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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: legislature

Fees going up for students, most businesses, and yes, Christmas tree growers…

From my weekly print column

The state budget, slated to be signed into law early next week, includes no new state tax increases. Lawmakers were unable to get a two-thirds vote, even a for a 25-cent increase on your phone bill to pay for better emergency-call-handling.

Fees, however, are a different thing. State law doesn’t require a two-thirds vote for those. And up they went.

Lawmakers approved increases in 48 different fees, totaling $87 million this year and $186 million next year.

Who will pay more? Lots of people. Electricians and plumbers will pay more for their licenses, as will doctors, dentists and Christmas-tree growers. So will most businesses, nurseries, Realtors, funeral homes and architects.

The vast majority of the increases, however, involve higher education. These include tens of millions of dollars in higher tuition, operating fees and a long list of other college-related charges: student and activities fees, a building fee, and lab and class fees.

The Seattle Times has posted a list of the fee increases in the budget this year. Click here.

A closer look at the budget…

Lawmakers on Friday released the details of their proposed two-year operating budget and a quick scan of the 515-page document suggests that they did, in fact, use scalpels instead of hatchets. In addition to the major changes for schools, colleges, social services and health care, lawmakers ended up trimming spending on things like the governor’s bodyguards, classes on robots, and the flower plantings around the state capitol.

“No one was spared the pain,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. The bodyguard budget was reduced by $190,000. The flowers were cut $42,000. And the robot class will be ended, saving $300,000.

Gone also is a “teak surfing” awareness program to tell people that it’s foolish to hang onto the back of a speeding motorboat. It will be replaced by a sticker warning would-be teak surfers about carbon monoxide.

Some things were added. Lawmakers set aside $642,000, for example, to open the Eastern Washington Veterans’ Cemetery on Memorial Day 2010.

Here’s a look at where some of the chips fell. Except where noted, the numbers are compared to the previous state budget. Follow the link below for a breakdown for K-12 schools, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, health care, law enforcement, community colleges and other things.

Senate, House pass first round of cuts…belt-tightening metaphor now extended to trousers…

The state Senate and House this morning each approved spending cuts this morning, in the first of what will be several whacks at state spending.

“For those that say you want to cut more, just sit in your seats,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. “You’ll have a chance.”

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, clearly responding to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s criticism of lawmakers’ budget-cutting pace earlier in the week, said that no Washington legislature has ever approved budget reductions this early in a legislative session.

Brown also said lawmakers were proud to preserve a state plan to allow families living on up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($63,600 for a family of 4) to buy into the state’s health insurance plan for kids.

“The sacred cow here is kids’ health,” she said in a press release. “We are keeping a commitment.”

In the House, Rep. Gary Alexander said that the bill there is a first step in state belt-tightening. But he warned that “we’re going to have to go many, many, many notches further.”

Pushing the metaphor further, Alexander suggested that lawmakers might, in fact, have to “take our pants off and go back and purchase a pair that are about three sizes smaller.”

Tough words yesterday from House lawmakers re: the state budget mess…

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There was some blunt talk yesterday from members of a House committee, as officials from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture tried to argue against deep budget cuts that they say will backfire by hurting local fundraising.

In this clip, Reps. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, and Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, respond that things are bad — much worse than expected — and that saying that cuts will be hard “is falling on our deaf ears,” as Darneille put it.

Unemployment checks: adding $45 a week is on fast track through the capitol…

With unemployment levels nationwide at the highest rates since 1992, Washington’s House of Representatives on Friday voted to temporarily boost benefits for jobless workers by $45 a week.

“An extra 45 bucks can mean a meal’s on the table for the kids,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.

The House overwhelmingly approved the plan, 91 to 2. All local lawmakers voted for it, except Rep. John Driscoll, one of four House members excused from the Friday session.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she expects the Senate to approve the same plan next week. Gov. Gregoire is expected to quickly sign it into law.

“Our understanding is that if we’re able to get this to the governor’s desk by Feb. 16th, that the benefit increase could start in May for unemployed workers,” Brown said. It would last through Jan. 3, 2010.

National unemployment stands at 7.6 percent, up nearly half a percent from last month. Washington’s jobless rate last month was 7.1 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Spokane, it was 7.4 percent.

“Behind all these numbers are real people, and they need help,” Chopp, D-Seattle, told reporters Friday at the capitol.

Current unemployment insurance benefits in Washington range from $129 a week to $541. The state pays those benefits for up to 26 weeks; federal emergency aid can extend payments for up 

Lisa Brown: a moral responsibility to head off cuts to kids…

In the hubbub around Gov. Gregoire’s budget proposal today, one of the dissenters was from a lawmaker close to Gregoire: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown.

Brown was unhappy that Gregoire’s budget assumes about $1 billion from the feds, calling the assumption a “glaring flaw” that the budget juggling look easier than it actually will be.

Brown said that while she, too, is hopeful that Congress and the Obama administration will help states, she doesn’t feel comfortable building that hope into a budget.

Gregoire said the assumption is based on her conversations with Obama, and that some additional federal money has already started coming to the state. If anything, Gregoire said, the $1 billion is probably underestimating the federal help.

Brown is especially focused on trying to preserve the social safety net. In a blog post recently, she talked about meeting with Spokane-area children’s advocates over breakfast recently. Among them: foster parents, social workers, nurses and teachers.

“Their concerns about the budget gap underscore a central truth about state government,” Brown wrote. “No matter how you add it up, state programs that serve children make up significantly more than half the state budget.”

Protecting those kids, she said, isn’t just an economic or political problem, it’s a moral one.

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

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