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Spin Control

Archive for April 2010

RNC “Census” update: Yet another law tries to stop it

Members of Congress are apparently so ticked off about the Republican National Committee’s use of a “Census” to raise money in its mailers that they’ve introduced a new bill to stop it,  passing it quickly this week on a voice vote in the House of Representatives.

So what, Republicans out there might say. The House is run by Democrats always looking to take a shot at the GOP. Except this bill was written by Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and it passed without dissent from either party.

The RNC remains unabashed about its mailings, which have gone out to Eastern Washington residents as well as folks in some other states. RNC Chairman Michael Steele, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “This was within the law as written. I can’t help it that the Democrats wrote a bad bill.”

He answers a question about it in at about 6:17 of the above clip..

The previous bill outlawing the practice was sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and passed unanimously in the House and Senate this year. The RNC believes it complies with the law, which bans the use of the word Census on the envelope, because “Census Document” appears on a page of the mailing with the addressee’s name that’s inside the envelope and shows through a plastic window.

Issa told the Associated Press it’s not a partisan issue. “When it comes to the Census htere is no separation between Republicans and Democrats. Working together we thought we put an end to this deceptive practice. Unfortunately, the foolishness of the RNC to move forward with yet another deceptive mail piece has caused us to act again.”

The new bill is now in the Senate.

Spokane, Valley cities tie on census bet

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey

Elected officials are sometimes unable to avoid making bets with their counterparts in other realms about sporting events. When there are no decent sporting events, they sometimes cook up other competitions on which to wager.

Thus it was that Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey managed to bet on which city’s residents would do better on returning their 2010 Census forms by the end of April. Loser has to wear a shirt with the other city’s logo.

Although it is not yet the end of April, the Census Bureau has released the results for Washington city returns, so the day of reckoning is at hand.

And the winner is: Nobody. Or everybody. In other words, it’s a tie. Both cities have a return rate of 76 percent.

One might think the mayors would just let this little wager die a nice, quiet death. But one would be wrong. Each agreed to don the other city’s shirt, and issue a joint press release.

“The great people of the Spokane region once again delivered,” said Verner.  “I’m proud to wear Spokane Valley’s colors in support of all the people who filled out their 2010 Census forms.”
“Pink isn’t one of my favorite colors,” said Towey of the pastel shirt provided by Verner.  “But since Mayor Verner is one of my favorite mayors, I’m going to wear it proudly.”

And by the way, the mayors said. If you are among the one in four who didn’t turn in your Census form, be nice to the Census taker who comes to your door in May to get the information.


Is he right, or just far right?

Tim James, a candidate for governor in Alabama, has a new ad that’s generating interest far beyond the borders of the Sweet Home state.

If he’s elected, the commercial says, he’ll end the current practice of giving drivers license tests in 12 languages, and just offer them in English.

“This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it,” he says. It just makes good business sense, he adds.

Some people accuse him of being racist. But others say he’s got a point: If you can’t understand English well enough to read signs and follow directions, should you be driving?

Washington state offers drivers license manuals, and the written test in six languages besides English: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. They can also get an interpreter from a list supplied by the Department of Social and Health Services to administer the test in other languages, Brad Benford of the Department of Licensing said.

But applicant must be prepared to take the driving test with a tester who speaks English, and interpreters are not allowed to go on the test drive.

Some license offices have bilingual testers for some of the more prevalent languages in the state — Cantonese, Chinese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish or Vietnamese — Benfield said. The applicant can request a bilingual tester, and the office will try to accomodate them if one is available. But if the applicant needs someone who speaks Pashtu or Swahili or Romanian, they’re going to be out of luck.

But back to Tim James and his commercial. Alabama only offers its manual in English, but does allow applicants to take the written test in American Sign and 12 foreign languages: Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese.

The people who administer the road test only speak English, and like in Washington, no interpreters are allowed in the vehicle. Also like Washington, the written test is administered by a computerized machine, which is programmed to give the test in English or any of the other 12 languages.

Dorris Teague, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety, said there’s a bit of history behind all this:  Alabama offered a written form of the test in 14 languages until 1990. In 1991, a constitutional amendment passed making English the official language of the state, and they went to English-only drivers tests. In 1998, a federal court ruling said the state had to start offering the tests in seven other languages, and the number grew to 12 when the state went to computerized testing machines in 2003.

But the state didn’t pay for those automated testing machines, Teague said, the feds did.

So if, as James suggests, the state were to offer its drivers tests in English only, it wouldn’t cost money for new programs, they’d just turn off the other languages. But it wouldn’t necessarily save money, either.

So what do you think? Should Washington and other states only offer its written drivers’ tests in English? Or should they keep whatever multi-lingual programs they’ve got?

And what about James’ other point: If you live in America,  you should learn to speak English? Is it xenophobia, or just common business sense?

Early morning trek for history

After nearly four months in Washington, D.C., on an American studies program, Michelle Creek had a chance at something special Wednesday – but it meant getting up at 5:45 a.m., walking some 10 blocks through the city and waiting in line in the early morning chill.

“I could not miss it,” the Whitworth University political science major and pre-law student said.

Concert tickets? The latest hot electronic gadget? No. A chance to see history being made. She wanted a seat in the U.S. Supreme Court for the arguments of Roe v. Reed, a potentially landmark case to decide whether the names of people who sign petitions for ballot measures are public.

Other unions show support for Kirkpatrick

Division in the Spokane Police Department has been made clear by the March no confidence vote held by the Spokane Police Guild.

Some supporters of Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick within the department responded by printing and wearing the button pictured above, and it appears she has the support of smaller groups within the department that are members of other unions.

“The chief has always been more than fair,” said Mike Smith, staff representative of Local 270 of the Washington State Council of City and County Employees. Smith said Local 270 opted not to hold a confidence vote in response to the Guild’s decision because “this is totally their issue.”

Smith said Local 270 represents about 60 police records specialists, radio operators and other clerical workers in the department.

Two other unions in the department, the Lieutenants and Captains Association and the police employees of the Managerial and Professional Association, wrote Kirkpatrick letters of support.

“The Lt’s and Capt’s Association is supportive of our administration,” wrote Capt. Steve Braun in an e-mail to Kirkpatrick on March 18. “We believe in the agreed upon mission, vision and values of the Spokane Police Department.”

Support grows for Spokane EMS levy in second day of counting

Voters who cast ballots later in the election cycle that ended Tuesday were more likely to support the EMS levy on the ballot in Spokane and less likely in Spokane County Fire District No. 10.

Not that it matters too much: We already knew that both measures passed after the first round of counting on Tuesday.

After 3,500 more ballots were counted on Wednesday, support crept up in Spokane from 66.8 percent to 67.1 percent. It fell in District 10, which is surrounded by Airway Heights, from 69.3 percent to 69.1 percent.

Spokane County estimates that only 200 ballots more will be counted. That won’t happen until the day before results are certified on May 12.

Turnout for the election was just over 40 percent.

Out of the nearly 44,000 people who voted in Spokane, 23 people left their ballots blank. Four people voted yes and no, an act that disqualifies the ballot.

Correction on tax initiatives

OLYMPIA — Initiative sponsor par excellance and alert reader Tim Eyman points out an inaccuracy in last Saturday’s item about the tax increases Gov. Chris Gregoire signed.

He and other tax foes in his camp have filed initiatives to repeal six of the taxes passed by the Legislature in its special session. The story said they had filed initiatives to repeal most of the taxes, and that’s numerically incorrect. The Legislature raised 17 taxes, so their initiatives only cover about a third of them.

Through various initiatives, Eyman et al want to repeal the new soda tax, the bottled water tax, the beer tax, the candy tax, the cigarette tax and the service industry business and occupation tax increase.

While these are the most recognizable (some might say notorious) tax changes coming out of the special session, there are about a dozen other smaller ones, such as the clarification of taxes on electricity from Public Utility Districts, taxes for officers of a failed limited liability corporation or the end to the sales tax exemption for handling livestock nutrients at dairies.

In terms of dollar figures, they are seeking to repeal taxes that would provide more than half of the new revenues the state expects to collect. But that’s different than “most of the taxes,” which is the phrase used in the item.

3 of 4 Census forms back

The U.S. Census Bureau says Washington has exceed it mail-back participation in the 2010 Census compared to 2000. It says nearly 3 of 4 residences, or 74 percent, have mailed back their forms. 

That’s 2 percentage points ahead of the mail-back previous census.

Idaho has matched its 2000 mail-back rate, and is just ahead of Washington at 75 percent.

That puts both states ahead of the national return rate of 72 percent, but behind Minnesota, which has an 80 percent mail-back rate.

Other than potential bragging rights between the states, or between this decade and last, the return rate is significant for a fiscal reason. Every form that is returned is a household that doesn’t have to be contacted personally by Census workers looking to fill in the blanks.

Spokane, Spokane Valley and Colville are all at 76 percent, the bureau reports. For a full list of Washington cities, go inside the blog.

Wassup: April 28

Biggest action for Washington state today is in the other Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in Doe v. Reed, the dispute over making public the names of people who sign initiative and refererndum petitions.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is arguing the case for the state, is scheduled to have a telephonic press conference at 10 a.m. from Washington, D.C., with Secretary of State Sam Reed, who is the named defendant in the case. Quick recap: Opponents of same-sex marriage, who opposed last year’s law to expand domestic partner rights, circulated Referendum 71 to put it to a vote in November. They got enough signatures, but a supporter of gay rights filed a public records request to get all the names to post in the Internet. R-71 sponsors balked, went to court, and various judges have ruled the signatures are or aren’t public records.

The case is the last to be heard this term by the Supremes.

Meanwhile, here’s Jon Stewart’s one-minute take on yesterday.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
04/27/10 in :60 Seconds
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

RNC “Census” mailing investigated, criticized

Fundraising letters sent to Eastern Washington voters from the national Republican Party are receiving a review by the U.S. Postal Service and bipartisan criticism from members of Congress who view them as a deceptive and potentially illegal infringement on the U.S. Census.
Two Democratic House members wrote the postmaster general, calling for an investigation into whether the April 12 mailings violate a law that passed unanimously this year and was signed by President Obama on April 7. The letters, signed by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, were also sent to residents of several other states.
One Republican congressman says the letters “violate the letter as well as the spirit” of that law and another is proposing yet another law to try to stop the RNC’s long-standing money raising tactic.
The national GOP organization is unfazed. A spokesman insisted Monday the mailings are “in full compliance” with the law and designed to raise money to beat incumbent Democrats. Jahan Wilcox wouldn’t say how many districts around the country were sent mailings: “We don’t get into details on our fund-raising practices.”
As reported Sunday in The Spokesman-Review’s Spin Control, the fund-raising letter comes in a letter marked “Official Document/Do Not Destroy” and bold words above the address say it contains a “Census Document Registered To” the recipient. Lighter type above the Census notation says “This is not a U.S. Government Document”.

Gregoire signs furlough bill (most of it, anyway)

Gregoire signs furlough bill with no entourage.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that will order thousands of state workers to take 10 days off without pay through the middle of 2011.

The bill is one of the cost-cutting measures approved by the Legislature this year in the face of a $2.8 billion shorfall in the state’s general fund. The furloughs could cut some $50 million in wage and salary expenses from the general fund.

Nearly 12,500 state workers will be required to take days off without pay unless their management comes up with another way to match the savings from furloughs.

Gregoire vetoed one section of the bill, which required a set amount — $10 million — in savings from managers through the furloughs. Gregoire said that wasn’t equitable, and could have resulted in extra furlough days among managers to reach that specified amount.

“This is about equity,” she said, adding everyone should share the sacrifice.

But some departments are exempt from the furlough law, including the state patrol, prisons, child protective services, academic staff at state colleges and universities, state liquor stores and parks. (for a full list, go inside the blog.)

The first furlough day is July 12. (For the full list, go inside the blog.)

While most bill-signings are attended by sponsors and other people ready to celebrate a new law’s passage, no one showed up to take credit or applaud the enactment of the furlough bill. Gregoire signed it and had no one to accept the ceremonial signing pen.

Marty Brown, the director of the Office of Financial Management, said the state will find ways to notify the public what state offices are closed in advance of the furlough days, just as it does for holidays that are celebrated by the state by not local or federal government.

“We’ll have to start way earlier,” he added, because most furlough days don’t coincide with events most people will recognize as holidays.

Wassup: April 27

Gov. Chris Gregoire is signing several bills at 2 p.m., including one that orders state workers to take 10 days off without pay over the next 15 months.

Attorney General Rob McKenna is in the other Washington, preparing for Wednesday’s appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court on the initiative signatures case. It’s being watched closely by First Amendment lawyers and legal analysts, states who have similary laws on initiatives and public records, initiative sponsors and political experts. It is the last case to be argued before the Supremes this term, and the last one with Justice John Paul Stevens on the bench.

Paul Akers, one of the Republicans looking to take on U.S. Sen Patty Murray, signed the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”, promising not to raise taxes or cut tax cuts/deductions.

Also in the Senate race, state Sen. Don Benton has an internet ad up that criticizes the incumbent’s vote on health care reform. Not just any vote, but a vote against an amendment to the final package involving erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. You can see the ad here. You can read a criticque of the claim here.

Wassup: April 26

Statue of Confucius at his family’s cemetery in Qufu, China

A quiet day in Olympia, with Gov. Chris Gregoire set to announce an appointment to the Dourt of Appeals at 1:30 p.m. and sign a Memo of Understanding in Seattle at 4 p.m. to create a Confucius Institute of Washington State at the University of Washington.

The instititute is a non-profit to promote Chinese language and culture in Washington schools, so skip the Charlie Chan jokes.

The Pentagon is notifying the Idaho National Guard’s 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team it is deploying to Iraq this fall. The brigade, which also has units in Oregon and Montana, was last deployed to Iraq in 2004.

Meanwhile, the City of Spokane is changing the markers on its storm drains with a new slogan “Only Rain Down the Drain.” Apparently “Don’t pour your nasty crap down this storm drain, bozo” was not in the running.


RNC mailer: Is it illegal, or just silly? Let’s do a census

Some Eastern Washington voters diligent about returning their U.S. Census form may have been surprised last week when what seemed like another Census form arrived in the mail.
An official looking letter – its envelope, after all reads DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT – says it is carrying a “Census Document” registered to the addressee, with one of those cool line codes that just reek of officialdom.
The document inside isn’t from the Census Bureau. But it is someone you might’ve heard of: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
The nation’s top GOP official took time out from his busy schedule of trying not to get fired to get input from “a select few” in Washington’s 5th Congressional District. How select isn’t clear, but chances are not very. The copy forwarded to me came from a friend’s spouse who is in no way a Republican. Nonetheless, the information sought is described as absolutely critical to building what Steele’s calls “a state of the art grassroots organization” to win races up and down the ballot.
To do that, Steele sent out a “2010 Congressional District Census”, which masquerades as an in-depth survey, but is really just a way to raise money. A sample of the questions:

Gregoire signs, defends tax hikes

Gregoire signs tax bill as crowd that includes Rep. Ross Hunter (right) looks on.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed two major tax increases Friday, insisting the state had no choice but to raise taxes on a wide range of businesses and consumer goods to protect key services.

She discounted any potential electoral backlash for Democrats from the tax increases in November, saying the budget isn’t a partisan issue.

“This is not about partisan politics. This is about tough times in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said.

When Washington was in a major economic downturn in the early 1980s, the governor was a Republican and both house of the Legislature were controlled by the GOP. They raised taxes, too, she said.

But voters gave the Legislature back to Democrats in the 1982 election, and defeated Gov. John Spellman in 1984.

“I’m not forgetting that,” Gregoire said. But she did consult with Spellman during the tax discussions, and he said the biggest mistake he made was extending the sales tax to food, a move which was overturned at the ballot box. “That’s why I’ve said let’s go for things that are discretionary.”

Between May 1 and July 1, taxes will go up on a wide range of goods and services.

Cigarettes will cost an extra $1 per pack. Candy, gum and bottled water will be subject to state and local sales taxes (they’re currently exempt as food). Soda pop will cost an extra 2 cents per 12 ounce can. Beer from major breweries will cost an extra 28 cents per six-pack, although microbrewed beer will be exempt from the new tax levy.

The service industry, which includes a wide range of businesses from lawyers and accountants to barbers and musicians, will pay an extra .3 percent on gross revenues. Out of state businesses will see new tax formulas, and companies that supply goods to in-state distributors will continue paying a tax that the state Supreme Court ruled last fall was improperly being levied against one major food supplier, DOT Foods.

Gregoire said Washington residents could avoid many of the consumption taxes by changing their habits — drinking tap water instead of bottled water, for example, or giving up smoking. Or they could continue buying those items and pay the increases, which would find everything from education programs to health care to senior programs: “I believe in the people of the state of Washington. I’m asking them to stand up.”

Republicans, who spent the 60-day regular session and the 30-day special session fighting any tax increases, called them job killers. Sen Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, dubbed it the 7-11 Kwik-E-Mart tax package because so  many of the items are the stables of convenience store sales.

“This package exempts things like expensive microbrews, but taxes those items that most impact working class and low-income Washingtonians like canned meat,” said Holmquist. “This is no way to balance a budget.”
Gregoire said Republicans who complained about taxes never proposed a budget that showed what services they would cut without raising taxes: “Everyone could easily say waht the didn’t like. It’s easy to sit in the minority and say ‘No.’”
Initiative promoter Tim Eyman has filed a series of initiatives to give voters the chance to repeal most of the taxes if his organization collects enough signatures. Another group has filed an initiative to remove some of the current taxes and replace it with an income tax on people making more than $200,000 or couples making more than $400,000.
Gregoire said she would sign the income tax initiative petition, welcome the debate over it if the proposal makes it to the ballot, and may support it after studying it further:”I have been opposed to an income tax. This is a different kind of income tax.”
That prompted swift criticism from state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser, who said Gregoire campaigned for re-election in 2008 by saying it wasn’t time to raise taxes and that she did not support a state income tax.
“Taxpayers should note that Gov. Gregoire never wahts to ‘have a good discussion’ and a ‘debate’ over lowering taxes or keeping them constant but is always open to discussing tax increases,” Esser said in a press release.

College Republicans straw poll goes to Didier

The Washington College Republicans just released the results of the straw poll from their recent convention in Spokane, and they’re backing Clint Didier…although with a couple of caveats.

First, while there are 11 announced GOP candidates looking to oust Patty Murray in the U.S. Senate race this year, they only invited the ones “deemed most likely to win the primary.” Of that group, they had a few that declined, David Bergman of the Gonzaga College Republicans said.

Unfortunately, Craig Williams was unable to attend due to a conflict in his work schedule.  Sean Salazar opted to spend the weekend focused on the west side of the state, rather than accepting a request to speak before the gathering of College Republicans from across the state, in the county that contains the largest concentration of elected republicans in the 
state. Chris Widener was also unable to attend,” Bergman wrote in a press release.

So only four showed up. 

Then the group took two straw polls, one for all in attendance and one for just the College Republicans.

Didier finished with 75 percent of the votes in the first, with Paul Akers, Art Coday and Don Benton trailing far behind. Didier got 60 percent in the second, followed by Coday, Akers and Benton.

Wassup: April 23

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire is scheduled to sign tax increases today at 1:30 p.m.

There’s the $1 per pack cigarette tax plus the tax package that backs up the rest of the supplemental budget, which includes higher taxes on beer, soda, bottled water, candy and gum, and an increase in the business and occupation tax for most service industries as well as hikes in taxes for out-of-state companies that do business in Washington.

Meanwhile, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers wants the Boeing Co.”to demand an end to human rights abuses in Columbia as an essential pre-condition for the passage of any Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with that country.”

Anyone else think this request would be much more effective if they spelled the name of the country, Colombia, correctly?

And, a Web site that offers odds on just about anything anyone can dream up, is making Calilfornia the favorite to decriminalize marijuana by Dec. 31, and is rated at even money. Washington is listed at 5-to-2 odds (psst: that’s a sucker’s bet because that bill died in the Legislature, which has gone home, and the only hope for that happening around here is a November initiative.)

No decriminalization by Dec. 31 is the smart bet, although it’s going off at 1-to-3.

18 months before Election Day, Mary Verner officially begins bid for second term

Mary Verner is seven months away from achieving what some might consider a sad milestone: Only three years into her term, she will become Spokane’s longest serving mayor since voters approved the strong mayor system.

On Thursday, Verner officially began her quest to dislodge another Spokane mayoral curse. She hopes to become the city’s first reelected mayor since David Rodgers won a second term in 1973.

Illness, scandal, a lack of union support, River Park Square and neighborhood turmoil have worked against any mayor serving more than four years since Rodgers left office. And since Spokane mayors became strong mayors a decade ago, no mayor has even served a full four-year term.

Verner held a $40-a-plate breakfast Thursday to kick off her 2011 reelection bid.

While her “kick-off” event is Friday, her first reelection fund-raising event was in October — more than two years from Election Day.

She’s raised $8,000 so far, some from the same Democratic, union and neighborhood sources she won backing from in 2007. The Spokane Firefighters’ Union gave $450. Water attorney Rachael Pascal-Osborn gave $100. Neighborhood leader Mel Silva gave $50.

But she also has the support of Avista, which backed her opponent, Dennis Hession, in the 2007 race. Avista, which often contributes to incumbents, gave her campaign $500. And she even got $100 from Republican county commission candidate Steve Salvatori. (There’s no donation as of yet reported from Democratic County Commissioner Bonnie Mager, who gave $100 to Verner’s 2007 bid.)

Other contributors include city hall administrators Sheila Collins and Karen Stratton, as well as Scott Staab, husband of Tracy Staab, who was appointed by Verner to the city’s Municipal Court bench, and Kim Danek, wife of Ted Danek, who serves as Verner’s city administrator.

She also has support from one of her one-term predecessors: Sheri Barnard gave $20.

(Photo above is from Verner’s 2007 election victory party.)

Continuing to weigh the Rossi factor

Dino Rossi continues to be some Democrats’ favorite choice for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat.

Spin Control continues to be in the “I’m from Missouri” mode on that. (Actually, I am from Missouri, but that’s a whole separate narrative.)

On “will run” side of the scale, we can put the fact that Rossi is a featured speaker at the Washington Federation of Republican Women’s spring meeting in Chelan this weekend. But Patti Wieland, chairwoman of the Public Relations Committee, said Rossi’s been on the schedule since before talk of  him running for Senate surfaced.

“He’s invited because  he’s been a candidate in the past. It’s not because he’s going to run,” Wieland said.

On the “won’t run” side of the scale: State Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver continues to sign up big-name endorsers who would likely be hesitant to commit if they thought Rossi was getting in. Most recently, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis and Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the GOP’s go-to guy on taxes and budgets, endorsed Benton.

Although candidates don’t officially get into the race until filing week in early June, by waiting he misses chances like the Republicans of Spokane County Senate candidates forum this evening at the Convention Center, where nine of the 11 candidates who have announced are expected to appear.

On second thought, passing up a cattle call with 10 candidates on the stage may just be smart.

Still, it seems that right now, the scale is tipped toward him staying out.

Wassup: April 22

It’s Earth Day. If you haven’t bought a card or gift for your beloved, there’s still time to stop on the way home. Oh, wait, wrong holiday. If you haven’t picked up some earth for your beloved, be sure to stop on the way home…

To mark Earth Day, members of Congress are doing what they do best. Holding hearings.Sen. Maria Cantwell has a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee, to talk about oceans.

In Spokane, city officials and folks from Avista are unveiling an “electric vehicle charging” station at 11 a.m., in the parking lot just north of City Hall.

Expect a wide range of statements from various honorables talking about what a great planet we live on and how we need to protect it.

In other news, House Republicans, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, will announce a resolution to reform the earmark process.

And folks will continue talking about the latest statewide initiative to be filed, which would put a state income tax in place in Washington.

An update: Tea Partier signs petition in support of Children’s Investment Fund

Last week, in a story about the Tea Party of Spokane’s downtown rally, I noted that some activists came to the event to gather signatures on causes that might seem contradictory to the conservative and anti-tax themes of the event.

One was Austin DePaolo, who collected signatures in support of the Children’s Investment Fund, a proposal that would increase taxes for programs aimed at lowering the dropout rate. I reported that he was unsuccessful at persuading Laura Carder to sign.

In a brief interview on Sunday while he was collecting signatures at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, DePaolo said that soon after I saw Carder decline to sign his petition, she agreed to do.

DePaolo and Carder ran for a seat last year on the Spokane School Board. Carder defeated DePaolo in the primary and went on to lose the incumbent in November.


Light blogging ahead from Olympia

OLYMPIA — Reports from the wet side will be infrequent through the middle of the week.

With the Legislature sent packing, Jim Camden is on furlough through Wednesday.

Jonathan Brunt will file as warranted from Spokane, so stay tuned for any updates from closer to home.

WA Lege SpecSess: Looking back

OLYMPIA – Most years when the Legislature goes home, the winners and losers are pretty obvious. You count the scars and tote up the pork.
This year, everyone has scars and the Lege wasn’t cutting on a fat hog, so the final judgment may wait at least until November when voters decide whether half the Senate and the whole House should be rehired.
But some folks are better or worse off after the session lurched to its close early Tuesday morning than they were when it started in January with all the yada-yada about bipartisan cooperation.
Bipartisanship was a clear loser. Democrats had such a big majorities in both chambers that the real fight was among their factions, rather than a Republican/Democrat struggle.
The “business moderate” wing of the Democratic Party, which would include Spokane Sen. Chris Marr and Rep. John Driscoll, argued for more cuts and fewer tax hikes. They lost. They consistently voted against the budgets, but the budgets passed. Republican opponents might not be able to pound them quite so hard this fall, but the biz Ds will still have to work to distance themselves from the rest of the pack if voters are torqued.

Read the signs held at the Tea Party rally in Spokane

In no particular order, here are some of the signs I read while covering Thursday’s Tea Party of Spokane gathering:

- Armed and dangerous, with my vote
- Oppose Obamunism
- Liberty or Death
- Fox News for the truth
- Thanks to Obama: No jobs, TARP, bad economy, big spending, debt and default on future generations, government healthcare – killing seniors, big taxes on everyone …
- Get the UN out of Spokane
- Stimulus: Audacity of dopes
- End the Fed
- Socialists, spreading the wealth! Since 1917 (with pictures of Obama with Mao, Stalin, Lenin and Marx)
- I am not a wacko
- Socialism and Marxism are in our White House
- Taxes, no thanks. Tax the banks
- Education, not indoctrination
- No more red ink
- Who is John Galt?
- We are John Galt!
- Obama: Commander in Thief
- Patty Murray, your (sic) fired!
- Endowed by our creator
- We don’t support Chris Marr (this likely is in response to comments reported in this Inlander article)
- Liberty yes! Palin no!
- Obama: Bow to the American people
- What Osoma (sic) couldn’t do, Obama is doing
- You can’t have entrepreneurs and eat them too!
- Obama’s senior healthcare advisor: Jack Kevorkian (this was held by George McGrath, who often testifies at Spokane City Council meetings)

WA Lege SpecSess: At the end of the day…it’s the middle of the night

OLYMPIA – By the time the Legislature wrapped up 90 days of heated and sometimes confusing debate over taxes and spending Tuesday, it had raised taxes on a wide array of consumers and businesses, cut some programs, boosted others, moved hundreds of millions of dollars around, and penciled in hundreds of millions more by betting on the federal government to come through.
But the final hours of the special session did not go smoothly, and at one point the governor made a rare visit to the Senate floor to keep the state from facing cash flow problems in the fall. The Senate had not passed a bill to move some $230 million from the state’s Rainy Day account into the general operating budget and without it, the state’s cash reserves could dip perilously low at some point before the two-year budget cycle ends in June 2011.
“I have a problem,” a visibly angry Gregoire said as she stormed passed reporters, into the wings of the Senate chamber and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s office at 11:12 p.m….

State treasurer to Lege: OK, we can pay the bills.

OLYMPIA — State Treasurer Jim McIntire added his kudos to the just concluded legislative session with a note that should make all Washingtonians feel a little better.

The state now probably has enough money to pay its bills through June 2011.

Not that the state would be bouncing checks or anything. But earlier in the session, McIntire notified legislators and the governor that the rate that money was coming in was not keeping pace with the way it was going out, and Washington could hit a point in the fall were its reserves were so low it might have to borrow short-term to pay some of its obligations. Like payroll.

“Based on a preliminary assessment of the tax and budget package, we believe we have a sufficient cushion to ensure we have the cash necessary to pay our bills,” McIntire said.

Other states, most notably California, had to issue I.O.U.s at one point because of cash flow problems.

Gregoire says new taxes worth paying

OLYMPIA — Repeating a mantra that “tough times require tough choices”, Gov. Chris Gregoire patted the Legislature on its collective back as members headed out of town Tuesday.

She sought to minimize the impacts of new taxes, which Republicans have predicted will be job killers. The average Washingtonian drinks 345 cans of soda a year, she said, and the extra 2 cents per can tax that passed Monday amounts to about $7 and the tax on large brewery beer is only 28 cents per six pack.

The extra tax money is going into the operating budget to help with such essential services as public schools, college student aid, health care, child care and help for the disabled and elderly, she said. “I think these things are worth paying for. All of us should be willing to step up.”

But some people — those who chew gum, drink bottled water, soda or mass-production beer — are being asked to step up more than others. Beer drinkers who favor micro brews don’t pay the new beer tax, and wine drinkers get no increase.

Gregoire defended the dichotomy on state grounds, not personal taste preferences. She drinks Washington wines because it supports Washington jobs, her husband Mike drinks Washington microbrews for the same reason, she said.

The governor’s office also parsed the amount of “new” money the state will be collecting, listing it at $613 million. That’s significantly below the $757 million listed by legislators just a day earlier.

That doesn’t mean Gregoire  has decided to line-item veto one of the taxes in the menu. Rather, she said $613 represents the “new revenues” the state didn’t have before. Not counted in the “new” are some $155 million in taxes the state used to collect from some out-of-state companies until the state Supreme Court struck down an old tax law last fall in what’s known as the DOT Foods decision. That’s a restored tax.

(Math whizzes already know in their heads the total still doesn’t come to $613 million, but the Legislature was counting a net total that also sliced off about $15 million from the lottery and s a $10 million shift in sales tax from the Seattle Convention Center account. To get its, net, however, the Lege added back in about $12 million worth of tax reductions that affect the bottom line…but, who’s counting? OK, so other than the Office of Financial Management.)

Meanwhile, the state’s premier initiative promoter filed a series of proposed ballot measures Tuesday to repeal many of the taxes— bottled water, macro-brew, soda pop,  cigarettes, the business and occupation tax hike on service businesses and the changes to home mortgage taxes —  the Legislature passed Monday. Tim Eyman, whose operation is already on the streets collecting signatures to reinstate the two-thirds requirement to pass any tax increase, will try to add eight more initiatives to the November ballot.

Gregoire said she told Democrats who voted for the tax increases and the underlying budget to “be proud about iit, do not be defensive” when they return home to voters, and promised to  campaign for them in the fall. But it’s too soon to predict how voters will react, she said.

“What happens in November is very dependent on what happens to the national economy as well as the state economy,” she said.

Here’s the audio for Shogan’s exchange with Richard

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Shogan & Richard clash at City Council

Read about the exchange here.

Joe Shogan and Mark Richard’s tense exchange raises more questions on cooperation

There’s been a lot of talk about regional cooperation from local leaders this year, but recent incidents spotlight continued tensions between the city of Spokane and Spokane County.

Last week, county officials expressed frustration that the city had decided to explore the possibility of opening its own jail after the county has spent nearly four years planning to open county facility. Despite that friction, Mayor Mary Verner and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich were able to agree enough by the end of the week to make a joint statement that they would continue to work together.

A Monday night confrontation between Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan and Spokane County Commission Chairman Mark Richard may be harder to patch.

Richard had come to the City Council to ask the city to join a board that will determine how to spend money aimed at preventing homelessness. Richard said Spokane was the only local government that had not yet agreed to join. Verner and the city’s Human Services Advisory Board had advised the council to use a city-run process to decide how to spend the city’s portion of the homelessness money, which is raised by fees on recording at the county auditor’s office.

Richard addressed the council a few times and got up to speak to a point made by city staff when Shogan demanded that he sit down. Richard paused and remained standing for several seconds, before walking out.

To read the transcript, continue on ….

Legislature adjourns

OLYMPIA — It’s over.

The Legislature’s special session sloshed into the 30th and final day before being gaveled to a close.

The two chambers packed significant activity into the final evening Monday, passing a supplemental operating budget, a supplemental capital budget, higher cigarette taxes, increased business and consumer taxes.

A glitch on a bill to move money from the Rainy Day Fund to keep the state’s ending fund balance at an acceptable level causes a brief stir in the Senate around 11:30 p.m., and Rep. Lynn Kessler’s announcement she’s retiring prompted about a half-hour of improptu tributes in the House.

Gavel came down in the House at 1:05 a.m. Senate followed suit a few minutes later.

Kessler moved to adjourn sine die at 1:10 a.m. All ayes. House adjourned

WA Lege SpecSess: Capital budget passes

OLYMPIA — The House passed the supplemental capital budget, the “bricks and mortar” budget that spends money on things like school buildings and sewer plants, as well as fire reduction, water projects and corrections.

It passed 61-36. Republicans, including Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, warned of the rising debt level the state is amassing. But Democrats said the bill provides jobs as well as needed infrastructure.

The end of the session is near.

Wa Lege SpecSess: Lynn Kessler retiring

OLYMPIA — Rep. Lynn Kessler is bowing out after 18 years in the House. “I’m retiring, I’m almost 70 for God’s sake.”

As the Legislature moved beyond midnight, Kessler, D-Hoquiam, made an emotional farewell speech, celebrating the fact the state has worked to provide health care and education, protects victims of domestic violence

“Because of the positions we all have, we have been able to do great and small things, together,” she said. “Sometimes those trenches are deep, and very difficult. I hope we all appreciate our differences, because that’s what makes this place special.”

“I wish you all well, please be kind to one another,” she said as the House stood to applaud.

WA Lege SpecSess: Gregoire lobbies Senate

OLYMPIA — The session was winding down about 11:12 p.m., when Gov. Chris Gregoire chargedup the stairs between her office and the Senate with aides in tow.

Reporters moving to ask her for comments on the closing were cut off with the governor holding up her index finger and stating “I have a problem.”

Problem turned out to be the Senate’s failure to pass a bill that would move some $255 million from the state’s Rainy Day fund into the general fund to be spend in the remainder of the biennium. Without it, the state’s general fund end balance would be far below the $480 million the Legislature planned — the money the state needs to carry it over into the next biennium or use as a cushion should the revenue not come in as planned.

She had words with Majority Leader Lisa Brown, then talked with several senators on the floor, securing their votes to move the bill and pass it before the session concluded.

WA Lege SpecSess: Capital budget passes Senate

OLYMPIA — Moving rapidly toward adjournment, the Senate passed the supplemental capital budget with almost no debate, 33-13, and went at ease for a few minutes.

Capital budget now goes to the House, which, if the pattern holds should pass it and allow both to move toward adjourment.

If they can do all this in less than 80 minutes, they will technically be done before midnight and technically be done on the 29th Day of the 30 Day session.

So that’s a small victory, unless one considers it was only supposed to last 7 days is another matter.

WA Lege SpecSess: Senate passes budget

OLYMPIA — The Senate passed the supplemental budget Monday evening, joining the House in a spending plan that tries to fill an estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state’s two-year operating budget.

On a 25-21 vote, it added its approval to the budget approved a few hours earlier across the Capitol.

Republicans, who were unanimous in their opposition, said the bill was being forced through without careful consideration, in the closing hours of the session, and has significant problems.

“Voting on a budget is a big decision,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said. “Those who are going to vote for it, have you read it?”

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said the Legislature spent the month of a special session, figuring out how to raise taxes, not making any changes to a broken system.

Some Democrats also refused to support the budget. Sen. Rodney Tom of Bellevue said it doesn’t grasp the reality of the economy, and sets up education to fail.

But Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the economy is cyclical, and when times are tough, the demand for state services go up. “Just when the gap opens up, we need it the most. Many things are going to cost more, but we did the right thing..”

The budget has cuts as well as tax increases, Brown said, and no one say it’s perfect. “We are not a Legislature of 1. This job gets done by working together.”

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, an economic downturn is not the time to implement all day kindergarten or a major energy savings construction plan. “How can we say it suddenly became a crisis to add these programs?” It may not be a Legislature of 1, she added “but it is a Legislature of one party.”

WA Lege Spec Session: House passes budget, Senate passes tax plan

OLYMPIA — The Legislature chugged toward adjournment tonight as budgets and tax plans passed by narrow margins.

The Senate just passed the $668 million tax package 25-21, the bare minimum it needed.

About an hour earlier, the House passed the supplemental operating budget with spending, cuts and tax plans to fill the state’s estimated $2.8 billion budget gap.

The two houses still have bills to work on, but members are expecting to be done before midnight.

WA Lege SpecSess: Budgets released, vote to come

OLYMPIA — Democratic legislators released their spending plan  with a combination of cuts and assumed tax hikes, designed to fill a $2.8 billion hole in the state’s operating budget.

If passed as expected later today or Tuesday, the budget pulls in $757 million in new taxes, cuts $840 million in programs, pulls in at least $618 million in federal funds, and moves nearly $600 million around from other accounts and reserves.

Among the cuts are nearly $55 million by closing or reducing state prisons. Slated for closure is  the Pine Lodge Correctional Facililty for Women in Medical Lake.

In making the closures, budget negotiators “looked closely at a report done last year…and tried to minimize politics,” Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said. Pine Lodge is in the Spokane area, which has Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown among its legislative delegation.

That report,  however, recommends leaving Pine Lodge open to have a corrections center for women inmates in Eastern Washington. Asked about the difference, Linville replied: “We used the report as a basis. We were trying to use real information first, and then we negotiated the budget.”

The budget also cuts more than $150 million in  K-12 programs, $73 million from colleges and assumes almost $49 million in savings through temporary layoffs of state employees.

It uses money from the tax increases to maintain all-day kindergarten, gifted program and levy equalization for public schools, state need grants for college students, the current levels for Basic Health and the Apple Health for children programs. Temporary assistance for needy family levels would remain at their current levels, as would most foster care payments and nursing home payments, and some nursing home cuts would be restored.

Approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee was a supplemental Capital Budget Plan that would spend nearly $241 million for major and minor construction projects.

Included in the supplemental capital budget are $3.5 million for the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building at Washington State University Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus and about $3.5 million in repairs, maintenance and improvements to buildings at Eastern Washington State University. The proposed Spokane Aerospace Center also would receive $400,000.

The budgets have been under discussion since before the session began because the two-year budget approved by the Legislature last year has been out of balance almost from the day it went into effect on July 1, 2009. The gap between what the state can expect to take in from taxes and fees compared to what that original budget planned to spend grew to $2.8 billion by February. In ability to agree on a spending plan and tax increases forced a 30-day special session that is scheduled to end Tuesday.

But Monday afternoon was the first chance the public and some members of the Legislature got to see the finished product, which has been the subject of intense negotiations by Democratic leaders. Republicans who are in the minority and have refused to vote for any tax increases until significant reforms are made, have been largely shut out of the process.

Democratic budget negotiators defended the short notice and review time before legislators vote.

“We have gone through this time after time,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. “I believe our members know what’s in this. There aren’t any surprises.”

“It was mostly our budget 30 days ago,” Linville said.

WA Lege SpecSess: Cigarette tax passes

OLYMPIA — Smokers should expect to pay another $1 for a pack of cigarettes soon.

The Senate just passed a tax hike for cigarettes as the Legislature moves towards adjournment. It would raise an estimated $100 million in new tax revenue, an amount that’s being factored into the new taxes Democrats are raising to come with $800 million in new revenue as part of the “balanced solution” to the state’s $2.8 billion budget hole.

The House has already passed higher cigarette taxes.

The Senate vote was 28-17. To see the roll call, go inside the blog.

WA Lege SpecSess: Could this be last day?

OLYMPIA — This may be — emphasis on may — the final day of the special session.

The Senate is moving toward passing the same tax hike approved Saturday by the House. They both expect to vote on the changes to the operating budget and the capital budget today.

Democrats are saying this will be the final day, although Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla said he’d be willing to vote the last day technically will be Tuesday…perhaps some time after midnight?

Most vote schedules to be determined, but the Senate is expected to vote this morning on a House bill involving bonds for retrofitting schools to make them more energy efficient, just to get the ball rolling.

One complicating factor: The trip south to Olympia from the Seattle area is extremely slow today because of a major construction project on Interstate 5. Some of the Puget Sound legislators have yet to arrive..

A different way to chew on the tax debate

OLYMPIA – When talking about the Legislature, it’s easy to get wrapped up in parliamentary details and arcane political jargon. To avoid that, here’s a simple way to look at the budget and tax plans as the “seven-day” special session enters Day 28.

Think of solving the budget deficit as a family dinner. Like parents who profess to know what’s good for us, top legislative Democrats are about to make Washington residents eat our Brussels sprouts for the next 30 months.

They’ve treated options on the budget and taxes like menu choices. There’s stuff we all like, other things we’re OK with, and some things we’re going to turn our collective nose up at. Just as mom and dad don’t ask the kids to plan the menu, lest we ask for pizza and ice cream three times a day, they didn’t give us much say in what to serve.

For those who say “No fair!” parents can argue that when you’re going to serve Brussels sprouts, you certainly don’t tell the kids at noon, because they’ll just talk friends into having their moms invite them over. So the Democratic parental units held the menu close to the vest, not even releasing it until about a half-hour before the other grown-ups showed up Saturday. By then the menu was a done deal, with the Brussels sprouts purchased, in the pot, about to be put on the stove.

In the living room, the Republicans are arguing that we don’t need to eat Brussels sprouts.

Tax plan passes House, heads to Senate

OLYMPIA – Democratic leaders began pushing a package of some $668 million in higher taxes through the Legislature Saturday, suspending rules as they tried to beat the Tuesday deadline to adjourn.
The House of Representatives voted 52-44 to approve the tax plan that was just made public a few hours earlier after more than a week of closed-door negotiations between Democratic leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Some Democrats who voted yes conceded it was a less than perfect plan. Rep. Timm Ormsby of Spokane said he liked some of the earlier House tax proposals which closed off more tax exemptions and hit consumers of certain items less.
The proposal would raise taxes on candy and gum, soda, bottled water and mass-production beer.
“These are some of the things that people use to reward themselves,” said Ormsby, the sole Spokane-area representative voting yes. But the bill couldn’t be amended because of legislative rules governing the way it was presented, so it was an up or down vote on a plan to balance the budget, he said.
Republicans were united against the bill, contending it wouldn’t treat people equally. Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, noted that beer from large out-of-state breweries is taxed an extra 50 cents a gallon, or about a nickel for a 12-ounce can, but more expensive beer from microbreweries is exempt from the tax.
“This Legislature couldn’t even be fair on how it raises the tax on beer,” he said. “You stick it to the working man and give the high-fallutin’, high-paid guy in Seattle a break.”

House passes tax plan

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives passed a plan to raise taxes by nearly $700 million dollars over the next 15 months.

In a 52-44 vote, Democratic leaders pushed through a package that raises taxes on soda, bottled water, candy, gum, mass-produced beer, most service businesses

Among Spokane area legislators, only Rep. Timm Ormsby, D, voted yes. Reps. Larry Crouse, Susan Fagan, Joel Kretz, Kevin Parker, Shelly Short, Joe Schmick, all R, and John Driscoll, D, voted no. Alex Wood, D, and Matt Shea, R, were excused.

WA Lege SpecSess: Tax plan cometh

OLYMPIA — Democratic leaders released their tax plan this afternoon, and as expected, it would raise taxes on the service industry, candy and gum, bottled water, mass-production beer, out-of-state companies with business in Washington, property management firms, some bank costs for servicing mortgages.

Some items discussed in previous hearings or approved in one chamber or the other over the last three months, were struck from the final plan. Spared new taxes are private plane owners, people who buy houses that are in foreclosure, machiinery used for wind powered turbines, coal purchased for for a power plant in Centralia, out-of-state shoppers hitting the stores in Washington, and consumers in general who at one point were facing a jump in the sales tax.

In total the tax package would raise about $668 million through the rest of the biennium, if Democrats have enough votes in the House and the Senate to pass it. Another $100 million would be raised in a separate bill, through higher taxes on tobacco.

Both chambers returned for floor debates and votes on the budget, taxes and several other issues at 2 p.m. Democrats quickly huddled in caucuses to see if they had the votes needed to pass the plan.

The House of Representatives, who has the tax package bill because the most recent vote on it occurred in the Senate, could vote on the proposal as soon as this evening if leaders determine they have the necessary 50 votes to pass it.

Legislators have until midnight Tuesday, when the special session expires, to complete all their work.

Gregoire on tax plan: Don’t go changin’, rearrangin’

OLYMPIA – The Legislature returns Saturday with time running out in its special session and only two options on its unbalanced budget, Gov. Chris Gregoire said. Pass an array of taxes that covers everything from soda and bottled water to candy and cigarettes, or go home and have her cut the general fund budget by 20 percent.

A tax package, which has not been seen by the public because it was not final as of Friday afternoon, will be released along with a final spending plan sometime in the next four days. Democrats in both houses will have to get at least a simple majority to pass it, because Republicans remain united against any tax increase and want more cuts in wages, programs and state systems.

Based on comments by Gregoire, various legislative leaders and versions of the tax plan leaked to various news agencies or posted but later removed from a House Web site, the so-called go-home package collects an extra $800 million in taxes as part of a Democratic plan to close a $2.8 billion gap between projected revenues and scheduled expenses. The tax proposal:

• raises the tax on soda pop by the equivalent of about 2 cents a can or 50 cents a case at the wholesale level;
• places the state sales tax on bottled water, candy and gum;
• raises the tax on beer from large national breweries by 50 cents per gallon, or about a nickel for a 12 ounce can; microbreweries would be exempt;
• increases the business and occupation tax on most of the service industry from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent of gross receipts;
• adds another $1 per pack to cigarettes, and similar tax increases to other tobacco products;
• changes systems for taxing out-of-state firms that do business in Washington.

Taxes on soda, bottled water, sweets, beer and the service industries would expire in mid 2013, although a future Legislature could change that.

Even though the public and most legislators haven’t seen the tax plan in writing, some of those affected are fighting the inclusion of their product or industry…

WA Lege SpecSess: Will they gain or lose votes before Saturday

OLYMPIA — The Legislature did just this side of bupkiss in public Friday, to the chagrin of folks who bottle, distribute and sell soda, and some state employees hoping to make a point about layoffs.

A coalition of folks opposed to a proposed soda tax gathered on the steps of the Capitol this morning, hoping to make the most of media exposure before lobbying senators showing up for a full day of work.

But the schedule changed late Thursday and the Senate held only a pro forma session in which one Democrat and one Republican were on the floor for about 90 seconds until the gavel came down to go away and come back at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The House was also in pro forma, which is Latin for “we’ll get around to important stuff eventually”, and is also due back Saturday afternoon.

So the 50 or so soda pop tax folks out numbered visible senators roughly 25 to 1. (Heck, the number of reporters outnumbered visible senators by 2 to 1.) Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, who managed the floor for the majority party, insisted that lots of work was going on behind the scenes on budget and taxes.

Out on the steps, members of the anti-soda tax coalition insisted the new tax was unfair and would cost the state jobs. Ron Bradford of the Coca Cola Bottling operation in Spokane, said a fairer tax would be an increase in the sales tax.

“Overall, I think the people of Washington would accept it if this was a tenth of a cent or two,” said Bradford. The bottling operation has about 100 employees in production and distribution in Spokane, he said, but he’s not yet sure how many jobs would be lost if the tax went through.

The soda tax amounts to about 2 cents on a 12 ounce can, or 50 cents on a case. It’s really a double tax, Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, said because the tax goes on at the wholesale level, then is part of the amount subjected to the sales tax at retail.

He, too, argued the state should raise the sales tax, rather than pick from a menu of smaller taxes on soda, beer, bottled water, candy and gum

“It’s an issue of fairness,” Gilliam said. “Why should soda drinkers be more responsible for schools or prisons?”

The anti-soda tax coalition bought full-page ads in The Spokesman-Review and the Seattle Times Friday to drive home their point.As a counterweight, Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition , a group supporting the soda tax and other increases in the still-not-officially-released-because-we-might-not-have-the-votes tax package put up radio ads supporting it.

A group of state workers from the Department of Social and Health Services, which announced layoffs Thursday, planned a lunchtime march from their Olympia office to the Capitol, with hopes of sitting in the Senate gallery to help make their point. Before they were even close to the building, however, the pro forma session had opened and closed.

Anti-soda tax people said they’ll be back Saturday. So too, in all likelihood, will be squadrons of folks opposed to other taxes in the package. Could be an interesting four days, which is all the Legislature will have left in the special session. The opponents will be trying to peel off votes just as hard as Democratic leaders will be trying to add and hold them.

WA Lege SpecSess: From Tea Party to Soda Party?

OLYMPIA — Democratic leaders in the House and Senate may still be searching for enough votes to pass their “go home” tax package, but some of the would-be taxed aren’t waiting for them to get a head count and reassemble at the capital.

Bottlers, convenience store owners and others opposed to the tax on soda will be protesting at 10 a.m. on the Capitol steps. Won’t be many legislators around to watch. Day 26 of the “Seven-Day Special Session” is a pro forma day, with few of the honorables even around.

They’re scheduled to start up real legislative business Saturday at 2 p.m. It’s a late start to accommodate the travel back to Olympia from their respective homes, where most of them have been for more than a week while Democratic leaders passed tax proposals back and forth.

They’ve allegedly settled on the “menu” approach: taxes on bottled water, soda, big brewery beer, a B&0 hike for service businesses; no bump in the sales tax, no trimming or gutting the sales tax exemption for out-of-state shoppers, no new tax on specialized software, no bump in taxes for private airplanes.

The plan hasn’t been released to the public yet — still needs to be tweaked — legislative sources say, but enough of it has been leaked that those who are about to get new taxes are already torqued.

WA Lege SpecSess: No deal, Howie

OLYMPIA — Democratic leaders trying to figure out a way to raise taxes that will pass both  houses of the Legislature are still looking for votes.

That’s the word after a session in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office broke up, and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp left with no announcement of a “go home” deal.

House Democratic Caucus just sent word there’d be nothing further tonight, and pro forma sessions in the House and Senate Friday with both chambers back at full strength at 2 p.m. Saturday with a chance for actual votes on…something.

(They have some non-budget bills they could take up, to get back into the swing of legislating, if they feel out of practice.)

Currently under discussion is a tax increase on many things that you can buy to drink: bottled water, soda, beer from the big national brewing companies (microbrews and wine are spared at this point); tax on candy and gum, an extra dollar a pack on cigarettes and increases in other tobacco taxes, increases in the B&O tax for much of the service industry…it’s an impressive menu with a variety of entrees and no real desserts.

WA Lege SpecSess: Supporting tax hikes

OLYMPIA — A coalition of health care, education, environment and poverty groups is coming out in favor of the still-to-be-made-public tax proposal.

Based on news accounts of the package, the Rebuilding our Economic Future Coalition says the reported combination of taxes on soda, beer, bottled water, sweets and cigarettes is a “reasonable approach to protectiong our economy and our quality of life”. They are urging legislators to buck up and “finish the job by passing this compromise proposal.”

There is no final compromise proposal at this point, although Senate sources say they expect an announcement sometime Thursday afternoon. House sources are hedging a bit more, saying nothing yet.

One consideration for the Democratic leaders’ calculus: If they are counting on any yes votes from the handful of Democrats in Eastern Washington, they’ll have to give those legislators plenty of notice. It’s snowing in the passes, and travel at times is a bit nasty.

Verner says she won’t ask for tax increases to deal with 2011 deficit

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner says she’s not considering new taxes to bail the city out of its $10 million hole for 2011.

City leaders are getting an early start to the budget for the second year in a row and will present a preliminary budget plan to City Council by early May, Verner said in an interview this week. She said she is asking all departments to take an across-the-board cut of nearly 3 percent that will save $3.5 million and will unveil a plan in the coming weeks that will deal with the remeaining $6.5 million hole.

“Our work force will shrink this time around. There’s no way around it,” Verner said. “This year, there will be impact on services,”

Verner has ruled out raising utility taxes and says she doesn’t plan to ask voters for higher property taxes through a levy lid lift. That was part of Mayor Jim West’s strategy to help deal with significant deficits in 2005.

“I’m not counting on any increased on-going source of revenue,” Verner said. “One reason that I’m not counting on them is …  I don’t know if they’re going to be viable in this economic climate.”

Tax deal not yet out, but opponents are

OLYMPIA — Democratic legislative leaders have not yet formally announced their “go home” tax deal, apparently because the House caucus isn’t yet sure it has the necessary yes votes.

But while opposition to certain taxes is already cranking up.

The Washington  Beverage Association said raising the tax on soda by 2 cents for every 12 ounce serving “will result in job losses and could put local companies out of business.

The Northwest Grocery Association, which is the large grocery and supermarket group, said it opposes “hidden” taxes on candy, gum, bottled water, beer and cigarettes, and thinks a general sales tax that affects everyone would be better, if taxes need to be raised at all. At least with a general sales tax in crease, consumers would see the tax on their sales receipts every time they shop and know they are paying more for state programs, association president Joe Gilliam said.

The tax proposal, which hasn’t been released yet, allegedly does away with any plans to bump up the sales tax, instead placing taxes on the above mentioned items, increasing the business and occupation tax on services from 1.5 percent of gross receipts to 1.8 percent and enacts other hikes from a “menu” of tax choices.

Still no word on when Democratic legislative leaders — they’re the only ones involved in negotiations; Republicans have said they won’t vote for a tax increase — will make public the plan that they are explaining to their members.

WA Lege SpecSess: All quiet for now

OLYMPIA — Day 25 of the special session is starting pretty slowly, with pro forma sessions in both chambers. No official word on whether the House of Representatives has enough votes for a tax package worked out Wednesday among Gov. Chris Gregoire, Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker Frank Chopp.

The clock could become a factor by tomorrow, because any proposal that goes to the planned conference committee — a process that allows a vote on the floors with no amendments — must be public and “sit on the bar” for 24 hours.

It must also be printed up, so people know what the are voting on, which could take a day or two.

Special session ends at midnight Tuesday. If they run over…well, it’s complicated. Gregoire would have to call them back, which she’s said she won’t do, or they’d have to agree to call themselves back.

And agreement is something that has been in short supply for the last month.

McMorris Rodgers in race, so is Yearout. No Dem in sight

Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers formally began her congressional re-election campaign Wednesday with no Democrat admitting to  a strong desire oppose her but a challenger on the right from the Constitution Party.

She said she wants to return for a fourth term to fight “reckless federal spending.” As a member of House Republican leadership, she has opposed the bailouts of banks and automakers, last year’s economic stimulus package and all versions of health care reform proposed by President Barack Obama or congressional Democrats.

She said she also wants to continue working to prepare Fairchild Air Force Base for the next generation of aerial tankers, help agriculture research at Washington State University and change health care reform.

Earlier this year she and other House Republicans agreed to an “earmark moratorium” and said they would not submit those requests this year. That was the second time McMorris Rodgers swore off earmarks, a process of directing federal funding to a specific program or project, usually in the member’s district. In 2008, when she led a GOP committee reviewing the budgeting process, she announced she would not submit earmark requests for her Eastern Washington district.

Could someone call Howie Mandel…

…so he can ask “Deal. Or No Deal?”

It would appear that a legislative deal on a tax package remains somewhat elusive. After meeting for about 35 minutes with Gov. Chris Gregoire, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp went out a side door to avoid the waiting press corps that thought they smelled news of a deal.

Brown said in an interview about 4 p.m. that they were very close to what she called a “go home” deal on taxes — so called because it would allow legislators to go  home for good, as opposed to for a few days until their leaders call them back to take votes.

The deal included about $800 million in tax increases for the remainder of the biennium. It got that amount without raising the sales tax, but there would be an increase in the tax on beer. She declined further comment on what was in the proposal, emphasizing that it wasn’t yet final but that she’d be meeting with Gregoire and Chopp shortly.

The three gathered about 4:37 p.m. in Gregoire’s office, and legislative communications staff were standing by for any potential announcement of a deal. Imagine everyone’s surprise when a member of the governor’s staff came out about 5:15 to say Brown and Chopp had left….

While Brown seemed relatively confident she could round up 25 Senate votes for the package, Chopp couldn’t be so sure he could deliver the necessary 50 from the House. A House staff member said as many as 25 Democratic House members may be calling into a teleconference this evening to get briefed on the package and a chance to indicate whether they’d vote yes or no.

No public statements from the House until Thursday morning, when they could get around to appointing their members to a conference committee to handle the end game on the budget and tax package.

Tax deal in the offing?

OLYMPIA — House and Senate negotiators may have reached what they are calling a “go home” deal over taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp started meeting with Gov. Chris Gregoire about 4:35 p.m. today for final discussions on the deal, which would allow the Legislature to adjourn by next Tuesday, the final day of the special session.

Shortly before the meeting, Brown said the deal has no sales tax increase and would include a hike in tax on beer. She declined further comment on it, except to say that it would keep the Senate plan for temporary increases in the business and occupation tax but make permanent a higher B&O tax credit for smaller service businesses.

“Probably there’s a tax in there that everyone hates,” the Spokane Democrat said.

It would raise an estimated $800 million for the remainder of the biennium, which is important to Senate Democrats, who were resisting any drop in the tax revenue levels because that would require further cuts.

Getting rid of the sales tax increase has been important to House Democrats and Gregoire.

Brown said she is close to having the 25 votes she needs for the deal to pass the Senate. House vote counters reportedly are not sure they have the 50 votes they need for it to pass the House.

It’s not clear yet whether they would send the bill to a conference committee for a hearing, and anything that comes out of the committee must have a 24-hour wait “on the bar” before it could be voted on. Going that route means a straight up or down vote in each chamber, no chance for amendment. Or it could be amended onto the tax package that is in the House, which opens it up for amendment in the House before going to the Senate.

Brown called it a “true compromise”…if, in fact they’ve reached it.

As of 5:05 p.m., Gregoire, Chopp and Brown remained in a meeting in the governor’s office with a growing gaggle of reporters massing outside.


Spokane ahead of King, Pierce…in census returns

About two-thirds of Spokane County has returned its census forms, which makes it tied for third among Washington counties in the quasi competition to get the forms filled out and turned in.

At the top are Clallam and Jefferson counties, at 70 percent. Next come Spokane and Asotin counties at 67 percent. Must be something about living on the eastern shore of the Puget Sound, because King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are all at 62 percent.

Among cities, Spokane is on top, tied with Olympia and Wenatchee, at 66 percent, so get at the foam hands with the index figure held high.

A list of cities, from the regional Census Bureau office, is inside the blog. It’s in no particular order, (OK, it’s a very Western Washington view of things with Seattle on top…we’d rearrange them numerically or alphabetically, but it’s really not worth the time)


It’s in the mail: EMS levy ballots

Spokane County Elections office says they mailed out about 113,000 ballots today to Spokane City voters, and Fire District 10 voters. Both groups are voting on an EMS levy.

Election is April 27. If you don’t get a ballot by April 16, call 477-2320 for a replacement.

You can mail it back up through April 27, or save a stamp and deposit it at a drop-off location. A list of drop off locations is inside the blog.

WA Lege SpecSess: Negotiations continue

OLYMPIA — Day 24 of the special session looks to be a fairly quiet one.

Most legislators remain at home, with a few negotiators for the House and Senate sending tax proposals back and forth. No votes, no floor sessions, no committee meetings.

And no deal at this point.

Although Senate Democrats proposed a tax on beer to raise some revenue for the general fund, House negotiators said this morning they have not signed off  on that idea. They may have something new this afternoon. And they may not.

Legislators may be called back on Friday for floor sessions, and work through the weekend.

If there’s a hard and fast proposal. If not, well, the session ends Tuesday, and Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she won’t call them back for another round.

And yes, Spin Control was unusually early in the week, taking a couple days off. Sorry for the light blogging.

Rossi, GOP denounce threat on Murray

The state Republican Party and couldbe candidate Dino Rossi were quick Tuesday to denounce a Selah man’s death threat against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane said he was “horrified by this awful news, prays for Sen. Murray’s safety, and condemns any threats made to any public official.” State GOP Chairman Luke Esser also condemned the activity: “Threats of violence have no place in our political process. We are pleased that this man has been taken into custody.”

The man in question, Charles Alan Wilson, allegedly called Murray’s office numerous times in recent months, most recently making threats over her vote for health care reform, using phrases that suggested he was armed and planned to use it. Wilson was arrested earlier Tuesday.

Health care is expected to be a major issue in the fall elections, but could violence against officials who voted for health care be a game-changer that works against Republicans?

Dino to Patty: Tell DSCC to take down the Web site

Dino Rossi may not be a candidate for U.S. Senate, but he is reacting strongly to an anti-Rossi for Senate Web site put together by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Rossi sent Sen. Patty Murray a letter over the weekend demanding she tell the committee to take down the “scurrilous” site if she can’t produce any proof of the “shady” deals it claims.

Although the site is an independent operation of the DSCC, Rossi argues Murray could stop it: “You are the fourth ranking member of the leadership of the Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Senate. The Democratic SenatorialCampaign Committee will do whatever they think you want them to do to support your re-election.”

(This is debatable. Should Murray call the DSCC and tell them to take down the site, someone — not necessarily Rossi, but someone else running for the seat — could claim it wasn’t an independent site.  But if Murray were to denounce all such campaign tactics and the DSCC were to announce in the spirit of good clean elections it was taking down the site even though it was technically accurate, then maybe it could be finessed. But, we digress.)

Rossi’s letter came with a separate letter from an attorney who contends there was nothing amiss about his real estate deals.

So judge for yourself: Does Rossi sound like a candidate getting ready for a campaign or like a private citizen who just doesn’t like having his name used in vain? Feel free to hit the comment button and weigh in.

Shogan says his colleagues’ appearance on radio show is “upsetting”

Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan e-mailed his colleagues on the council this week to clarify his opinion about a radio show hosted by a man accused of threatening him.

In an article in The Spokesman-Review over the weekend, Shogan said he was OK with other council members appearing on the show, which is hosted by David Elton.

“OK meant I have no control over their actions, but it’s upsetting to me and my family that they went on (Elton’s) show,” Shogan said in an interview on Monday.

Elton hosts a weekly show on KTRW 630 AM. He said last week that he pays the station for the right to host the program.

Guests who have appeared so far include City Council members Nancy McLaughlin and Steve Corker, County Commissioner Mark Richard, county commission candidate Steve Salvatori and county prosecuting attorney candidate Dave Stevens.

Asked late last month about council members’ participation on the show, Shogan said: “They’re adults. They decide what they do,” Shogan said. “The problems I have are with David Elton. They’re not with the rest of the council.”


WA Lege SpecSess: Enhanced 911 tax hike passes

OLYMPIA — Washington residents are likely to pay an extra 25 cents a month next year for every phone line they have, whether it’s a land line, a cell phone or an internet connected system.

The House of Representatives passed an increase Friday in phone taxes to pay for enhanced 911 equipment for the state and local agencies, following action taken Thursday by the Senate.
Enhanced 911 allows a dispatcher to see the caller’s number and location when a call comes in. The state already allows local systems to charge a 50 cent fee for every land line and cell phone to help pay for the enhanced system, and the state charges 20 cents. The proposal raises local fees to 70 cents, and the state fee to 25 cents.

House Republicans denounced the bill as another tax, even if it was for a good cause.

“Here we go again,” Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama said. “At some point you get to the point that breaks the camel’s back. This bill may not be the actual straw, but at what point do you get to it? It is a hardship on people who are struggling.”

Democrats countered that it was really a user fee, going up a quarter a month or $3 a year, to help with an explosion in technology, particularly in cell phones and computer based Voice Over Internet Protocol systems which currently do not pay the tax. Identifying and locating cell phones requires new equipment.

“It’s about technology neutrality,” Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes, said. “The 911 system has to work for the wireless phone as well as the landline.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire. If she signs it, the taxes go into effect Jan. 1.

To see how Spokane area legislators voted, go inside the blog.

WA Lege SpecSess: Another week of this likely?

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives returned today in force, if not quite en masse, to handle several bills and get an update on tax discussions with the Senate.

But they’re expecting to be sent home this afternoon, with no debate or vote on the state’s ailing budget, with orders to return next Friday. In the meantime, Speaker Frank Chopp, Majority Leader Lisa Brown and the two chambers’ Democratic revenue leaders will continue to seek agreement, or at least less disagreement, on a tax package that can get 25 votes in the Senate and 50 votes in the House.

The $200 million the Senate raises through a bump in the sales tax continues to be a sticking point, sources said, although it’s possible Senate leaders have come up with a way to cover about half of that through other means.

There is no “deal,” sources said. There is no firm proposal that could lead to a “deal.” There are some ideas that could become a proposal that could lead to a “deal.”

There’s is nothing the public can look at and say “Wow, what a great idea!” or “Are you out of your mind?”

A deal, of course, isn’t really a deal until it passes both chambers with a tacit understanding that Gov. Chris Gregoire is going to sign it.

Bringing them back next Friday could instill a sense of finality to everything. The final day of this 30-day session is Tuesday, so the clock will be ticking a little louder each day. No agreement by midnight Tuesday and they go home with no budget changes, which means Gregoire can only balance the budget through across-the-board cuts to programs not required by constitutional mandate or an agreement to accept federal funds.

Otter trying ‘personal touch’ in snare business

OLYMPIA – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter continues to “court” Washington businesses, sending personal letters to their owners that suggest they should move to the Gem State.
That’s fair, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday, because the Evergreen State makes similar overtures to businesses in other states, including Idaho. She called foul last month when Otter sent out a blanket “love letter” to businesses in the Washington and Oregon that derided the neighboring states for tax increases.
“It is not normal for governors to send a so-called love letter. Governors absolutely do contact businesses in other states,” Gregoire said.
Hitting Washington for tax increases was “a little premature”, she added, because the Legislature hasn’t settled on any yet.
But it’s about to, warned Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla…

‘Dry Fly’ bill becomes law

OLYMPIA – Small distilleries will be able to produce more liquor under a new law that triples their maximum capacity to 60,000 gallons.
The law, signed Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire, is a reflection of the fast growth of the Spokane’s “craft” distillery, Dry Fly, which was the first such operation in Washington since Prohibition when it was set up in 2007.
The original limit for craft distilleries of 20,000 gallons was essentially a guess, Dry Fly co-owner Don Poffenroth said Thursday. The Spokane operation is about three-fourths of the way to hitting that original limit and wants some room to expand, although it probably wouldn’t reach the new limit..
“I don’t think so, but I also never thought we’d grow this fast,” he said. But the higher limit is becoming a national standard, and the new law also allows distilleries to make liquor for a private customer from his or her own grain, without that counting against the 60,000 gallon limit.
At least four other craft distilleries have opened and several others have obtained permits, but Dry Fly remains the largest operation in Washington.
Gregoire paused before signing the bill, looked at its sponsor Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, and asked: “Where are my samples?”
Replied Marr: “I tried to stop by a state liquor store and it wasn’t open at 10 in the morning.”
Even if the store had been open, he would not have been able to buy any of Dry Fly’s wheat whiskey, he added. That product is in such limited supply it usually sells out the day it’s released.

Democrats trying to boost Rossi to knock him down?

Democrats may be paying Dino Rossi the ultimate compliment.

The guy is not a candidate against Patty Murray — not yet, anyway, and possibly not never — and yet they are going after  him hammer and tong. Or more accurately, Web site and Twitter.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been working diligently to trash Rossi ever since his name surfaced as a measurable marker against Murray in some GOP polls. They may be taking these polls more seriously than Rossi himself, who appears content to let folks speculate by uttering the standard “in politics you never say never” line to questions about a run.

The polling numbers that make Rossi a viable candidate have to be taken with a certain degree of caution. The Republicans, see, have 11 candidates elbowing each other to take on the three-term incumbent, but not one of them has statewide name ID that makes a  head-to-head comparison worth the price of the poll. Clint Didier might poll well with sports fans, Don Benton with legislative political junkies, and a few of the others with GOP faithful who have caught their acts at the odd Republican luncheon or Lincoln Day dinner and liked what they saw.

WA Lege SpecSess: No deal, Lucille

OLYMPIA — Reports of a “deal” between House and Senate Democratic leaders on the taxes and budget package appear to be greatly exaggerated.

The Senate was briefly in session today, passing a bill that allows a 25 cent tax to help fund Enhanced 911 service. Democrats had a caucus afterwards, but it was over quickly.

Senate sources say there’s been “movement” toward a deal, but no actual deal. Gov. Chris Gregoire echoed that during an impromptu press conference: Her information was that legislators “had discussions that shown progress…We do not have a deal.”

Unlike last week, when she used words like disappointed and disgusted, Gregoire was more upbeat: “I’m hopeful.” Asked what movement had taken place on which sticking points, she said she didn’t want to jinx anything. “It’s premature for me to say much more than this.”

WA Lege SpecSess: Senators called back

OLYMPIA — Senators are coming back today to do more than just open the session and go right into recess. Democrats have a caucus to discuss progress on talks to figure out a tax plan that solves the problem they’ve had for months:

Namely, that the Senate has enough votes to bump up the sales tax, but the House doesn’t. The House has enough votes to raise a handful of other taxes that raises about what a sales tax hike would, but the Senate doesn’t.

The fact that they are coming back for a briefing and a discussion could be seen as a hopeful sign of a deal in the offing. Could be — but not necessarily.

The governor, meanwhile will spend some time in Seattle explaining how the state plans to take part in national health care reform, then hurry back to Olympia to sign some bills into law.

And there’s a rally to mark  April 1 as an important day on the calendar…no, not April Fool’s Day. Census Day. This is the day your census forms are supposed to be filled out and mailed off, if you haven’t done that yet.

Don’t believe the commercials that tell you 10 questions in 10 minutes. Unless you have 15 people in  your house, it doesn’t take near that long to fill out your form..

State flags to be lowered Monday

OLYMPIA — State flags will be at half-staff Monday to  honor Pfc. James L. Miller of Yakima, a member of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team killed in Afghanistan Monday.

Gov. Chris Gregoire issued the order this morning for lowering the flags. Miller, 21, died of injuries inflicted by a roadside bomb.

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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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