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Eye On Olympia

Be well…

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

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

Keep it bookmarked. And thanks for reading.


Unemployment up, but just a little…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol press corps loses another…

And this time, it’s me.

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The top 10 human poisonings list”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what measures will voters see on the fall ballot?

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

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

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

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

The group says it intends to try again next year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four months ‘til Election Day.

Statehouse press corps dwindles further…

We’ve lost another good one: Olympian reporter Adam Wilson is leaving to become the speechwriter for Gov. Chris Gregoire. With a young family to support and a longtime interest in politics and policy, the job seems like a good fit for Wilson in this age of pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs in the news business.

Wilson’s colleague, Olympian politican editor Brad Shannon, has the story about the move and what it means for the shrinking capitol press corps, which now numbers fewer people than a soccer team. From Shannon’s blog post:

Now a word on the downside. My back-of-the-envelope tally is this leaves the state with about eight full-time Olympia-based journalists to cover the Capitol, less than half what we had a year ago.

Meanwhile, in California…

The state budget picture is much, much worse. From the Financial Times:

Once the US’s richest state, California now has the dubious distinction of having the worst credit rating in the country….

California’s fiscal year ends on Wednesday but as the state’s cash reserves are empty, IOUs will be issued to a range of creditors, including contractors, such as information technology companies and the food service groups that cater for prisons.

ALSO: An unrelated tech note. We’ve had some reports of RSS feed problems, which we think we’v now got fixed. If you’re having problems, please shoot me an e-mail.

The water wars: Franklin County farmers sue over large feedlot’s water demand…

Local farmers today filed a lawsuit against a large-scale feedlot in Franklin County, saying that the cattle operation could use hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater a day in one of the driest areas of the state.

The case could mushroom into more than just a Franklin County water fight. A critical change in water law came when Attorney General Rob McKenna — widely assumed to be a future candidate for governor — issued a controversial opinion in 2005. Wells for watering livestock have for decades been exempt from many water regulations, but the state Department of Ecology had long said that such wells are limited to pumping 5,000 gallons a day. In response to a query from Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls and then-Rep. (now Sen.) Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, McKenna, however, said that Ecology didn’t have the right to automatically limit such wells to 5,000 gallons. (McKenna also, however, noted that Ecology could step in and impose limits on any water withdrawal in critical problem areas. He also pointed out that lawmakers can modify water law however they wish.)

Now, according to the Spokane-basede Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Easterday Ranches Inc. wants to build a feedlot for up to 30,000 head of cattle, using the stock-watering exemption to pump up to 600,000 gallons a day.

“after over 100 years of conservative farming on some of the driest land in Washington, our lives and our livelihoods are in jeopardy from this huge industrial feedlot,” dryland wheat farmer Scott Collin said in a press release announcing the lawsuit today.

(The full text of the press release is below, after the jump.)

WA think tank: rural residents have the hardest time getting fresh produce on the table…

This sounds counterintuitive, until you look at the price of a box of macaroni and cheese versus that of a handful of stir-fry vegetables:

According to the private Washington State Budget & Policy Center, shoppers in rural Washington have a harder time getting fresh fruits and vegetables on their tables. From the group’s report:

…For those living in poverty and struggling to keep food on the table, financial and geographic barriers make it harder to shop at grocery stores. As a result, they often turn to corner markets or gas-station mini-marts for food, where there are fewer healthy options.”

“Ironically, in the areas of our state where much of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables are grown, families are having trouble finding them in the stores where they shop,” said Stacey Schultz, a policy analyst and author of the report.

She also cites an interesting recent study in Chicago that found that obesity rates increased as access to grocery stores decreased. It focused on the urban version of the problem, labeling vast stretches of the Chicago area “food deserts” (not desserts).

“While many of us take food options for granted, residents of the food desert
often cannot choose between eating an apple instead of a candy bar, a salad instead of french fries, or fresh skinless chicken instead of deep fried, high-fat chicken,” the Chicago study said.

Washington state’s government, as well as the feds, have helped by expanding eligibility and benefits for food stamps and paying for programs that focus on getting fruits and vegetables to children and seniors, she says. The state recently passed legislation that gives schools with a high number of low-income students more money to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. (I think the law also streamlined bidding rules to make it easier to buy the produce from area farms.) The Women, Infants and Children food program is also focusing more on fresh produce, and many farmers’ markets — including in Spokane — are starting to accept food stamps.

The Washington report (see page 4), includes a map that shows that across broad swaths of Eastern Washington and the Olympic Peninsula, the average drive to a grocery store is 15-38 miles. These are also often the areas of the state “with the highest poverty rates and high rates of food insecurity,” writes Schultz.

The report doesn’t however, try to gauge the impact of vegetable gardens, which poor, rural residents presumably are more likely to have.


Protection sought for giant earthworm…

It’s summer, and my blog numbers need a boost, so here’s this, from the Associated Press:

Fans of the giant Palouse earthworm are once again seeking federal protection for the rare, sweet-smelling species.

The worm has been seen only four reported times in the past 110 years, but supporters contend it is still present in portions of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

The worm can reach 3 feet in length, is white in color and reportedly possesses a unique lily smell.

Environmental groups are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the worm as an endangered species.

The Bush administration rejected an earlier petition, but supporters hope to have better luck with the Obama administration.

Another serving of “TEA”…

From the print paper:

OLYMPIA – Encouraged by the large turnout this spring at anti-tax rallies, critics of government spending are planning a new round of demonstrations July 4.

Events are planned in more than 20 Washington cities, including Spokane Valley, as well as in Sandpoint and Boise. One rally in Olympia – the first of two – took place Saturday.

“It’s gotten to a point, with the out-of-control spending and the government nationalizing the auto industry, banking and things like that, that it’s woken the silent majority up,” said Dan Rehling, of Olympia, who’s organizing the July 4 demonstration at the Washington state Capitol. “This is my prediction: It’s going to be the biggest rally the Capitol has ever seen.”

The demonstrations are modeled on April 15’s anti-tax demonstrations, which drew thousands of people to the Statehouse and other sites across the state.

“We’re not against taxes. We’re against unreasonable taxation beyond the scope of the Constitution,” said Dann Selle, a spokesman for a group that is organizing the Spokane-area rally July 4. It’s tentatively slated for Plantes Ferry Park in Spokane Valley.

Much of organizers’ ire is directed at the Obama administration’s moves to try to right the economy, including federal stimulus spending.

“All these people are saying it’s just a bunch of right-wing extremists living on the fringe,” Rehling said. “I am not that person. I’m just an average Joe that is fired up.”

State Rep. Brendan Williams said the demonstrators’ passions are misplaced.

“It would have been nice if they were protesting the excesses of the Bush administration that got us into this economic calamity,” said Williams, D-Olympia. “Now they seem to be faulting Obama for trying to dig us out.”

WA population: still growing, but slowing…

From tomorrow’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ We’re still growing, but it’s slowing.
That was the verdict Monday from Washington’s Office of Financial Management, which churns out annual population estimates for the state, cities and counties.
Washington’s population as of April 1, 2009, the agency estimates, was 6,668,200. That’s up about 80,600, or 1.2 percent, from a year earlier.
That’s a big change from 1991’s increase of about 155,000 people, or 2006’s 125,000.
A major factor in the state’s growth is job-related migration here, said the state’s chief demographer, Theresa Lowe. The two top states And while Washington’s economic prospects are better than California’s or Oregon’s, she said, migration to Washington is less than half of what it was three years ago.
“Many job seekers are finding it difficult to sell their homes” and don’t want to risk having to pay two mortgages, she said.
Also, she said, immigration to America has slowed, and many immigrants here have returned home due to the lagging economy.
The city-population estimates also mean that Spokane maintains its claim as second largest city in the state. Spokane has about 205,500 people, an increase of about 10,000 in the past decade. Tacoma, which came within 600 residents of claiming the title in 2005, now has 203,400. Seattle has 602,000.
The state budget office extrapolates the numbers from changes in school enrollment, voting records, housing, driver’s licensing and other data.
Monday report shows that housing growth has slowed in most major metropolitan areas of the state except Seattle. New homes, including manufactured homes, numbered about 2,000 in Spokane County last year. That’s about half the rate in 2005-2006.
Most of the population growth since the 2000 census has been concentrated in Western Washington, according to OFM. The fastest-growing counties are Franklin (47 percent), Clark (25 percent), Thurston (21 percent) and Kittitas (20 percent).
A second set of numbers is due out Wednesday, when the U.S. Census Bureau will issue population estimates for July 1, 2008.

(After the jump, I included numbers for some cities in our readership area.)

Still the Second City…

Here’s to Two, Spokane.

The Lilac City continues to cling to it’s position as the state’s second-largest city, once again beating out the City of Destiny — Tacoma, that is — by about 2,000 people.

The state Office of Financial Management today released its annual population estimates as of April 1, 2009. Locally, here’s how cities stack up:

Spokane: 205,500
Tacoma: 203,400
Spokane Valley: 89,440 (7th largest city in state, a position Spokane Valley’s held since 2006)
Pullman: 27,600 (37th)

Coming Wednesday: (Un)Happy new fiscal year…

State budget-cut fallout: trash in state-owned buildings only emptied twice a week, carpets cleaned once a year.

More state budget fallout: Health insurance costs likely to rise next year for state workers. On the most popular plan, the Uniform Medical Plan, would rise from $82 a month for a family to $126 a month. For individuals, the cost would rise from $26 a month to $41.

More state budget fallout: Fewer prisoners to fight forest fires.

More state budget fallout: The capitol visitor’s center, often a first stop for tourists swinging by Olympia, is closing Wednesday.

And the state’s Poison Center, which fields calls from panicked people whose children and pets have apparently ingested poisons, says that callers can expect to spend more time on hold, will initially get a phone-tree, and will be asked for a $30 credit-card payment before the staff answer poison questions about pets.

Dunmire on Eyman: Still a big fan…

Retired Woodinville financial advisor Mike Dunmire’s been a lifeline for initiative promoter Tim Eyman, pouring a steady cash infusion into Eyman’s signature-gathering (and income-producing) funds.

So for people who watch campaign finance reports on the Public Disclosure Commisson site, it’s become a bit of a parlor game to try to predict the waxing and waning of Dunmire’s support. Is Dunmire tiring of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year bankrolling Eyman?

It doesn’t seem so. Dunmire was among the diners at a dinner Friday in which Eyman — a king of self-promotion — presented bobblehead figurines of himself, awarded to the highest bidders. (Price: $1000 for two.)

Eyman asked some of the two dozen people in attendance to send an email about why they support Eyman and his efforts. Here’s Dunmire’s:

Why do I support Tim Eyman?  Tim is the only individual looking out for the average citizen and the tax burden government imposes upon them. Tim’s success is derived from several factors., however, first and foremost is that he has his finger on the pulse of the electorate better than anyone else in the state and is able to identify those key pro-taxpayer, pro-freedom, limit-government-power issues that resonate most with voters.  His effort to get initiatives on the ballot is relentless and his track record of success is astounding, especially considering his opposition invariably expends 10 times his resources.  Tim has the average citizen’s interest at heart and taxpayers throughout the state owe him a debt of gratitude.  My wife Phyllis and Mike live in Woodinville.  Phyllis taught learning disabled children for 25 years and is now retired and spends her time with charities and showing horses.  Mike, a retired financial advisor, spends his time involved with philanthropy, politics and poker.

Comments are welcome.

Christian lawyers’ group opens hotline for R-71 harassment…

The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund today launched a free phone hotline and website to gather accounts of threats or other harassment of people gathering signatures for Referendum 71. The ballot measure asks voters to throw out a new law granting state-registered domestic partners, including same-sex couples, most of the same rights as spouses under state law.

“If you have been threatened or suffered retaliation after signing an R-71 petition, or someone prevented you from signing an R-71 petition, please tell us what happened,” the website says, urging people to fill out a “legal intervention request form.”

“Washington voters shouldn’t have to choose between being involved in the democratic process and opening themselves up to possible acts of retaliation as a result of having their personal information posted on the Web,” ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb said in a press release announcing the hotline and website.

The group maintains that the new law makes marriage and domestic partnerships “effectively the same except in name,” a premise that legislative proponents deny.

The ADF’s move is partly in response to, a group that’s vowing to publicize the names of anyone who signs the petitions to put the measure on the fall ballot. Opponents are also running a “decline to sign” online pledge in hopes of preventing social conservatives from getting the roughly 150,000 signatures they’ll need to trigger a statewide vote.

Missing governor found, after affair in Argentina…

Wow. This just moved on the AP wire:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he’d secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he’d been having an affair. He apologized to his wife and four sons and said he will resign as head of the Republican Governors Association.
“I’ve let down a lot of people, that’s the bottom line,” the 49-year-old governor said at a news conference where he choked up as he ruminated with remarkable frankness on God’s law, moral absolutes and following one’s heart. His family did not attend.
The woman, who lives in Argentina, has been a “dear, dear friend” for about eight years but, Sanford said, the relationship didn’t become romantic until a little over a year ago. He’s seen her three times since then, and his wife found out about it five months ago.
He told reporters he spent “the last five days of my life crying in Argentina” and the affair is now over. Sanford, a rumored 2012 presidential candidate, refused to say whether he’ll leave office.
“What I did was wrong. Period,” he said.

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

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