Patrol send this matter to the PDC for review,” said PDC Executive Director Vicki Rippie.

Where the jobs are: go to Yakima, the Tri-Cities…

So says a quarterly survey by the staffing company Manpower, reported recently in Forbes. From the article:

Cities in the Pacific Northwest and Texas have the best employment outlook for April through June, while cities in the the Southeast have the weakest, according to the study.

Yakima’s 21 percent projected increase in employment — apparently due to a strong apple crop and processing — gave it “the strongest employment outlook in the country” for Q2 of 2009.

Kennewick was No. 2, with 19 percent growth expected. No. 3 was Anchorage, Alaska.

And the worst job prospects? Hello, Florida, hit hard by the construction bubble and then hit again by the tourism slump.

State Rep. John Driscoll — whose predecessor, John Ahern, frequently talked about “a great sucking sound” as employers took their jobs to nearby Idaho — said he was pleased by the news.

“Well, he indeed heard a sucking noise, but he had the direction wrong,” said Driscoll, D-Spokane. “The good jobs are coming here.”

State workers rally: An all-cuts budget would be disastrous…

In a scene replicated throughout the state today, a small group of state workers held a rally on the muddy capitol lawn today, calling on lawmakers to look at raising taxes to offset some deep budget cuts.

“Hey hey, ho ho, an all-cuts budget’s got to go,” they chanted.

Given Washington’s $8.5 billion budget shortfall, state workers have virtually no hope of getting the 2 percent cost of living increases they’d expected for this year and next. At this point, they’re more trying to protect state jobs, programs and services.

“The only thing we’re concerned about is what is quality of life going to look like under an all-cuts budget,” said the Washington Federation of State Employees’ Carol Dotlich.

Instead of a much bigger capitol rally, the union slated more than 60 similar events Tuesday across the state. Executive director Greg Devereux said the federation felt it was more important to relay the message from as many lawmakers’ districts as possible.

Apparently getting the message were local Rep. Sam Hunt and Sen. Karen Fraser.

Hunt, who noted that state lawmakers are state employees too, said the upcoming budget plan will be “drastic,” and that he’s lobbying to layoff to start at the top, with supervisors. This drew a cheer.

“And as a last resort, we reduce line workers,” he said. “…because that is the guts and glory of state service.”

Fraser told the workers that it’s important to get out the message of how critical state services are.

“It’s very important that people understand this,” she said. “…Once these horrible cuts come out, you’re going to hear people talking about how important you are.”

A few hundred yards away, a smaller group of anti-tax advocates held a “Push back, no tax” rally of their own. With families across the state struggling with their budgets, people can’t afford more taxes, said the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Amber Gunn.

“It’s not an ideal world. This is reality,” she said. State revenue over the next two years is still forecast to increase — albeit barely — she said. And her side argues that the term “all-cuts” is misleading when the state will actually collect slightly more money than in the last two years.

“A reduction in an increase is not the same thing as a real decrease,” said Gunn.

Both sides plan more — and bigger — rallies in the coming weeks.

State Patrol and local prosecutor: Labor’s “not one more dime” e-mail was not a crime…

The Washington State Labor Council e-mail that sparked a furor last week “did not constitute criminal conduct,” the head of the State Patrol said this afternoon. (I posted the WSP e-mail at the link below.)

“We looked carefully at the e-mail and at the law,” said State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste. “We could not find a specific criminal statute that was violated.” He said WSP detectives consulted with the Thurston County Prosecutor’s office.

The initial e-mail, the result of a strategy session of union officials, urged them to give lawmakers the message “not one more dime from labor” until the governor signed a law banning companies from requiring employees to attend meetings about unionization, religion or charitable giving. In response, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Speaker Frank Chopp and the governor issued a joint statement saying that they’d killed the bill and called the cops.

The labor council sent out a statement saying that it regretted the incident but felt it had broken no law. And many people in Olympia noted that the e-mail gave top lawmakers a way out of a heated tug-of-war between labor and business groups, which hated the proposal.

Batiste called the decision of awmakers and the governor to refer the matter to detectives “entirely appropriate.”

“We certainly understand why the recipients were concerned,” Batiste said.

Next stop: the state Public Disclosure Commission. The PDC, which regulates campaign finances and reporting, has asked for everything the state patrol looked at.

Spokane-area residents make tragic case for road dollars…

Get Adobe Flash player
Debi Hammel / Lorissa Green’s mother

Some emotional testimony yesterday in the House Transportation committee, as dozens of Spokane-area people made the long trip to Olympia to call for improvements at an intersection where a 16-year-old driver was killed in January.

I wrote a story about this, with the specifics of the wreck, dollar figures for proposed fixes, and a little about the lawmakers who will decide what to do. But some of the most powerful testimony was left on the cutting-room floor. It says more about the tragedy than my story did.

Debi Hammel, whose 16-year-old daughter pulled from a stop sign onto a highway, only to be struck by a trailer-towing pickup she apparently didn’t see. (Audio excerpt above.)

“As a parent, you always fear giving your child a car, a cell phone, and freedom. Yet it is part of growing up and allowing them to create their own destiny.

“…On. Jan. 16th, my worst nightmare came true. First the phone call, then the site of the accident, then the painful news that my daughter was gone.” voice breaking and wiping away tears.

“…Three days later, I said goodbye to my daughter as they took her away to donate the only part of her that was left living.”

“…Lorissa made a fatal mistake, and I am sure that she thought that intersection was clear.”

Sitting beside her was a man named David Blyton. He was driving that pickup truck.

“We will never know what Lorissa saw when she pulled out. I will never forget what I saw.”

Spokane tax vote: Lessons for the state?

My colleague Jim Camden has a great blog post re: two recent local bond issues. And with Olympia mulling the idea of sending a tax hike to voters this year, it seems like there are some broader takeaways here.

Quick background: The city of Spokane wanted $18.5 million; Spokane Public Schools wanted $288 million.

Voters — largely the same between the city and school district — torpedoed the city proposal and passed the school one.

Some lessons:

-Be prepared to spend money to convince voters:

Citizens for Spokane Schools, which was pushing the District 81 levy and bond issue, had spent about $145,000 on its “vote yes for kids” campaign a week before the election, which is the most recent set of records available. Citizens for Public Safety, working on the city bond issue, had spent about $6,600.

-Show voters — explicitly — what they’re buying:

Another problem may have been that the city bond issue was for a fairly amorphous set of projects, such as an evidence warehouse, some new courtrooms, an expansion of an animal shelter. The District 81 bond issue was for specific schools, and the approval margin is significantly higher in the neighborhoods around those schools, presumably because parents who live there know what needs to be done to their kids’ classrooms.

-And be prepared to aim at voters’ hearts:

(The city’s campaign) talked about how prosecutors need to secure evidence better to convict bad guys, and cops need a better firing range. But a better place to keep Fluffy and Rover when they get out of the fenced yard was not as well known.
This is not to suggest that Citizens for Public Safety should have employed a variation of the old National Lampoon cover, with a gun pointed at soulful looking dog and the headline “Buy this magazine or we will shoot the dog.”
Not quite, anyway. But come to think of it, that magazine sold pretty well.

Lunchtime reading for you: reading the Facebook tea leaves and speaking an unspeakable blog post…

Cutoff over, budget preview stories published, Olympia grinds down the rocky path toward a budget that will make a lot of people unhappy. 

Some previews and commentary:

-At Publicola, Josh Feit continues to mine revealing comments from politicians’ Facebook pages.

-Adam Wilson (and TVW) have a video excerpt from floor debate in which Republicans repeatedly try to quote Sen. Karen Keiser’s “it’s payback time” blog post re: a bill, while Democrats repeatedly argue that quoting Keiser’s own words is the same as “impugning” her.

-The TNT’s Joe Turner has a lengthy rundown on where various topics stand in Olympia(children’s health care, college tuition, all-day kindergarten, and the much-written-about porn tax).

-Also from the TNT: The state Fish and Wildlife commission is unhappy with Sen. Ken Jacobsen’s proposal to shrink it and strip it of the ability to pick its own chairperson.

-And on a lighter note, Wilson’s got another installment in his ongoing video series that paints the statehouse as an episode in a survivor show. Appropos of bill cutoff time, this one features swordplay.

About those polls and focus groups re: taxes that we’ve been hearing about…

Confirmed.

A group of health- and education groups have each kicked in $20,000 each to pay for polls and focus groups to figure out which tax increases would have the best chance with voters. The group has no name, but contributors include the state hospital association, community clinics, Group Health, the Washington Education Association and SEIU, according to Cassie Sauer, spokeswoman for the hospital association.

“All of us felt that the (state budget) cuts, without revenue, are so devastating, especially to health care and education, that it would be irreponsible, immoral and unconscionable to not consider whether we could raise revenues,” Sauer said.

She wouldn’t share the polling data, but said that the results, gathered over the past month, suggest that the public has no idea how deep state budget cuts could go. When told, she said, voters seem willing to pay for some taxes to offset those cuts.

The groups have aimed for about $2 billion in new money, asking people how they feel about certain cuts and certain taxes. Sin taxes — cigarettes, alcohol, candy, gum — seem acceptable, Sauer said.

They didn’t even try asking about a property tax hike, she said. “I don’t think that’s going to be on the table at all,” Sauer said. People are too concerned about losing their homes, she said.

Voters were somewhat willing to consider a sales tax increase, she said.

Interestingly, when the focus groups were asked what might be cut, the only thing most could cite was the recent decision to close some driver-licensing offices.

“People have no clue what the cuts are that are being considered,” she said. “They’re aware that there’s a huge budget shortfall, but they don’t know what’s at risk. When they hear what’s at risk, they’re stunned.”

Sauer said that lawmakers were briefed on the results over the weekend.

“They are definitely interested,” she said.

Lawmakers have repeatedly said that if they decide to try to offset deep budget cuts with a tax hike, they’ll put the proposal before voters. Sauer said the coalition is also preparing for a campaign to convince voters to back such a measure.

And business weighs in on e-mail incident….

Among those apparently not regretting the incident is the Association of Washington Business.

AWB added its own statement to a growing list of them, as lawmakers, the state Labor Council and others weigh in on allegedly illegal pressure put on lawmakers as they decided whether to approve SB 5446/HB 1528. (Citing emails that allegedly threatened to yank campaign support if lawmakers didn’t vote yet, angry legislative leaders instead killed the bills. Read posts below for more.)

From AWB:

 ”Today’s decision to shelve the Worker Privacy Act will allow the Legislature to focus their efforts on revitalizing the economy and resolving the state budget,” said AWB President Don Brunell. “Legislators should put this issue behind them and turn their attention to the budget and how they plan to resolve the $8 billion state deficit…It’s time to move forward and focus on solving the bigger issues at hand.”

UPDATE: The Seattle Times has obtained the email, which seems pretty tame. The key part:

-Great leadership call yesterday where folks agreed that we would push for passage in the House this week and then call for a union president meeting with the Governor and the Majority Leader of the Senate to move the bill through the rest of the process

-Union leaders would send a message to the State Democratic party and to the Truman and Roosevelt funds from the House and Senate that “not another dime from labor” until the Governor signs the Worker Privacy Act.

 ANOTHER UPDATE: Josh Feit, at Publicola, says that the email came from the Labor Council’s Jeff Johnson. Feit also raises an interesting point with Rep. Mike Sells:

Namely, what could the email—it came from the Washington State Labor Council—possibly have said that pushed it into Rod Blagojevich territory as opposed to run-of-the-mill pressure that advocates  use all time that come with implications about financial support.

Rep. Sells told me  he was wrestling with the same question, and wondered where threats from Boeing about leaving the state, for example, would fit on the ethical meter—and how that was any different. 

Speaking of cuts…

According to a source, here are some of the cuts being discussed by House lawmakers sketching out what a no-new-taxes budget might look like:

-Eliminate the state’s Basic Health Plan, which offers subsidized health coverage for the working poor.
-Eliminate adult dental-, vision- and hearing benefits for Medicaid patients,
-A 14 percent cut in state reimbursement rates for hospitals,
-Elimination of the state’s General Assistance (for the) Unemployable program, called GA-U, which provides $339 monthly checks and health coverage to people unable to work, often due to mental illness.
-Eliminate medical coverage undre the Alcohol/Drug Addiction Treatment Support Act, better known as ADATSA,
-Ten percent cuts in nursing home reimbursement rates,
-$63 million in cuts to the Regional Support Networks, which are local administrators for mental health funding and services.
-Eliminating the state money used to offset cuts to county health districts after lawmakers did away with the state’s motor vehicle excise tax.

The state budget: watching, waiting, and worrying…

From today’s paper:

OLYMPIA – In Cheney, college administrators are going back into the classroom and teaching without extra pay.

At the Crosswalk teen homeless shelter in Spokane, staffers wonder if they’ll have to shut down for part of the year.

A few miles away, Jim Lippold worries about losing half the money for a program that gives frail elderly people a safe place to socialize, eat a meal and see a nurse.

“We can’t stop doing this,” said Lippold, who runs the elder program. “People are going to be very hurt, and I think literally will die.”

As budget writers in the Statehouse huddle behind closed doors, thousands of people across Eastern Washington – college students, single mothers, elderly people, workers and taxpayers – have a big stake in what they decide.

From the Palouse to the South Hill to the West Plains, people and groups that rely on state money are swapping rumors and worrying.

Click here to read story.

Worker Privacy Act e-mail: an update….

More on the e-mail that caused angry lawmakers to kill the Worker Privacy Act:

“We regret the incident. It was a result of frustration with the legislature’s failure to protect workers’ rights in the workplace. Our job is to always protect workers’ rights,” Washington State Labor Council Rick Bender said in a written statement. “We do not believe that any law has been violated and we have no additional comments until we know where this will go.”

Does that mean the e-mail came from the labor council? It’s not saying.

“That’s all I can say at this point. We’re just regretting the incident,” said spokeswoman Kathy Cummings.

A timeline of the incident shows that lawmakers initially reported the matter to Thurston County Sheriff Dan Kimball, who referred it to State Patrol Chief John Batiste. Batiste told the legislature and governor’s office not to release the e-mail publicly while his agency investigates. (Timeline is posted at the link below.)

The timeline starts at nearly 4 p.m. Tuesday, when Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown showed it to House Speaker Frank Chopp in her office. Brown said she didn’t get the e-mail.

It’s normal for interest groups to lobby for an against any bill, Brown said. It’s lawmakers’ job to hear both sides, balance the arguments and decide what to do.

“But we have to draw the line between this normal proces and any attempt by any stakeholder to influence us on a given proposal by threatening to give or withhold contributions to our campaigns as political candidates,” she said in a statement. She called the e-mail “a very serious ethical and legal concern.”

Brown also said, however, that is was “a completely isolated incident” and shouldn’t affect future legislation.


 

Bill halted after alleged tit-for-tat email linking it to campaign contributions…

The biggest tussle between business and organized labor this year has been over SB 5446/HB 1528, which would bar employers from holding mandatory meetings with employees to discuss things like unionization, religion, or charitable giving.

The companies could still hold such meetings, but they could not make it mandatory for their employees to attend. To the unions and other proponents, it’s a simple matter of worker privacy and the right not to have to listen to something you don’t support. To businesses, it’s a gag rule.

The bill stalled recently after the attorney general’s office — in response to a request from a Republican lawmaker — issued an informal opinion saying that it probably conflicted with federal labor law. Proponents disagreed, however, and it recently seemed like the bill was getting back on track to be passed this year. It’s a top priority for unions.

Then, this morning, capitol reporters found a crypic press release in their email inboxes. It was an unusual joint statement from the governor, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and House Speaker Frank Chopp. It said the bill is dead, and for a very interesting reason.

“We are no longer considering action on House Bill 1528 and Senate Bill 5446, also known as the Worker Privacy Act.
 
“Immediately upon becoming aware of an email linking potential action on the bill to campaign contributions, bringing the bill forward was no longer an option.
 
“The email raises serious legal and ethical questions.
 
“The matter has been referred to the Washington State Patrol for investigation.”

The State Patrol is saying little. Sgt. Freddy Williams said that the troopers just got handed the case, and that they don’t know much yet. It’s not even clear who may have jurisdiction yet, he said. Said Williams:

The WSP is taking this very seriously as we do with any potential criminal allegations and will work closely with prosecutors to determine a course of action.

Senate passes “everything but marriage” bill, 30-18…

Two years after Washington launched a controversial domestic partners registry for same-sex couples, the state Senate late Tuesday voted to grant the partners virtually all the rights of spouses — except marriage.

“You have denied us that right,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who is gay, told his fellow senators. “Do not deny us the right to care for our families and to build our lives.”

Largely along party lines, the Senate voted 30-18 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the state House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. Gov. Chris Gregoire hasn’t said whether she’ll sign the bill, but has said she supports such rights for same-sex couples. The Spokane region’s two Democratic senators voted yes, the three Republicans voted no.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill.

“The people of our state are not ready for same sex marriage,” said Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester. He predicted that the law would quickly be used for a court challenge to force the state to allow same-sex marriage.

“After the courts get through it,” he said, “this vote may be the last vote we ever have on homosexual marriage.”

Washington has had a domestic partnership registry since 2007. By registering, same-sex couples and senior-citizen heterosexual couples get some of the rights accorded to spouses.
Initially, those rights included things like visiting a partner in the hospital, inheriting property if there is no will, and making end-of-life decisions for a partner. Last year, lawmakers broadened the rights and set up a court process for dissolving the partnership if the couple have children or shared property.

Spent capital dollars on operating, and then turn to voters for a refill?

Props to the TNT’s Joe Turner, who has a very interesting put-the-puzzle-together post this afternoon on some of the budget ripples coming out of the statehouse. The upshot: Turner thinks that lawmakers (and the governor) may be setting their sights on pulling money out of construction accounts to prop up the operating budget, then turning to voters and asking them to authorize more taxes to fill up the account again.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Lawmakers confirm that this is being discussed, although getting the money from property tax seems like a nonstarter.

Idaho continues to loom on Olympia’s radar…

Former state Rep. John Ahern was famous for floor speeches trotting out the specter of unhappy Washington businesses decamping en masse for Idaho.

“That great sucking sound you hear,” he’d warn, as Democrats rolled their eyes, “is business heading for Idaho.”

Ahern’s now gone, ousted by a Democratic challenger in November. Yet the issue clearly isn’t.

“Democrat bills send clear message to employers: Go to Idaho!” said a recent press release from Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake. She blasted several bills that she said would “rip the welcome mat away from our employers.”

Hogwash, say Democrats.

“I think Wa state is clearly very competitive when it comes to biz climate,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, citing studies that gave the state high marks. Part of being competitive, she said, is having a well-trained, well-educated workforce.

Brown also said Washington lawmakers are trying to help, such as by cutting unemployment insurance taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years.

“I think it’s kind of ironic that in a down economy, when we actually have a lot to be proud of in this state, that some legislators are kind of going around sounding a lot of negativity,” said Brown.

UPDATE: Good God. Rep. Joe Schmick just used Ahern’s old line again in a floor speech. It never ends.

A bleak sign of the times: Bill to protect people living in their RVs…

In a sign of the times, Washington’s House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would ban cities and counties from barring recreational vehicles from mobile home parks.

“Mobile home parks are often a last refuge for these people to live,” Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said in a press release.

His House Bill 1227 would also prevent cities and counties from requiring the RVs to be moved out of the parks when the vehicles are used as a primary residence. As things stand now, he says, people living in RVs are often forced into more-expensive RV parks, or to trying to find spots beside the road.

“This bill provides them with an alternative to homelessness,” said Springer. “They have endured enough throughout this recession.”

Schweitzer’s Susan Fagan raising money for House run…

Susan Fagan, whose work for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories means she’s not a stranger in Olympia, has raised more than $20,000 in her run for the state House seat now held by Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax. The district covers a large swath of southeastern Washington, including the Palouse and part of southern Spokane County.

“I am thankful that, given the difficult economy, people realize having an advocate in Olympia who understands agriculture and job creation is worth investing in,” Fagan said in a press release.

Fagan’s trying to tap into the district’s heavy ag vote by forming “Farmers for Fagan,” chaired by Farmington’s Bruce Nelson, a former president of the state wheat growers’ association.

Pat Hailey of Mesa, the wife of late state Rep. Steve Hailey, has also said she’ll run if Cox doesn’t in November. Cox was appointed recently to the seat after Steve Hailey died suddenly from cancer.

Amateur dams and broken hearts…

Going through an inch-thick stack of stuff at my office while I watch the Senate (and wait for the House) on Monday night…Let’s see….

—The state Department of Ecology is trying to take stock of nearly 150 small dams and similar structures “built without pre-approved plans” across the state. The dams, spotted in aerial photos, apparently hold at least 3 million gallons of water each and are upstream from 1-2 homes. Last year, the agency inspected nearly 100 “possible high hazard” dams, 11 of which needed immediate repairs.

What kind of dams? They hold back water for frost control at farms, for small ponds for swimming and fishing or lagoons for manure and dairy wastewater.

Where are they: Yakima County has 20, Grant County 15, and Franklin and Skagit counties 8 each. The rest are sprinkled throughout the state.

—Attorney General Rob McKenna’s tech arm is going after a Seattle company that McKenna says has been continuing to run “misleading come-ons” to lonely people.

Tatto Media will pay for its broken hearts and broken promises,” McKenna said in a press release. He says that the company violated an agreement last year in which it agreed not to pretend that some local person has a romantic interest in a computer user. McKenna said the company will pay $487,272 in civil penalties under a new settlement filed last week in King County Superior Court.

House votes to make Pierce County — like the rest of the state — vote by mail…

With 38 of Washington’s 39 counties voting almost entirely by mail, Washington’s House of Representatives voted tonight to make it 39.

The House passed HB 1572, to make Pierce County vote by mail as well.

It’s an emotional issue, with proponents saying that it’s expensive and complicated for the county to run poll- and mail voting at the same time. Several local lawmakers, however, argued that poll voting is a hallowed tradition.

“This is absolutely wrong,” Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, said of bill. “…When the people want the right to decide for themselves, let them decide for themselves.”

“I’ve heard all the arguments about how this is a family affair and people like to go to the polls,” said Rep. Sherry Appleton. But mail voting gives people time to look at the voters’ guides, candidate websites and other information to make an informed, deliberative decision, she said.

Longtime poll voter Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, decided to support the bill in the name of saving money. Until now, “I’ve been a fierce defender of standing in line for 2 1/2 hours” at the polls, he said.

Rep. Jim McCune, R-Graham, said the state telling local people how to vote “is just wrong. It’s not American. It’s just wrong.”

“It’s nothing that’s going to affect you, so if you could just leave this alone, we would appreciate it,” added Rep. Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake.

And Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, drew a guffaw by saying that House Republicans were adamantly opposed to all-mail voting: “Our side of the aisle believes very strongly that females should be allowed to vote also,” he said.

The bill passed 54-43.

MRSA bills passed by both houses…

The House tonight passed SB 5500, which takes aim at a multiple-drug-resistant “superbug,” in the words of one lawmaker, that has public health officials nervous.

“Probably about a third of us on this floor probably have a colony of MRSA on us right at this moment,” said Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, according to legislative researchers, is a drug-resistant form of a common germ. As Campbell says, it’s commonly found on the skin. But once it’s entered the body through a cut, it can cause life-threatening blood-, heart- or bone infections. “The majority of individuals with MRSA acquire it in a hospital setting,” according to the bill report. And the infection rate is getting worse.

The bill requires hospitals to screen intensive care unit patients for three months a year, in order to monitor the disease. If the infection rate at the hospital exceeds two cases or 5 percent of ICU admissions, the monitoring continues. The infection would be listed on death certificates if it kills someone or contributes to a death.

Campbell has pushed for pre-surgery testing of all patients, but that’s not in the bill.

“You know how bills are, sometimes we don’t get all that we would like on the first go,” he said.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called it a critical disease to stop. He was hospitalized for a month in 2007 with a compromised immune system as part of cancer treatment.

“It’s not like getting a little infection at the end of your finger. This is what kills people,” Hunter said. While hospitalized, he said, “this was something I feared every day.”

“This is one of the greatest scandals, I believe, that we have in the health system,” said Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum. He said hospitals and doctors are clearly worried about who will be held liable for such infections.

Bills to keep kids out of the game until a concussion’s checked pass both House and Senate…

Prompted by the case of a high school football player paralyzed by two concussions, Washington’s state Senate on Monday approved a bill that would require a medical check before such players are allowed back in the game.

“This bill would protect children. That’s really what it’s all about,” said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, the bill’s prime sponsor.

The House passed a similar bill unanimously last week.

Both bills were spurred by Maple Valley teen Zack Lystedt, who as a junior-high student in 2006 slammed head-first into the field while tackling a runner. After a break, he returned to the game. Minutes after it ended, he collapsed, unable to see. Three years later, the brain damage has left him unable to walk.

Senate Bill 5763 would require that any player suspected of sustaining a concussion or head injury be removed from the practice or game. The athlete wouldn’t be allowed to play again until he or she is checked out by a licensed health care provider.

One of the few to speak against the bill was state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. She said she’s worried that the bill could require parents to take their kids to a doctor for minor bumps.

“Sometimes it’s just a little bonk on the head,” said Roach.

Yes, Lystedt’s injury was terrible and unfortunate, she said. But she suggested that the bill’s an overreaction.

“What would be like having 4-5 drownings a year — which we do have — so we go in and fill in all the backyard swimming pools?” she said. “We forbid people from swimming in lakes?”

Sen. Don Benton argued that the bill could curtail youth sports by forcing them to have a doctor on the sidelines.

“Nobody wants to shut down youth football or youth basketball, and this could do that,” he said. Both he and Roach voted for the bill.

Most lawmakers said they see the bill as a needed protection for kids.

“The bill does not say if you get hit in th ehead with a volleyball you can’t come back and play until you have a note from your doctor,” said Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley. There are clear symptoms of a concussion, she said. Major problems like bleeding in the brain, she said, “are infrequent but disastrous.”

Coaches and parents aren’t necessarily as vigilant as they should be about injuries in the heat of a game, said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

The Senate bill says that the licensed health care provider can be a volunteer. It also exempts the person from civil liability, except in cases of gross negligence.

NOTE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Roach had voted against the bill. She did not. The lone vote against the bill was from Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls.

UPDATE: Here’s Roach:

 


Making sure sex offenders live where they say they do…

After six months of knocking on doors, police across the state say they’ve verified the addresses of more than 13,000 of the state’s 18,000 registered sex offenders.

They’ve also arrested more than 200 for lying about where they lived.

At Gov. Chris Gregoire’s request, the state last year set aside $5 million to pay for sheriffs deputies and police officers to make sure that sex offenders living in communities are where they say they are. The highest-risk ones, Level 3s, are checked every three months. The lowest risk, Level 1s, are checked annually. The plan is to have everyone checked by June.

“In the past, Level 1 offenders were typically sent a letter to verify their address.” said Mike Harum, Chelan County Sheriff. “Today we actually make face to face contact with those individuals to make sure they’re living where they’re supposed to be.”

Harum said his county got $100,000, which was enough to hire a deputy to check on sex offenders full-time. A dozen, he said, have been arrested.

For the state, “this is kind of putting your money where your mouth is,” said Thurston County Sheriff Dan Kimball.

Feeling a little bit too much love from the lobbyists…

Washington’s annual legislative session isn’t just a boon to restaurants and caterers. It’s also a source of great business for florists. Groups and lobbyists like to shower lawmakers with strategically timed big bouquets to grace their House and Senate desks.

But sometimes, apparently, it’s all a bit much. When the House returned from a dinner break a few minutes ago, Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Morris opened things by announcing that the bouquets would be rounded up and removed tonight.

“There’s been an allergy outbreak,” he said. “We’re going to have security come and collect the flowers and store them in your offices.”

An online P-I? Some staffers are getting (much-slimmed-down) offers to stay…

Looks like we may still have Joel Connelly to kick around, even as most of his colleagues go down with the print edition of the P-I.

Hearst is reportedly offering jobs, tentatively, to some current news staffers. But here’s the description of the offer from a reporter who turned it down. He:

“said the offer increased his health insurance cost, cut his salary by an unspecified amount, offered to match his 401(k) contributions, required him to forgo his P-I severance pay, reduced his vacation accrual to zero and required him to give up overtime.”

Story’s here.

Hat tip: Jerry Cornfield.

Senate hits a nerve on sex ed…

The House and Senate have been nose-to-the-grindstone for much of this week, passing a flurry of bills before a looming cutoff. Yesterday, the Senate touched on a hot-button issue: abstinence-based sex education.

Sen Pam Roach had a long story about her pre-political days, when she offered to convene a sex-ed assembly at a local high school. She assembled a panel, including a nurse, urologist, man with AIDS and a woman, disguised in a wig, who’d contracted chlamydia from her husband. Roach said she put on two of the assemblies for the students. She was the advocate for abstinence.

“I didn’t tell them that I waited, but I’ll tell you that I did,” Roach, R-TMI, told lawmakers. “There’s a time, there’s a situation, there’s a place…It’s not just fly by night, have a great time.”

On the other side was Sen. Rosa Franklin, a retired nurse. Yes, ideally parents would do proper sex education, she said, and kids wouldn’t have sex before marriage.

“However, this is the real world,” continued Franklin, D-Tacoma. “They have been having sex before marriage since a long time ago, a long time before any of us were on this earth.”

The bill in question: SB 5629.

Breaking: Supreme court says no to Senate Majority Leader’s lawsuit over tax increases…

The state Supreme Court has just ruled against state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who filed suit last year to try to overturn a requirement that tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

That voter-approved law is nowhere to be found in the state constitution, and Brown argued that the ballot measure was, in essence, an attempt to change the constitution without actually going through the difficult process of doing so.

The Supreme Court said unanimously today that the dispute at the heart of Brown’s case (a ruling by Senate President Brad Owen) is a legislative matter, not something the court intends to wade into. Writing for the court, Justice Mary Fairhurst said:

Intervention of this court into an intrahouse dispute over a parliamentary ruling to compel the president of the senate to perform a discretionary duty would be a grave violation of separation
of powers. We dismiss the action.

Doing away with the two-thirds rule would have made it easier for lawmakers to increase taxes in the fact of a massive budget shortfall over the next two years.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation has posted a link to the ruling here.

 

In the face of a $10-$23 million budget cut, state trying to decide which parks to close…

Back in December, Gov. Chris Gregoire called on the state Parks and Recreation Commission to come up with 10 percent in budget savings over the next two years. Lawmakers have now asked to see what a 23 percent budget cut would look like. Neither is final, but the statehouse clearly wants to see what deep cuts to parks (and higher ed, etc.) would look like.

At the $10 million level, parks officials have drawn up plans to cut staff, postpone equipment purchases and to try to get rid of 13 state parks. Those parks, ideally, would be given to local cities or counties to take care of. Two other parks would be closed.

Here’s that list:

Parks Proposed for Transfer

1.Bogachiel State Park
2.Brooks Memorial State Park
3.Fay Bainbridge State Park
4.Fort Okanogan State Park
5.Fort Ward State Park
6.Joemma Beach State Park
7.Kopachuck State Park
8.Lake Sylvia State Park
9.Old Fort Townsend State Park
10.Osoyoos Lake Veterans Memorial State Park
11.Schafer State Park
12.Tolmie State Park
13.Wenberg State Park

Parks Proposed to be Mothballed: 

1.    Nolte State Park
2.    Squilchuck State Park.

At the $23 million cut level, things get even more dramatic. Instead of getting rid of yet more

Morning roundup: Marr on energy, SEIU on dropping lawsuit, Hinkle on trying harder…

Josh Feit, at Publicola, has an excellent story on Sen. Chris Marr’s efforts to modify 2006’s Initiative 937, a voter-approved measure which mandated certain levels of renewable power for utility companies. Marr wants to count some hydro power as renewable — which the original ballot measure didn’t, seeing as how the point was to add more renewables, not get credit for the state’s many decades-old dams — and to lower the mandatory levels. Environmental groups are balking at both ideas, saying they undercut the point of the law.

-Rep. Bill Hinkle argues that a pending Olympia proposal for a tax increase to offset some deep budget cuts is akin to a white flag from lawmakers. Writes Hinkle:

Some legislators in Olympia, whose job it is to work on the critical issues facing our state and citizenry, are about to throw up their hands and quit on trying to solve our $8 billion budget shortfall.  Rather than make difficult decisions, some lawmakers are poised to take the easy way out by sending a tax increase to voters after the legislative session ends.

-A local of the Service Employees International Union, after winning a arbitration ruling for an $8 million rate increase for unionized in-home child care providers (and then going to court to try to force the state to pay it) said this morning that they’re dropping the lawsuit. Instead, they’re calling on state to steer $33 million in federal child care block grants into heading off things like a proposed $10 monthly increase in the rates paid by parents with kids in state-subsidized child care.

“We’re walking away from that” $8 million, said Nancy Gerber, who runs a 12-child in-home child care center in Spokane Valley. “We are saying the money should go to families…This is the right thing to do.”

An arbitrator had awarded SEIU 925 members state rate increases of 1.6 percent in July 2009 and 2 percent the following July. Instead of those increases, members will go back to bargain a new contract based on non-economic changes.

-Speaking of SEIU 925, David Goldstein at Horse’s Ass says its 6,500 University of Washington members voted Tuesday night to voluntarily give up scheduled raises this year and next. Writes Goldstein:

State employee union leaders aren’t stupid, and everybody I’ve spoken to has seemed more than willing to negotiate concessions to help soften the blow of impending budget cuts.  And that’s the way it should work, rather than the governor or legislature simply imposing wage and benefit cuts, unilaterally abrogating contracts that had been negotiated and signed in good faith.

Charting the course of the SCOW…

And that — really — is the longtime Associated Press wire shorthand for the Supreme Court of Washington.

The conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which tends to watch the court pretty closely anyway, has launched a blog to showcase what the state’s highest court is doing.

The new blog, with domain www.wasupremecourtblog.com, is here.

Oregon student newspaper goes on strike at hiring of former S-R editor Steve Smith as publisher…

(This has nothing to do with politics or the legislature, but Smith is a well-known civic figure in Spokane. I suspect this will be of interest.)

Wow.

The staff of the University of Oregon’s student newspaper, the Daily Emerald, went on strike four hours ago at the prospect of a new organizational structure headed by Steve Smith, who until a few months ago was the top editor of the Spokesman-Review. Smith this morning said he was stunned at the fracas, and has withdrawn his acceptance of the newspaper’s offer to be publisher.

Shortly after leaving the Spokesman, Smith was recruited as a consultant to draft a plan for the financially-struggling daily. His report recommended hiring a publisher, who would supervise the paper’s student editor. According to this lengthy article in the paper, the paper’s board initially planned a nationwide search, then decided to take up Smith on his offer to work for a year, at $80,000, as publisher. Smith also planned to teach at the school.

The paper’s editors protested, saying the Emerald can’t afford that salary, and they didn’t want the independent paper answering to Smith at work or in class. They said Smith may be the best person for the job, but that there should be national search.

The board offered Smith the job, which he accepted.

From the paper’s student editor, Ashley Chase:

The board chose to hire a candidate without performing even the most basic hiring protocol; there was no job interview, no references were contacted and, most appalling of all considering the Emerald’s financial state, there was no negotiation of the candidate’s salary proposal. The most powerful position this organization has seen in its 109 years of publication is set to be filled by a person who wrote his own contract and job description, which takes occupational liberties that are far out of line with the Emerald’s guiding values and ethics.

The paper’s staff went on strike, and are publishing an alternative publication online here.

Smith, in a response posted on his personal blog this morning, says that he supported a national search and that “my career path, such as it is, doesn’t include a long-term stay at the Emerald.” He said the news staff’s objections took him totally by surprise last night. Wrote Smith:

No one from the Emerald news staff took the time to talk to me. I was not called for comment by the editors before they wrote their story for this morning’s paper.

He said he thought he had a good relationship with Chase, the editor, and that his only goal was to help the paper through it’s financial crisis. Smith continues:

But I have been too close for too long with the Emerald and its fine student journalists to go to war with them now over this. So I withdrew from the fray this morning. It’s best the board and the students take a deep breath, then sit down and try to figure out how to move forward. I will continue to offer whatever support is considered appropriate by all involved.

House bill clears the way to the restroom for people with certain medical conditions…

Washington’s House of Representatives today passed House Bill 1138, which would require retailers to let customers with certain medical conditions use the store’s restroom, even if it’s not a public restroom.

Patterned after an Illinois law, the bill is aimed at people with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease. The conditions — which are incurable — can cause crippling pain and a very urgent need to use the bathroom.

“Oftentimes, you have no warning or little warning,” said Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, the bill’s prime sponsor.

Patients would need a statement from their doctor and the bill includes some safety provisions for store workers and merchandise. The bill passed 90-7.

House approves bill giving church-based tent cities broader protection from “unreasonable” city regulations…

Washington’s House of Representatives today approved House Bill 1956, which would give churches and other religious organizations broad authority to shelter homeless people.

Local governments couldn’t “unreasonably interfere” with tent cities or other homeless housing at churches.

Prime Sponsor Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, said a few cities are imposing too many conditions in an effort to prevent faith-based groups from helping the homeless.

“I don’t need Big Brother dictating to the members of my congregation how we respond to urgent societal needs,” he said. And churches shouldn’t have to tap the collection plate “in order to challenge the tyranny of those local governments” in court, he said.

Cities and counties oppose the bill, saying it’s heavy handed and ignores health and safety concerns with homeless camps set up in neighborhoods.

“From the big brothers here in Olympia, this is an interesting piece of legislation,” said Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Bellingham. “This is an issue for city councils. The people who are closest to this particular issue are the ones who should be making the decision.”

The bill passed, 56-41.

Washington House approves bill making breastfeeding in public a civil right…

Washington’s state House of Representatives today approved House Bill 1596, which would declare that a mother’s right to breastfeed in public places is a civil right protected by the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Mothers would be free to breastfeed in any public place, including restaurants, stores, malls, parks, libraries and government offices.

There is already a law on the books protecting the mothers from being charged with indecent exposure. HB 1596 would allow anyone discriminated against to file a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Commission.

“I really think that we will jumpstart a culture change,” said prime sponsor Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood. She said she hopes people see breastfeeding as healthy and natural, not as anything sexual.

“A mom should really feel as comfortable sitting down to breastfeed as she would sitting down and pulling a bottle out of her diaper bag,” said Green.

Study after study has demonstrated the benefits to babies and mothers of breastfeeding, said Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee.

The bill passed unanimously.

“Unfortunately, we have to legislate common sense,” said Armstrong.

Losing money on every kid: Lawmakers propose two competing ways to improve child care….

Whoops — forgot to post this earlier. From the print paper:

With state child care subsidies well below the actual cost of caring for enrolled kids, some Spokane-area workers and lawmakers say it’s time to give the industry more clout.

How? By unionizing the child care workers and letting them collectively bargain with Olympia for higher rates, paid training and other improvements.

“In this environment, you have to be able to provide some leverage for us to act on a priority,” said state Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. He said the normal state budget process, which is essentially a tug of war among lawmakers and interest groups, has let child care rates lag well behind costs.

“We’ve let that model work for a long time,” Marr said. “The fact is that it doesn’t work.”

“It’s basically to give us a voice,” said Marci McLaughlin, owner of a Spokane Valley child care center.

The union structure would be unusual, McLaughlin said, with both workers and child care owners teaming up to bargain with the state. Under the plan, the state would deduct a yet-to-be-determined “representation fee” from payments to child care centers and pay it directly to the union.

Other lawmakers and child care centers say the simplest fix is just to increase the rates.

“If we really want to get money to child care centers, let’s get it to them,” says state Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. He’s backing a bill, SB 5506, that would boost rates to 75 percent of actual cost.

That simpler plan “bypasses a very expensive and unnecessary middleman,” said Tom Emery, a Puyallup child care center owner. He’s the spokesman for the Washington Child Care Alliance, which includes dozens of centers opposed to the collective bargaining plan.

Schoesler gives a shout-out to radio icon…

From the Senate floor this a.m.:

“I recall my younger days on an old tractor with only AM radio…Every day at noon, I could hear Paul Harvey,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

Harvey, 90, died Saturday in Arizona.

“When there weren’t a lot of other choices on talk radio,” said Schoesler, “he was the guy.”

They shoot dogs, don’t they?

The state Senate this morning passed what is probably one of the most misunderstood bills of 2009: eliminating a 1929 law that required sheriffs and dog owners to gun down dogs that attack livestock or are wandering around without a license.

In the blogosphere — with a big assist from a flatly-wrong bill digest prepared by the legislature — this bit of legislative tidying-up morphed into a proposal to blast away at hapless pets, triggering a wave of angry calls to lawmakers from pet owners.

“My poor intern got thousands of calls on this because they thought what we were trying to do was shoot every dog,” said Sen. Jim Hargrove.

Everyone voted to do away the old law, but Sen. Pam Roach said she’d like to see it amended to require dog owners to pay for damages. Just a week ago, she said, she was in her pajamas, toting a gun and chasing a dog that attacked her chickens, ducks and a goat.

“I’m not happy that some dog is down there, rippin’ snortin’ through my chicken coop,” she said.

Hargrove said he would have responded differently.

“I would have gotten dressed before I went out,” he said. “And I probably would have shot the neighbor’s dog.”

Note for readers not on capitol hill: The woman feeding chickens in the photo is not Sen. Roach. This is just a chicken photo I pulled out of our archives.

Stalking the wily legislator…and Brown bears…

-The Olympian’s Adam Wilson has a humorous introduction to the legislature. It’s particularly welcome given the mid-session tenor of the capitol campus right now. (Mid-point: Thursday.)

-And our own Becky Kramer has a long profile of Simon ffitch, with the attorney general’s Public Counsel office. It’s essentially ffitch’s job to try to keep utility rates low. (And yes, that’s the correct spelling of his name, a family tradition dating back to the 1600s. The AG’s office seems unusually blessed with interestingly-named staff, including ffitch and the award-winning Rusty Fallis.)

-At the Seattle P-I, columnist Joel Connelly decries lame “zombie governors” and says that the state Senate “has emerged as the Legislature’s bold chamber.” (Connelly mentions the Senate’s passage of the homeowners’ bill of rights, but you could also add payday lending bills and the Senate’s championing of paid family leave and and a working families’ tax credit.) Writes Connelly…

The Senate is somewhat receptive to challenging the voters: Put a tax increase on the ballot, and explain what education and social programs it would save from the ax.

(Senate Majority Leader Lisa) Brown is a state senator from Spokane. We haven’t had a governor from Eastern Washington since Clarence Martin left office in 1941. Still, Brown bears watching.

He goes on to parse the list of potential gubernatorial candidates in 2012, including Brown and, on the Republican side, Attorney General Rob McKenna. Connelly continues:

Brown, Inslee, McKenna — and maybe Gregoire — look like the prime prospects for 2012. But will all be politically alive after this difficult year?

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

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