Posts tagged: Washington
California’s supreme court has upheld Proposition 8, the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling, however, allows thousands of same-sex marriages performed prior to the ban.
California’s experience has been closely watched in Washington, where gay marriage opponents have filed a referendum to undo a state law granting domestic partners most of the rights and responsibilities of spouses.
In interviews, foes of same-sex marriage cite Prop. 8 as evidence that voters, if given the chance, will reject it. (In Washington, the picture’s a little less clear, since the law targeted by the referendum stops short of full marriage.)
On the other side of the issue, some gay marriage proponents see California as an argument for a more incremental approach to winning the right to marry.
“If the brief back-and-forth history of marriage equality in California teaches us anything, it’s that progress must occur with public involvement and input, one step at a time,” said Washington state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, one of several openly gay lawmakers in Olympia.
“…In Washington, we remain dedicated to continuing our conversation with the public and steadily building upon our domestic partnership progress,” he said. “I’m confident that Washington state will soon be ready to accept — once and for all — full marriage equality for all.”
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.
There are no known cases of swine flu in Washington, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday, as health officials elsewhere confirmed dozens of cases — including one toddler death — in 10 states.
“Right now, we have no confirmed cases in Washington state, and we are doing our best to monitor the situation hour by hour,” Gregoire told reporters at the capitol.
Given the spread of the illness, however, she added that she would not be surprised to see it crop up in Washington. The virus apparently started in Mexico.
“Some people have suggested shutting the border,” the governor said. “That isn’t going to stop it. It’s human-to-human contact. We already have it in 10 states.”
Washington state officials have asked the federal Centers for Disease Control for enough anti-viral medication to treat 230,000 people. The drugs should arrive late this week or early next week, Gregoire said Wednesday.
“This is not a vaccine,” she said. “It cannot prevent the swine flu.”
The doses are used to battle the illness in people already infected, the governor said.
Washington has also stepped up monitoring for the disease. Mary Selecky, the head of the state Department of Health, said Monday that the state is asking doctors and labs for samples from people who come in with heavy flu symptoms, like heavy breathing, a very bad fever or very sore throat. Those samples are tested by the state.
If the type of flu cannot be determined, she said, the samples are then sent to the Centers for Disease Control for typing.
“Hopefully very soon we will have the capacity to do that (testing) in-state,” Gregoire said Wednesday.
She and Selecky are stressing common-sense steps to prevent getting or spreading the disease, like frequent hand-washing and keeping sick children home. Anyone with flu-like symptoms,
Gregoire said, should see a doctor for testing to confirm that they do not have swine flu.
“Our No. 1 agenda right now is prevention,” she said.
Gregoire also said there’s no reason to avoid eating pork.
“There is no reason to be concerned about eating a pork product,” she said. “This is human-to-human contact, is the nature of this new strain of the swine flu.”
A proposed billion-dollar sales tax hike barely cleared its first committee Tuesday, 8 votes to 7.
“We are at a time when people need our help,” said Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, urging lawmakers to support his plan. “The most vulnerable need us.”
If the House and Senate also approve, the proposal will appear on ballots in November for a statewide vote.
Republicans blasted the plan, saying Democratic budget writers should be scrubbing the budget more.
Rep. Joe Schmick suggested, for example, cutting state employees pay 2 percent or 3 percent, or by having them pay more than 12 percent of the cost of their health coverage.
“I’m here to tell you that Washington is hurting,” said Schmick, R-Colfax. “And they’re hurting because they’re overtaxed and they’re over-regulated.”
The proposed sales tax increase _ which works out to 3 cents on a $10 purchase _ would partly undue millions of dollars in looming budget cuts to hospitals, nursing homes and other health services.
“We have really gone over this budget,” Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, told Schmick. Sending the sales tax to voters, she said, gives the public a chance to undue some of the most serious cuts that lawmakers had to make.
Pettigrew noted that lawmakers weren’t voting to raise the tax, just to send it to voters to decide.
“It’s part of our effort to maintain our partnership with the public,” he said.
To offset the effect of the tax on the state’s poorest residents, the measure would also give a tax rebate averaging $100 to people who qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. This year, a family of four earning up to $43,415 would qualify. (NOTE: The amount of these rebates, however, was reduced from an earlier version of the bill, in order to steer millions of dollars more into the Basic Health Plan, mental health programs, vision/hearing services, and other health programs. The liberal Washington State Budget and Policy Center’s Schmudget blog has an excellent breakdown on the numbers before and after.
Some Republicans argue that the plan isn’t fair.
“You’re going to be taxing middle-income families struggling to get along and giving that money to lower-middle-class families,” said Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, crossed party lines to vote against the plan.
“I believe we are in the crisis of our generation and we are going to be judged on how we respond with real solutions,” he said.
Pettigrew said he agrees that sales tax, which hurts low-income people the most, is not ideal. But he said that lawmakers have few alternatives in the face of devastating cuts.
“When we go back to folks, I want to make sure I can look them in the eye…and say I’ve done everything possible to help you,” he said.
A new poll re: possible tax increases to support state parks comes back with these results:
-$5 fee to park at parks and trails? 55 percent support, 43 percent don’t.
-an (unspecificed) tax on motor homes and campers? 52 percent support, 43 percent don’t.
-A 1-cent-per-$1,000-value property tax increase (i.e. $2.50 on a $250k home)? 46 percent support, 50 percent don’t.
-A $5-a-year increase in vehicle license tabs? (No mention made of the fact that this would be a voluntary charge, which is what lawmakers are talking about): 40 percent support, 56 percent don’t.
The poll was commissioned by Citizens for Parks and Recreation. Below is coordinator Jim King’s explanation of where the proposed tax ideas came from and why the car-tab one didn’t include the “opt-out” provision.
But first, how much money would these things raise, anyway? From King:
-The day use/parking fees were raising about $8 million per biennium when they were discontinued in 2006.
-The RV tax would raise just under $40 million per biennium.
-The one cent per thousand dollars of assessed valuation property tax would raise about $18 million per biennium.
-The $5 license tab fee raises about $5.6 million per biennium for every ten percent of vehicle owners who choose to pay- $28 million per biennium if 50% pay, $22.4 million if 40% choose to pay, etc.
And from his letter:
To all persons interested in our State Parks:
Attached are the results from polling done a week ago, looking for some data on various state parks funding options that have been considered in recent years. The day-use, or parking, fee was in place from 2003 into 2006; the RV tax was considered in 2003 as a recommendation of the State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Funding Task Force that met during the 2002 interim; the “penny for parks” proposal has been advanced by Senator Mary Margaret Haugen and others in recent years; and the $5 car tabs is currently the leading option under consideration for filling some of the gap in State Parks funding.
We specifically did not ask whether people supported or opposed the “opt-out” car tab proposal, but instead tried to measure support for paying a $5 car tab, because what is important in that discussion is not whether people would support or oppose an ability to “opt-out” but whether or not people would be willing to pay the additional $5 car tab.
UPDATE: Jason Mercier, at the Washington Policy Center, forwarded this set of recommendations from the last time the state was trying to figure out how to keep parks open in the face of a big budget shortfall.
The report urges daily fees, and would vary the cost by how nice/popular the park is. It’s silly, the report suggests, to have a carload of six pay the same price at a popular park on Labor Day weekend as some loner pays to trudge through the rain at a tiny, little-used park in April.
What about low-income families? The report suggests corporate sponsorships, coupons from local businesses, free access for children who qualify for free school lunches, and discounted days.
“With these complementary actions, Parks and Recreation Commissioners and State Legislators secure the future of Washington’s state parks, while keeping faith with park users and other taxpayers,” wrote report author Jeff Hanson.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Worried about “fly-by-night roofers, unlicensed movers and fake mortgage brokers,” among others, the state Department of Revenue has set up a website where you can quickly check to see if a business is licensed, has paid its taxes, and find out where to get help if you’ve been defrauded.
In a press release, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the idea is to get people to “check with the state before it’s too late. We don’t want your pain to be their gain.”
State officials estimate that the underground economy costs the state treasury $457 million a year, with more than a third of that loss from contractors. Much of the loss comes from businesses that are happy to charge their customers sales tax — and then keep the money. (That’s a felony.)
The new website’s called www.suspectfraud.com.
The news continues to get worse for Washington’s treasury.
The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council today said that state revenue is down about $63 million lower than expected over the past four weeks. Revenue from Jan. 11 to Feb. 10 — which due to delays in tax payments largely reflects December sales and business — were expected to go down less than 6 percent over the same time a year ago. But the drop was steeper: just over 10 percent.
Since November, revenues are $197 million less than expected.
“Preliminary industry detail of tax payments…shows widespread weakness,” today’s report says, with particularly large drops in furniture sales (-30 percent), car dealers (-27 percent), gas stations and convenience stores (-20 percent), and clothing and accessories (-19 percent).
“The auto sector, the largest retail trade category, has now reported a year-over-year decline in tax payments for thirteen consecutive months,” reads the report, written by senior economic forecaster Eric Swenson.
The number of real estate transactions in December was down 24 percent from a year earlier — and the average price was down by a third.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and some Republican lawmakers want the Legislature’s Democratic leaders to move faster on budget cuts. Gregoire yesterday said she’s frustrated at lawmakers’ pace, and the GOP budget person in the Senate, Sen. Joe Zarelli, says that the state now faces the prospect of cutting a billion dollars in spending between now and June 30. Zarelli’s been calling for immediate legislative cuts since early December.
“While the Legislature waits, non-entitlement caseloads grow, salary increases for union employees continue to be granted, and agencies seeking flexibility to make cuts are hamstrung,” he said in a written statement. That will mean deeper cuts, “more one-time money and gimmicks” to balance the budget, and “tax increases will be proposed,” he said.
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
The White House has posted a list of what President Obama’s stimulus plan would mean for Washingtonians.
It doesn’t detail some of the major investments in education and transportation infrastructure that’s being planned. It’s more of a consumer’s-eye-view of the plan.
Creating or saving 79,700 jobs over the next two years. Jobs created will be in a range of industries from clean energy to health care, with over 90% in the private sector. [Source: White House Estimate based on Romer and Bernstein, “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” January 9, 2009.]
Providing a making work pay tax cut of up to $1,000 for 2,450,000 workers and their families. The plan will make a down payment on the President’s Making Work Pay tax cut for 95% of workers and their families, designed to pay out immediately into workers’ paychecks. [Source: White House Estimate based on IRS Statistics of Income]
Making 67,000 families eligible for a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to make college affordable. By creating a new $2,500 partially refundable tax credit for four years of college, this plan will give 3.8 million families nationwide – and 67,000 families in Washington – new assistance to put college within their reach. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of U.S. Census data]
Offering an additional $100 per month in unemployment insurance benefits to 404,000 workers in Washington who have lost their jobs in this recession, and providing extended unemployment benefits to an additional 44,000 laid-off workers. [Source: National Employment Law Project]
Providing funding sufficient to modernize at least 138 schools in Washington so our children have the labs, classrooms and libraries they need to compete in the 21st century economy. [Source: White House Estimate]
Hat tip: Jerry Cornfield.
What we’re reading:
-This analysis, by a private think tank called the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, of the differences between House Democrats’ recent cost-cutting plan and a similar proposal from Gov. Chris Gregoire. Researcher Jeff Chapman concludes that the House would reduce the budget by $172 million more than the governor, largely because its plan ignores “maintenance level” changes like counting the 1,700 more students than expected who are enrolling in schools.
-This article in The New Yorker, detailing the views of the worst-case-scenario crowd. Among them: a Russian emigre who sold his Boston apartment and moved onto a sailboat, the better to flee (and trade commodities like apples) in the coming financial apocalypse. The story includes peak-oil folks, fans of gold bullion, Vermont secessionists and an upstate New York author who argues that postwar suburban sprawl will prove a massive national mistake.
-This post, by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly, who argues that the recent election of Spokane’s Sharon Smith as vice chair of the state Democratic Party “signals an increasing presence for Eastern Washington’s Democrats.”
Connelly doesn’t mention the fact that the previous vice chair, Eileen Macoll, lives in Pullman. But he points to two other big Democratic victories east of the Cascades recently: November’s victory for Okanogan’s Peter Goldmark as lands commissioner and, two years earlier, Sen. Chris Marr’s ousting a Republican in a largely suburban Spokane district.
Justice Debra Stephens writes the majority opinion this morning in a public records case out of the state Supreme Court. Rules for the requestor in a complex case. Justice Barbara Madsen dissented, saying the ruling would upset a delicate balance between penalties for violators and misuse of the records act.
Would post more, but too much going on this a.m.
Hat tip: EFF.
That, unanimously, is the recommendation of the Washingon Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.
The group, voting minutes ago, agreed to freeze salaries for executive branch and legislative branch elected officials. A final decision’s due in May, after public hearings.
They’re still voting on judges’ salaries. A proposal for no increase this year and a 2 percent increase next year for judges just failed.
In honor of the inauguration of President Obama, Washington state’s Secretary of State is selling U.S. flags that are being flown at the state capitol today. (Yup, there’s some person who’s going to be busy hauling flags up and down all day. Really.)
You can buy the 3-foot by 5-foot flags for $14 if you pick them up at the Secretary of State’s front desk, or they’ll mail you one for $17.25.
“People just snatch them up,” said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed. Each comes with a certificate, state seal, and Reed’s signature. Any proceeds go to thestate capitol historical furnishings fund.
If you’re interested, call Suzette Black at (360) 902-4151.
From HA founder David Goldstein:
“The sudden collapse of our local news industry and the resulting mass exodus of political reporters is a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who believe that maintaining a vibrant Fourth Estate is absolutely critical to maintaining a vibrant democracy… but… well… every crisis also presents an opportunity.
That’s why I’m pleased to be playing my part in the launch of Publicola, Washington state’s newest news and opinion site. Largely the editorial creation of former Stranger news editor Josh Feit, Publicola strives to help fill the void in state political reporting, while providing the kind of fresh writing and analysis online readers demand…”
Speaking of Jacobsen’s bills, he’s also back with a proposal to declare the Olympic marmot the official “state endemic mammal.”
The bill describes the creatures in language similar to how my onetime neighbors in Coeur d’Alene used to describe Californians:
Olympic marmots hibernate from September to May. During the morning and afternoon on summer days they feed and spend time sunbathing on rocks. In the evening, they return to their burrow. Olympic marmots are relatively easy to see during the summer months along Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. Olympic marmots eat herbs, grasses, and flowers. They prefer plants that are soft and easy to digest. They may also eat fruits, legumes, and insects.
Olympic marmots are highly social and may live in groups of over a dozen animals. Gregarious bonds are made between individuals in a family. Olympic marmots identify each other by touching noses and smelling cheeks.
Alas, it remains unclear that this will be the Year of the Marmot in Olympia. An identical proposal failed to pass last year.
Although there’s a constant “we’re great/we suck” debate on virtually all attempts to gauge Washington’s business climate, here’s the latest one: U.S. News and World Report gives the state high marks as a place to launch your company. Tops, in fact.
From the report:
1. Washington. The Evergreen State tops the list by coming in second on the New State Economy Index and fifth on the Small Business Survival Index. Washington is first among the states in steps toward energy efficiency and using more alternative-energy sources. It also has a highly productive manufacturing sector, signaling high wages and a tech-intensive economy. Washington leads the nation in value added per production hour as a percentage of the national average—the difference in value between inputs in the production process and the value of the units as finally sold. But in addition to these nonpolitical factors, Washington also has very low taxes, making the costs of growing a business quite low. It does not have its own income or capital-gains taxes, either personal or corporate.
The list ranked the top 7 states, in US News’ view. Idaho and Oregon? Sorry.
Hat tip: Northwest Republican.
UPDATE: Among those underwhelmed by the news: Richard Davis, with the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy. Davis looked at the underlying studies used by the magazine to create its list, and says the results are skewed, partly because Washington has no income tax.
Put the “7 best” article in the entertainment file. Combining a tech-centric index with a flawed small business measure does not yield anything like a “best place to start a new business.” Next week the Legislature convenes, with economic recovery the top agenda item. The fluffy “best places to start a business” story should not become a distraction.
From the governor’s office, where Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is filling in for Gov. Chris Gregoire, who’s headed back from a troop visit in Iraq.
Heavy rains pounded much of Western Washington Wednesday through early Thursday, with most rivers flooding, many at record or near-record levels. In Eastern Washington, rains today heighten concerns of minor urban and small stream flooding, and about heavy snow loads on the roofs of homes, businesses and public buildings, especially schools.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, Gov. Gregoire’s Chief of Staff Cindy Zehnder, Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, Washington National Guard Assistant Adjutant Gen. Gordon Toney, Washington State Patrol Deputy Chief Paul Beckley, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Administrator Susan Reinertson will visit shelters in flooded areas today in Southwest Washington, as well as meet with local officials.
Owen and Brigadier General Gary Magonigle visited Spokane yesterday to meet with local officials and view the damage caused by the record snowfall. Hammond, Beckley, and the Governor’s Chief of Staff Cindy Zehnder visited flooded areas in Western Washington.
Hundreds of families have evacuated from impacted areas. The extent of the voluntary evacuations appears unprecedented in recent history. The American Red Cross reports that more than 260 people spent Wednesday night in 27 shelters, with the majority in Lewis County shelters.