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Spin Control

Archive for March 2010

Pentagon will wait for Airbus tanker bid

So this is  how much clout the Washington congressional delegation has: A day after five House members join in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep the schedule on track for building a new tanker to replace the KC-135, the Pentagon announces…

It will extend the deadline by 60 days so Airbus can submit a bid.

To be fair, the Pentagon gets so much mail that it’s possible Gates hadn’t even gotten around to reading the letter from Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Doc Hastings, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen and others from around the country. Maybe if they’d have sent a singing telegram or something to stand out from the crowd and catch his attention. Maybe if they’d camped out in his office. Who knows.

IIt’s also possible that after nearly nine years and two high-profile failures in trying to find a suitable replacement for some of the KC-135 fleet, someone at the Pentagon decided “What’s another 60 days to see if we can finally get this right?”

In any event, the Air Force will wait an extra two months before closing off bids. Right now The Boeing Co. is the only one bidding on the contract, which could be worth as much as $40 billion. Airbus, which apparently  has lost its U.S. partner Northrop Grumman, says with the extra time it can come up with a proposal to use a version of its A-330.

The Pentagon’s decision really torqued U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who said the World Trade Organization just confirmed Airbus gets illegal subsidies to build its planes. For the full text of her press release, go inside the blog.

WA Lege SpecSess: Pro Forma…it’s at least cheaper

OLYMPIA — Here’s the good news as the Special Session creeps through Day 17: things are waaaay cheaper when most of the honorables are out of town and back home.

The initial cost estimates for the Special Session were $18,300 a day, when all the expected staff time and the legislators’ $90 a day food and lodging allowance (known by that classy Latin moniker of per diem) were added up.

But then a bunch of legislators said they wouldn’t take no stinking per diem, and others said they wouldn’t take it on days that they weren’t doing anything. And then most of them got sent home on rolling recess, and when not in Olympia they aren’t taking it, either.

Then much of the session staff got laid off, and full-time legislative staff that splits its time between Olympia and the offices back in the district went home to unlock the doors and air out the work space back there.

Bottom line, these days when only a few legislative leaders are around trying to reach an agreement on taxes cost about $2,500 a day, according to folks in the House and Senate who have to keep track of these things.

That will go up some on Thursday if the Senate returns as planned to caucus on tax proposals. But nothing much is happening today, so this should be another low-cost day.

As for a cost-benefit analysis, it depends on your perspective. From a GOP standpoint, every day the Democrats don’t raise taxes is a good day, so paying less while not getting a tax hike would be a good thing, but just needing a special session is a bad thing.

From the Democratic perspective, the budget has to be fixed, and the sooner it’s done and everyone goes home, the better. If a deal is struck, the cost/benefit ratio on these cheapo days is huge; no deal means whatever the cost, there’s nothing to put in the benefit column.

The topsy-turvy politics of Conservation Futures and the YMCA

Spokane park leaders figured in November that the debate about the vacant downtown YMCA was about to end.

After all, the financial analysis demanded by City Council had just been released. It recommended accepting Spokane County’s offer to use Conservation Futures property taxes to pay off the city’s debt on the building. Councilman Mike Allen said the analysis had persuaded him to support the Park Board’s request to use the money, and Councilman Al French even sponsored the proposal for a council vote.

But opponents of spending Conservation Futures money on the Y successfully delayed action until Allen was replaced on the council by Jon Snyder, and French ended up siding against the resolution he sponsored.

That vote in late November sent the decision into extra innings, and city leaders decided to solicit bids on the property.

Park Board members never expressed much worry about the process. They said their work on the building over the years pointed to a bid process that would result in no proposals that would guarantee full repayment of the city’s debt. That guess turned out to be correct.

The question for supporters of securing the YMCA was finding a fourth vote.

WA Lege SpecSess: Senate back Thursday…for caucus

OLYMPIA — The Senate will hold more than a pro forma session Thursday, with members being called back so Democrats can get an update on tax negotiations.

Sources said this doesn’t necessarily mean they have a deal, or are within a frog’s hair of one. But there have been some changes discussed for the “menu” of taxes proposed by the governor and passed by the House, and this would be a chance to sound Senate Democrats out on those.

Republicans don’t really need to caucus. They aren’t part of negotiations and they aren’t going to vote for tax increases. Period.

WA congresspersons to Pentagon: Keep tanker timeline

Five members of Washington’s congressional delegation joined an effort to keep the Pentagon from delaying its selection the builder of the next air refueling tanker by asking Defense Secretary Robert Gates not to extend the timeline for making that choice.
Without mentioning either company by name, they are supporting the Boeing Co., and trying to close out rival Airbus.
Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings, and Democrats Jay Inslee, Adam Smith and Rick Larsen are among 16 members of the House urging Gates not to vary from the 75-day selection deadline announced in February. Their stated reasons include eight years of delay already in replacing the KC-135s, and the additional costs to taxpayers.

The KC-135, which was designed by Boeing in the 1950s and built through the early 1960s, is the backbone of the U.S. Air Force tanker fleet and the plane flown by the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing, both based at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Finding a replacement for part of the KC-135 fleet started some nine years ago, and has been marked by fraud, collusion, political bickering and pandering, mistakes and missteps. Meanwhile, the 135s keep flying in two war zones and for a variety of other military missions around the globe.
The process to select a new tanker is a subject of intense interest, the members of Congress wrote, but “the need for new tankers is long overdue.”
A consortium that included Northrop Grumman and EADS, the manufacturer of Airbus, beat out Boeing for an estimated $40 billion contract in early 2008. That award was thrown out a few months later after Boeing protested and the Government Accountability Office found problems with the selection process. New specifications were announced in February and Boeing notified the Air Force eight days later it would enter a new bid, again using a version of its 767 jetliner.
Four days later, Northrop Grumman said it wasn’t entering the competition. In late March, however, EADS said it would submit a proposal if the deadline was extended and “there is a fair chance to win.”

WA Lege SpecSess: Stuck in a rut?

OLYMPIA — The familiar pattern of no apparent movement on the Legislature’s budget log jam is expected to continue today. The two houses have pro forma sessions, but most members aren’t here, so nothing of substance will be done.

Negotiations among House and Senate Democratic leaders are expected to continue over taxes, but until some agreement is reached, the other legislators will stay home. Some will issue press releases; Republicans are taking making statements about the waste of the special session.

Monday evening it was Sen. Janea Holmquist’s turn. The Moses Lake Republican said Democrats should be passing reforms to workers comp and creating jobs.  Read the whole press release by clicking here.

This week has Passover at the beginning, and Good Friday/Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday at the end. Unless an agreement is reached by midweek, it’s possible the legislators won’t be brought back to debate and vote on it until next week.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is signing bills late this morning in Bellevue, which means she won’t have to answer questions from the Olympia press corps about the apparent lack of progress in the special session.

Health Care Reform: One waiver, one challenge

OLYMPIA – Washington state may be first in line for one aspect of the new federal Health Care Reform law, submitting a request for some $180 million in federal money to help with pay for the state’s Basic Health Plan.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell joined several state officials Monday in hailing the new law, and saying they’ve already sent in a request for what’s known as “bridge funding”. That provision allows a state to request money through 2014 to help cover the costs of health insurance of residents who make too much to receive Medicaid but can’t afford private plans.
Washington has about 65,000 people on its Basic Health Plan who state officials believe should be covered by a waiver. If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, the federal government could pay for two-thirds of their insurance costs, up to $180 million a year through 2014. That would ease the state’s budget problems and allow the state to expand the program.
“We want to be at the head of the line,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed late Monday Washington was the first to apply for the waiver, but could only say the application would be processed “as quickly as possible.”
While Gregoire is seeking the waiver, Attorney General Rob McKenna is challenging aspects of Health Care Reform. Last week he joined 12 other attorneys general in a lawsuit over the requirement that all individuals buy health insurance by 2014 and for provisions that would raise the cost of Medicaid later this decade.
McKenna said Monday that if the state receives the waiver and gets federal money for Basic Health, it won’t block Washington from arguing that other sections of the new law are unconstitutional. If the federal courts rule the individual insurance mandate and the Medicaid increases are unconstitutional, other provisions, including the bridge funding, the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or extending coverage to young adults on their parents plans would remain in place, he said.
Even though the provisions in the lawsuit don’t take effect for years, “these are important questions to challenge now,” McKenna said.
Gregoire disagrees with McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit and Monday repeated her belief that it has no merit. States can opt out of Medicaid, she said, if they’re willing to give up the federal money.

WA Lege SpecSess: No end in sight, part 2

OLYMPIA — Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp tried to make things look and sound as cordial as possible today, but they still lead two opposing views on figuring out a budget fix and getting the heck out of Dodge.

Of course, most of Legislature is temporarily out of Dodge. It’s not clear when they’re coming back. In “a few days” was the best estimate Brown could give.

They appeared together around noon, with Gov. Chris Gregoire, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and some others cheering federal health care reform. Afterwards they talked with reporters about how discussions were coming on a fix to the projected $2.8 billion budget hole.

The sticking point is $200 million out of that $2.8 billion.

Senate Democrats have the needed 25 votes for a tax plan that raises about $200 mill with a sales tax. House Democrats don’t have the needed 50 votes for a tax plan with a sales tax, and have a menu of other taxes to get that money. Senate Democrats don’t have 25 votes for that package.

“We’re still working on what the final agreement will look like,” Brown said. She added Gregoire’s threat last week of having to cut 20 percent off everyone’s budget if the Legislature burns through the special session without a decision on cuts and taxes was just “a worst case scenario.”

Why not just cut another $200 million from the budget, Brown was asked. The budget has come down enough since last spring that she doesn’t consider that a viable solution, she said.

With so little news, reporters were trying to read body language for some clues as to  how things were going as the press conference on health care reform started. Brown and Chopp were far apart when they enterred the room and approached the podium, but stood next to each other when most of the other folks were talking. Chopp introduced Brown with a few kind words about her support for the state’s Basic Health Plan.

Brown stayed in the reporters’ scrum longer to answer questions. Chopp, who looked like he’d rather doing anything else, ducked out as quickly as possible.

WA Lege Spec Sess: No end in sight

OLYMPIA — The Legislature has nothing scheduled today except a pro forma session in the Senate at noon.

That’s also the time that U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Gov. Chris Gregoire, state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and state House Speaker Frank Chopp have a press conference to say they think federal health care reform is a great thing. This comes two days after about 850 people gathered on the lawn to cheer Attorney General Rob McKenna’s participation in lawsuit against health care reform, because they think it is a terrible thing.

That lawsuit might come up, as well as the progress — or lack thereof — in the special session. Other than that, today’s biggest task might be to avoid being washed away by the rain.

Turning down the money spigot on local elections

OLYMPIA – With little fanfare last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill that could force a big change in Spokane politics.
Senate Bill 6344 could cut the tendons of groups that have flexed the most muscle in recent city council and mayoral campaigns, the city employees’ unions and the builders, and keep anyone from trying to throw weight around in a county race for sheriff, prosecutor, clerk – although, truth be told, clerk races rarely draw the big bucks.
Starting June 10, no person, committee, business or union will be allowed to give a candidate more than $800 per election. In Washington state, that really means $1,600 in a campaign year if the candidate gets his or her hand out early, because the primary and the general count separately.
For most donors in most races, that’s more than they’re going to give, anyway. Give someone a grand and a half to run for city council? Isn’t that like a month’s pay for that job?
But a few people or groups have a tendency to give more — way more…

What do you do on Earth Hour?

Turn out the lights.

Or at least, that’s what will happen at the Capitol Building in Olympia and City Hall in Spokane from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. It’s part of a worldwide observance of Earth Hour.

Not to be confused with Earth Day, which is in April. (And considering that the Earth is, like, the only planet we have, shouldn’t it at least get a month? But don’t let’s go down that road…)

The Capitol dome lights will go off for that hour, and Washington residents are being encouraged to turn their lights off then, too, in a show of support. (At the rate the Legislature is going, one might argue the lights could stay out in that part of the Capitol for days, and no one would notice.)

Gov. Chris Gregoire will sign a proclamation supporting Earth Hour, although it’s not quite clear if she’ll sign it by candle light, kerosene lantern, or just have someone flick their lighter until it’s signed. Or everyone could just open their cell phone, and the screen glow will light the room.

Spokane City Hall, the Clocktower in Riverfront Park and the Pavilion will also be lights out at that time at the direction of Mayor Mary Verner.

So if you’re out and about on Saturday evening, and the light on a public building suddenly go off, it’s not a sign that someone forgot to pay their Avista bill.

 

From another perspective, Tacoma really is Washington’s second city

 

Our good friends at the political blog at The News Tribune in Tacoma appear to be challenging us to a friendly Swivel chart war.

Responding to our bar chart showing that Spokane is the second largest city in the state — with a 2,000-person lead over Tacoma — The News Tribune’s Political Buzz reminded us that Pierce County has a signficant lead over Spokane County and easily claims the highly coveted title of “Washington’s Second County.” We at Spin Control do not dispute this title, only its relevance.

WA Lege SpeSess: GOP senators send fan mail to McKenna

OLYMPIA — Most of the country may keep in touch with e-mail and texting, but Attorney General Rob McKenna needs to  keep his letter opener handy for a while. He’s getting messages the old fashioned way, in letters..

His latest pen pals are the 16 Senate Republicans, who Thursday announced that they were sending a him nice letter to him for joining the lawsuit against the federal health care mandates. According to the recently issued press release, they told him:

“Our caucus has long sought to ensure all Washingtonians have access to high-quality, affordable health care while maintaining our commitments to the vulnerable, working poor and elderly. Over the years we have introduced legislation to accomplish this goal,” the letter stated. 
“We believe that the future of our government ‘of the people and by the people’ is in peril when any group sees fit to suspend the constitution and laws in service of their own agenda. …It is vital that our courts address these fundamental constitutional concerns prior to the full implementation of the legislation. We are convinced that a legally sound approach to health reform will be more successful and will better serve our fellow citizens over the long term.”

They also mentioned several pieces of legislation that various Republicans introduced to block federal health care reform mandates in Washington. None of the bills got a hearing or a vote, but they are on the books.

This press release comes just a few  hours after a pair of legislative Democrats, Sen. Karen Fraser and Rep. Eileen Cody, said pretty much the opposite, that federal health care reform is both constitutional and important for the state’s ability to maintain the Basic Health Plan, is constitutional, and should not be challenged by McKenna. They said they were sending  him a letter asking him to drop out of the case.

Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader LIsa Brown also sent him a letter with pretty much the same message.

WA Lege SpecSess: Cut McKenna’s budget? Not likely right now

OLYMPIA — Although some Democratic legislators have talked of cutting Attorney General Rob McKenna’s budget to keep him from joining the lawsuit against federal health care reform, right now it appears just that. Talk.

First, the Legislature has bigger budget issues to settle, such as how to raise taxes to come  up with about $800 million to throw into the $2.8 billion gap in the general operating fund budget.

Second, two legislators who are leaders on health care issues said they are “looking at all kinds of options”, which generally means they haven’t settled on any specific option like cutting the AG’s budget.

But Sen. Karen Keiser of Des Moines and Rep. Eileen Cody of Seattle aren’t doing nothing about McKenna’s decision to join with a dozen or so other states in challenging the constitutionality of the  new law. They are…

WA Lege SpecSess: Tax committee being formed

OLYMPIA — In an effort to break the logjam over which taxes to raise, the Legislature will appoint a conference committee with three members from each chamber to try to work things out.

The Senate rejected the House of Representatives’ rewrite of the tax package late this morning, and agreed to set up the committee. Senate Democrats named Margarita Prentice of Renton and Ed Murray of Seattle; Republicans named Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield.

House is out of session today, and may be tomorrow, so it’s possible the committee won’t meet until sometime next week.

The committee has public meetings to unveil any proposals, although much of the negotiations still take place in private. Whatever it agrees to must “sit on the bar” — be public — for 24 hours before a vote.

Four of the six members must agree, which means Democrats still have the upper hand in any agreement because they hold four seats. Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla said the process is really just for show, because they likely won’t have any input.

The divide between House Democrats and Senate Democrats will still have to be bridged.  Murray said the Senate doesn’t have 25 votes for the mix of tax increases in the House tax package, and the House doesn’t have 50 votes to raise the sales tax by two-tenths of 1 percent, like the Senate proposed.

WA Lege SpecSess: Kind of a half-day

OLYMPIA — Day 11 of the supposed Seven-Day Session breaks down like this:

The Senate returns this morning for some light work — start up, do some routine stuff, go to caucus, pass some “jobs bills — but the House of Representatives isn’t coming back until Friday.

That means there’s no sign of a compromise on tax legislation, which is the lynchpin to them going  home for good.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has her daily “bill signning” session this afternoon, at which the assembled press corps will ask her if she’s heard any news. Wednesday that resulted in a discussion of what would happen if they blow through Day 30 with no budget.

Answer: She’ll send them home for good and cut everyone’s budget by 20 percent. No telling if that will jump start anything a couple floors up in the Capitol Building.

They can sue, but can they win?

McClatchy offered this early analysis of the multistate lawsuit over health care reform:

By James Rosen
McClatchy Newspapers
(MCT)
WASHINGTON — The top prosecutors in 13 states — 12 of them Republicans — filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the health care bill minutes after President Barack Obama signed the landmark legislation into law.
In a suit filed in federal district court in Tallahassee, Fla., the attorneys general claimed that the new law’s requirement for all Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.
“This bipartisan effort by attorneys general around the country should put the federal government on notice that we will not tolerate the constitutional rights of our citizens and the sovereignty of our states to be trampled on,” Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said. “I will pursue this litigation to the highest court if necessary.”
Louisiana Attorney General James “Butch” Caldwell is the only Democrat joining the lawsuit. The others represent Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington state.
Virginia’s Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed a separate suit.
Several noted law professors said there are significant legal hurdles in establishing the states’ standing to challenge the health care law and in convincing federal judges that it violates the Constitution.

Go inside the blog to read more...

Today’s fun video: Not how you learned it in civics class…

…but all in all, a much more accurate look at “How a bill becomes law.

McKenna v. health care reform, Part 2

OLYMPIA — So the day after Attorney General Rob McKenna announced he was joining the lawsuit to challenge federal health care reform, things got ramped up a few notches.

President Obama signed the bill, and Vice President Joe Biden weighed in that this was a BFD.

McKenna didn’t personally answer most media inquiries about his decision, but his staff posted FAQs on the AG Web site and he did do an interview with KING-TV.

Gov. Chris Gregoire repeated her criticism of McKenna’s decision, both at an afternoon press conference and in a separate KING-TV session.

The Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank, released a review of health care reform that contends it would hurt Washington residents.

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said he was introducing a bill to keep federal health care mandates from taking effect in Washington, and directing the attorney general to sue to enforce them.(Interesting, considering Benton, who is running against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, has not been in Olympia for the special session.)

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Eastern Washington, came out in support of fellow Republican McKenna. So did state Sens. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, and Val Stevens, R-Arlington, who mentioned they had introduced earlier in the session a bill that would keep federal health care mandates from taking effect in Washington. (But doesn’t require an AG to enforce that, like Benton’s bill does. Their bill got no hearing, and no vote in the regular session, but was resurrected for the special session.)

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, sent McKenna a letter asking him to reconsider, and called Benton’s legislation “more theatrics than substance” and said it has “zero chance” of passing in the special session, which is mainly relegated to the budget. The Legislature is at recess until Thursday, so Republicans have a bit of time to strategize a way to try to bring it up, if they are so inclined. (And no, recess for legislators does not include kickball and snacks.)

The Washington State Labor Council asked him to drop the lawsuit. (Yeah, organized labor telling a GOP attorney general to do something…that’ll do it.)

The State Democratic Party filed a public records request for any correspondence or other documents involving McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit, saying the public has a right to know if he was doing this on behalf of the National Republican Party or the insurance industry.

And with that, you’re pretty much fully briefed. Go inside the blog to see the details, watch some dueling video of the gov and AG, or leave a comment.

McKenna v. health care reform

OLYMPIA—Things were happening so fast and furious Tuesday with Attorney General Rob McKenna’s opting in to a lawsuit against federal health care reform that not everything could fit into this morning’s print edition story.

Based on the number of comments these stories are generating, there may be some appetite for more information. We’re more than happy to oblige.

So here’s a recap:

McKenna announced on Monday he was joining other states in challenging the health care reform that passed on Sunday and was being signed on Tuesday. He was out of town in the morning, and his office couldn’t confirm it until 1 p.m.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said at 1:30 p.m. Monday that McKenna hadn’t consulted with her about filing a lawsuit, and she thought he was getting in on the wrong side of the fight because Washington stands to benefit from health care reform. Her office issued a statement a few hours later.

Several other Democrats weighed in that afternoon and evening, including State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee. Jumping in on behalf of McKenna was Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley. (Yes, Shea’s political affiliation was incorrect in Tuesday morning’s story. We apologize to members of both parties who were incensed, and thank them for reading all the way to the bottom of the story.)

Go inside the blog to read full texts of these statements. Tuesday recap continues above.

WA Lege SpecSess: Rolling on a recess

OLYMPIA — Nothing expected today in the Lege. Most of the honorables are  home or anywhere but here while a few of their leaders try to find a compromise on what taxes to raise for the budget package.

They do have some work scheduled for tomorrow, but if there’s no deal on taxes, it might not take long.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Gregoire is announcing some judicial appointments to appeals courts this afternoon, including an appointment to Division III in Spokane.

Reed headed home from hospital

OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Sam Reed is on his way home from the hospital after having surgery for a cancerous kidney on Monday. His staff said  he reported feeling pretty good, and is optimistic about the pathology tests which haven’t come back yet because doctors said things looked good when they examined the kidney visually.

This Biden video may not be suitable for children

What is it with vice presidents and the F-bomb?

Vice President Joe Biden dropped the expletive in front of a microphone right after introducing President Obama at today’s signing ceremony for the health care legislation. Obama’s press secretary later made light of the incident in this Tweet.

In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney admitted directing the word toward Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Hey Google, Spokane has a trash-eating goat statue

Spokane hasn’t gone to the extremes of some other places competing in the Google Fiber for Communities contest.

Mayor Mary Verner hasn’t jumped in an icy lake, for instance. Nor has she followed Topeka’s lead in changing the city’s name. (Apparently Spogoogle isn’t catchy enough.) But that doesn’t mean city leaders are gimmick-free in their effort to woo Google. Verner showed off this video at Monday’s City Council meeting, during which the council voted unanimously to support the city’s effort to win the contest. Officials are asking residents to send e-mails in support of the project and to become Facebook friends with the city’s Google Fiber Facebook page. It’s also organizing a “flash mob” to meet for a photo in Riverfront Park on Wednesday.

WA Lege SpecSess: GAU changes pass, including name

OLYMPIA – The Legislature approved new limits to a major welfare program for those unable to work because of physical or mental health problems, and changed its name from General Assistance-Unemployable to the Disability Lifeline.

Under the new rules that passed both houses Monday, those unable to work will be limited to 24 months of benefits over a five-year period between 2008 and 2013. Those who are in the program because of a drug or alcohol addiction can only receive benefits if they enroll and stay in treatment; those who are homeless and need chemical dependency or mental health treatment will receive vouchers instead of cash, and will only qualify if they stay in treatment.

To read more, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege SpecSess: Who’ll blink on the sales tax?

OLYMPIA – A special legislative session to address the state’s budget problems will continue until one side or the other blinks on the sales tax.

On one side: A majority of Democrats who control the Senate want to increase the sales tax as part of their plan to raise about $800 million in taxes as a balanced plan to close a projected $2.8 billion budget gap.

On the other side: A majority of Democrats who control the House of Representatives, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who want to raise that money with other taxes.

To read more tax talk, click here to go inside the blog

Gregoire slams McKenna for joining suit against health care reform

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Republican attorney general will join other states in a lawsuit against the federal health care reform plan, a move its Democratic governor denounced as “not representing the people of this state.”

Attorney General Rob McKenna said Monday afternoon he would join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform package passed Sunday by Congress and soon to be signed by President Obama. His was a rare discordant voice as other state officials praised the legislation as good for Washington and its troubled budget.

“I believe this new federal health care measure unconstitutionally imposes new requirements on our state and on its citizens,” McKenna said in a statement released by his office about 1 p.m. “This unprecedented federal mandate, requiring all Washingtonians to purchase health insurance, violates the Commerce Clause and the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 10th Amendment says powers not listed in the Constitution, or prohibited for the states, are left to the states and the people. That amendment is the one most often cited by proponents of greater sovereignty by the states, on everything from health care reform to gun rights to tax collection.

The bill places “an extraordinary burden” on the state budget by expanding its Medicaid eligibility standards, he said in the press release.

An hour later, a visibly irate Gov. Chris Gregoire said she “totally disagrees” with McKenna’s decision, which she didn’t know about until reading a news account. She said she then called him to discuss it.

“I don’t know who he’s representing,” Gregoire said. McKenna is not representing her, the people who will be added to the state’s Basic Health Plan because or the doctors and hospitals who will have larger Medicare reimbursement payments because of the new federal plan.

The attorney general’s office may need to assign an attorney to represent her “because I totally oppose what he’s doing.”

To read more on state officials reaction to the health care reform bill’s passage, click here go inside the blog

Reed comes through surgery well

OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Sam Reed is out of surgery for kidney cancer, and his wife Maggie reports “everything went really well.”

Reed had a minimally invasive surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. He’s not expected to need chemotherapy unless the cancer has spread further than expected.

He’ll be in the hospital for two or three days, then recuperating at home for a couple weeks.

WA Lege SpecSess: Looking for an end game

OLYMPIA — The two competing factions in the Legislature (House Democrats and Senate Democrats) have staked out their territory on taxes.

While they try to negotiate a compromise, or until one side gives in to the other, the houses will be debating and voting on a few other things. Senate is taking up a proposed change to General Assistance Unemployable sometime today. House is expected to agree to changes in a housing act, but not to some rural county tax deferrals.


Picture this: The Health Care Vote

The New York Times has a nice map that shows how members of Congress voted yesterday on the Health Care legislation.

As a sometime maker of political maps, Spin Control recommends it to those who enjoy visuals. Find it here:

GOP making November plans

OLYMPIA – While Democrats with huge majorities in both houses fight among themselves over the budget, Republicans have plenty of free time to express confidence the November election will change the math.

Democrats seem intent on helping them out. They’re going to raise taxes, which ranks high on the list of things that get a politician removed from office. They may be right that they have almost no choice in the matter, but the way that they’ve gone about it – holding a quixotic hearing on an income tax, requiring repeated votes on bills tailor-made to wind up in GOP commercials, suspending rules – does little to mitigate the expected damage.

Then there’s the $18,300 per day special session – at least that was the cost before a rush to refuse legislative per diems – that was supposed to be done in seven days.

How’s that working, as Dr. Phil would say. Not so good, with work expected through Tuesday, which would be day nine.

WA Lege SpecSess: House debates, passes tax plan

OLYMPIA – Using a compromise plan suggested by the governor, House Democrats stripped an increased sales tax out of plans to balance the state budget and countered with higher business taxes.

Saturday afternoon they voted 53-42 to stake out different territory in their efforts to combine tax increases with program cuts and federal money to fill a $2.8 billion budget hole.

The proposal got no support from Republicans, who called it at various times a job killer, legalized plunder and a pathway to socialism. It lost several Democrats, too, including Rep. John Driscoll of Spokane.

But Democrats who supported the bill said it was necessary to leave class sizes small, cover health care for the poor, keep guards in the prisons and state troopers on the highway.
Much of the package was proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire late Friday in an effort to strike a deal between two very different tax approaches in the House and Senate. The two bills now become the basis for negotiations expected to take place over the weekend.

The House bill passed Saturday:
• Places a three-year surcharge on the business and occupation tax levied on many service businesses, raising the tax to 1.75 percent, up from 1.5 percent of gross receipts.
• Applies the sales tax to bottled water, currently classified as food and exempt from that tax. That tax would take effect May 1, in an effort to raise more money.
• Levies taxes on out-of-state companies who do business in Washington. Some of the language reinstates taxes thrown out by court decisions.
• Taxes manufacturers of custom software.

Cut from the tax bill are:
• The two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase approved Friday by the Senate.
• A sales tax to candy and gum, which the House approved in an earlier tax bill. Taxes on elective cosmetic surgery, also in that early House plan, are gone.
• An end to the real estate excise tax exemption on foreclosed properties. The  House and Senate both voted to do away with that earlier this month
To read more about the tax bill, click here go inside the blog

WA Lege SpecSess: House passes tax bill

OLYMPIA — The House passed a compromise tax bill suggested by Gov. Chris Gregoire that does not raise the state sales tax but does have a broader increase in business taxes.

In a 53-42 vote, with no Republicans voting for the package, the House stripped away the provisions of the tax package passed Friday in the Senate and approved a package of approximately $700 million in new taxes. Last night they also passed a $1 per pack increase on cigarettes.

Gone is a proposal to raise the state sales tax by two-tenths of 1 percent, which would have raised an estimated $313 million through June 2011. Instead, the House approved a temporary increase of the business and occupation tax levied on most service businesss, raising it from 1.5 percent of gross receipts to 1.75 percent.

 Gone from a previous House proposal is a plan to extend the sales tax to candy and gum

Still in, a sales tax on bottled water, which would start May 1 in an effort to raise an extra $8 million. Visitors from states who have a lower sales tax, or no sales tax, wouldn’t get the lower rate in Washington. Custom software designers would pay the B&O tax, but people who get elective cosmetic surgery would not.

WA Lege SpecSess: House tax plan dumps sales tax, hikes B&O

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives is debating Saturday morning a new tax plan that does away with the sales tax hike approved by the Senate on Friday.

The debate is likely to be much the same. Republicans will say this will hurt the economy and cost jobs. Democrats will say it’s a balanced approach, with far more cuts in the budget than taxes raised.

Stay tuned.

WA Lege SpecSess: Senate approves tax hike

OLYMPIA — TheSenate approved temporary jumps in state sales and business taxes, narrowly passing a tax plan that may not survive the weekend in the House.

Senate Democrats made some changes in the plan they passed during the regular session which also was gutted in the House. Instead of a three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax for the next three years, they approved a two-tenths of 1 percent increase for that period.

They approved temporary increases to the business and occupation tax, but also increased the credit for small businesses with sales of less than $72,000.

They also amended the bill to give exemptions from the business tax increases to researchers, non-profit hospitals and realtors.

Democrats emphasized that the tax increase was the smallest part of their budget solution, which also includes federal funding and cuts of some $5 billion from the budget they would have carried forward from the last biennium.

Republicans argued those aren’t all real cuts, but reductions in anticipated increases, brought on by overspending in previous  years.

Today’s fun video: How funny can you make the census?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Gary Locke Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

Oh right, the census.

That’s why former Washington Gov. and current Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was on the Daily Show Thursday night.

The Commerce Department, see, is in charge of the Census, which is underway. It’s in that government envelope you received in the mail and put with the sweepstakes, credit card touts and other stuff you’ll open some time, when you get around to it … but may just throw out because the stack is getting too tall and it’s late tonight and trash pickup is tomorrow morning.

Which means you are going to cost the federal government a bazillion dollars because they’ll have to send a census taker to your door  (about a gajillion times because you’re just never home) to get the answers to the 10 little questions you could answer in about two minutes if you’d just Open the Darn Envelope and Fill Out the Damn Form.

But we digress. Locke’s appearance is apparently part of the huge marketing effort underway for the census. The marketing effort seemingly did not spend a lot on writing Locke’s jokes and practicing his delivery; but then, Locke was always a bit of a wonk, so he makes a decent straight man for Stewart, and manages to slip in a few interesting bits…like the  question that was on the form in 1790 that isn’t on the form in 2010. Answer at about 2:40 in the first clip.

And Locke does get two segments, which is more than Snoop Dogg got on Wednesday night. Second segment is below.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Gary Locke Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

WA Lege SpecSess: Schedules uncertain

OLYMPIA — Both houses of the Legislature start at 10 a.m.,  plan to break fairly quickly for caucuses, then come back for votes on “bills necessary to implement the budget.”

Does that mean they, you know, have a budget?

Not necessarily. But the Senate may have a revenue bill — read tax plan — that they will vote on after lunch.

(Editor’s note: Previous notice from the Senate said they’d vote “after a dinner break.” That’s been changed.)

Gov. Chris Gregoire wants them done by Sunday. They’d have to work Saturday and Sunday to do that, but there’s no firm weekend schedule yet.

Early sales tax numbers show continued rough times for local governments

 Early numbers aren’t looking good for Spokane and other local governments hoping to avoid more budget gloom.

Sales tax distributions for the first two months of 2010 were the lowest since 2005 for Spokane, Spokane County, Spokane Valley and the Spokane Transit Authority.

Because of the increased cost of doing business, largely from of salary increases and the spiking costs of health insurance, local governments usually need rising tax revenue to maintain services with the same number of employees.

Sales taxes are only one source of revenue, but they are a signficant one, especially for STA, which doesn’t have property or utility taxes.

WA Lege SpecSess: Gregoire frustrated at slow pace

OLYMPIA – As the Legislature crawled through its fourth day of a special session without a solution to its budget problems, Gov. Chris Gregoire was among those expressing frustration with the progress, or apparent lack of it.

The session could be done by Sunday, which would be the absolute last day Gregoire said she wanted them to spend in this legislative overtime.

“I thought I was giving them a couple days extra time, just in case,” she said at a press conference called to tout the state’s growth in environmentally friendly or green jobs. “To talk about going another week, to me, is inexcusable.”

To read the rest of this story, or to see the list of legislators not taking a per diem during the special session,  go inside the blog.

Green jobs in the Evergreen state

OLYMPIA – Washington counted twice as many people working in “green” jobs last year as in 2008.

Although changes in the way jobs were counted are responsible for much of that growth, the state still saw an increase in people building wind turbines, constructing new energy-efficient buildings or retrofitting old ones, and manufacturing or shipping the supplies needed cut energy use or clean up ecologic messes.

Gov. Chris Gregoire hailed the new figures as rare economic good news in the midst of the recession.

Locke on Daily Show Thursday night

Gary Locke, the state’s former governor and the country’s current commerce secretary, is the featured guest tonight on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Really. Spin Control can’t make this stuff up. (And if we were going to make stuff up, would  this be it? We think not.)

Anyway, alert eyes in the Capitol Building tipped us to the note on the Comedy Central site that list Locke as tonight’s guest. Last night’s guest? Snoop Dogg.

Talk about diversity.

WA Lege SpecSess: On paper, a slow day

OLYMPIA — The Legislature has another light day scheduled, with a 10 a.m. start for the House and a noon start for the Senate, with breaks for caucues coming shortly afterward.

The House Finance Committee holds a hearing this morning on a plan to give tax credits to small businesses that hire new employees and a few other bills; and an executive session on several other bills in the afternoon. House Ways and Means Committee has a late afternoon meeting on a couple of bills, including one to add a surcharge to auto insurance policies to fight car theft.

Maybe they’ll be revealing a compromise worked out between House and Senate Democrats to fill that $2.8 billion hole in the budget. And maybe not. There’s no solid evidence that such a compromise yet exists.

In other action, Gov. Chris Gregoire has a 1 p.m. event at the Port of Olympia to announce the latest study on “green” jobs. This is not to be confused with jobs created by all the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on Wednesday. These are jobs that are somehow good for the environment.

 

WA Lege SpecSess: Data center tax breaks pass House

OLYMPIA — A bill to offer tax breaks for the construction and outfitting of data centers in rural counties passed the House Tuesday, a day after it passed the Senate.

Amendments to allow the tax breaks to be extended to other areas of the state, such as Pierce County, were turned down, and the bill passed 91-2.

WA Lege SpecSess: More saying no to per diem

OLYMPIA — A growing number of legislators say they will refuse the $90 per day they can receive for food and lodging during all or part of the special session.

Twenty-one senators, out of the total of 49, have notified the secretary of the Senate they won’t be accepting their per diem. In the House of Representatives, 26 members have said they’ll turn it down for the full session and 23 are refusing it for one or more days.

That lowers the daily cost of the special session from $18,300 to at least $14,000. Mondays are going to be the cheapest day, about $12,700, because so many reps are refusing the per diem that day.

To be fair to legislators, their per diem is less than what state workers travelling to Olympia would receive to stay there. The state employees’ per diem is base on a federal formula that rates different areas based on cost of living, and amounts to $150 per day.

(That’s about the same a state worker from Olympia would get for a trip to Spokane. But the rest of the East Side is a better deal, with a maximum per day of $116.)

Full list for the two chambers is inside the blog. Click here to see it. 

WA Lege SpecSess: GOP leaders wait, fume

OLYMPIA — Republican leaders of both house in the Legislature showed clear frustration with the pace — or lack of it — thus far in the special session.

A few minutes after the state Senate recessed for the day, GOP leaders in the House and Senate held their weekly “sit down” with the news media to insist they were being shut out of the process of writing a budget and tax plan. Democrats who control both houses and the governor’s office are in charge, and aren’t telling them nothing, they said.

That’s no surprise, they said. But they apparently aren’t telling each other very much, either, and there’s no reliable schedule that anyone can look at to see what or when something might happen.

“We’ ve been here 60 days and we haven’t been involved in the budget yet,” Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said. “But you would think they’d talk to each other.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, pointed ot a schedule for today’s Ways and Means Committee that lists a series of bills that might be heard, if they are referred to the committee. “Either you’re going to do these things or  you’re not,” he said.

They’re clearly hoping that whatever combination of tax increases and program cuts comes out of the special session will give them a big boost in the November elections. “I promise we will not operate like this,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla said.

So if they do take over in 2011, are they promising right now to repeal any taxes imposed this year?

“Probably not,” Hewitt said. “We’d have to look at the budget and see where we’re at.”

They also sought to answer a challenge from Gov. Chris Gregoire, issued last Thursday evening when she called for a special session amid criticism from Republicans that Democrats had wasted the regular session and were forced into “costly and embarassing” overtime. Gregoire challenged them to show a state that has done a better job.

On Wednesday, the GOP thought they had the state…

 

Obama: Zags will lose in first round

President Obama is predicting that Florida State will beat Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Obama released his NCAA picks today. He also expects Michigan State and Texas A & M to make it out of Spokane into the Sweet Sixteen.

He says Kansas will beat Kentucky in the National Championship game.

WA Lege SpecSess: Another day, another…not quite sure what

OLYMPIA—The Special Session goes into Day 3 with floor, with more than the  usual amount of green shirts, blouses and ties on display, and some very bad attempts at an Irish brogue. Some St. Patrick’s Day banter is being mixed in with fairly routine morning business, but more serious debate and votes are expected in the afternoon.

There’s a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing at 12:30 p.m. Last night the tentative schedule included possibe hearings on a tax on home and community based services, making certain school and local government mandages optional and changes to the higher education loan program

It might also vote on whether to send about bills on healt savings accounts, eleimnate certain boards and commissions, forest fire prevention.

Reed scheduled for cancer surgery

OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Sam Reed will have cancer surgery Monday in Seattle, his office announced this morning. He’s expected to return to work after a brief recovery period.

Reed, 69, was diagnosed recently with the early stages of kidney cancer: “Thanks to early detection and diagnosis, my doctors say my prognosis for successful surgery and recovery is excellent.” 

Will Spokane maintain its edge as Washington’s second city?

 

When Census forms arrive in the mail this week, remember, pride may be at stake.

In the middle part of the last decade, fears rose that Spokane would lose its rank as Washington’s second largest city. But Spokane ended the Aughts (is that what we’re calling them?) about where it started — about 2,000 people ahead of Tacoma, at least according to state estimates

Census figures, however, are what counts most. The numbers for 2010 won’t be released until next year.

Yi Zhao, Washington’s chief demographer, said that because Spokane has about 8,000 more residential units than Tacoma, it appears unlikely that Tacoma will pass Spokane in the near future. But, she added: “You never know.”

WA Lege SpecSess: More “no’s” to per diem

OLYMPIA — Legislators continue to say “no, thanks” to the $90 per diem they can receive for the special session.

Among those who aren’t taking it are:

Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane
Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines
Sen Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo
Sen. Randy Gordon, D-Bellevue

Add them to the names reported earlier here.

 

WA Lege Spec Sess: Say what?

OLYMPIA — Debate sometimes gets so heated in the Legislature that the honorables mix their metaphors or jumble their allusions.

Today’s House debate on the Democrats’ “Jobs” bill, which asks for $861 million in bonds to do energy refits in schools around the state, was one of those times.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, warned about the mounting debt, and taking on even more, particulary when the state faces growing health care and pension costs. “Mr. Speaker, the cash register is ticking.”

Clocks tick. Bombs tick. But seems like even in the days of manually cranked cash registers, they didn’t tick, although they sometimes when ka-chunk, and sometimes went ka-ching.

Rep. David Taylor, R-Oak Harbor, tried a topical literary and cinematic allusion, although he prefaced it by saying he didn’t get around to seeing “Alice In Wonderland” on his weekend away from the Legislature. The bond bill was putting money, Wonderland-like, down a bunny  hole, he said.

“This may be the bunny hole of doom,” he warned.

Bunny hole of doom? Go ask Alice. Don’t eat the pills, stay away from the Mad Hatter but remember what the doormouse said.

WA Lege SpecSess: Day 2 report

OLYMPIA – Legislators retraced some of their steps Tuesday from the regular session, re-approving some bills that one chamber supported but the other didn’t before time ran out last week
The House passed an $861 million bond measure to retrofit public schools and make them more energy efficient. Democrats said the bill would provide 38,000 jobs, and save the schools money on their utility bills; Republicans said it was an example of the state spending what it doesn’t have, borrowing money to pay for temporary construction jobs.
Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, said the state will take money from taxpayers, which will hurt jobs: “The people have reached deep down into their pockets and there’s no more to give.”
But Rep. Timm Ormsby, R-Spokane, argued government spending does have a role in helping the local economy. “We’re talking about smart government investment,” he said, like federal polices of the New Deal in the 1930s and the interstate highway construction under President Eisenhower.
It passed 54-39 (click here go inside the blog to see the Spokane area votes) and was sent back to the Senate. If the bill passes, voters would have to approve the bonds in November by agreeing to raise the state’s debt limit.
The Senate passed a bill that tells state agencies to find a certain level of savings or send workers home without pay for 10 days over the next 15 months. There are some exceptions for low-paid staffers, and the number of furlough days has dropped from the initial proposal in January, which called for 16 furlough days, or one a month from this month through June 2011.
The Senate also approved tax exemptions for data centers in rural areas, giving strong support to a bill that didn’t pass before time ran out last week. The bill would forgive the taxes on construction and equipment for large data centers built between next month and July 2011, and is designed to draw the facilities to the Wenatchee-Quincy areas, boost construction in those areas temporarily and create long-term jobs that pay at least 150 percent of the county’s per capita income.
Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, argued the tax exemptions should be available in any county with high unemployment, including Pierce County where a data center project is underway but could be stopped if it has to compete with facilities in rural counties that get an exemption. The Senate turned down Kastama’s amendment on a voice vote before approving the rural county exemption 39-4.

WA Lege SpecSess: Passing the “Jobs” Bill. Again

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives resurrected a bill — and the arguments for and against — to sell state bonds to pay for energy updates at school.It was one of the earliest bills to pass the House during the regular session, but stalled in the Senate.

It passed 54-39, and heads back to the Senate.

WA Lege SpecSess: Running with the bills

OLYMPIA— Both the Senate and House start up around 10 a.m., with some housekeeping stuff, some caucusing and then plans to “run bills.”

Which is to say vote on them and likely pass them. Because everything “rebooted” for the special session, each house will have to pass bills that it previously passed but the other chamber did not pass.

That allows those bills to head back to the second house where work to amend or replace them can pick up where it left off last week.

Go inside the blog for the morning list of bills the House plans to take up today. Senate list should be forthcoming

Note: the list is tentative, and subject to change on short (or next to no) notice.

Spokane City Council approves tax exemptions for Kendall Yards

The eventual owners of 279 proposed residences in Kendall Yards will not have to pay property taxes on new construction for 12 years.

The Spokane City Council on Monday voted 5-0 to accept Greenstone Corp.’s application for multifamily tax exemptions on the portion of Kendall Yards west of Maple Street. Kendall Yards is a 78-acre development west of Monroe Street, just north of the Spokane River. About 200 residences east of Maple Street are eligible for exemptions as well, but Greenstone has not yet applied for them.

WA Lege SpecSess: Rebooting budget bill

OLYMPIA – The Legislature picked up Monday where it left off Thursday trying close estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state’s operating budget.
Legislative leaders said they were closer to agreeing how much to cut and spend, and how much to raise in taxes, but didn’t release figures. Everything is subject to ongoing negotiations, they said, and still must find approval with at least a bare majority of the Democrats who control each chamber.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she remains opposed to an increase in the sales tax, which is part of the Senate’s tax increase plan, and is pushing what she calls “targeted revenue”, a series of smaller increases on other taxes, to raise money.
“I spent most of my day working on a jobs package, but I’ll be contacting Lisa and Frank before the day is out on revenue,” Gregoire said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.

WA Lege SpecSess: Just saying No to the per diem

OLYMPIA — The list of senators refusing their $90 per diem for the special session right now stands at 15 — 12 Republicans and 3 Democrats.

Alphabetically, they are:

Randi Becker, R-Eatonville
Don Benton, R-Vancouver
Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood
Karen Fraser, D-Olympia
Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla
Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake
Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside
Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor
Curtis King, R-Yakima
Chris Marr, D-Spokane
Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley
Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls
Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee
Val Stevens, R-Arlington
Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgeview

Fraser, it should be noted, never takes per diem, regular or special session.

 

WA Lege SpecSess: Into caucus

OLYMPIA — Senators have been called into a caucus, where Democratic members at least will hear of discussions that took place over the weekend and talk about plans to re-introduce several “jobs” bills — proposals designed to boost the economy.

Among the jobs bills is an exemption for certain data centers.

Negotiators were busy over the weekend, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said before going into the caucus, and the two houses “exchanged paper” and got closer on the amount of taxes they believe they’ll have to raise to balance the budget.

“They’ve gone up a little on their revenue; we’ve gone down a little,” Murray said.

 Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there has been movement, but no agreement. “We’ll have to get together in a room with the governor and work things out.”

The plan is for the Senate to pass its budget bill from the regular session, send it to the House, where majority Democrats will drop their proposal on top of it, thus creating a vehicle for discussion.

 

WA Lege SpecSess: They’re baaaack

OLYMPIA — The Legislature trundled into its special session at noon with a “pro forma” agenda. For the opening roll call in the Senate, there were just 10 senators on the floor when the call started, although 16 had shown up by the time the roster reading was done.

They’re running process resolutions, which set the time limits for introducing and reviewing bills, and suspending some of those requirements. Ordinarily, a minority party would object, but Republicans aren’t this time, in the interests of getting stuff done as quickly as possible.

“We don’t plan to be obstructionists,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said. “Many of us have taken ourselves off per diem.”

Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there’d be plenty of time to review legislation.

During the regular session, some of the requirements for review and scheduling seemed to be honoried in their breach, anyway, with “ghost” bills being used to introduce major legislation, and an income tax proposal popping up in a hearing before anyone had a chance to read it.

WA Lege SpecSess: Here we go again

OLYMPIA — The Legislature cranks back up at noon today in an effort to pass a supplemental budget. Most of the honorables were given the weekend off, which meant many of them blew town, but some budget negotiators and leaders hung around.

Gov. Chris Gregoire called them into session for seven days, but they’re not bound by that. Technically, a special session can last as many as 30 days, and since the Legislature is a separate, co-equal branch of government, it can hang around for a whole month if it wants.

Estimated cost per day is about $18,300 if all legislators take their $90 per diem. Republicans suggested a bill late last week that would have stripped the per diem for everyone; Democrats countered that the bill was introduced so late that it couldn’t be considered, but everyone was free to reject the per diem voluntarily, if they want.

Democratic Sens. Chris Marr and Derek Kilmer have said they won’t be taking the per diem. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla said that many GOP members were also foregoing theirs.

No special events or groups are scheduled for the Capitol today…apparently no one thought there’d be any legislators around to cajole.

WA Lege: Overlooked in the rush to adjourn

OLYMPIA – When the Legislature clattered to a close on Thursday, so much attention was being paid to the budget left undone over the previous 60 days that there wasn’t much left to consider what was done.
Talking on your cell phone while driving might get you ticketed, all on its own. The Legislature made it a primary offense, but Gov. Chris Gregoire said she has to read the bill to decide whether to sign it.
A getting a prescription for medical marijuana might become easier, although finding a legal way to fill it won’t necessarily. Legislators expanded the list of people who can recommend pot to treat a medical condition, but stubbed out a proposal to legalize it, tax it and sell it at state liquor stores.
Fewer committees, boards and commissions will be giving advice to state officials. A bill to do away with such things as the State Board on Geographic Names, Migratory Waterfowl Art Committee, K-20 Network Technical Steering Committee, Community Transition Coordination Networks Advisory Committee, Interagency Integrated Pest Management Coordinating Committee, Olympic Natural Resources Center Policy Advisory Board, Strategic Health Care Planning Office Technical Advisory Committee…there are 49, but you get the picture. Gregoire’s been after legislators to streamline government, odds are she’ll sign this.
Voters will get a chance to let judges keep more people accused of really dangerous crimes in jail without bail. A constitutional amendment on that will be on November ballot.
Patients in state mental hospitals because they were found not guilty by reason of insanity probably won’t be going on many field trips. That bill moved back and forth as the two houses tweaked the wording, but got sent to Gregoire on Wednesday. On Friday she signed a bill requiring the hospital to send out word when one of those patients escapes.
The crush of legislation also meant that some things that got mentioned early in the session faded away before the end. For example, motorcyclists aren’t put on the same level as minorities when it comes to profiling by police. Bikers got a committee hearing and a sympathetic ear in the House, but the Senate pretty much ignored the whole issue. A proposal to ban phosphorus in lawn fertilizer passed the Senate, but stalled and died in the House. All the “state sovereignty” bills were essentially bottled up in House committees and never got a hearing, let alone a vote.

WA Lege: The sequel

OLYMPIA — It is traditional at the end of a session to pick winners and losers. But with a special session starting Monday, that list seems premature. It seems better, then, to end with a question bandied about Thursday night, between the time the regular session was gaveled to a close and Gregoire issued her call for a special session: What is the right sports metaphor to use for this next legislative phase?
Overtime works on a self-explanatory level. But football and hockey overtimes have a “sudden death” factor, and Democrats can’t get a “W” just by passing one bill. Unlike a basketball OT, they won’t be done when time runs out if they get some and not all the tax and spending bills done.
Extra innings has an appropriate “this could go on forever if someone doesn’t figure out a way to score” feeling. But again, it suggests that a single run, whether an over the fence homer or some combination of a bunt, a walk, a hit batter and a wild pitch could end it all.
Stoppage time, which in soccer extends a game to account for time lost to injuries, and is solely at the discretion of the referee, may be an option. That makes Gregoire as the referee, which seems appropriate, but most Americans have a terrible time with soccer rules.
Maybe we should toss sports metaphors and go with something more 21st Century. Since this isn’t a completely new session, but a chance to create a better version of the one we had, let’s borrow from tech jargon.
Coming next: Session 2.0.

WA Lege Day 60: WA Lege session 2.0 starts Monday

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire is calling the Legislature back into session starting noon Monday to solve the state’s projected $2.8 billion budget shortfall and telling them to do it in seven days.

Democratic leaders say ageement, and budget negotiators from both  houses will work over the weekend in an effort to get numbers at least a simple majority in each chamber can support.

“We know we still have our big task of balancing the budget. We’re not that far apart,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said at the press conference with Gregoire and House Speaker Frank Chopp to announce the special session.

“We’re very close to reaching certain agreements,” Chopp said.

Although technically a special session called by the governor can last 30 days and cover any topic legislators want, Gregoire said she had an agreement from the leaders of both parties in both houses that this special session will be about the budget and a jobs program, and will aim at getting out in seven days.

And if they can’t get done in seven days? “We’re going to get done,” she insisted.

As to criticism from Republicans that a special session was a “embarassing and costly” and a result of disorganization on the part of Democrats who control both chambers by wide margins, Chopp replied the Legislature has managed to avoid overtime special sessions in seven of the last eight years. Even when the sesssion ends on time “they basically always say negative things.”

Gregoire, too, defended the work that was done last year and this year in the face of a slumping economy and multi-billion dollar shortfalls. Last year, 22 states needed special sessions, but Washington avoided one.

“We haven’t shut down government, we haven’t sent out IOUs,” she said. “To my friends on the other side of the aisle, explain how any state has done better than us.”

Direction on YMCA becoming more uncertain

(First, because it’s not from our newspaper archives, I should start with information about the photo: It shows the Howard Street bridge and Havermale and Canada islands, sometime before 1927. There is vacant land southwest of the bridge where the downtown YMCA would be built in the mid-1960s. Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane.)

It looks like March 22 will be the date the public will get to weigh in on the future of the Riverfront Park YMCA.

City Council President Joe Shogan announced that a public hearing will be scheduled for that date, though he added it could be delayed until March 29.

Councilman Steve Corker, who said earlier this week that it appeared that a majority of the council did not support the acceptance of Spokane County’s offer to use Conservation Futures property taxes to acquire the Riverfront Park YMCA, now says an outcome is unclear.

WA Lege Day 60: That’s all, for now

OLYMPIA — The Legislature voted to adjourn the regular session “sine die” which is fancy Latin for “That’s all folks.” Not sure what the Latin is for “for the time being, anyway.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen just brought the gavel down in the Senate and the officials in the House did the same in tshe House of Representatives. Each house watched the other on TVW images projected on the front and back walls.

Because before doing that, both houses passed a resolution calling for a special session to handle budget problems, and had one last set of votes on education, with the Senate passing the “Race to The Top” bill on school reforms just sent over from the House of Representatives. The House, in turn, passed the public school funding bill sent over from the Senate (see below).

They expect to be back as a group Monday, but leadership is supposed to work through the weekend trying to figure out a budget compromise.

Legislators who had been been exchanging verbal blows for the last 60 days shook hands and chatted amiably on the floor of the Senate. They invited friends, family and staff onto the floor to cheer the ending.

But camaraderie has its limits. The Republican caucus issued a press release saying the need for a special session is “costly and embarassing” for Democrats.

“They control every aspect of state government but still couldn’t reach agreement among themselves and with the special interests that pull so many of the strings in Olympia,” Republicans said in a press release sent out under Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla..

Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to make the official call for a special session sometime Thursday evening.

 

WA Lege Day 60: Nearing closure

OLYMPIA — The two warring factions in the Legislature, the House and the Senate, have reached agreement on one of the sticking points, education reform.

The Senate just passed HB2776, a bill on K-12 funding, which essentially puts off until next biennium the heavy lifting on funding. In return, the House is expected to pass soon HB 6696 a bill that is designed to help with reforms that will allow the state a better chance of competing for “Race To The Top” money being offered by the federal government.

Shortly after that, we can expect an announcement by Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders on the special session to deal with the budget.


 

WA Lege Day 60: McCaslin out of surgery

OLYMPIA — Sen. Bob McCaslin is out of surgery for a heart bypass and valve replacement, the Senate was just told.

Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, asked for a “point of personal privilege” to read an e-mail that said McCaslin came through surgery well and is expected to be out of intensive care in 24 hours.

WA Lege Day 60: Fairfield flag festivities honored

OLYMPIA – The town of Fairfield takes the American flag seriously – arguably more seriously than any place else in the country.
Thursday, the state saluted Fairfield for its 100 years of saluting the flag. With about two dozen current and former residents of the tiny southeast Spokane County town in the gallery, the Senate passed a resolution honoring the upcoming Flag Day centennial celebration in Fairfield.
The senators stood and applauded the town. The people in the gallery – many wearing ties, shirts or jackets decorated with the Stars and Strips — stood and waved their flags.
It was not true, as one senator joked, that the whole town of Fairfield was in Olympia to hear the resolution read, said Sen. Mark Schoesler, the resolution’s sponsor. “But I bet it’s the highest percentage of any town that’s ever come to the Capitol.”

To read more about Fairfield’s Flag day, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 60: An end and a beginning

OLYMPIA — On the calendar, this is the last day of the session. It will also be the day that a special session is called, most likely by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The regular session is expected to close late today, after all the work that can be finished, is. Unfinished will be a supplemental budget that finds some combination of cuts, tax increases, federal funds and transfers to close the projected $2.8 billion shortfall.

The flag of Ireland is flying at the Capitol because the mayor of Galway, which is Seattle’s Sister City, is visiting.

And speaking of flags and mayors, the first thing the Senate did this morning was honor the town of Fairfield for its 100 years of celebrating Flag Day. About two dozen current and former residents of the south Spokane County town, including Mayor Ed Huber were in the gallery  for the reading of the resolution. a speech by Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and a salute by the whole Senate.

WA Lege Day 59: Brother can you spare a per diem?

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans and Democrats traded jabs over one of the costs of the upcoming special session, the $90 per diem legislators get to help cover the cost of food and lodging when away from home.

Republicans crafted a Senate bill Wednesday that would remove the per diem for all legislators during the special session. Their leaders castigated Democrats for being so disorganized that the Legislature needs extra innings to get the budget worked out.

“A special session this year is a costly and embarrassing prospect, and if the majority has any regard for taxpayers it should do everything in its power to bring the cost down,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgeview said.

 Democrats countered that this is a bit of unconstitutional grandstanding. New bills can’t be introduced in the last 10 days of the session without a two-thirds approval of both houses. Zarelli said Democrats have been ignoring other rules throughout the session.

Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said, legislators don’t need a new law to refuse their per diem. They can do that voluntarily, like Sen. Karen Fraser, who lives in Olympia and regularly refuses hers.

“Those who feel the per diem is unnecessary simply need not collect it,” Brown said.

Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, said he’d already decided to refuse his, but it would be a hardship for some legislators from Eastern Washington so it should remain voluntary.

Council changed mind on Conservation Futures for Riverfront Park

First the Spokane City Council supported Conservation Futures, then it didn’t.

At the start of Monday, a majority of the Spokane City Council leaned in favor of accepting Spokane County’s offer to purchase the Riverfront Park YMCA, according to an e-mail Councilman Steve Corker sent to a constituent.

By the end of the day, however, the majority was lost.

So what happened?

It appears Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley successfully convinced at least one council member at a Monday meeting about the Y that a “third option” for paying off the city’s $4.4 million debt was better than using county Conservation Futures property taxes or development proposals that the city received late last month.

That third option isn’t yet defined, but, Cooley said, it could include higher hotel taxes, selling off park land or asking voters for more property taxes. He also reminded council members that the city once had a business and occupation tax to help pay for Expo ’74 improvements.

Responding to an e-mail from constituent Dawn Holladay, Councilman Steve Corker wrote on Monday afternoon: “I am in favor of using Conservation Futures monies for this site. I plan on voting the same this evening.”

(Not that the City Council could have voted for anything at the YMCA meeting because it was scheduled only for discussion.)

After Cooley’s presentation at the meeting, Corker appeared to have changed his mind.

WA Lege: Resolution honors Wood

OLYMPIA — Rep. Alex Wood of Spokane got a pre adjournment send off this week, with a resolution in the House honoring him for his seven terms there.

Honoring outgoing members is a tradition, of course, but it’s also one of the few things that all members agree on at this point in the session. The resolution was sponsored by his central Spokane district seatmate, Timm Ormsby, and signed on by all members of both parties.

The resolution notes Wood was a Vietnam vet and former radio reporter — which may be a reason it says he has “the best speaking voice in this legislative body”  — lists his work on various committees he sat on during his 14 years and work on the Problem Gambling Program.

It also says he’s  unusual in one other respect as “an avid reader who greatly enjoys the feel of paper in his hands and, thus, makes it a point to read the actual newspaper instead of an online version, and still uses the library to check out books, the old-fashioned way.”

WA Lege Day 59: Staffers laud Ormsby

OLYMPIA — The end of the session — or what was scheduled to be the end — is a time when various “legislator of the year” awards are announced. But one that seems to have some currency in the halls of the Capitol went to Rep. Timm Ormsby.

Ormsby of Spokane was named to that honor by the House Democratic staff, making him the first Spokane area legislator to get the award.

It’s such a big deal that his name goes on a placque in the Democratic caucus room. But it is a big deal among staff, one source said.

The deal is that only the Democratic legislative aides get a vote. And they can’t vote for their own boss (otherwise we’d be looking at something like a 61-way tie.)

Staffers aren’t even supposed to lobby for their own boss, the source said. Ormsby won this year because he’s recognized as someone who generally cares about  his staff, doesn’t waste people’s time, and takes on the hard fights.

The source spoke on condition of not being identified. But no, it’s not one of Ormsby’s staff. (Stop being so cynical.)

WA Lege Day 59: Special session likely

OLYMPIA — A special session is being discussed as a foregone conclusion today, and Republican leaders are blaming disorganization by the Democrats as the key reason.

While Democratic leaders are trying to find common ground in the different tax packages approveld by the House and Senate, GOP leaders were more caustic than usual in their weekly session with reporters.

“This is sthe most chaotic session I’ve ever seen,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla said. “I hope I never see another one.”

Added House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis: “They seem to not know what’s going on.”

Republicans pointed to a series of time-eating decisions or miscues by Democrats that contributed to the Legislature being on the brink of going into extra innnings.

WA Lege Day 59: Tick, tick, tick

OLYMPIA — Two days left in the session, and there are still some significant differences to resolve over budget, and a policy issue or two.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signaled Tuesday that she’s bracing for a special session, saying it’s more important to get things done right than get them done by deadline. “We’ll face that on Thursday.”

Speaker Frank Chopp said it is possible to get things done by midnight Thursday, but didn’t rule out a special session, either. He declined to give odds.

Lobbyists who circle the hallways around the rotunda, the parapets of the battle, are bracing for an extra session.

Smart money, however, is on the over, rather than the under, if you know what we mean. Here’s why: As Gregoire said, the two houses must get a majority to agree to three things in the budget. How much they will spend (and on what); how much extra they will raise (and from what taxes); and how much they leave in an ending fund balance, which is what provides some cushion against things coming off worse economicalllyi than the experts now expect (Gee, do you think that could ever happen.) And when they agree to it, she  has to sign off on it.

Thus we have the math of 25, 50 and 1. The minimum majorities in the Senate and House, and  gubernatorial approval. There may be a lot of references to those three numbers in the next 38 hours.

Both houses have sessions scheduled throughout the day and into the evening. The press corps is girding for a couple of long nights, but then, we eat this stuff up.

For a brief discussion on how special sessions can be called, go inside the blog.

Gregoire to Otter: Don’t be talking trash to my business

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire jabbed back at her Idaho counterpart Tuesday over whose state is better from business.
Washington’s got a better rating in Forbes Magazine for being business friendly and doesn’t have a personal or corporate income tax, she said during a press conference.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter began this exercise in gubernatorial smack talk Monday, posting a “love letter” to businesses in Washington and Oregon. He invited them to move to his state to avoid taxes that voters raised in the latter and the Legislature is likely to raise in the former.
Both houses have passed bills raising taxes and dropping some incentives for businesses, although the two proposals have vast differences in the types of taxes, and significant disagreement on the amount to raise. This may cause them to miss Thursday’s deadline for ending the short session.
Idaho has a nice, stable tax system, he wrote: “Predictable tax and regulatory policies are what our employers need in order to maintain their operations through this rough patch.”
Gregoire’s rejoinder: “We’re second best in Forbes, they went from seventh to eleventh.”And while she professed to not being an expert on Idaho, she was pretty sure they had taxes which Washington doesn’t have, such as the corporate profits tax and a graduated income tax.
She didn’t mention of one tax Washington has but Idaho doesn’t, the business and occupation tax on gross receipts.
She said she hadn’t talked to Otter about his letter. “I have a call in to him today.”
Trying to recruit businesses from another state is “fair game,” but suggesting there’s a massive tax increase going on in Washington is not, Gregoire said.
Clearly, gubernatorial smack talk is not as fun as say, WWF smack talk. Go inside the blog to see how they might want to ramp up the volume.

WA Lege Day 58: ‘Dry Fly’ bill headed to gov

OLYMPIA — A bill that would allow craft distilleries like Spokane’s Dry Fly Distillery to grow as much as three times larger moved through the Senate this morning on final passage.

The bill allows the small liquor makers that have started to spring up around the state in the last two years to make up to 60,000 gallons a year. Dry Fly, the first distillery set up under the law, has reached the law’s current capacity limit and is looking to expand. It has sold out several batches of its wheat whiskey in a few hours.

“We have the opportunity on this Thuisday to toast sine die — hopefully — with perhaps products from Dry Fly” or some of the other distilleries, Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, the sponsor of the bill, said.

While there may be some who doubt sine die, the end of the session will actually occur on Thursday, Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Hoodsport, had another caveat: “If he’s going to toasting anything in the Legislative Building, He better get a special $10 permit from the Liquor Control Board.”

Bill goes to the governor for her signature.

WA Lege Day 58: Counting down to…special session?

OLYMPIA — Three days remain for the Legislature to finish work on a budget, and pass it.

The House of Representatives passed a tax package late Monday night, but while it has the same number as the bill the Senate passed Sunday, SB 6143, it is not the same bill. Not even close. They’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do.

The number of people who say confidently the Lege will be done on time is getting smaller and smaller.

Action happened after the newspaper’s deadline, so the story by the AP’s Curt Woodward is inside the blog. Click here to read

Voting yes on the package among Spokane legislators were Reps. Timm Ormsby and Alex Wood, Democrats in central Spokane’s 3rd District. Voting no was, well, everyone else in the region.

Along with budget work, both houses will be trying to pass bills on other topics that they’ve hammered out agreements.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has a press conference at 10 a.m.

Spokane’s snow plow Web site ranked No. 1

Spokane hasn’t had much of a chance to show off its new snow plan this winter thanks to mild temperatures. It has, however, earned props for its snow plow Web site.

Over the past couple of rough winters, Spokane created an online interactive map so residents can check which streets have been plowed during storms. That effort earned the No. 1 rank on the list of the “10 best cities for tracking snow removal online” by OhMyGov, a Web site that writes about government issues.

Wa Lege Day 57: Bill prompted by escape passes

OLYMPIA — Patients at state mental institutions who have been judged criminally insane will be limited in the reasons that they can leave for field trips or other reasons.

The House of Representatives gave final passage Monday to House Bill 2717, which is designed to prevent instances like the escape last September of accused murderer Phillip Paul during an Eastern State Hospital field trip to the Spokane County Fair.

The bill limits patients who have been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity from trips away from the hospital that don’t involve medical treatment or a family emergency. It was sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley and received near unanimous support at step of the process. It now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature.

Paul, who was found criminally insane for a 1987 murder of a 78-year-old Sunnyside woman, was among a group of about 30 patients on a field trip to the fair when he escaped on Sept. 17. He was captured three days later in Klickitat County.

Otter to WA biz: Come on over

OLYMPIA – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is suggesting Washington businesses come over to his side of the border if taxes go up like they have in Oregon.
In a “love letter to our neighbors,” Otter argues that Idaho has a better plan than other states for handling the recession: “Predictable tax and regulatory policies are what our employers need in order to maintain their operations through this rough patch.”

 

WA Lege Day 57: Long day possible

OLYMPIA — With four days left in the regular session, both houses have full days scheduled.

The Senate is off over the lunch hour while their Ways and Means Committee meets to clear up some bills that have fiscal impact. But both chambers are saying they could go into the evening if they need to.

The Senate tax package now in the House, attention shifts to see what that chamber is going to do on different ways to raise taxes.

Meanwhile, there’s a blood drive, sponsored by the Governor’s Office, going on around the Capitol. No one has remarked on the irony…yet.

WA Lege Day 56: Tax package passes—barely

OLYMPIA — With not a vote to spare, Senate Democrats approved an $805 million tax package that includes hikes in sales and business taxes, sending it to the House for an almost certain overhaul.

After four hours of debate and parliamentary maneuvering Saturday, and two more today, the Senate voted 25-23 on the SB 6143, which has 21 separate changes to the state’s tax laws. It’s part of a balance approach to the state’s $2.8 billion budget shortfall, Democrats said. It’s a job killer, Republicans said.

Among Spokane area legislators, Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D, voted yes. Sens. Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler, both R, and Chris Marr, D, voted no.

 

WA Lege Day 56: Owen says can’t split up tax bill for a vote

OLYMPIA — Lt. Gov. Brad Owen said rules don’t allow dividing up a bill. It could result in “logistical chaos.”

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, then moves to table, and Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, asks for a roll call vote.

Motion fails, 17-31 on a party-line vote.

Vote on bill is next

WA Lege Day 56: Tax vote pending

OLYMPIA — The state Senate appears to be almost done debating the merits or demerits of the Democrats’ tax bill.

Now there’s just one question to answer: Will they take one vote on the entire bill, or, as Sen. Don Benton just requested in a motion, take 22 separate votes — one for each of the different tax changes in SB 6143.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen took time to consider Benton’s motion, and should be back any moment.

Just going back to the table doesn’t get them there

OLYMPIA – Republicans have argued for weeks the governor should declare a financial emergency and reopen the contracts with the state employees unions, cutting pay and benefits to help balance the budget.

Workers in private industry all over the state are taking pay cuts and furloughs and paying higher medical premiums; state workers should do the same thing, they say. GOP leaders often look knowingly at the assembled press corps when they say this, realizing that newspapers have gone through multiple rounds of those changes.

“When you’re in good times, you bargain. When you’re in bad times, you bargain,” House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said last week.

The law that gave state workers collective bargaining has a provision requiring a return to the bargaining table if such a financial emergency is declared, so it’s not like Republicans are pulling this out of their ears.

The amount it would save is in dispute…

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate ends, no vote on bill

OLYMPIA — The Senate recessed Saturday afternoon without voting on their major tax package,  after more than four hours of contentious, and occasionally heated debate..

Democrats were one vote shy of the constitutional majority they need to pass the bill because one member Sen. Paull Shin, had to leave to attend a funeral.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on putting the whole thing on the ballot

OLYMPIA — A move to put the tax package on the ballot in November is proposed by Republicans.

Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake,said the package should be called “the kitchen sink bill…As in sink Washington.” A recent poll says people overwhelmingly think suspending Inititiative 960 was wrong thing to do. Eliminating the emergency clause and holding off on any taxes until voters have a chance to say yes or now would mean they would “Stop telling the working taxpayers just be quiet and pay up.”

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, called the bill a massive tax increase, repeating the refrain that it is “the largest tax increase in the history of the state of Washington.” Citizens have a right to have a say, he added. The state’s was founded by pioneers who came West and weren’t happy about the governments they left behind. They included the right of referendum and initiative, because they were afraid of measures just like this one.

“They knew how dangerous and tyrannical a government can be,” Benton said.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina countered: “If you like the budget vote for it. If you don’t like it, don’t vote for it. Don’t build budgets around referendums.”

Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, corrected Benton on his history: Initiative and Ref wasn’t initally in the state constituion, it was added in 1912 or 1913.

The tax increase is not the largest in state history, Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane said. That honor belongs to a $1.1 million tax increase in 1981…when the Legislature was controlled by Republicans.

The measure fails 20-26.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on making sales tax increase temporary

OLYMPIA — Sen. Joe Zarelli suggests an incentive to make sure the temporary sales tax temporary.

If it doesn’t go away in 2013, legislators don’t get their per diem.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says in “the spirit of bipartisanship” he was supporting the amendment, even though he doubts it will change Republicans idea on the tax package.

Passes on a voice vote, apparently unanimously.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on the sales tax

OLYMPIA — This is the biggie, the three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax for the next three years.

Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, says Democrats are always saying the sales tax is the most regressive, and yet they want to raise its. She also doubts it will be temporary: “I’d love to see a show of hands on who believes that. I’ve never seen a temporary tax.”

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: This is temporary and I do believe it’s temporary. It’s small, 30 cents if you spend $100.” It also expands the workingn families credit for low income families, so most of them will be better off.

It’s also the general public’s contribution to “more state patrol on the roads, more public services. Those essential public structures…to improve the quality of life for our citizens.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville: “I don’t look at this as contributions. These are taxes that employers will be paying, that make it more difficult to raise salaries or benefits or hires. I’d call it the Idaho Economic Development Act. Three-tenths of a cent is real money when you’re buying construction equipment, when you’re buying farm equipment.”

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley: “It isn’t just a third of a cent, it’s another third of a cent.”

Holmquist amendment to drop the sales tax increase fails on a voice vote.

An amendment to raise the sales tax by a full percent is withdrawn.



WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on B&O increase for services

OLYMPIA—Republican offer an amendment to strip out an increase to the business and occupation tax on service businesses.

The Senate Democrats’ proposal raises the current rate of 1.5 percent on gross receipts to 1.75 percent on one of the largest categories of businesses.

How big? Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgeview begins reading from the state manual:Accounting, actuarial, appraisers, architects, beauty salons, sales person, comp services, dentists orthodontist, graphic design…

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said this is part of an attempt to spread the burden of the tax increase around. The general public pays a little more, businesses pay a bit more.

But the state is also doubling the small business tax credit, Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam says.

Amendment fails 20-27.

Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker offers an amendment to remove real estate brokers and agents from the increase in the B&O tax.

That’s not consistent, Zarelli argues. Why pull out one profession?

Amendment fails on a voice vote.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate over bottled water

OLYMPIA — Republicans try to strip out a provision that puts the state sales tax on bottled water.

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, says previous debates have been “pretty esoteric” about things “that really don’t direct the lives of individuals. This one does.”
“Here is a $30 million tax,” Carrell said. “We should not be balancing the budget on the needs of babies, children, parents, grandparents. A direct tax on something that is now part of our culture.”

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, counters this is not a new tax. Prior to 2005 “we had sales tax on bottled water. We have billions of bottles that go in our landfills every year.”


Republican Sen. Curtis King replies: “This may not be a new idea. That doesn’t mean it’s a better idea.”

The bill covers 5-gallon containers in dispensers, but has an exemption for people who do not have potable water.

Amendment fails 19-26.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on property management companies

OLYMPIA — Republicans are offering an amendment to take away a tax on property management firms. Right now those companies have an exemption to the business and occupation tax on salaries.

Sen.Chris Marr, D-Spokane, agrees, saying it will cause rents to go up as the tax is passed through.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says it makes no sense to treat property management firms different than many other management firms.

Amendment fails 23-24.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on solar and coal

OLYMPIA — Republicans tried unsuccessfully to strip out changes on tax exemptions for solar projects.

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said the Legislature is trying to encourage solar energy projects, and should keep the exemption.

Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, says it’s designed to spread money around among community solar projects, not have all the grant money go to mega projects.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, argues there’s no fiscal impact: “I don’t understand we are so worried about something that doesn’t raise any revenue.”

It fails on a voice vote.

Debate moves to an amendment to save an exemption to the Centralia Steam Plant, that foregives the sales tax that would be paid on the coal it buys to run the plant.

The state made a deal on the exemption in 1997 and should live up to it, said Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham: “For us to just pull the rug out from them on what I think was a legitimate deal, is sending the wrong message.”

Sen. Randy Gordon, D-Bellevue, says the exemption ” has outlived its usefullness. It was a local company and Washington coal, now it’s a Canadian company using Wyoming coal.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, counters, “It might be a Canadian company, but the people who work their are Americans, 200 good family wage jobs.”

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, argues that the exemption is “not a birthright. We can’t even get an exemption for out of state wind.” The company is looking at alternative energy sources, losing the exemption for buying coal will help push them in that direction.

Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, says “a deal has two sides.” State got a promise it would get something in return, coal mining jobs in Lewis County, but it stopped mining its coal and put the miners out of work. “If it wants the exemption, it can go back to mining coal in Lewis County.”

Republicans argue about the effect of taxes on businesses, and Sen. Val Stevens reads a letter from a constituent that talks of government treating workers like serfs.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, begins to talk of “a new kind of McCarthyism.”

That prompts Sen. Mark Schoesler to leap to his feet and demand, in a point of order, that Lt. Gov. Brad Owen warn Kline that talking about McCarthyism is “taking this in a direction you’ve asked us not to go.” Owen says he doesn’t know what direction Kline was going, because Schoesler interrupted him too quickly.

Kline said he was just tired of people interchanging socialism and communism and progressivism, and using it to argue against a tax bill.

Amendment fails 20-26 on a roll call vote.



.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on corporate officers

OLYMPIA — Republicans ask to strip out theprovisions that make top corporate officers liable for unpaid taxes of a terminated or insolvent Limited Liability Corportion.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, says that will just result in businesses setting up their LLCs in another state.

Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Seattle, counters: “It’s the CEOs that have gotten us into this mess. CEOs ought to know what they’re doing.”

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, says the legislators keep talking about accountability, it’s time to hold corporate officers accountable, too.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, argues its’ unfair: “It holds the CEO strictly liable…even if it’s not your fault. You’re already liable if it is your fault. I don’t feel better just because a CEO somewhere did something wrong, and got bailed out by the federal government.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, adds the people covered in the tax bill are top officers at small corporations in Washington.: “This isn’t the fat cats that took our money. It’s hardly the Wall Street bailout.”

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, calls the bill “vindictive and predatory.” Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objects that she seems to be impugning the motives or characters of Senate Democrats.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen rules Brown is correct, although they don’t seem to be directed at a particular member. He warns everyone to be careful.

Pflug says Democrats are impugning CEOs. Owen says you can impugn any corporation you want, but not the individual.

“If I’m impugning anything, it would be the government,” Roach says.

Amendment fails, so the provision stays in the tax package, on a voice votes.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on real estate taxes

OLYMPIA — Sen. Don Benton offers an amendment to strip out a provision that gets rid of the exemption from the real estate excise tax for homes sold from foreclosure.

On normal sales, the real estate excise tax, or REET, is paid by the seller. But in foreclosures, the seller is gone and the bank is trying to get money back.

“The provision will tatke the responsibility of the previous owner and move it to the new owner,” Benton said. It’s another “onerous tax” that will stifle the real estate market and stall the recovery.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says it’s an issue of taxpayer fairness. Sell a house the normal way, the REET is paid. Sell it on the courthouse steps, it’s not. People show up for foreclosure auctions with cashiers checks to pay the whole amount he says. Perhaps, he adds, Benton has never been to an auction…

Benton objects. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen says people are getting a little sensitive. But I have been to an auction, Benton says. You can mention it in your closing remarks, Owen said.

Amendment fails 22-26 on a roll call vote.

 

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on Avon ladies

OLYMPIA — Sen. Val Stevens argues the tax falls unfairly on “direct sellers” like Avon ladies, and offers an amendment to strip provisions on the business and occupation tax changes out of that.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says she should read her own amendment, because she mentions sales taxes but the languages is about B&O taxes.

Stevens tries to close debate by suggesting Tom doesn’t understand basic economis.

Sen. Karen Keiser says it doesn’t affect Avon ladies, “it affects Avon, the multinational corporation.”

Amendment fails on a voice vote.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate on DoR rules

OLYMPIA—Sen. Don Benton offers an amendment that argues rules giving the Department of revenue authority to go after companies avoiding taxes are too broad.

“It gives the department the ability to go on witchhunts throughout the business community, it’s another job killing tactic,” Benton says.

Other Republicans argue it’s like determining businesses are guilty until proven innocent, and that the department should have the authority, the Legislature should.Sen. Pam Roach called revenue agents “heat seeking missiles.”

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says that’s not it at all: “If you’re for tax avoidance, maybe this is a good amendment. All we’re trying to do is make sure that businesses that should be paying taxes are paying taxes.”

Democrats say Republicans should stop demagoguing against state employees. Republicans object to that characterization.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen warns both sides to cool the rhetoric.

Benton closes debate with a warning about an overwhelming tyrannical bureaucracy.

Amendment fails on a voice vote.

WA Lege Day 55: Tax debate begins

OLYMPIA — Opening salvo in the Senate debate over a package of tax increases to help ballot the state’s operating budget.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, argues the whole bill is unconstitutional because it contains too many subjects. It’s logrolling, he contends.

This bill contains 21 different taxes and I don’t believe any one of these can stand on their own,” he says.

Senate Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, counters the title of the bill is broad enough to cover everything in the bill.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, presiding over the Senate, breaks to make a ruling on Benton’s point of order: “The title properly reflects the content of the bill. Sen. Benton’s point of order is not well taken.”

Debate on amendments will begin.

WA Lege Day 55: Senate tax vote coming

OLYMPIA — The Lege is working Saturday, and likely Sunday, as the clock ticks down to a scheduled adjournment on Thursday.

Senate Democrats just placed their tax package on the calendar for a vote sometime today, which suggests they have the 25 votes necessary to pass it.

Before that, however, they have scheduled a vote on the latest version of new laws governing driving while cell-phoning, and several other bills.

Stay tuned.

WA Lege Day 54: Tax package out of committee

OLYMPIA – Despite warnings of wrath from voters in November, Senate Democrats moved a step closer to a vote on some $890 million in tax increases to fix the state’s budget hole.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved 12-10 a three-year increase in the sales tax and a series of changes to tax laws and loopholes designed to help fix a projected operating budget shortfall of $2.8 billion. They also are proposing cutting about $829 million in programs and using federal funds or transferring money out of other accounts to cover the rest.

The 21-part tax package would extend the sales tax to bottled water, cut exemptions for some equipment on wind and solar energy, raise the business and occupation tax on service businesses and raise taxes on out-of-state firms with representatives who sell directly to Washington customers.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the full Senate could debate the tax plan as early as today.

It does not include a recent proposal to ask voters in November if they want to cut back on the sales tax in favor of an income tax on people who make more than $200,000 a year. That could come up in a separate bill before the Legislature adjourns Thursday – if it can gather enough support, Brown said.

“There’s time (to pass the income tax bill) but there has to be willingness in both houses. On that, I’m not sure,” she said.

For almost every part of the 21-point tax package, Republicans offered amendments to strip or pare back a new tax or restore an exemption, then had separate amendments to put each tax change on the November ballot for an advisory vote.

“I think it is important to let people know who is doing what to whom,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said in asking for an advisory vote on changes to rules that establish when an out-of-state company is subject to Washington taxes.

At one point, the arguments became so repetitive that Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, merely said “Same speech, Madame Chair.” Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, ordered a vote, which got the same result, and the amendment failed.

WA Lege Day 54: Partisan one upsmanship on Beatles

OLYMPIA — Taxing bottled water is such a bad thing that Sen. Mike Carrell wondered today where it would all stop, and offered up no less an expert than The Beatles to prove his point.

But Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, made it clear she wasn’t going to be out-Beatled.

Carrell, R-Lakewood, was trying to force a November advisory vote on a section of the Senate Democrats’ proposal that would extend the sales tax to bottled water. Right now, it’s considered a food item, and exempt from the tax. Republicans had already won the point that the tax should be temporary, but Carrell wanted the plebiscite “to let the people know who is for taxing.”

After all, this is taxing water, he said. What’s next? “There’s an old Beatles song about taxing the air we breathe. This is getting close to that.”

Prentice signaled she’d had enough of the argument by replying: “That Beatles reference is from their album ‘Revolver.’ ”

True Beatles fans know  one of them is wrong. Go inside the blog to find out who.

 

WA Lege Day 54: Tax hearing recesses

OLYMPIA — Between Democratic confusion over how to treat tax exemptions for a coal fired power plant in Lewis County, and Republican amendments that demanded public advisory votes on practically every tax Democrats want to change, a Senate committee had to recess Friday afternoon without voting on the main tax package.

The Ways and Means Committee members had to return to the floor to vote on other items. Chairwoman Margarita Prentice said they’ll be back a half hour after floor action, which probably won’t be until this evening because of the rush to pass bills out of chamber before a deadline.

Stay tuned.

WA Lege Day 54: Talking taxes

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats’ plans to raise taxes could move to the Senate floor over lunchtime.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee just began a hearing on a revised tax package that has some tweaks in the proposal released last week. Gone is the removal of the exemption for trade-in vehicles. But it still proposes raising the sales tax by three-tenths of a cent per dollar for the next three years. It does place a sales tax on bottled water.

It would raise about $805 million in new tax revenue.

Not included is the idea of offering voters to swap the sales tax increase, and another five-tenths of a cent, for an income tax on individuals making more than $200,000 a year or couples making more than $400,000. That bill got a hearing Thursday, but is separate from the overall tax package.

Some Republicans on the committee are sporting lapel buttons with “A.B.R.” which they said stands for “Anything But Reform” — their complaint that the budget raises taxes but doesn’t reform underlying problems with the state’s general fund budget.

1:20 p.m. update: Republicans are running a series of amendments to take out individual tax changes, or put them to an advisory vote on the November ballot. All are failing on party-line vote.

WA Lege Day 54: Time is running out

OLYMPIA — Expect a flurry of activity today because it is one of the big “cut off” days. Most bills that started in one house (and passed) have to get out of the other  house by 5 p.m. today.

That doesn’t apply to budget bills and a few other exceptions. But generally speaking, if your favorite legislator had a great idea and convinced his or her seatmates and colleagues to vote for  it, a majority of folks in the other chamber have to say yes, too, by 5 p.m., or the bill is kaput.

This makes sense, from a calendar standpoint, because the Legislature has six — count ‘em, six — days left to get its work done.

It’s main work, of course, is fixing the projected $2.8 billion hole in the budget. On that score, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which on Thursday had a hearing on a proposal to institute a temporary sales tax and give voters a chance in November to swap it for an income tax on “high earners”, has a noon hearing at which they could vote on whether to send that to the floor.

The proposal, which hadn’t been mentioned in the previous 52 days of the session, was the big surprise of Thursday. Who knows what surprises are in store for Friday?

Both chambers start early. They may go late. They’ll be back Saturday and Sunday, because — did anyone mention this? OK, yes, but it bears repeating — they are running out of time.

Talk of a special session is circulating, but it always is at this point in the regular session.

Today’s fun video: Former presidential satirists unite

Funny or Die got some of Saturday Night Live’s best spoofers of presidents together to give Barack Obama some advice.


Funny or Die’s Presidential Reunion from Will Ferrell

 

WA Lege Day 53: 2 ‘Philip Paul’ bills pass

OLYMPIA — Two bills sparked by an Eastern State Hospital patient’s escape during a Spokane County Fair field trip last September moved easily through the Senate Thursday.

Philip Paul was part of an Eastern State group visiting the fair when he slipped away from the other patients and staff, and left the fairgrounds. Police were not notified for hours that Paul, who was at Eastern State after being found not guilty by reason of insanity of a murder charge,escaped and was loose in the community. He was captured three days later, near Yakima.

House Bill 2422, requires hospital staff to contact law enforcement after an escape, passed 47-0. and goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature. “When a convicted murderer escapes and no one takes responsibility, something is wrong,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said.

House Bill 2717, which limits the opportunities for criminally insane patients to leave state hospitals unless approved by a judge or for a family emergency, passed 48-0. It returns to the House because of minor amendments included in the Senate version.


WA Lege Day 53: Bail changes on the ballot

OLYMPIA — Washington voters would be given a chance in November to change the constitution in a way that would allow more suspects to be held without bail before they go to trial.

A resolution passed Thursday by the Senate calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment that expands the “no bail” exception that now exists for people accused of a capital crime.

If voters approve in November, the following language would be added:

“Bail may be denied for offenses punishable by the possibility of life in prison upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence of a propensity for violence that creates a substantial likelihood of danger to the community of an yupersons, subject to such limitations as shall be determined by the Legislature.”

The bill is a reaction to the Maurice Clemmons case in which a suspect awaiting trial killed four police officers in Lakewood, Wash. It now goes to the House, which has supported a similar measure.

Senate Dems: Swap some sales tax for income tax on rich?

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats may offer voters a choice of which tax they like better: a higher sales tax or an income tax on people making more than $200,000 a year.

With very short notice, the Senate Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a hearing this afternoon on a proposal to do just that. Raise the sales tax temporarily and have an automatic referendum for November. At that time, voters could decide to keep the higher sales tax or repeal the latest increase, plus another half cent on the dollar, and impose an income tax on so-called “high earners” — individuals who make more than $200,000 a year or families making more than $400,00.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, broached the idea today on her blog. The committee had scheduled a two-hour hearing to start at 5 p.m., then reset that for a one-hour discussion at 4:30 p.m.

Brown said she sees this as a possible solution to closing an estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state budget with a balance of program cuts and tax increases. But she also supports the concept.

“I would personally feel good about it…I’m not saying it has got to be this way,” she said

To do this, they would have to first substitute this plan for another tax package by Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. Franklin said she supports the income tax as fairrer, and has had many letters and calls from constituents calling for the state to develop a fairer tax system.

“With an income tax, I see more stability,” Franklin said. “It can with stand the downturns better.”

Asked about the short notice for such a significant proposal with a week left to go in the 60-day session, Franklin replied: “Things happen fast around here.”

A Democratic Senate source also noted that while the bill may have to be pushed through at the end of the session, the public will have the summer and fall to decide whether it would prefer the income tax to a higher sales tax. Some Washington Democrats have been pointing to last month’s election in Oregon where voters approved tax increases as a sign the public might accept tax increases and restructuring if given the chance.

But Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, isn’t sure that’s a good guidepost, and while he thinks it’s good to have the discussion on an income tax he does not support the plan.

“I didn’t like the sales tax (increase) and I like the idea of an income tax even less,” Marr said. “I question the willingness of the public to move in the direction of an income tax.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said bringing the bill up on short notice, near the end of the session, belies any suggesion of public involvement in the process.

“This is not open government, this is government by convenience,” Schoesler said.

Instituting an income tax requires a constitutional amendment, he said. Passing a bill with a bare majority and putting it to a referendum won’t withstand a court challenge.

Gregoire, 6 other govs applaud Boeing tanker plan

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire led a group of seven governors Thursday patting The Boeing Co. on the back for joining the competition over the new Air Force tanker.

Not that there’s any surprise that Boeing would get into the competition. After all, it has been trying to get the Air Force to buy or lease new tankers from it since 2001, and basically drove a stake through the heart of the Air Force’s plan to give the bid to Northrop Grumman/EADS back in 2008 over changes in the bidding rules. Not cmpeting this time would have lots of people wondering what the heck was all the fuss about two years ago.

Boeing said it will propose a tanker version of its 767 design, which is the same airframe it has been talking about using since 2001.

Northrop Grumman/EADS (what some Northwest politicians like to call the Airbus group) has not yet announced it will enter the competition with the new specs that were released earlier this week.

Also Thursday, a group calling itself “Build Them Both” is asking governors around the country to write President Obama with a request that the Pentagon build both models as a create the jobs, help the economy measure. It released letters from governors in Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio and West Virginia suggesting just that. Curiously enough, none of those governors are among the ones that joined Gregoire in saying, essential “Go Boeing.”

OK, so it’s not THAT curious. Most of the Boeing-ers have that company’s operations or subs in their region.

So will Gregoire sign on to the Build Them Both campaign?

Answer inside the blog

WA Lege Day 53: Day long sessions, Olympians and college students

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is scheduled to wrap up a week from today, although some legislators are saying they wouldn’t bet the rent or the budget on that happening. Tax and spending proposals still have to be reconciled, and many people mention “25 and 50”.

It’s not a second grade arithmetic question, it’s the bare minimum of votes any plan has to get in the Senate and House, respectively, to pass. It doesn’t seem that any plan yet will pass that test.

In the meantime, Olympic athletes from Washington will be honored with a resolution during the day and a reception in the evening at the governor’s mansion.

Evergreen State College students are taking part in a nationwide protest against cuts to higher education programs and are planning to travel from the campus to the Capitol this afternoon as part of their demonstration. One report is they plan to bring a coffin to carry up the steps. Extra state troopers will be on  hand to make sure, in the words of on state official “all are kept civil.”

WA Lege Day 52: Exemption for farmers markets on church lots advances

OLYMPIA — Churches would be able to hold occasional farmer’s markets on their property without losing their tax exempt status under a bill passed overwhelmingly Wednesday by the Senate.

The Senate gave 46-1 approval to a bill that allows churches and other public meeting places owned by nonprofit organizations to hold farmers markets for as many as 53 days a year, as long as the money the organization gets goes for charitable purposes.

Last summer the state Department of Revenue informed two Spokane churches and one in Millwood they’d have to pay taxes on their property or stop holding farmer’s markets on it. Tax-exempt organizations aren’t allowed to run commercial businesses on their property under state law, the department said.

House Bill 2402 sets up standards that churches and other nonprofits must follow in setting up the markets.  It returns to the House, where it passed 97-0 last month, because of amendments approved in the Senate.

WA Lege Day 52: ‘Dry Fly’ bill moves forward

OLYMPIA — Dry Fly Distillery and any other “craft” maker of distilled liquor will be able to grow three times larger than the current limits under a bill that passed the House Wednesday.

Small or craft distilleries were unknown in Washington two years ago when the Legislature passed a law allowing operators to make up to 20,000 gallons of distilled spirits. Dry Fly of Spokane was the first to open, and now there are 26 companies around the state that hold or have applied for a license, Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane said. They use local farm products and are becoming “another industry for our state,” he said.

But in setting up the law, the Legislature picked an arbitrary limit of 20,000 gallons, he said. Senate Bill 6458 raises that to 60,000 gallons. The House approved the measure 97-1, and sent it back to the Senate because of a minor amendment to one section.

Today’s fun video: White rapping about Obama’s election prospects

A group calling itself One Term President (because that’s what it wants Obama to be) has a music video making the rounds on YouTube and other sites.


After watching it, please talk among yourselves to decide:

1) The words aren’t much but it’s got a good beat, I can dance to it. I give it an 89, Mr. Clark.

B) Powerful message, let’s play it at the next Tea Party gathering or

Third) Perhaps the sequel to White Men Can’t Jump will be White Folks Can’t Rap.

WA Lege Day 52: Long floor schedule

OLYMPIA — The House and Senate both start early today, with plans to vote on bills this afternoon and into the evening. They’re trying to clear out the bills that are relatively non-controversial before an upcoming cutoff deadline.

Senate Ways and Means, meanwhile, is dealing with some bills that cost money, noon.

Amid all this, school principals are in the Capitol. Legislators who misbehave run the risk of being sent to them.

A schedule of today’s hearings is inside the blog.

Senate changes laws on non-profits in hospital fight

OLYMPIA — The Legislature came closer to stepping between two feuding hospital organizations in Spokane by changing laws that govern what happens when the board of a non-profit corporation deadlocks.

House Bill 3046 allows a superior court judge more lattitude in solving an impasse on a non-profit board. Under current law, the judge’s options were essentially limited to dissolving the corporation.

The bill was was spawned by a dispute by the corporations that run Deaconess and Providence Sacred Heart medical center and set up Inland Northwest Health Services to share a variety of operations, from medical records to air ambulance. Both hospital corporations were non-profits when INHS was set up, but Deaconess has since been purchased by a for-profit organization and disagreements over the use of INHS have arisen.

It’s the first change in the state’s non-profit laws since 1967, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle said. It would allow judges to use the same rules for trying to solve a dispute on a for-profit corporation.

Rep. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, tried unsuccessfully to strip a emergency clause from the bill: “We haven’t acted in 43 years, I don’t see an emergency to act now.”

But Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said a Spokane “health-care related non-profit” — she didn’t mention INHS specifically on the Senate floor — could be in a sitaution soon where it needed this assistance.

Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, said a deadlock on the INHS board could imperil 1,000 jobs in Spokane.

The bill passed 44-1 with all Spokane area legislators voting yes. It now heads back to the House of Representatives, which passed a similar version 97-0 three weeks ago.

Moore leaving OFM for Investment Board

OLYMPIA — The state’s top “numbers guy,” Office of Financial Management Director Victor Moore, will be leaving that job to take over as top operator at the State Investment Board.

Moore has served as head of OFM for five years, since Gov. Chris Gregoire first took office in January 2005. He’s been a state official for 30 years, first as a budget officer with Evergreen State College in 1980, a budget analyst for Senate Ways and Means in 1983, and first worked for OFM in 1986 on transportation and capital construction. He served as staff coordinator for the House Appropriations Committee from 1991 through 2004.

Although not a well-known face outside of Olympia, he’s highly regarded by members of both parties in the Capitol. Seldom in front of the cameras, he’s usually close at hand during gubernatorial press conferences and briefings. At those times, when a detail question or a technical aspect of a budget or policy bill comes up, Gregoire will frequently look up and say “Victor.” and have him give the answer.

He will become the job of chief operating officer of the State Investment Board after the session is over. Although this year and last have been particularly difficult budgets, with major cuts last year and an attempt to both cut and raise taxes this year, Moore said that wasn’t a factor in his decision. Good years or bad, he said, the budget is always difficult.

Replacing Moore at OFM will be Gregoire’s legislative director, Marty Brown, who was OFM director from 1999 through 2005.

WA Lege Day 51: Talking taxes. Voting taxes

OLYMPIA — A new tax proposal would place unfair burdens on janitors, cigar sellers, plastic surgeons, candy makers and lawyers, opponents of a House plan said today.

They’d also save vital services for schools, colleges, the poor and the sick, supporters of the proposal said.

They’re a good start, but they need to be bigger, said a third chorus of witnesses as the House Finance Committee held a hearing on the tax package announced less than 24 hours earlier. Click here to see a comparison of the House, Senate and governor’s tax packages.

With some minor adjustments, the committee voted 6-3 to send the proposal to the House for a floor debate, even though the Democrats who plan to vote for it today said it will change before it passes.

“This is not what will pass off the floor of the House,” Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland said.

Republicans, who voted no, said no taxes should be raised at this point: “Our problem is spending, not revenue,” Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee said.”We have a certain amount of revenue to work with…We need to change direction.”

Among Republicans voting no was Rep. Kevin Parker of Spokane.

WA Lege Day 51: Ahoy, tax talk

OLYMPIA — The House tax package gets a public hearing this morning to an overflow crowd at teh Finance Committee hearing.

Both chambers have day time sessions, and are warning about night time sessions. Hmmm. Must be getting pretty close to the end of the 60th day.

In the meantime, it’s Navy Day in the Capitol, with naval brass from around the Puget Sound bases making the rounds, and the Navy Band playing in the rotunda at lunch

Want to see a comparison of the three tax packages? Click here.

Further look at House Dems tax plan

OLYMPIA – People who smoke, chew gum, drink bottled water or get a face lift would pay more taxes this year under a plan by the House Democrats to find extra money to balance the state’s budget.

Lawyers, accountants and marketing specialists would see their taxes go up. So would airplane owners, anyone buying customized software.

Out-of-state shoppers would pay the same sales tax as Washington residents, and out-of-state businesses could face higher taxes under new formulas. But Washington shoppers would continue to pay the same sales tax they currently pay.

Those are some of the ways the chairman of the House Finance Committee, Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, proposed Monday to raise an extra $758 million in taxes through June 2011 to help with the state’s $2.8 billion budget hole. The rest of the estimated shortfall would have to be covered with budget cuts, federal money and shifting money from other accounts.

Like Gov. Chris Gregoire and Senate Democrats, who previously released budgets that contain a mixture of taxes increase, program cuts and federal money,  (click to see comparison of all three)Hunter called it a balanced approach. But all three strike the balance differently…


Fun video: For those who miss American pie

Capitol Steps do a great take-off on the the Don McLean classic.

(sorry the embed code was messed up earlier)



WA Lege Day 50: House Dems propose taxes on candy, gum, bottled water, lawyers and facelifts

OLYMPIA — House Democrats will get a chance to help the state’s budget woes by putting a sales tax on bottled water, candy and gum and cosmetic surgery. Upping the business taxes on lawyers, accountants and marketing consultants. Repealing or reducing an array of tax exemptions or “loopholes.” And upping the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.

House Finance Committed Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, released the long-awaited House tax package that raises $857 million in taxes, part of a combination of cuts, taxes and federal money that would fill the projected $2.8 billion hole in the state’s budget through June 2011.

The tax increases are a “menu” of changes, similar to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal, rather than the three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax proposed by Senate Democrats. A list of the House proposals can be found here.

Hunter said he believes he can get to 50 votes — the bare minimum needed for a majority in the House — easier with his package than Senate Democrats can get to their needed 25 votes with their plan.

WA Lege Day 50: House Dems probably won’t call for sales tax hike

OLYMPIA — House Democrats have not yet released a budget, but early word is that it doesn’t call for an increase in a sales tax. More likely, it’s a menu of smaller taxes to get to the target in extra revenue.

This comes from a well placed source…Gov. Chris Gregoire.

At a press conference this morning to discuss the prospects of drought (extremely high, because of El Nino) Gregoire said she say the House Democrats long-awaited tax plan over the weekend. She wouldn’t steal their thunder by saying what’s in it, but she said she likes it better than the Senate Democrats’ current proposal.

To be fair, though, she likes the Senate Democrats’ spending plan better than the House Democrats, so if the two can just get together, they could pass a budget, she could sign it, the Lege could go home on time…and taxes would go up.

Gregoire said the House plan will have a range of smaller taxes similar to her “menu” approach. Whether it includes the same fresh sheet as her restaurant has — bottled water, candy and gum, soda, gasoline by way of a jump in the toxics tax — is unknown yet. But she continued to argue against an increase in the sales tax, which Senate Democrat have in their plan, saying it would hurt the recovery, particularly the construction industry.

And the drought? Go inside the blog for details on that.

WA Lege Day 50: House Dems tax plan cometh

OLYMPIA — House Democrats say they will release their tax package today that is part of their overall plan to fill the state’s $2.8 billion budget hole.

Really. Seriously. We have it in writing this morning. Finance Committee Chairman Ross Hunter’s going to release it at noon. Although we’ve been given false alarms before in the week since they released a budget package minus a tax plan — which is sort of like a weight loss plan without telling you whether you’re goiong on Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers or Scarsdale . They’ve never been specific about a time and place before, so it’s probably going to happen.

That will provide a better, across the board look at how the House, Senate and Governor’s budget match up. Final budget is likely to be a “One for Column A, One from Column B” sort of thing.

That all has to happen in the next 11 days, because, as the headline notes, we are at Day 50 of 60. Which grade school math reminds us is 5/6ths, or 83 percent over.

Committee hearings today mainly deal with budgets, both houses’ Ways and Means Committees have afternoon sessions. Schedule, as usual, is inside the blog.

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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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