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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Where the Lege could look for some new money

OLYMPIA – Washington’s projected take on legal marijuana is a shade over $200 million, state economists guesstimated last week.

That’s not nothing, as non-economists who don’t mind a double negative will agree. But it clearly won’t be enough to stave off the upcoming legislative fighst between those who want to find more revenue – read raise taxes – and those who would make government more efficient – read cut programs – to balance the budget.

While it would be hard to argue that a $33 billion budget doesn’t have some things that could be cut, there are few things that have so little support that they can be drastically reduced or completely axed without a vocal constituency putting up a fight. Similarly, while the belief that some taxes could be raised enjoys support in some quarters, agreement on which ones should be raised often proves elusive. The working theory seems to be get the most taxes out of the fewest people to avoid a nasty referendum defeat.

This is where marijuana taxes offer a lesson in fiscal policy the Legislature should heed. The combination of sales, excise and business taxes and registration fees are high – maybe one should say exorbitant to avoid giggles – yet they seemed to generate no serious challenges from the usual anti-tax crowd. That may be because most of that crowd doesn’t indulge in marijuana, and thus doesn’t care that people who do will pay them. The people who are paying them really want marijuana, but don’t want to break the law to get it, and thus are willing to fork over some extra cash for the privilege.

Using that as a guidepost, the Legislature could find revenue from a new area with limited constituencies who would generate little sympathy from the general public – politicians and their campaign supporters. Continue inside the blog for some options…

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Nov election turnout prediction: 62 percent

OLYMPIA — Slightly less than two out of three Washington voters are likely to cast ballots in the November general election, Secretary of State Kim Wyman estimated today.

The 62 percent she's predicting is about twice the turnout of the August primary, but less than the last two previous mid-term elections. Wyman believes it will drop from the 71 percent in 2010 and 65 percent in 2006 because there's no major statewide office up for election. But the gun initiatives and the class size initiative, coupled with the fact that this is an all-mail election, should produce better turnout than 2002, the last time Washington had a midterm without a U.S. Senate seat on the ballot.

Overseas and military ballots have just gone out, so technically the election is underway. Ballots go out to the rest of us starting Oct. 17.

It's possible to register to vote online through Oct. 6. Click here for details.

Spin Control Files: When Spokane was bipartisan Ground Zero

If ever there was a metaphor for bipartisanship in national politics over the last quarter century, it would be the American elm tree planted 25 years ago this Friday in Riverfront Park.

 The elm from the White House was planted by a Republican president and a Democratic speaker of the House. They didn’t just smile and shake hands stiffly for the cameras but went out to dinner, shared a couple bottles of wine, got up the next morning and planted a tree in a show of bipartisanship.

The concept may seem as quaint today as eight-track tape players and phone booths, but there was a sunny day in 1989 when Spokane was kind of Ground Zero for national bipartisanship. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Pot may bring state $25 million by next July

OLYMPIAWashington tax coffers could get a $25 million boost by next July and nearly $200 million by mid 2017 from legal marijuana, state economists estimate. But much of that money is spoken for and won't help the general fund.

The estimates for taxes and fees the state can expect from recreational marijuana, the first such available, are contained in overall economic and revenue forecasts released Thursday afternoon. In general, the state's budget outlook is changed slightly for the better from the June forecast, economist Steve Lerch said. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Harvard poll:Most millennials could skip election

The youngest segment of American citizens are none too excited about the upcoming mid-term elections, a new survey from Harvard University says.

HeadCount, a group concerned about civic engagement, or the lack of it, by that segment — dubbed Millennials by whoever is tasked with naming generations — plans to do fight that by encouraging them to register and vote. Are they going to explain the responsibilities that come with citizenship and show the connection between political involvement and daily life? Well, probably, but mainly HeadCount plans to have celebrities and musicians stage concerts and use social media to send out pictures of themselves holding Register to Vote clipboards and links to websites that will sign people up. 

Because apparently nothing will drive young voters to fulfilling their civic duty like a tweet from a celeb.

Some numbers: When the Harvard Institute of Politics surveyed 3,058 millennials recently, only about one in four said they definitely planned to vote in the mid-terms. That's down from about one in three in a poll last year and 31 percent from a poll at this time before the 2010 elections. The news was worse for Democrats than Republicans. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

Spokane skywalk staircase comes down

If a skywalk staircase comes down and no one's around to see it, does it make a sound? Okay, there were plenty of people to see it slowly get dismantled at the corner of Main Avenue and Howard Street, but we were a little disappointed that nobody chained themselves to it, like you see in those history preservation movies.

Anyway, here's the a scene of the missing staircase:

And another:

For a bit of background, read our earlier coverage on why the staircase came down. Not to spoil it or anything, but the staircase was kind of in the way.

Federal judge rejects Coe request for release

OLYMPIA — A federal judge in Tacoma turned down the latest request from convicted rapist Kevin Coe to be released from McNeill Island, where he is incarcerated as a sexually violent predator. He has exhausted one avenue of appeals, but still faces annual reviews by the state of the civil commitment that could keep him behind bars for life.

U.S. District Judge J. Richard Creatura rejected Coe's argument that he had ineffective lawyers when fighting the civil commitment trial. He had already served his sentence for the criminal conviction of a sexual assault that was part of a string of attacks in the late 1970s and early 1980s attributed to the South Hill rapist.

Coe’s also argued he is entitled to a new civil trial because he wasn’t able to cross-examine or depose some of the rape victims whose testimony formed the basis of a psychologist’s diagnosis that he suffers from a series of personality disorders and mental abnormalities. It might warrant a new trial if this was a criminal conviction, Creatura said, but the Sexually Violent Predator program is a civil commitment, so the standard is different. Coe had the right to cross-examine the psychologist about her diagnosis or offer a rebuttal the jury could consider, the judge noted.

“The court has found that no error was committed in either of (Coe's) claims,” he wrote in a decision released late last week. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

 

Cantwell to NFL: Give up ‘Skins or tax break

The NFL would lose its not-for-profit status, and millions of dollars, if the Washington Redskins don't change their names under a bill being introduced soon by Sen. Maria Cantwell.

The Washington state Democrat joined the National Congress of American Indians in calling for the name change. But if it doesn't happen,  Cantwell said, she's prepared to hit the league where it would  hurt most — in the wallet.

The NFL currently is registered as a 501 c (6) not for profit organization. A bill she expects to introduce by the end of the month would deny that status to any professional sports league that has a team named “Redskins” . . . 

 

City Hall Scoop: Domestic Violence and a New Councilwoman

Another Monday, another Spokane City Council meeting at which Councilman Mike Fagan speaks eloquently on the injustice of domestic violence.

Okay, so not every council meeting has Fagan on the dais, detailing the horrors of “Spokane's ugly, dirty little secret,” telling attendees and viewers that domestic violence is not simply violent, but also “a crime of control, of coercion.” He doesn't always read a list of crimes associated with domestic violence, or educate people that it can happen between more than man and wife, but between lovers, or friends, or inflicted by a parent or grandparent.

But it happened last night, as council members discussed amending city law as proposed by Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilwoman Amber Waldref to protect victims of domestic violence against discrimination, while also creating a fund to help prevent such violence and prosecute offenders. We covered the issue when it first arose.

True to his word, Fagan was “more than happy to vote in the affirm” and the ordinances passed 7-0, despite conservative gadabout George McGrath admonishing the council for letting government overreach to continue. McGrath did agree that domestic violence should be “contained (and) curtailed” but warned against overreaction, such as when a man flicks a toothpick at his wife. Councilman Mike Allen seemed to have had enough at that remark, tearing off his reading glasses and shooting an exasperated look to the council. Regardless, McGrath's three minutes soon were spent, he returned to his seat and the council carried on, as usual.

Continue reading, and see Fagan talk about domestic violence, after the jump.

 

 

Mager endorses Johnson in County Commission race

In an unsurprising move, former County Commissioner Bonnie Mager endorsed Democrat Mary Lou Johnson on Tuesday in her bid to unseat GOP incumbent Al French in the November election.

Mager, who finished third in the August primary as an independent, served as a Democrat on the commission from 2006 to 2010. She was unseated by French, a former Spokane City Council member, in the 2010 general election.

Johnson's campaign announced the endorsement in an email Tuesday morning. The campaign said Mager had encouraged her supporters to back Johnson in the November general election.

The incumbent defeated his Democratic challenger by just 222 votes in the primary, but Mager carried an additional 8,000 ballots and the general election is open to voters countywide while the primary included only ballots cast in the county's third district. In the primary, fewer than 30,000 votes were cast; that number will likely quintuple in the general election.

To read the rest of this item, go inside the blog.

Today’s fun video: Oliver on the week’s big election — in Scotland

 

Scotland votes this week to pull out of the United Kingdom.

It used to be to get out of the British Empire folks had to do something a bit more rash, like coming up with a Declaration of Independence and shooting at redcoats from behind stone fences and trees.

John Oliver explains the vote, with some tantalizing tidbits like the official animal of Scotland. And no, you probably can't guess it.

It's a long video, but well worth it.

Condon restarts ambulance bid process

Spokane Mayor David Condon said this morning he was re-issuing a call for bids on the city's ambulance contract after no competition emerged to challenge the firm that already provides the city’s emergency transportation.

The new request for bids will strike a provision requiring an  ambulance company to operate in at least one city with a population of at least 150,000 within the United States. American Medical Response was the only company to bid.

Condon said the change came in response to criticism from Council President Ben Stuckart, who said the provision barred Falck, the world's largest emergency transport provider, from bidding. Stuckart said he would push to reject the contract until the contract was re-bid. Condon acknowledged Stuckart's concerns.

“Ultimately, the council needs to pass this,” Condon said. 

Stuckart said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I'm glad they listened to my concerns,” he said. “This isn't against AMR. It's for competition.”

Read our earlier coverage here.

Sunday Spin2: Happy B-Day, Nat Anthem

Today is the bicentennial of what may be the most oft-sung song in the country. No, not “White Christmas.”

Two hundred years ago, the dawns early light revealed the stars and stripes still flying above Fort McHenry near Baltimore, and Francis Scott Key, who was watching from a ship in the harbor, was so happy he penned the poem The Star Spangled Banner, which was later put to a popular tune (it was a British tune, but we’ll let that one go). The poem has four verses, and so does the song, but most people only know the first one.

The song was popular in the 19th Century, but wasn’t made the national anthem until 1931. The practice of singing it before every major league baseball game started in World War II, and now it’s a standard at the beginning of every sporting event of note in the country.

That’s a lot of events. So, sorry Bing and Irving Berlin. Even with Christmas songs starting in the malls in a week or two, The Star Spangled Banner probably gets sung more.

Sunday spin: So many constitutional experts

OLYMPIA – Standing in line at Safeway one evening last week, I was reminded that almost everyone considers themselves an expert in constitutional law.

An irate shopper was unhappy that his total was more than the amount available on his bank card and a coupon he was sure was good, wasn’t. The more irate he became, the calmer the cashier became, repeating slowly that she was sorry but there wasn’t anything she could do. With increasing volume, he said he didn’t like her attitude and the way she was looking at him, reached into the bag and pulled out items to reduce the tab. The manager came over and offered to help if he would calm down at which point the shopper declared with even more volume he was within his rights. “The First Amendment gives me the right to complain,” he shouted. “You can look it up. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Rachel Maddow.”

Eventually, he grabbed up his bag of groceries and left, leaving the cashier to shake her head but ring up other purchases rather than call the MSNBC host. I assured her that having read the First Amendment carefully, it did not contain the right to be a jerk.

Such certitude over what a constitution says or doesn’t say infuses the fight over public school funding . . .

Lyft and Uber are coming

The Spokane City Council is preparing to change city law to allow “for-hire” drivers to do business in town.

The law is aimed at new taxi-like services springing up around the country, namely Lyft and Uber.

Read the draft operating agreement between the city and Lyft here. The council will consider the change in city law a week from Monday, which you can read about more here, just scroll down to the section relating to for-hire vehicles.

Today’s fun video: Stewart on the mid-terms

 

​Originally aired on The Daily Show last week, but with the elections  two months off, it's still good.

 

Former McMorris Rodgers aide says scandal investigation expanding

A former aide to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers contends an ethics investigation into her campaign for a House leadership post is ramping up with allegations that she retaliated against him. An attorney for the Spokane Republican calls the comments “more frivolous allegations and information.”

Todd Winer, former press secretary and advisor to McMorris Rodgers, said in an e-mail today he was “breaking his silence” about what he calls the congresswoman's scandal. 

Winer cooperated with the Office of Congressional Ethics investigation of whether McMorris Rodgers and her staff misused resources in her campaign for  re-election in 2012 and for the office of Republican Conference chairman. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Winer filed the complaint.) After reviewing the allegations, the office referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which last March said it would continue to review it but did not set up a special subcommittee to investigate.

Although it was clear when the committee released ethics office report in March that Winer cooperated, he had not addressed it publicly before today, and still refuses to comment about it other than by e-mail. “It wouldn't have been appropriate for me to talk while I was still working in Congress,” he wrote in response to a question about the timing. “Now that I've left Congress it's important for me to set the record straight.”

Until recently, Winer was the press secretary for Rep. Raul Labrador, the Republican whose district includes North Idaho and shares much of its western border with McMorris Rodgers' Eastern Washington district. 

In his e-mail, he said the Ethics Committee staff continues to investigate the charges, and he has met with them as recently as last week. He contends the committee's investigation is expanding to include McMorris Rodgers' “efforts to intimidate and punish me for my cooperation with the (Office of Congressional Ethics) and the committee.”

Elliot Berke, an attorney for McMorris Rodgers who filed a 49-page rebuttal to the office report, dismissed Winer's allegations as more the same.

“We are sorry to see more frivolous allegations and information from the same source,” Berke wrote in an e-mail. “From the beginning the Congresswoman and her staff have fully cooperated with the Ethics Committee and will continue to do so should it have more questions.”

The committee does not comment on ongoing investigations, its attorney Thomas Rust said. Nothing has changed from the committee's statement on March 24 that said the the chairman and top Democrat on the panel were extending the review, he said.

That was a step between impaneling a special subcommittee to investigate it and dismissing the complaint, causing some speculation the congresswoman was unlikely to face charges or sanctions.  But a check of the committee's website shows instances in which extended reviews have led to establishing an investigative subcommittee for a complaint.

There is no time limit for an extended review, and investigations can be carried over from one session to the next. In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the committee handled 58 complaints against House members.

Some not-too-shocking endorsements

The Spokane County Republican Party has gone waaaaay out on a limb and endorsed three incumbent Republicans running for re-election to county office

The party sent out a press release over the weekend that it is endorsing Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, Treasurer Rob Chase and Assessor Vicki Horton. The Knezovich endorsement is only mildly controversial, considering he's running against another Republican, Doug Orr, for the job. But he also was among the biggest vote-getters in the primary.

Others will be simply shocked that the progressive Inland Northwest Leadership PAC is endorsing 11 candidates in November, and that all the ones running for a partisan office are Democrats.

 

Sunday Spin: Gun inits duel over cop support

OLYMPIA – Law enforcement agencies may not be getting much love in most of the country after images of heavily armed cops filled news coverage of protests in Ferguson, Missouri. But here in Washington, the dueling gun initiatives are competing for the claim of “cops love my initiative better.” . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

State won’t extend Hanford deadline a third time

OLYMPIA — Washington state will not give the federal government a third extension of the deadline for coming up with a way to resolve the dispute over cleaning up waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. 

Unless the U.S. Department of Energy comes up with a plan in the  next 30 days, the state and the feds likely are headed to court over the cleanup. Again.

The department is under a court order to clean up Hanford, which has tanks holding decades of waste from the construction of the nation's nuclear arsenal. Some of those tanks are leaking, but the process to pump out the waste and either treat it or put it in more secure tanks that would have to be built will take years. The court set up a timeline for all that to happen 

In 2011 the department started telling the state it wasn't going to meet some of the deadlines. This spring, the state and the department each submitted new timelines, but neither agreed to the other's plan. They've negotiated, and the state has agreed to extend the deadline for an agreement twice. Friday Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the department they wouldn't agree to another extension, which means the state could go to court on Oct. 5 and file a “petition for relief”, essentially asking a judge to resolve the dispute.

 

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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