ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here

Spin Control

Archive for December 2011

Mandyke, Webster out at City Hall

Spokane Mayor-elect David Condon has decided to replace two long-time administrators at Spokane City Hall.

Public Works Director Dave Mandyke and Administrative Service Director Dorothy Webster announced their retirements Friday.

Gerry Gemmill, the depurty director of public works, will be acting director of the department, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist announced in a news release.

Condon hinted early on that Mandyke may not stay on in his administration when he selected City Engineer Mike Taylor to be the City Hall representative on his transition subcommittee examining utilities even though Taylor has no oversight of any of the city's utilities.

Sanders named city administrator

Spokane's former Economic Development Director Theresa Sanders will be the top City Hall administrator under Mayor David Condon.

Many city employees had speculated for months that Sanders would get that top job if he beat Mayor Mary Verner in the November election. Sanders was active in Condon's campaign.

Condon declined to comment earlier today when asked if Sanders would get the job, saying he still had a meeting planned with City Administrator Ted Danek. The announcement was made late this morning in a news release.

 Sanders was hired at City Hall by former Mayor Dennis Hession but quit after two years, citing an inability to “change the culture.” Sanders, 51, previously worked at Microsoft and has a bachelor's degree from Eastern Washington University in government.
  

Stephens named acting police chief but only through weekend

Mayor-elect David Condon said today that Acting Assistant Police Chief Scott Stephens will lead the Spokane Police Department, but his appointment so far is extremely temporary.

Condon, who will become mayor at midnight on Jan. 1, said he has agreed to have Stephens lead the department “through the weekend.”

Stephens was a major in the department under retiring Chief Anne Kirkpatrick until Kirkpatrick named him acting assistant chief this fall after Assistant Chief Jim Nicks went on sick leave.

More from Verner’s exit interview

 

 

Here are the rest of Spokane Mayor Mary Verner's responses to topics we asked her to reflect on as she prepares to leave office. The rest is in an article running today online and in print.

Regionalism

Background: As mayor, Verner opted to end the city’s court partnership with Spokane County and created a separate municipal court. This year, it became clear that the city-led regional trash system is likely to disbanded in the next few years as a result of city disagreements with the county and other cities. Also this year, an attempt to regionalize animal control services failed.

Verner: “Go carefully into the realm of regionalism. (She noted a study from Eastern Washington University about regionalizing local government.) There are some benefits in certain subject areas or service delivery areas and then other communities … don’t get what get what (they think they’re) going to get. You don’t always get a cost savings, Nor do you always get an improvement in service, which is why you have to approach it carefully and do a thorough analysis.”

Bicycle lanes

Background: Verner was criticized by council members Richard Rush and Jon Snyder for not ensuring that Second Avenue was rebuilt with a bike lane, as called for in the city’s bicycle plan. But she’s also supported expanded bike lanes in other parts of downtown. Verner has generally agreed that roads paid for by the 2004 street bond should by completed only curb-to-curb and has argued that a new street bond be more encompassing.

Verner: “I think we’ve been working toward a good balance of installing bicycle infrastructure with the other transportation investments that we must make, including ongoing street maintenance. I’m glad that we have provided that opportunity for more people to get around on bikes safely and people of all ages and all skill levels, and I’m also glad and proud that we have not allowed one voice to dominate. We have a bicycle advisory board that has gone through its own evolution and (has a) better understanding of what an advisory board does. We’ve created the Citizens Design Review Committee that gives the bicyclists and pedestrians and schools an opportunity to help design our projects before we go out and do the projects. We’re talking about the phase two street bond – the next of the three series of street bonds that were anticipated in 2004 – and appropriately providing for bicycle infrastructure where it should be included. So I think we’ve struck a good balance on bicycle infrastructure.”

Finally: A WA congressional map

OLYMPIA — A subcommittee of the Washington Redistricting Commission released its proposed map for the state's new congressional district.

For Eastern Washington's 5th District sees the least change, losing some of its western most precincts, but otherwise looking about like it does now.

The new 10th District is carved primarily out of Thurston and Pierce counties. The 8th District spans the Cascades, giving the East Side of Washington 2 1/2 districts, at least on paper. The population base, however, is eastern King County.

Take a look at the map here.

The commission is cutting it close. It still needs an Eastern Washington legislative map, must take public comment, make any adjustments and get at least three of the four commissioners' “yea” vote by midnight Jan. 1.  Meeting will continue later today.

Light blogging on Spin Control; warm up for big Newsquiz

With the possible exception of the Washington Redistricting Commission, not many creatures are stirring in Olympia this week and blogging on Spin Control will be light.

But we did want to put in a shameless plug for the upcoming 2011 That's News to You quiz being prepared for this weekend. It's a bigger quiz with a bigger prize.

If you haven't taken our weekly quiz for a while, you might want to warm up with this week's quiz, which can be found by clicking here.

Today’s fun video: 2011 in Review

 

 

Almost everyone does a “Year in Review.” But no one does it quite like the folks at Jib Jab.

Sunday Spin: The 12 Trivias of Christmas

Once again, in the spirit of peace on earth to men of goodwill, Spin Control avoids political commentary on Christmas. This year we can only hope that if the lions can lie down with the lambs, Republicans can peacefully break bread with Democrats and Tea Partiers can share a drink with Occupiers.
Instead, we offer the annual 12 Trivias of Christmas Quiz. For answers, go inside the blog.
1. The story of the birth of Jesus is only told in two of the four Gospels. Which two?
a. Matthew and Mark
b. Luke and John
c. Matthew and Luke
d. Mark and John.
2. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because Caesar had ordered a census. What was the purpose of the census?
a. To draw new boundaries for the Empire
b. To raise taxes
c. To determine how many legions were needed to control the Israelites
d. To show King Herod who was boss
3. The custom of setting up a Nativity Scene, or Creche, originated in what country?
a. Italy
b. Germany
c. Greece
d. Turkey
4. Which president signed a controversial pardon on Christmas Day?
a. George Washington, who pardoned all colonists who fought for the British
b. Thomas Jefferson, who pardoned Aaron Burr.
c. Andrew Johnson, who pardoned all Southerners who fought for the Confederacy.
d. Jimmy Carter, who pardoned all Americans who fled to Canada to avoid the draft
5. Why did Theodore Roosevelt ban Christmas trees from the White House?
a. His daughter Alice was allergic to the pollen
b. He was trying to break up the timber trusts
c. He thought the lights were a fire hazard.
d. He considered it a waste of good timber
6. The holidays are a pretty festive time at the White House, but one year a fire broke out on Christmas Eve, causing extensive damage to the West Wing. Who was president?
a. Woodrow Wilson
b. Herbert Hoover
c. Franklin Roosevelt
d. Harry Truman
 7. An actor in which Christmas-themed movie received an Oscar?
a. Miracle on 34th Street
b. Holiday Inn
c. White Christmas
d. It’s a Wonderful Life
8. Which of the following movies does NOT have a Christmas scene in it?
a. The Thin Man
b. Die Hard
c. Frozen River
d. Terminator
9. What holiday treat shows up in the songs “Home for the Holidays”, “Sleigh Ride” and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree?”
a. Candy canes
b. Marshmallows
c. Pumpkin pie
d. Plum pudding
10. In the original Irving Berlin lyrics, where is the singer when dreaming of a white Christmas?
a. Miami
b. Los Angeles
c. Atlanta
d. New Orleans
11. Where was the “underwear bomber” headed when he tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day 2009?
a. New York
b. Chicago
c. Boston
d. Detroit
12. The first drawing of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast in 1863 shows Santa where?
a. In a Civil War camp
b. At the North Pole
c. In front of a fire place
d. In his sleigh, minus the reindeer

How'd you do? Click here to see the answers.

Christmas Trivias warmup

Every year at Christmas time, Spin Control drops political commentary in the Sunday column in favor of its 12 Trivias of Christmas quiz. It's not just because very little political happens at this time of year; it's also because we think that if lions can lie down with lambs at Christmas, Democrats can break bread with Republicans and Tea Partiers can have a drink with Occupiers, and we can all just chill.

So look for this year's 12 Trivias quiz in this space on Christmas Eve (because we always give the blog readers a head start) and in The Spokesman-Review's Sunday edition. To warm up, here's a quiz from the Ghost of Trivias Past.

1. Poinsettias became a holiday staple in the United States thanks to what type of government official?
a.) A president.
b.) A U.S. senator.
c.) A governor.
d.) An ambassador.

2. In the song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” what day involves government officials?
a.) Day 6.
b.) Day 8.
c.) Day 10.
d.) Day 12.

3. According to the Bible, who was emperor when Jesus was born in Bethlehem?
a.) Julius.
b.) Augustus.
c.) Tiberius.
 d.) Claudius.

4. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah stems from a war between the Israelites and whom?
a. Babylonians
b. Egyptians
c. Greeks
d. Romans

5. The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, lived about 1,400 years ago and had a day job. He was:
a.) A duke in what’s now Holland.
b.) A count in what’s now Romania.
c.) A prince in what’s now Italy.
d.) A bishop in what’s now Turkey.

6. What’s the name of the angel who told the shepherds “peace on earth to men of good will.”
a.) Michael.
b.) Gabriel.
c.) Malachi.
d.) None of the above.

7. Who set Christmas Day as Dec. 25?
a.) Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome.
b.) Pope Gregory, who established the basic calendar we use.
c.) St. Luke the Evangelist, who wrote the most complete Nativity account.
d.) William the Conqueror, who was crowned king of England on that day in 1066.

8. American newspapers used to make a big deal out of what foreign leader’s Christmas tree, describing it for readers in great detail every year?
a.) The king of England.
b.) The kaiser of Germany.
c.) The czar of Russia.
d.) The emperor of Spain.

9. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Mr. Potter is mostly a mean, rich banker, but he does hold a government position at one point. What was it?
a.) He was on the Planning Commission, so he could stop houses being built at Bailey Park.
b.) He was on the Public Safety Committee, which is why he could swear out an arrest warrant against George.
c.) He was a member of the state Financial Institutions Department, which is why the bank examiner kept showing up at the Building & Loan.
d.) He was the head of the Draft Board, which is how he knew George was 4F.

10. Abbreviating Christmas as “Xmas” drives some people crazy, but others say it’s no big deal. What does the X stand for?
a.) It’s an atheist’s way of saying Jesus didn’t exist.
b.) It’s an agnostic’s way of saying Jesus is an unknown factor.
c.) It’s a use of a letter from a foreign language.
d.) It’s an 19th century abbreviation for “I’m not writing this out because everyone knows what it means.”

11. What’s the name of Rudolph’s girlfriend (or more accurately, doe-friend) in the animated classic “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”?
a.) Marie.
b.) Clarice.
c.) Olive.
d.) Lisa.

12. The U.S. Postal Service issued its first Christmas stamp in 1961. When did it issue its first Hanukkah stamp?
a.) 1961. They were released at the same time.
b.) 1962, because sales were so good the previous year.
c.) 1971, when Richard Nixon was courting the Jewish vote for his re-election.
d.) 1996, in a joint effort with the Israeli government.

Redistricting panel: No decision on E. WA legislative or congressional boundaries

OLYMPIA — The Washington Redistricting Commission does not have maps for Eastern Washington legislative districts, or for the state's new congressional boundaries.

Commissioners met this afternoon, and the separate teams trying to come up with maps for those two tasks said they weren't done. And they had varying descriptions of how close they are.

“We're down to some final details we have to work on,” Commissioner Tim Ceis said about the congressional map.

“It's all in the eye of the beholder how close we really are,” Commissioner Tom Huff said of the Eastern Washington legislative map. “There's a possibility we will have a map tomorrow.”

“I wouldnl't hold out too much hope for tomorrow,” Commissioner Dean Foster said of the Eastern Washington map. “It takes a while to turn around a map.”

The commission split 2-2 on whether they should keep their 10:30 a.m. meeting Friday, but because it would take a majority vote to take it off the schedule, the meeting will happen whether they've got maps or not. Expect a very short session if there are no maps to put in the County Auditor's Christmas stockings for review this week.

Commission Chairwoman Lura Powell, who doesn't have a vote, told the four voting members to try to come in Friday with something, even it if they are just partial maps.

White House card not Christmas-y enough? Oh, please

The 2011 White House card. Inside message: “From our family to yours, may your holidays shine with the light of the season.”

Former Gov. Sarah Palin is in a snit about the official White House Christmas card, saying that it just doesn't emphasize good American values like family, faith and freedom. In fact, it doesn't even say Christmas.

“A bit odd,” was one of her comments to FOX News Radio.

Actually, it's not odd at all. Presidential Christmas cards, which go out to thousands of friends, supporters and perfect strangers, often offer “holiday greetings,” or “joy of the season” and avoid any mention of Christmas (or Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Saturnalia, Yule…) That was true for Republicans like Ronald Reagan and the Bushes as well as Democrats like Bill Clinton.

They often picture an interior or exterior shot from the White House. Sometimes the feature a tree, like last year's Obama card did; sometimes they don't.

For a link to a slide show of White House Christmas cards since 1967, compiled by Lonnell Johnson of the Columbus Christian Spiritual Examiner, click here.

Condon transition team member resigns

The portion of the Mayor-elect David Condon’s transition team devoted to public safety has decided to keep its discussions confidential.

Tim Connor, communicaitons director for the Center for Justice, announced in an email to Condon this week taht he resigned from the committee as a result of the decision to keep deliberations secret.

A way, with a manger, to mark the season

Creche erected on the Capitol Campus.

OLYMPIA — About a half block to the south of the atheists's sign (see below), a Nativity Scene occupies a section of the Capitol Campus to the east of the Insurance Building and the Legislative Building.

In past years, the fight over display space has reached epic proportions, with FOX News weighing in on the propriety of placing a sign questioning religion inside the Capitol. A few years ago, the state banned all holiday displays inside the Capitol with the exception of the “holiday tree”, which the Association of Washington Business has sponsored for decades.

To put up a display outside, sponsors must receive a permit from the state Department of Enterprise Services, which oversees the Capitol grounds and buildings.

The Nativity Scene, which is making its second appearance on the Capitol grounds, is sponsored by attorney Hunter Abell, a former Easterm Washington resident who now lives in Bothell.

Happy Solstice from the Capitol grounds

OLYMPIA — This year's version of the “war over Christmas” is pretty tame.

A Nativity Scene and a sign from an atheist organization, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, are coexisting nicely on the lawn in the park to the east of the Capitol and Insurance buildings.

A Menorrah for Hannukah is up in Sylvester Park, about four blocks north, not far from a well decorated Christmas tree.

Condon will take oath at Clocktower, Stuckart at MAC

Mayor-elect David Condon will take the oath of office in front of the Riverfront Park clocktower at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 30, the city announced this morning in a news release.

A reception will follow in the Carrousel.

Council President-elect Ben Stuckart will take his oath on Dec. 28 at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, where he serves on the board.

Council members-elect Mike Allen, Mike Fagan and Steve Salvatori will take their oaths at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 29 in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

None of the new city officials will officially take office until midnight on Jan. 1, but under state law they must take the oath of office within 10 days prior to that time.

Gregoire signs budget; tougher decisions ahead

Rep. Ross Hunter checks his hands for tan after Gov. Chris Gregoire says legislators need to show up “tan, rested and ready” in January to cut more than the budget she signed Tuesday.

OLYMPIA – With advice to the Legislature to show up “tan, rested and ready” in January to finish fixing the state’s budget problems, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the $480 million “downpayment” supplemental budget.

It is, Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House budget committee, said, merely the first supplemental budget of the two-year fiscal cycle.

“Count on it,” Gregoire replied, adding the votes needed to find another $1.5 billion in savings will present legislators with “the worst votes they’re ever going to take in their lives.”

The budget signed Tuesday had bipartisan support in both chambers, but involves a number of fund transfers and accounting maneuvers to accomplish some of the savings…

To read the rest of this post, click here to go inside the blog.

Redistricting panel: No East Side boundaries yet

OLYMPIA — The Washington Redistricting Commission has no maps yet for Eastern Washington's legislative boundaries or for the state's new congressional boundaries.

Commissioners might — emphasize the conditional here — have maps by Thursday.

If not, well, probably Friday.

The commission is facing a pretty tight deadline of Jan. 1 to get boundaries drawn for all 49 legislative districts and 10 congressional districts. That's one extra congressional district for Washington, which currently has nine.

Commissioners managed to kick out maps for the Puget Sound, Olympic Peninsula and southwest Washington last Friday, and scheduled meetings for Tuesday through Friday of this week.

Commissioners Dean Foster and Tom Huff are working on the East Side legislative maps, and had slightly different takes on progress.

Foster: “We're exchanging ideas and maps and moving along quite well.”

Huff: “We've got a considerable distance to go. But time will tell.”

Commissioners Slade Gorton and Tim Ceis sounded slightly more upbeat on the congressional maps.

Ceis: We;ve actually narroed the issues considerably. We may be able to discuss something by the end of the week.”

Gorton: The differences that we have can be settled, relatively quickly.”

After commissioners kick out the maps, the work isn't done. County auditors have to look at them to make sure the panel hasn't done anything like draw a line through someone's living room. And staff will have to draft fairly complicated and extremely detailed language for a bill the Legislature needs to pass that will spell out the boundaries.

Council rejects Rush’s plan to eliminate utility tax

The Spokane City Council rejected Councilman Richard Rush's proposal to ask voters if they want to eliminate the city's utility tax on trash, sewer and water early this morning on a 5-2 vote.

Rush did get one other vote of support, from Bob Apple.

The vote, the final one on the council for Rush, Apple, Council President Joe Shogan and Councilman Steve Corker, took place just after 1 a.m.

City Council approves ‘complete street’ rules

If Spokane voters approve a new tax to repave a new round of crumbling streets, walkers, wheelchair users and bicyclists won't be ignored when streets are rebuilt.

The Spokane City Council late Monday, in the last meeting before four of the members will be replaced, voted 5-2 in favor of a “complete streets” ordinance.

 

The new rule will require that when streets are reconstructed, pedestrian and bike infrastructure already called for within the comprehensive plan – the city's long-term growth guide — must also be included as part of the construction. That extra infrastructure, however, wouldn't have to be included if the cost to add it equaled 20 percent or more of the total project cost.

Spokane won’t consider raising parking ticket fines for six months

A plan to raise parking ticket fines at parking meters from $15 to $25 or $20 if paid within six days won't be decided until a new City Council is sworn into office.

Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan has pushed to raise the fee, arguing that Spokane's fines are low compared to many other cities of similar size. But the council has resisted and has said raising the fine is premature. Tonight, during the last meeting of the year, the council voted to push the decision on a fine increase to next summer.

 

The council voted for a delay after Councilman Jon Snyder said city employees believe that the costs associated with maintaining the city's parking system is more than revenue brought in from fines. However, he said, the city is making changes next year to save money. He argued that the council shouldn't vote on the plan until it's clear if current fines will cover costs.

In aftermath of animal control tax defeat, Spokane signs back up with SpokAnimal

The above map shows the outcome of Spokane County Proposition 1, which was rejected overwhelmingly in the November election. (Map by Jim Camden.)

The rejection county voters gave last month to a tax for a new animal shelter led the Spokane City Council on Monday to stick with SpokAnimal C.A.R.E.

 

The council voted unanimously to approve a two-year contract to pay the nonprofit group about $753,000 a year to continue to handle animal control services within city limits. The contract is an increase of about 3.4 percent from the amount the city will pay the group in 2011. SpokAnimal will continue to return a portion of dog and cat license fees to the city, about $200,000 each year.

How drunk are you? There’s an app for that

Like almost everything else, there's an application for your smart phone to tell you how stupid you've become on booze.

The makers say it might keep you from doing really foolish things at your office holiday party, or at family gatherings, or from driving into a DUI on the way home from such gatherings.

You can read more about it here.

Today’s fun video: UNICEF makes its point

This Santa-themed video probably won't make you ho-ho-ho, but it's a pretty effective message for UNICEF.

What about those East Side districts? Maybe Tuesday

OLYMPIA — The Washington Redistricting Commission might get around to releasing its proposed legislative boundaries for Eastern Washington tomorrow.

The panel, which has been hung up on redrawing lines for Puget Sound and Western Washington Districts for weeks, released some boundaries for most of those legislative districts on Friday and planned to work through the weekend on the East Side and the congressional boundaries.

Here's the plan for King County and points north. Here's the plan for Pierce County and points south and west.

They're in a “beat the clock” posture. State law requires them to have boundaries to turn submit to the Legislature by Jan. 1, or cede the authority for redistricting to the state Supreme Court. Back in the halcyon days of the commission's planning, they talked about being done in November and giving the plans to the Legislature during its special session. Now it's a race to finish things by year's end, and maybe get the maps and formal boundary descriptions to the Lege by the first or second week of the regular session, which starts Jan. 9.

Commission members Slade Gorton and Tim Ceis are working on the congressional districts, Tom Huff and Dean Foster on the Eastern Washington legislative districts.

We'll have a report, and maps, tomorrow…if they do.

Sunday Spin: It’s not over til…

OLYMPIA – In trying to come up with a pity description for late special session, I couldn’t shake the memory of a particularly annoying greeting that adults seemed to enjoy during my teenage years: Working hard, or hardly working?

Ask the handful of legislators involved in budget negotiations, they’d say the former. Ask many others in or around the Capitol, the judgment would likely be the latter.

By outward appearances, the workload for this emergency session was disappointingly light.

Even protesters from Occupy Olympia, who had to be escorted out of budget hearings and forcibly removed from the Capitol rotunda at the start of the first week, gave up any pretense of interest by the second week. They showed an amazing lack of staying power.

By the time the session wound down on the final day, Jen Estroff, the government relations director for the Children’s Alliance, had coined a phrase summing things up nicely. . .

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

Shall we hold our breath?

During the special session, both chambers approved a Joint Resolution asking Congress to pass the Main Street Fairness Act, which would require Internet retailers to collect sales tax from their customers, just like brick-and-mortar stores do, and remit those taxes to the appropriate states.

Could be worth hundreds of millions a year for Washington, so it’s nothing to scoff at. But isn’t there something odd about a Legislature, itself divided on taxes, asking a paralyzed Congress to do something about them?
  

Worth a look: Initiatives that are paid for

Although the Legislature is on break, new legislation continues to pop up. Among ideas is a proposed constitutional amendment from Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester and other Republicans like Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla.

It requires any initiative that starts a new program or expands an existing one to identify a way to pay for it.

In the past, voters have approved initiatives to give public school teachers regular raises or shrink classroom sizes or, just last month, require more training for home care providers. But the initiatives didn’t come up with new sources of money to cover those changes. Legislators often suspend those directives in tough budget times.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said last week she hadn’t read the proposal, but might support it. The Legislature has to identify a money source when it comes up with a new program, she said. When voters pass legislation at the ballot box, maybe they should, too.
  

State ‘unoccupies’ park

OLYMPIA — Protesters who set up an “Occupy Olympia” encampment in a park below the Capitol Campus were evicted overnight. But a handful broke into an abandonned building a few blocks away in a brief effort to try establishing “squatters rights.”

Police surrounded the building, but didn't immediately move to evict protesters, who set up a tent in the parking lot, hung signs down the side of the old Thurston County Health Building and continued to move in and out through a door in the roof.

Eventually, all protesters left the building without incident.

Leon Janssen, a commercial painter and part-time student who had spent the last two months at the encampment, said the protest would continue, just not in the park. Some protesters who have nowhere else to go may move to unoccupied or foreclosed buildings, he said.

Demonstrators will hold general assembly meetings every Sunday afternoon in the Capitol Rotunda, Janssen said.

The state Department of Enterprise Services erected temporary fences around the encampment and state workers started gathering up tents and other items left behind when protesters were evicted.

Gregoire: Reform liquor board and lottery

OLYMPIA – Washington should abolish the Liquor Control Board and see if a private company can do a better job of managing the state Lottery, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday.

It should also spread some of the efficiency standards and cost-cutting measures successful in business, known as Lean, across more state agencies, she said in proposing a series of government reforms for the Legislature to consider when it returns next month.

Many Republicans and some Democrats said they wanted to reform government, to raise productivity and cut costs, before considering most of the cuts to programs and staffing Gregoire proposed last month or any tax increases like her proposal for a temporary half-cent increase in the sales tax.

The governor said Washington will likely have to do all three – institute reforms, cut key programs and raise taxes.

“I’d like them to come forward with reform ideas that would close a $2 billion hole,” she said.

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

State to Olympia ‘occupiers’: Leave park by midnight

The Occupy Olympia encampment last week in Heritage Park.

OLYMPIA — Members of Occupy Olympia, who have be encamped in Heritage Park below the Capitol Building for about three months, must leave by midnight, a state agency said today.

Protesters have set up tents, signs and even a display of Christmas lights in the shape of their signature numeric designation “99%” in the park near Capitol Lake. Today the Department of Enteprise Services said the protesters must clear out by 12:01 a.m. Friday.

“The current activity at Heritage Park is no longer sustainable,” Turner said. “We also recognize that some individuals who have been staying at the park need assistance. We have contacted local non-profit organizations that provide that kind of help.”

Occupy Olympia protesters joined demonstrations against proposed budget cuts in the early days of the special session but stayed away after the first week.

At a press conference this morning, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the state had allowed protesters a chance to exercise their First Amendment rights, and unlike other states and cities “weh have not used tear gas or mace.”

But she declined to say whether the State Patrol, which showed restraint in evicting protesters from the Capitol rotunda on the first day of the special session, might resort to more forceful means if people stay beyond the deadlilne.

“Now it's time for them to go home,” Gregoire said, adding that when she looks out from the Governor's Mansion every night “I can't worry that these people are going to freeze to death.”

GU professor could challenge McMorris Rodgers

A former dean of Gonzaga University Law School is among Democrats considering a campaign against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers next year.
Dan Morrissey, who served as dean from 2001-04 and now teaches corporate law at the school, said he is exploring his prospects for a race and expects to decide by next month.
“I’m testing the waters,” he said, which includes speaking to party gatherings in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District and discussions with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a group that recruits and raises money for candidates.
 Morrissey, 63, is one of several Democrats that party sources have named as a potential challenger to McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House GOP leadership who would be seeking a fifth term in 2012.
Also among the potential candidates: outgoing Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, longtime Spokane television reporter Daryl Romeyn, who won the Democratic primary in the 5th Congressional District last year but lost to McMorris Rodgers in the general election, and Rich Cowan, chief executive officer of North by Northwest productions.
Whoever runs could face an uphill battle…

Special Session is a wrap. Budget passed, legislators head home

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla hug and other senators applaud as the gavel comes down to adjourn the special session.

OLYMPIA — Unable to find $2 billion in savings over 30 days, the Legislature agreed to about a fourth of that — $480 million — in 17 days, and called it quits for now.

The Senate approved a $480 million budget adjustment this afternoon that uses a combination of budget transfers, accounting maneuvers and cuts to state programs or departments. The rest of the savings, and possibly more if the state's economic outlook doesn't improve, will have to wait for a 60-day regular session.

That starts in less than three weeks.

Like the House on Tuesday, the Senate gave overwhelming and bipartisan support to the changes to the General Fund budget, known by some as the “Early Action Package” and by others as a partial downpayment. Those who are disappointed because the savings aren't greater right now can blame him, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.It's not particularly helpful to cast blame, he said. “But I'm willing to take that responsibility. Then, let's move on.”

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate budget panel, called it “a good start on a huge problem.” While Gov. Chris Gregoire was able to name $2 billion worth of cuts in the two months after a bad revenue forecast in September, she only had to get one vote for those choices, he said. Hers.

In the Legislature, “you've got to move these things back and forth,” Zarelli said. “I'm happy that we're getting something done.”

One of the things in the budget fix is a nine-month delay of payments to school districts for school bus maintenance and depreciation. That saves the state about $50 million, at least on paper, but could leave schools strapped for cash if their buses break down. Murray said the Legislature will set up a contingency fund for hardship cases when it returns in January.

Among those voting no were Republican Sens. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane and Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley.

Baumgartner called the budget “the lowest common denominator” of what budget negotiators could agree to. “I think a lot more could've been done. It's still Wednesday, Dec. 14. There's no reason we couldn't work through this process some more.”

Padden said the budget fix relies on too many gimmicks, like the bus depreciation. “That's not real savings,” he said. “It's not some of the real reforms we should've been looking at.”

Spec Sess Day17: Padden ‘hazed’ by other senators

OLYMPIA — Newly elected Sen. Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley received his traditional hazing by colleagues today as the Senate wound down toward adjournment of the special session.

After passing a $480 million partial fix to the budget and some bills necessary to make that work, Padden received a “point of personal privilege” ostensably to thank other senators for a resolution early this year honoring predecessor Bob McCaslin, someone who was “a delight to be around — most of teh time,” he noted.

McCaslin and Padden were both first elected to the Legislature in 1980. Some other members who served with Padden in the House chided him that things have changed a bit since he left the other chamber in the mid '90s to become a judge. Padden is like the movie character Austin Powers who was frozen in time, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said: “We have to help Mike adjust to this century.”

Things have changed politically, too, Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane said. When he was first elected, he was among the Legislature's most conservative members. “Now you're a moderate for the 4th District,” she said. “Although you still vote No a lot.”

Padden was one of just six Senate votes against the supplemental budget.

Spec Sess Day17: Senate passes budget

OLYMPIA — The Senate passed a $480 million “downpayment” on the $2 billion needed to close the gap in the state's General Fund budget.

On a 42-6 vote, members of both parties sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire about a fourth of the cuts and accounting changes she requested when she called them into a special session.

But Gregoire only had to get one vote, her own, in proposing a wide range of cuts to education, health care and social services, Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said. The Legislature doesn't work that way; it has to get a majority in two different chambers.

“You've got to move things back and forth,” Zarelli said. This was the best the two parties in the two houses could do in the 17 days they've had so far, and they'll need the regular session, which starts Jan. 9, to come up with more changes.

Some people may consider the budget disappointing, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the Ways and Means chairman said. They can blame him if they want, although “that's not particularly helpful,” he added.

“I'm willing to take that responsibility. Then let's move on,” Murray said.

The Legislature could adjourn later this afternoon after considering several more bills.

Spec Sess Day17: Senate begins budget debate

OLYMPIA — The Senate is beginning debate on the “early action budget” which closes about $480 million of the state's budget gap.

It's the same budget approved Tuesday evening in the House.

Senate Ways and Means Commitee Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said some people call it a “disappointing” budget. But it's time to adopt it as a down payment and move on in the upcoming general session.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, ranking Republican on the budget committee, called it a good start: “I'm happy that we're getting something done.”

Leaders of both parties indicate the Senate has the bills to pass the budget.

Spec Sess Day17: A good day for adjournment?

OLYMPIA — Some strong signs that this could be the last day of the Legislature's emergency session on the budget:

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, in the Senate wings before the morning session started: “Looks like a good day for sine die.” '

The Senate should have the votes to pass the same budget approved by the House Tuesday evening, she said. There are a few more bills that could come to a vote, including some of the governor's requested aid to aerospace training and a bill that would help military spouses who relocate to Washington get easier certification for certain jobs.

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, said Republicans have been told to prepare for a long day, but the last day.

Most telling sign, however, is that most legislators and staff are smiling like they know this is the last hump to get over.

Spec Sess Day17: The final day?

OLYMPIA — The Legislature could be rolling toward adjournment later today if budget writers' plans come to pass. And pass.

The $480 million supplemental budget passed by the House Tuesday evening — the down payment or partial down payment or bite of the apple or fourth of a loaf budget, take your pick — could go to a floor vote in the Senate today.

If Senators are humming “I'll be Home for Christmas” when they come out of caucus this morning, that'll could be considered a good sign. If they're humming “Blue Christmas”, not so much.

If the budget passes without further amendments, the Legislature could call it quits and most members go home to egg nog and carols, and perhaps a long winter's nap until Jan. 9, when the regular session starts.

Budget negotiators and leadership may stay behind for much of that three week period, trying to get a jump start on discussions that will resume with renewed intensity in that 60-day session.

One House member last night tried to work out the math for how long it might take to close the remaining budget gap of $1.5 billion, and concluded it could be 18 months. We're not sure what his formula looks like for that, because a straight-line calculation suggests that if a Legislature can cut almost $500 million in 17 days, it could cut $1.5 billion in 51 days.

But these kinds of equations are never straight lines, and one has to add in certain X factors, such as the growth of the budget imbalance, the intransigence of certain politicians, the pressure of certain interest groups, and the influence of upcoming elections.

Stay tuned today for updates on the possible end game for the special session.

County commissioners urge Condon to consider Knezovich for police chief

Spokane County's three Republican county commissioners are asking Mayor-elect David Condon to strongly consider Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich's offer to be the city's interim police chief.

The three signed a letter to Condon's transition team saying that with Chief Anne Kirkpatrick retiring, it makes sense to consider consolidating the Spokane Police Department with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. If Knezovich is selected as interim chief, it would allow the concept to be studied, they said.


Documents:

House passes ‘partial downpayment’ budget

OLYMPIA — The House of Representatives gave overwhelming support to a $480 million trim of the state's troubled General Fund budget, despite complaints by Republicans that it was too little and disappointing.

On an 86-8 bipartisan vote, the House members agreed this evening to a series of cuts and accounting maneuvers described as a first downpayment on the $2 billion Gov. Chris Gregoire said is needed to close the gap between incoming revenues and planned expenses for programs, policies and salaries.

The vote sends the budget to the Senate, which could vote on the plan Wednesday and bring the special session to a close. The rest of the cuts will have to be handled in a regular session that begins Jan. 9.

Gregoire wants tougher teacher, principal evalulations

OLYMPIA — Bad teachers and principals could be fired at the end of a school year if they don't improve under a series of education reforms proposed today by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

State universities would also set up “laboratory” schools in failing schools across the state and a cabinet-level office would be set up to coordinate and improve high school, college and technical school programs, under plans to be presented to the Legislature in January.

The office would oversee everything from high school through graduate level programs. Gregoire said she's dropped an earlier plan for a single office to coordinate everything from pre-school through Ph. D programs in the state.

The state's evaulation system would be changed from the current two levels of unsatisfactory and satisfactory to a four-level system: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinquished.

A teacher or principal that was evaluated as unsatisfactory in September would be fired in the spring if he or she did not receive a new evaluation of at least basic. Teachers and principals evaluated as basic two years in a row would also be fired if they didn't move up to proficient.

Gregoire said the state needs an evaluation system that is fair, clear and effective, and helps every teacher grow. The current two-step system doesn't work, she insisted.

 

Spec Sess Day16: House panel OKs “partial downpayment” budget

OLYMPIA — Despite misgivings that it was too meager, the House Ways and Means Committee gave overwhelming support to a $480 million change in the state's financially strapped budget.

Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called it a downpayment.

Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the Republican budget leader, said it was a disappointing “partial downpayment. Yet Alexander and all other Republican members of the panel except one voted with Democrats to move the cuts to the floor with only minor amendments to cover technical problems and funding for a new aviation education program.

Among other amendments voted down was a proposal by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, to end a program reward state employees for reducing commuter miles by carpooling and other means. He called it the commute trip reduction system a bonus with a state employees the state can no  longer afford.

When Republicans said they hoped the plan would be considered for elimination in January, when the Legislature tackles the more difficult cuts, Hunter replied: “I can safely say everything is under consideration.

Council approves union deals, despite Condon’s objection

Mayor-elect David Condon likely will have to win a second term if he wants to tinker with the pay and benefits of nearly half of the City Hall work force.

The Spokane City Council on Monday approved three-year contract extensions for Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and for the city’s prosecutor’s union a full year before their existing labor contracts were set to expire.

The deal for Local 270, which was tentatively agreed to by Mayor Mary Verner, will freeze salary levels in 2013, 2014,and 2015. Retirement, medical and other benefits won’t change, nor will an already approved 5 percent raise for workers with at least 4 years of experience in 2012.

Spec Sess Day15: State Budget 2.0

OLYMPIA —  Legislative budget negotiators have twin proposals to reduce the state's fiscally challenged General Fund budget by about $480 million.

The “Early Action Supplemental Budget” — which consists of matching bills in the House and the Senate  — involve a series of administrative cuts, fund transfers and savings being achieved around in different state agencies. They do not involve any of the controversial eliminations of programs that Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.

The plans are scheduled for public hearings this afternoon, about four hours after they were released. Legislators are describing them as a “down payment,” something they can pass in the coming days during this emergency session, then return in January for the regular session for more budget work.

The projected gap between currently approved spending and projected revenues is $1.4 billion, and Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed cuts totalling about $2 billion to provide for a cushion if tax collections continule to fall. These plans amount to less than a fourth of that amount.

House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the legislative proposals focus on administrative cuts and noncontroversial things to which both parties can agree:  “We're going to wind up doing this stuff anyway, let's do it now.”

Some of that reductions are achieved through accounting maneuvers. For example, the state would delay a payment to schools to help cover bus depreciation for nine months, which saves about $49 million. It would make some changes in the way schools report enrollment, which saves money in some places, costs a little more in others. But there's no change to the levy equalization program or the number of school days, which are key elements of Gregoire's budget proposal. Overall, public schools would lose a total of about $54 million, not some $300 million in the governor's plan.

“We don't have consensus on cutting four days out of the school year,” Hunter said.

Also missing is any plan to eliminate the Disability Lifeline program or Basic Health Plan, which accounted for about $125 million in cuts in Gregoire's budget. The Senate and House proposals would cut $1.5 million from the State Health Care Authority, in part through keeping vacant positions vacant.

“This is not easy stuff, this is easier,” Hunter said.

The bills, plus summaries, are available on the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program web site.

Spec Sess Day15: Budget 2.0

OLYMPIA — The Senate Ways and Means Committee posted a substitute budget on its web site that has their proposal for making a first stab at addressing an estimated $1.4 billion budget gap. We haven't reached the bottom line yet, but it's only a partial fix.

It's 190 pages long. We're reading it as fast as we can.

Will update.

Sunday Spin: What’s fair when keeping candidates from cash?

OLYMPIA – Washington Republicans are exorcised over a wrinkle in state election laws that restricts some candidates, but not others, from raising money during a legislative session. Their concern is logical, although not necessarily consistent. It goes like this:
No state elected official can raise money for a state office while the Legislature is in session. That means Rob McKenna, the state attorney general who would like to be governor, can’t hold fundraisers or dial for dollars while, or shortly before, the legislators are ensconced in Olympia.
Given the bleak prospects for legislators settling the budget problems any time soon, Republican McKenna is at a disadvantage with Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, who is not a state official and is under no such restriction.
States have limited ability to tell members of Congress how they can or can’t raise money – it’s a federalism vs. state’s rights thing – but an argument can be made at some point this gets seriously out of whack in the money-grabbing department. Maybe if the Legislature goes from its current special session into a regular session a few weeks later, then needs another special session to finish work (as it has the last two years), McKenna should be allowed some sort of catch-up period in which he’d be allowed two fundraisers for every one of Inslee.
Restrictions on money-raising during a session were approved to keep some people from donating to a candidate not because they think he or she is the best person to hold the office being sought, but to influence legislation in the session at hand. It’s a good, if imperfect, law.
But Republicans might want to think before protesting too loudly, because if one were to expand it logically, it also would bar legislators who are running for Congressional office from raising money during the session. That’s currently allowed, and a good argument can be made that it’s closer to the public goal of separating campaign contributions from current job performance.
There’s a fair number of legislators running for Congress in 2012, including state Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane. This kind of rule would put him at an even greater disadvantage in his fledgling race against U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Strangely enough, a bill introduced by several Republican legislators to address the McKenna-Inslee situation doesn’t get around to the Baumgartner-Cantwell situation. There may be federal court fights in the wings for either change, but if they were really serious about the good government aspect of this, seems they’d cast a wider net.
  

O’Reilly at war on Washington?

News commentator Bill O’Reilly has been bugged by holiday activities in and around the Capitol for several years, ever since the state allowed atheists to place a sign in the building in 2008.
In a recent newscast,
he was asking a couple of Culture Warrior panelists for an update on the alleged “War on Christmas”, and – in the fullness of time as the Good Book says –  Washington state came up.
“You may recall that the state of Washington, in their Capitol Rotunda, put up an atheist thing, right next to the Christmas tree,” he said. (Fact check: A group of atheists put up the sign, not the state, and it wasn’t next to the tree, it was one level up as was a Nativity Scene.)
So what’s Washington doing this year? he asked Gretchen Carlson and Margaret Hoover. “Remains to be seen whether they’re going to allow Nativity Scenes and atheists to put – ” replied Hoover.
“So we don’t know yet, what the governor of Washington is going to have in her Rotunda,” O’Reilly said.
“They’re going to allow all displays,” Hoover said.
Not exactly. The only thing in the Rotunda is the holiday tree, which is named thus by its sponsor the Association of Washington Business, not the governor. No other displays are allowed inside the Capitol, and haven’t been for a couple years.
The Department of Enterprise Services says it has approved applications for a Nativity Scene near the Tivoli Fountain from Dec. 20 - 26, a banner from the Freedom From Religion Foundation on the Capitol Campus at roughly the same time, and a large menorah on the grounds at nearby Sylvester Park starting Dec. 16 for Hannukah.
So at ease, Xmas warriors.
  

Rush concedes race to Allen, calls off hand recount

Spokane City Councilman Richard Rush said this afternoon that he has decided against paying for a hand recount in his race against Mike Allen.

Rush said after further consideration of the results of the machiine recount, as well as the hand recount that was completed in the 4th Legislative District Senate race, it was highly unlikely that a hand recount would change the outcome.

The hand recount had been scheduled to start on Tuesday.

The council race for the city's south district was recounted by machine because the gap between Allen and Rush was only 88 votes and less than half a percentage point. After ballots were run through the counting machines again, Allen's lead increased to 91. In the hand recount in the state Senate race that was paid for by losing candidate Jeff Baxter, results barely changed.

 

“That was valuable information that I hadn't been able to thoroughly process,” Rush said.

Rush had been concerned about the number of voters in the district who opted not to make a choice in the contest and requested the hand recount, which candidates can request at their expense. State law requires races to recounted by hand at government request only when they are within a quarter of a percentage point.

Donors gave more than $6,000 to the Spokane County Democratic Party to cover the cost of the Rush-Allen hand recount.

“I don't think the manual recount would be a wise use of their money,” Rush said.

He said he left a message for Allen this afternoon to congratulate him.

Asked what his plans are, Rush said: “I plan to think about my plans.”

“It's a relief to put this behind me and think about the future.”

City union agrees to contract extension

(This post was updated at 4 p.m. Saturday.)

City Adminstrator Ted Danek said Friday that the membership of Local 270, the city's largest union, voted overwhelmingly this week to approve a three-year contract extension.

The contract currently expires at the end of 2012. The proposal will take the contract through 2015. The deal doesn't change employee benefits. It also doesn't change raises that already were in the contract for next year. But it does freeze wage levels in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Mayor-elect David Condon has criticized the proposal because it means he won't be part of shaping a contract. (A letter he signed along with four members of next year's City Council is printed in full at the end of the post.) Others argue that three years of no raises is a great deal that might be hard to achieve if Condon was at the table because unions might not be as willing to come to an agreement with a mayor who campaigned, in part, on how city workers were overcompensated.

City administrators also note that Condon will have plenty of other deals to work on. Outgoing Mayor Mary Verner hasn't come to agreements with other unions that have contracts that expire at the end of the year, including with the city's administrators union. So those agreements will be up to Condon to make.

The 270 contract, along with a nearly identical contract extension for the city's prosecutors union, will be considered by the City Council on Monday.

Monday's meeting is pretty full, but one big issue may fade without a decision. Council President Joe Shogan said it appears that the City Council doesn't have enough votes to make a change to the water rate structure. So that issue likely will wait until next year. Condon said this week that waiting until he and the new council is sworn in is what the council should do.

(Keep reading if you want to read the letter from Condon.)

Spec Sess Day12: Brown says they’ll find a partial solution

OLYMPIA — Legislators will try to fill some of the looming budget gap next week, but won't come close to the $2 billion in cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she expects a budget proposal to be introduced Monday that will address a “substantial piece” of the projected shortfall. She declined to list a specific number, but hinted the amount could be between $100 million and $500 million.

It will be an amount that a majority of legislators in both chambers can agree on, she said. Further cuts and government reforms will come up in the regular session, due to start Jan. 9, she said: “We'll still have a long way to go.”

The Legislature won't vote on Gregoire's request for a temporary half-cent sales tax in the special session. The governor had asked for that by the end of the session to put the proposal before voters in March, and buy back some of the $2 billion in cuts she was asking legislators to approve in the emergency 30-day session.

“I thought that was an overly ambitious assignment from the start,” Brown said.

On Thursday, Gregoire also publically scaled back her expectations, saying she'd be happy with a “significant downpayment” on budget cuts and didn't expect passage of the sales tax proposal.

“I don't see any revenue measures in the special session,” Brown said. Legislators first want to consider reforms and set priorities on programs. Some of the governor's proposed cuts would save money initially by ending programs, but cost money in the long run. One such example is a proposal to make cuts to “critical access hospitals” in rural areas, which actually cost the hospitals double because the facilities would lose federal money as well as state money, she said.

Legislators are also not inclined to eliminate the Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline, Brown said, or to make cuts in Corrections Programs, as Gregoire has proposed.

Read the complete list of Condon’s transition team

 

Mayor-elect David Condon tonight released the names of about 80 people who will serve on five committees that make up his transition team.

Here are the names, pretty much cut and paste from the announcement (except a couple spelling fixes):

Public Safety

Captain, Nancy Isserlis; City Staff – Police, Scott Stephens; City Staff – Fire, Bobby Williams; City Staff HR – Heather Lowe; City Council – Mike Fagan; Roger Bragdon; Jim McDevitt; Tony Hazel; Tobby Hatley; Cliff Walter; Mick McDowell; Alexandra Stoddard; Pat Devries; Lisa Rosier; Tim Conner.

Budget Reform

Captain, Brian Benzel; City Staff CFO – Gavin Cooley; City Council – Nancy McLaughlin; City Council – Amber Waldref; Chris Cargill; Jason Thackston; Kate McCaslin; Kim Zentz; Bob Cole; Stanley Schwartz; Heidi Stanley; Mary Ann McCurdy.

Infrastructure

Captain, Latisha Hill; City Staff Public Works – Mike Taylor; City Staff Parks – Leroy Eadie; City Council – Steve Salvatori; City Council – Mike Allen; Joel White; Susan Ashe; Dave Clack; Susan Meyer; Mike George; Dallas Hawkins; Mark Aden; Mike Petersen; Frank Tombari; Marty Dickinson; Kris Mikkelsen; Roger Flint.

Jobs/Economic Opportunity

Captain, Mike Senske; City Staff ED – Mike Edwards; City Staff Finance – Rick Romero; City Council – Ben Stuckart; Joel Crosby; Mike Tedesco; Bill Savitz; Jim Hanley; Cheryl Kilday; Ty Barbery; Tom Simpson; Ellie Aaro; Jim DeWalt; Jim Quigley; Kim Pearman-Gilman; Jerry Dicker.

Quality of Life/Social Services

Captain, Arlene Patton; City Staff – Jonathan Mallahan; City Staff – Joanne Benham; City Council – Jon Snyder; Jean Farmer; Victor Frazier; Julie Honekamp; Andy Dunau; Sheila Geraghty; Judith Gilmore; Antony Chang; Lee Taylor; Arne Weinman; Rob Crow; Chris McCabe; Michael Cannon.

Spec Sess Day11: Gregoire says some cuts likely to wait until next year

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire acknowledged legislators are unlikely to pass the $2 billion in budget cuts she proposed in this special session and sees no chance they'll ask voters to approve a temporary half-cent sales tax increase in March.

In a conversation with reporters after a Senate hearing, Gregoire said she now believes whatever budget changes legislators can pass in the special session, it won't be “a full meal deal.”

Instead, she said she would consider “a significant down payment” acceptable, but declined to describe a level of cuts that she would regard as a success for the emergency session, which began last Monday.

But the special session will be valuable, she said, because it will give legislators a head-start on budget discussions which will continue when the regular session begins on Jan. 9. She predicted it will allow the Legislature to pass the earliest supplemental budget in history.

Last year, the Legislature was able to agree on some cuts to the budget during a one-day session in December. “The problem with this budget is, it's a whole new budget. It's not 'We're going to plug a small hole,'” Gregoire said.

Since the special session began, some Republicans have called for government reform in conjunction with cuts, and before any new taxes. Some Democrats have called for a better balance between program cuts and new taxes.

“Everybody's got their slogan,” she said. “At some point we need to get past the rhetoric and get to work.”

Gregoire called legislators into a special session on Nov. 28 after giving them a plan some 11 days earlier to cut about $2 billion in programs and salaries in the face of a looming gap in the budget. She also asked them to ask voters to “buy back” about $500 million of those cuts, through a statewide vote on a three-year sales tax increase.

More than a third of the way into the special session, visible progress on the budget is hard to find. Many legislators who are not in leadership or members of the budget-writing Ways and Means committees have returned to their homes, and the two chambers hold “pro forma” sessions most days.

House and Senate leaders, and the chairmen of the budget committees, have been involved in closed-door discussions among themselves and with Gregoire. The budget committees, meanwhile, have held a series of hearings in which people who rely on state programs for health care, education or social services have described the possible effects of those programs being eliminated. In the early days of the special session, protesters marched through the Capitol with chants and signs, sat down in the Rotunda until being forcibly removed by state troopers and interrupted some budget hearings with demands the Legislature raise taxes rather than cut services.

This week, however, the protesters are absent, as if they, too, are saving their energy for the regular session.

Until legislators settle on an “all cuts” budget and sees the effect those cuts have on state programs, Gregoire said, they won't be ready to ask voters to approve a tax increase like the one she's proposing, a three-year, half-cent increase in the sales tax, with money dedicated to certain public school, college, health care and public safety programs that will be cut from the budget if that tax isn't approved.

That won't  happen by the end of the special session, which means the state will miss the Dec. 31 deadline for proposing a ballot measure for a special election in March. Delaying the chances for a vote on a sales tax increase means it would delay bringing revenue into the state if it passes.

“Every month that goes by that they don't have a budget, we have a bigger hole,” she said.

Spec Sess Day11: It’s not like NOTHING is happening

OLYMPIA — There have been some complaints about the activity, or lack of it, so far in the special session.

But while the Senate has yet to vote on anything of substance, and the House has managed only a vote on an emergency bailout of the Wenatchee arena, legislators aren't completely idle.

For example, three senators today filed a bill to add a special license plate for drivers, that would honor the state flower. It would add another specialty plate to the state's list of specialty plates, which currently stands at about two dozen.

We have plates to honor all the branches of the armed services, the various state universities, endangered wildlife, volunteer firefighters, professional firefighters and the Law Enforcement Memorial. There are plates that urge motorists to keep kids safe and help them speak, to share the road with bicyclists. Others take note of lighthouses, state parks, Gonzaga alums, pets, national parks in the state, state parks in the state, state wildlife, baseball stadiums, musicians and square dancers.

There's also a moratorium on new plate designs. But SB 5990 would make an exception to that section of the law, the way the Legislature did earlier this year for volunteer firefighters.

Quick: What is the state flower, anyway? Answer inside the blog

GOP v. Dems: Who watches what on TV?

Ever wonder if Democrats and Republicans watch different things on TV.

Other than MSNBC or FOX news, neither did we. But someone did, and a research firm set out to find out if there was a difference.

Turns out there is. You can see the list here.

Spec Sess Day11: More than a third gone

OLYMPIA — The Legislature continues its “special but we're in no real hurry” session with a series of committee hearings today and no votes on either floor.

No word on when, if at all, Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget cuts will get out of either chamber's Ways and Means Committee and head for the floor.

Senate Ways and Means isn't even talking about the budget today. They have a joint meeting with the Senate Economic Development Committee on Project Pegasus. That started out as an effort to keep Boeing's 737 MAX assembly line in Washington state. Now that Boeing announced it will build the plane in Renton — more a result of a deal with the company's unions — Pegasus may be a project looking for a new goal.

Some other committees will meet throughout the day in work sessions, but others have cancelled hearings.

Spec Sess Day10: Would school cuts lead to more failures?

OLYMPIA – School officials from across the state urged legislators to reject plans to cut four days out of the school year or reduce payments designed to help poor districts keep pace with richer ones.

The Legislature should consider other ways to cut education costs, they said, like state spending per student or teacher bonuses, or eliminating things the state requires, but doesn’t pay for.

A key player in the ongoing budget debate floated an idea to stave off the cuts proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire by increasing the state’s property tax levy and spreading it among districts throughout Washington. But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, acknowledged his plan was in its early stages, and represents a shift in the way tax rates are currently calculated…

To read the rest of this post, go inside the blog

Allen wins second count, but a third awaits

Former Councilman Mike Allen's lead over incumbent Richard Rush grew by three to 91 on Wednesday after a recount of the Spokane City Council election for the city's south district.

The race was recounted by machine because the result from the first count was within half of 1 percentage point. Rush said he still plans to pursue a hand recount, which the Spokane County Democratic Party has agreed to finance.

Results of a hand recount in the 4th Legislative District senate race, which also was completed Wednesday and was paid for by candidate Jeff Baxter, may not give Rush much hope for much change.

Baxter paid more than $1,700 to have 10 precincts recounted in his race against state Sen. Mike Padden. Election workers who tallied the ballots Wednesday morning found two errors. Baxter lost a vote, and one vote that had been counted as blank was changed to a write-in, for the candidate “N/A.”

In the Rush-Allen race, Rush's tally was found to be too high by two and Allen gained a vote after a ballot that had been counted as blank was found to have been marked for Allen.

Election Manager Mike McLaughlin said he can't say for sure why Rush's count fell by two. One possibility is that after paper jams occurred in the machines, ballots that already had been counted may have been sent through a second time, he said.

Each campaign involved in the two recounts had observers at the Elections Office.

Baxter lost to Padden by 3,638 votes. He said he paid for the recount with his personal money and did so because results in some precincts conflicted with data campaign workers collected when going door-to-door. The outcome hints that in a future race volunteers need to do a better job reaching voters when they're home, he said.

“I didn't think anything insidious was going on,” Baxter said. “I'm just saying that we need to work a little harder in different precincts.”

Baxter said he hasn't decided if he will run again next year.

Last week, Rush indicated that Baxter may have paid for a recount to prevent Rush's race from being recounted by hand. Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton originally requested that the City Council race be counted by hand to test new scanners in the county's voting machines. But she changed course after Baxter opted to pay for a recount in his race.

“It had absolutely nothing to do with his race,” Baxter said. “I don't have the time to be playing those games.”

Pearl Harbor Day at the Capitol

70 years after a day will live in infamy.

OLYMPIA — Flags at the state's World War II Memorial, which features the names of all Washington residents killed in the war etched in the bronze blades to form the shapes of soldiers, sailors and airmen. All flags at state agencies are at half-staff for the day.

McMorris Rodgers endorses Romney

The campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has won the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, Romney's campaign announced today.

McMorris Rodgers will serve as Romney's chairwoman in Washington, his campaign said in a news release.

Mapping the Undervotes in 4th Senate race

A hand recount of 10 precincts in the state Senate race between Mike Padden and Jeff Baxter gets underway on Wednesday. Baxter, who is paying for the recount, won't say at this point why he's seeking the recount.

But there is one unusual thing about the race. Well, one unusual thing beyond the fact that the race had two Republicans and takes place in an odd-numbered year.

That is the level of “undervotes”, which is what elections officials call a ballot that has no candidate marked for that particular race. About one 4th District voter in five, or 7,900, didn't pick a candidate in the race.

By comparison, only 765 voters in all of Spokane County didn't pick a side on the Initiative 1183, which ended the state's monopoly on liquor sales. OK, so that may not be a fair comparison, because one is about something really important, like booze, and the other…well, you know.

One key factor may have been the lack of a Democratic candidate. Some Ds might've just been unable to mark their ballots for an R when they got to that race.

But the map above shows where undervotes were heaviest, and they aren't all in traditionally Democratic precincts. Nor do they coincide with the precincts that Baxter has asked to be recounted: 4016, 4025, 4026, 4200, 4404, 4406, 4408, 4418, 4426 and 4436.

For a more detailed (and in most cases easier to read) version of the above map, click on the document link below.


Documents:

Today’s fun video: Is Muppet movie class warfare?

 

Some folks at Fox Business seem to think so.

Are they right, or is this a real stretch? Click on comment to weigh in.

Recounts moved to Wednesday

Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said this afternoon that sorting ballots for recounting took longer than expected.

Therefore, the Spokane City Council recount between Richard Rush and Mike Allen and the 4th Legislative District Senate race between Jeff Baxter and Mike Padden won't start until 9 a.m. Wednesday, he said. County should be complete by 1 p.m., when the Spokane County Canvassing Board meets to certify the new results.

Union files suit to block liquor initiative

OLYMPIA — A union that represents some of the workers who will lose their jobs at state liquor stores is suing to block Initiative 1183, which will begin dismantling the state control of liquor sales next year.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 sued today in King County, saying I-1183 violates a state requirement that an initiative have only one subject. The ballot measure had more than that, the union contends: privatizing the state liquor system, changing laws for selling and distributing wine, changing the ability of the Liquor Control Board to regulate alcohol advertising; and creating new franchise protections for spirits distributors.

The union contends the initiative's sponsor, Costco, focused on the issue of privatizing the state system with its record advertising campaign and avoided the other points, which are designed to benefit the retail giant.

Costco may have spent the big bucks to get the initiative passed, but state taxpayers will pay the cost of defending it.

State law says the Attorney General's office defends an initiative the voters approve. Dan Sytman, a spokesman for Attorney General Rob McKenna, said the office “will vigorously defend this initiative” like other state laws.

Council votes to allow more residences on North Hill site

Land along the steep Monroe Street hill in North Spokane will be able to hold up 30 homes or apartments per acre under a plan approved Monday by the City Council.

The council voted 6-1 late Monday  to change the comprehensive plan to allow up to 30 residential units per acre on a little less than two acres of land on the West side of Monroe between Courtland and Glass Avenues. The vacant property is owned by the city.

City officials say the designation provides for more flexibility in designing the site, and that it is highly unlikely that any project will include the maximum number of residences. The city’s Community Development Department hopes to partner with a nonprofit group to develop and sell the vacant land.

Many neighbors opposed the change, in large part because the city doesn’t have specific plans for the site.

The council voted to require that any development on the site be reviewed first by the city’s Design Review Board. Councilman Jon Snyder argued that the process would give neighbors an extra step to consider plans.

Councilman Steve Corker cast the lone vote against the proposal.

Redistricting Commish: Not quite at impasse

OLYMPIA — The panel trying to redraw boundaries for the state's congressional and legislative boundaries made some progress over the last week — they've gone from “impasse” to “bottle necks.”

But members couldn't promise when they'd  have a final plan, and acknowledge they are running short on time.

Impasse was the word used last week to describe efforts to draw legislative boundaries from Pierce County north around the Puget Sound. This week, Commissioner Tim Ceis said he and Commissioner Slade Gorton had narrowed their differences “to just a couple of issues.”

The other two commissioners are working on legislative boundaries to the south, and have made “nominal gains and some tentatitive agreements,” Commissioner Tom Huff said.

“We're trying as best as we can,” Commissioner Dean Foster said. “Sometimes we run into bottle necks.”

When Chairwoman Lura Powell asked if they would have maps to show the public at the commission's Dec. 13 meeting, Foster replied: “I'm not making any promises.”

The panel's four voting members have split into subcommittees in an effort to work out significant differences between a Democratic plan and a Republican plan to redraw the state's 49 legislative boundaries. They must redraw the legislative districts, and come up with a congressional map that adds the state's new congressional district, by Dec. 31. If they don't come up with plans that at least three of the four can agree to, the task goes to the state Supreme Court.

David Anderson, an Olympia resident who has been following the redistricting process all year, suggested the committee was hung up because members are meeting in secret while trying to protect incumbents and create politically safe districts for one party or the other.

“We have no idea what's causing these bottlenecks,” said Anderson, the only person to testify at Tuesday's hearing. “It's the people's business. When you isolate yourselves from the rest of the public and public input, it creates a lot of cynicism.”

State turnout for Nov. 8: 53 percent

OLYMPIA — Although Spokane County has some recounting to do, state officials certified the election results Monday for the Nov. 8 election.

Anyone paying any attention knows how things came out: Initiative 1183, that gets the state out of the liquor business, passed big time. I-1163, requiring training and background checks for home health care workers, passed even bigger time. I-1125, which put new limits on tolls for roads and bridges, failed. And a bunch of folks in cities and towns and districts all over the state got elected to various offices.

So what's the news here? The official state turnout — or turn in, considering the state conducts the entire ballot by mail so no one has to “turn out'' to a poll site — was 52.95 percent. That's about 6 percentage points higher than Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state's top elections official, predicted before the election.

Reed said the interest on the initiatives, and record spending on the liquor proposal raised the visibility of the issue and drove more turnout.

Highest turnout was 70 percent in San Juan County. Garfield, Lincoln and Pend Oreille counties were above 60 percent, and Spokane County came in at 56.5 percent.

And in case you're wondering, recounts don't effect turnout. Those ballots are already part of the total, whether they were marked for one candidate or the other…or neither.

Recounts start Tuesday

Spokane County election officials expect to start and complete on Tuesday the first two of the three recounts they need to complete to finish work from the November election.

Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said the office plans to count the ballots from the Spokane City Council race between Richard Rush and Mike Allen and the 4th Legislative District senate race between Mike Padden and Jeff Baxter starting around 9 a.m.

The Rush-Allen recount will be completed by computer and is required because the race ended with the two candidates within a half percentage point. The senate recount will be completed manually because it was paid for by Baxter.

After this set of results is complete and the Canvassing Board meets on Wednesday, the Allen-Rush hand recount, which is being financed by the Spokane County Democratic Party, can begin.

Rush trails Allen by 88 votes.

Baxter trails Padden by 3,437 votes.

Spec Sess Day8: Wenatchee PFD bailout passes

OLYMPIA — The House passed a bill that would loan a troubled public facilities district $42 million to avoid default, but only after limiting the way cities and counties involved can raise taxes.

On a 56-33 bipartisan vote, the House passed HB 2145, which would help the Wenatchee Public Facilities District repay investors after it defaulted on short-term bonds on Dec. 1. The money would be paid back to the state over 10 years, starting in 2013, and the cities and counties involved could raise local sales taxes by as much as two-tenths of a percent to cover the loan payments to the state.

But a change just before the bill came to a vote did not sit well with Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, one of the bill's original sponsors. The original bill said taxes could be raised by a vote of the local legislative body or the voters. The amendment allows a tax increase onlly if voters approve it.

“This takes us down the slope to total bond default,” Armstrong said, and voted no.

The bill's two other sponsors, however, Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, and Ross Hunter, D-Medina, voted yes.

Officials at the Spokane Public Facilities District say they are watching progress of the Wenatchee PFD bailout closely, because Spokane is scheduled to sell bonds on Dec. 13 in an effort to cut costs by refinancing at a lower interest rate.

The Spokane-area delegation's vote can be found inside the blog. 

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans are said to be divided over a bailout to the PFD.

Spec Sess Day8: Get ‘er done, Brown urges

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's administration is beginning to show a certain frustration with the slow pace of the Legislature in its 30-day special session.

Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown today sent all 147 legislators an e-mail saying the state is burning through $41 million a day with the current level of programs, policies and salaries in the 2011-13 budget. That's Gregoire's reason for bringing legislators back to Olympia early in an effort to pass a revised budget that would cut about $2 billion from those projected expenses.

Failing to pass a budget in the special session, and waiting until the regular session that begins Jan. 9, puts the state farther behind, and would require more cuts in more programs, Brown said.

The e-mail follows a week in which the legislative progress might have to be measured with a magnifying glass. An emergency bill to bail out the Wenatchee Public Facilities District and avoid default to that district's investors needed to pass by Dec. 1; that deadline passed with no action on the first proposal, and House Ways and Means managed to approve a revised bailout package late Friday.

One Republican House member openly doubted the Legislature would even vote on the governor's budget proposal in the special session. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said in a TVW interview that they were looking at changing legislative rules so that bills that pass only one house in the special session don't have to go back to that chamber and start all over again when the regular session begins in January.

Thanks to pro-forma floor sessions and a lack of committee hearings, most senators took a four-day weekend. Budget leaders remained behind in Olympia, but there's no sign yet of any progress they might have made.

To read Brown's e-mail to legislators, click here to go inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: Unrequested advice to ‘occupiers’

OLYMPIA – It may be pointless to offer advice that hasn’t been requested, but should some leader of the “Occupy” movement ask I’d be happy to give it.
This assumes, of course, that this is a movement and has a leader, the first of which is debatable and the second often denied. Still, minor problems like that never keep a reporter from sticking his nose into something…
  

Spec Sess Day 5: No budget by end of session?

OLYMPIA — A Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee expressed serious doubts Friday the Legislature would pass a new budget before time ran out on the special session. And the chairman of the committee did nothing to contradict him.

At the start of a hearing on various programs that would be eliminated under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed cuts of some $2 billion, Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, wondered if anyone in the room thought the Legislature “would vote the governor's budget out by the end of special session.”

“I don't think it's going to happen,” Hinkle said. “Are we really going to do that?”

Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, replied that was a question “the chair is unable to answer.”

Hinkle asked for a show of hands for those who thought it would happen, but Hunter didn't allow that vote to proceed, and began taking testimony on a bill to reduce the state's payments to rural hospitals.

Spokane Democrats write check for Rush-Allen recount

Spokane City Councilman Richard Rush will get a hand recount afterall.

The incumbent councilman who trails former Councilman Mike Allen by 88 votes submitted a check this afternoon to the Spokane County Election's Office for $6,240 to pay for a full manual count of ballots in his race for the south district. He said the amount was provided by the Spokane County Democratic Party.

A recount is required because Allen's margin of victory is less than a half percentage point. The margin is larger than a quarter a percentage point — the level that requires recounting done by hand.

The Spokane County Canvassing Board earlier this week voted to do a hand recount in the race on the advice of Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, who said it would be better to recount by hand to allow the county to run a thorough test of new vote-counting equipment with real ballots. Soon after, however, Jeff Baxter, who lost his state Senate seat representing Spokane Valley, decided to pay $1,774 for a partial hand recount of ballots in his race, despite losing by more than 3,000 votes.

Dalton, a Democrat, said it no longer made sense for the county to pay extra for a hand recount in the Rush-Allen race since one already would be done for 10 precincts in the 4th Legislative District. Dalton and the two other members of the Canvassing Board voted Thursday to change the Allen-Rush recount to a machine count.

Rush has questioned if Baxter, a Republican, was motivated to pay for a hand recount in order to prevent his race from being recounted by hand. Baxter has declined to provide a motivation.

“He's 10 points behind,” Rush said. “How can he make that up?”

The computer recount of the Rush-Allen race will move forward, along with the recount of the Baxter race against Mike Padden, next week. Dalton said the Rush-Allen race will be recounted by hand starting Dec. 12.

Dalton said the request marks the first time the county has recounted the same set of ballots twice since the 2004 governor's race.


Documents:

Spec Sess Day5: Slow day in the Capitol

OLYMPIA — Legislative action will be at a minimum today.

The Senate has only a pro forma session at noon. Pro forma is Latin for “we aren't really doing anything.” None of its committees are meeeting, either. Senators who want to go home can beat the evening traffic on I-5 and make it over Snoqualmie Pass when temperatures are above freezing.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, had planned a press conference over the lunch hour to blast Attorney General Rob McKenna for proposing new state programs without explaining how he'd pay for them. But that event was cancelled earlier this morning “due to a last-minute scheduling conflict”. Not sure what the scheduling conflict is. Murray is the chairman of Senate Ways and Means, but it's not a public hearing for Senate W&M.

The House also has a pro forma session in the morning. But its members have a full day of committee hearings, closing with a  House Ways and Means hearing at 3:30 p.m. Ways & Means is the committee in charge of the budget — you know, the thing that's about $1.4 billion short of what it needs to pay for all the stuff the Legislature approved earlier this year? the thing that brought the honorables back to Olympia more than a month early to get fixed as fast as possible, to maximize savings?

The hearing isn't about the budget per se, but about several bills that would cut or delay certan programs. They might also talk about a possible solution for the Wenatchee Public Facilities District's financial problems, although the drop dead date for the PFD was originally supposed to be Thursday.

There is activity in and around the Capitol, however. Protests continue, and today's theme is kids. The Childrens Alliance will hold a noon rally on the Capitol steps, with adult and youth speakers asking legislators not to cut programs for children, and spend the rest of the day looking for members of their local delegations to deliver a proclamation and lobby. As one pundit said recently, at least the protesters are using the Capitol, since the legislators don't seem to be interested in doing so.

On a more seasonal note, there will be a holiday wreath laying at the Law Enforcement Memorial north of the Temple of Justice, and the holiday tree will be formally lit this evening.

Spec Sess Day4: Shin says raise sales tax 1 percent

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, is doubling down on Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to raise the state sales tax by a half-cent for three years to help rescue state programs from the chopping block.

Shin introduced a bill to raise the sales tax by 1 percent, or one penny on each dollar spent, from June 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015. That would raise an estimated $1 billion to be applied to the gap between scheduled state spending and projected state revenues currently estimated at $1.4 billion. He has two other Democrats in the Senate as co-sponsors.

Also on the tax front, a group of Republican senators have a joint resolution that would make all new tax increases expire after five years.

Spec Sess Day 4: Can they get anything done in Dec.?

OLYMPIA — Legislators have until Dec. 28 to find ways to close the projected $1.4 billion budget gap, and maybe ask voters to raise the state sales tax to save some programs.

Some legislators of both parties have expressed doubt that they can do it in the time allotted, and the fact the regular 2012 session follows the special session by about two weeks has them suggesting some things may just have to wait.

This kind of talk does not sit well with Gov. Chris Gregoire, who called them back for this emergency session with the idea of getting the messy budget stuff out of the way as soon as possible, so savings can start accruing. If the Legislature doesn't agree by the end of the month to put a half-cent sales tax before voters, it can't go on the March ballot.

“I've heard a lot of skepticism from legislators on whether they can get the job done. I'm not willing to accept that,” she said Thursday. “Is there job tough? Absolutely. It's the reality we face today.”

She also took shots at some proposals to increase state revenue without raising the sales tax, as she has suggested, or other taxes. One of them is to expand casino gambling off the reservations. “Voters said,  not all that long ago, 'No,'” she said.

Another one, particularly popular with protesters who continue to march in and around the Capitol, is an end to a tax exemption banks have on first mortgages. That might raise $18 million, which doesn't close much of the budget gap, she said. Closing any tax loophole will take a two-thirds majority in the Legislature and “that just isn't going to  happen,” she said.

Unemployment tax rates to drop, workers comp rates steady

Gregoire at press conference: Show me some real reforms.

OLYMPIA — Most Washington businesses will see lower unemployment taxes and many will have no increase in their workers compensation rates in 2012.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, announcing the new rates for next year, said they represent “real reform” through work with the Legislature earlier this year, rather than the calls for reform some legislators now say are needed before the state considers a tax increase.

“I've been doing reform long before anybody used it as a political football like they are today,” Gregoire said. “No one has come to me with any new ideas that will solve a $2 billion problem.”

The state's General Fund budget has a gap of about $1.4 billion between spending that  has been planned for state programs and salaries, and revenue the state is projected to collect through June 30, 2013. Gregoire has proposed nearly $2 billion in cuts to close that gap and provide reserves to start the next biennium.

Under the unemployment insurance and workers comp rates announced this morning:

  —88 percent of businesses will pay lower unemployment tax rates, and those reductions will be available even for some companies that have laid off workers in the last four years. About 11 percent will pay higher rates because of the level of  benefits paid to former employees.

  —Unemployment taxes will drop in all 40 rate classes. The rate 1 class, which covers some of the state's smallest businesses, will drop by 71 percent. The total amount of unemployment taxes that will be collected by the state in 2012 will drop an estimated $200 million.

  —There will be no general rate increase for workers compensation, for the first time since 2007. Some individual employers will see their rates go up, depending on their claims history or their industry. Of the state's 317 risk classes for jobs and industries, 171 risk classes will go up and 146 will go down or stay the same.

Those rates are a result of comprehensive reform of the workers' comp system the Legislature passed earlier this year. State officials said it would save about $1.1 billion over four years.

Spec Sess Day 4: Workers comp, unemployment rates, budgets

OLYMPIA — The new rates for unemployment insurance and workers compensation taxes will be announced this morning in a press conference by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The gov has been touting reforms earlier this year to both systems as proof that her administration and the Legislature are serious about government reform. The proof in this case may be in how much, or whether, the rates change.

In the Legislature, both the House and Senate Ways and Means committees have budget hearings this afternoon. So do both chambers' Transportation committees.

Floor action? Likely none in the Senate, which is scheduled only for a pro forma session at noon. Possibility of something in the House, which convened at 10 a.m. and went into caucus. Prospects for a proposed bailout of the Wenatchee Public Facilities District, however, have to be rated as dismal to non-existant at the start of the day. Today is the deadline, and neither chamber has moved a bill.

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

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


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


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

Latest comments »

Read all the posts from recent conversations on Spin Control.

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here