Archive for April 2012
OLYMPIA – Cameras are everywhere.
That’s the lesson of a 30-second exchange between Rob McKenna, the state attorney general who would-be governor, and a young woman on a Seattle sidewalk that went from pointed conversation to Youtube video overnight, and resuscitated an issue Republicans were probably glad to have killed during the Legislative session.
McKenna was coming out of the Red Lion Conference Center last week when Kendra Obom, tape recorder in hand, approached and asked what his stance is on the Reproductive Parity Act. His response, McKenna said as he continued walking, was that he’s a lawyer for the state, suggested Obom turn her recorder off and accused her of “trying to bushwhack me,” as well as not being very polite and possibly not honest.
Obom, following along, protested that she was just wondering. McKenna, still walking, continued to ask if she thought she was being honest, until she said “forget it” and he countered with a suggestion that she was trying to gain a political advantage, then closed off the exchange with “Why don’t you get a job?”
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If you tune in to NBC’s “Meet the Press” this weekend, you’ll see a familiar face from the Inland Northwest getting some network air time.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Spokane Republican serving as vice chair of the House GOP Conference, will be among the guests on the nationally televised news show, which airs in Spokane at 8 a.m. Sunday on KHQ TV. Topics include the presidential race, the economy, immigration and the continuing debate over what some are calling the “war on women.”
McMorris Rodgers, seeking a fifth congressional term, is the Washington state chair of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and has led the Republican rebuttal against Democratic attacks that the GOP’s agenda harms women.
Democratic State Rep. Andy Billig made it official Thursday that he would run for re-election in the 3rd Legislative District.
Billig, the co-owner of the Spokane Indians baseball team, was elected to an open seat in 2010 in a crowded race. With just over two weeks before candidates file for office, he has no announced opposition.
He scheduled a campaign kickoff event for May 16, saying he wants to continue “to fight for our community's values like equal rights, justice and prosperity.”
The 3rd District covers much of central Spokane, including downtown, he lower South Hill, East Central, Logan, Hillyard and West Central. It's one of the state's most reliably Democratic districts.
Although Billig is the district's least senior legislator, his two seatmates have already drawn Republican opponents. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown faces Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin and Rep. Timm Ormsby faces Dave White, who ran unsuccessfully against Billig in 2010.
OLYMPIA – After several years of adjusting to the state’s nonpartisan Top Two primary, which is a non-partisan affair, some voters will have a chance to cast a partisan vote for one office this August.
The Top Two primary on Aug. 7 will feature partisan offices like governor, congress member and legislator, but doesn’t narrow the field by picking the top Democrat and top Republican for those offices. It sends the two candidates with the most votes to the general election, regardless of party.
Candidates aren’t necessarily supported by the party they say they prefer, and a voter need not stick to a single party preference for all offices.
But a rule announced Wednesday says some voters will have the chance to cast a partisan vote for an office most know very little about, the precinct committee officer.
Republican Matt Shea will seek a third term in the state House of Representatives, not the open seat on the Spokane County Board of Commissioners.
Shea had been mentioned as a possible contender for the commission seat that two-term incumbent Mark Richard said he was leaving last week. This morning, however, Shea scheduled his campaign kickoff for the House re-election campaign next Tuesday evening at Felts Field, saying he was grateful for all the encouragement to run for the commission seat but wanted to continue work in the Legislature.
“I feel I must stay and fight to remove the tangle of taxes and regulations that is causing businesses and jobs to move out of the Spokane Valley and the state of Washington,” he said in a prepared statement.
Shea won the hotly contested open seat in 2008 in the traditionally Republican 4th Legislative District in 2008, and ran unopposed in 2010. So far this year he has one announced opponent, Democrat Amy Biviano, a certified public accountant and former county party chairwoman.
The race for Richard's commission seat already has one announced Republican, Shelly O'Quinn, and two Democrats, former Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple and former television newscaster Daryl Romeyn, talking about possible campaigns.
Former City Councilman Bob Apple and former KREM-TV weatherman Daryl Romeyn are contemplating bids for Spokane County Commission.
Both would run for the seat held by Republican Commissioner Mark Richard. He announced last weekthat he would not seek a third term. Republican Shelly O'Quinn, who works for Greater Spokane Inc., immediately announced her candidacy and earned the endorsements of all three county commissioners.
Apple said on Monday that he is talking to Democrats about running. He ran as a Democrat for state House in 2010 but the party declined to endorse him. He said he would consider running as an independent if the party is not open to his candidacy.
Apple said his bid is dependent on the amount of support he gets before the May 18 filing deadline.
Romeyn appears more certain about running.
“I do plan to run, but it's not in stone,” he said Tuesday.
Romeyn, a former weatherman who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010, owns a farm in Greenacres. He also owns Green Acres Grown, which sells dried fruits to area grocery stores in the bulk section.
He said he would run as a Democrat, and his top two issues are cutting property taxes and preserving open space.
“That's our biggest problem — getting our property taxes down,” Romeyn said.
As a political novice running against a member of the congressional leadership, Rich Cowan said he hopes to use what some would consider his weakness against what many would consider Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ strength.
“This is the worst Congress ever, and she’s part of the leadership of it,” said Cowan, who opened a campaign headquarters Tuesday in Spokane.
Spokane radio talk show host Laurie Roth will not be the Constitution Party’s nominee for president, but is considering a run as a “tea party” independent.
That’s a tough route to the White House, she conceded in typically colorful language Tuesday: “It’s going to be like climbing up Mount Everest in a bikini with no oxygen. I think my country’s worth it.”
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OK, so the argument over whether Mitt Romney is less dog friendly for strapping a canine cage to his car roof than Barack Obama is for eating dog meat when he was a child in Indonesia is admittedly the stupidest conversation of the Presidential campaign thus far.
But this video is still pretty funny.
TACOMA – More than $1 billion in construction projects, from storm water runoff systems costing a thousand of dollars to the second half of a medical research facility in Spokane costing some $37 million, were signed into law Monday.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the capital projects budget at Tacoma Community College, where the state will spend $39 million for a new Health Career Center. She called it a package of jobs that present “a way out of the recession.”
While Gregoire and other legislators were lauding the list of projects, state Sen. Mike Baumgartner was requesting a study of whether election-year politics helped determine where money went. Districts represented by Democratic senators and Democratic senators facing re-election this year received far more than the state average per district and more than their GOP counterparts, his analysis showed.
“I voted for the capital budget and it contains many worthwhile projects, but we need to make sure it’s not used for pork barrel projects in election years,” said Baumgartner, a first-term state senator from Spokane’s 6th District.
OLYMPIA — The rights to operate Washington's state-owned liquor stores have all been auctioned off, at prices ranging from about $750,000 for a store in Tacoma to just under $50,000 for a store in Spokane. The state will collect $30.7 million from the auction.
The state closed the auction Friday after a flurry of last-minute bids for the rights to the licenses at 167 stores, and winning bids were announced this morning. The state owns the license, but not the buildings they occupy. New owners will have to negotiate leases with landlords and purchase inventory. If they can't come to a deal on a lease, they can re-sell their license or relocate within a mile of the current location.
Winning bids for two Spokane-area stores went to Ranvir Nagra of Veradale. The other Spokane-area stores went to bidders who didn't receive any other licenses in the county.
The liquor store at 2401 W. Wellesley drew the smallest bid in the state, at $49,600, and the store in the Manito Shopping Center at 3017 S. Grand was second at $50,100. Top bid for a Spokane-area store was $300,100 for the Spokane Valley store at University City.
The state auctioned the licenses to its liquor stores because voters approved Initiative 1183 last November, which gets the state out of wholesale and retail liquor operations. Under the initiative, most private liquor stores will have to have at least 10,000 square feet of floor space, but the owner of a license from a former state store can operate in a smaller facility.
OLYMPIA — The Capital Projects budget, which contains about $1 billion in new projects around the state, is scheduled to be signed this afternoon by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
For certain segments of the Spokane population, this is the document most watched over and lobbied for during the late regular and special sessions. That's because it contains about $37 million for the second half of construction on the Washington State University-Spokane Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, the project many people just short-hand as “the med school.”
Naturally, that's not the only project in the Capital Budget for the Spokane area. We'll have a more complete list this afternoon, after the gov puts her autograph on the bill.
OLYMPIA — A week after the Legislature’s overtime session wrapped up, Democrats accused GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna of delaying the final compromise by politicizing the process.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, joined members of Democratic governor candidate Jay Inslee’s staff to accuse McKenna of using the budget stalemate “for political purposes” to push reform proposals.
A spokesman for the McKenna campaign called the accusations “nonsensical.” McKenna did talk about budget principles he would follow as governor, but “didn't try to inject himself into day-to-day negotiations,” Charles McCray III said.
Murray and the Inslee campaign were merely being “protectors of the status quo,” McCray countered. “It’s the status quo mentality in Olympia that is the reason it took so long.”
The average voter might wonder how a Legislative session that essentially stretched from Thanksgiving to Easter and dealt with a yawning budget gap, pensions, quadrennial balanced budgeting requirements, removal of a voter-mandated reduction in class sizes, to name just a few things, could at any point be de-politicized. It may also seem odd to said voter that a politician, which Murray is by occupation, and political operatives, like McCray and Inslee’s staffers are, might hurl the word political as an insult or take umbrage to it as it flies past their ear.
Laurie Roth, a syndicated radio talk show host who broadcasts from Spokane County, is trying to parlay her strong conservatism, an unusual tax plan and the story of her near-death experience into a bid for the presidency.
The self-described Annie Oakley of the Airwaves says she was called by God about a year ago to make the campaign journey from her doublewide trailer in Elk, Wash., to the White House and turn the nation around.
“I am the comeback kid. I am the Seabiscuit story,” Roth, a 51-year-old mother of two, said. “America is road kill, and so was I.”
On Saturday she'll find out if the Constitution Party, one of the nation’s largest third party organizations, will choose her to lead their ticket in the fall election. She’s one of three main candidates, along with Virgil Goode, a former Republican congressman from Virginia and Robby Wells, a former college football coach, seeking the support of the conservative political party at its national convention in Nashville…
OLYMPIA — The state's Democratic and Libertarian parties are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do what lower courts have refused: Throw out the state's Top Two primary system.
The two parties have asked the nation's top court to hear arguments on the state's primary system, which has all candidates for all offices on a single ballot and lists candidates by the party they say they “prefer”. The two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of party preference.
The Supreme Court would be the last stop in a long battle the parties have waged over the way Washington conducts its primaries. For more than a half-century, Washington operated what was known as a blanket primary, where all candidates for all offices appeared on a single ballot, and voters could select on candidate from any party for each office. When those ballots were tallied, the Democrat and Republican candidate for each office advanced to the general election, as did minor party candidates and independents who crossed a threshhold for a minimum number of votes.
Washington voters don't register by party, and the major parties argued that meant people who weren't their members were choosing their nominees. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar law in California for violating constitutional protections of freedom of association, and the Washington parties won a court challenge to their state's law in 2003. Voters approved an initiative for the Top 2 primary, which was also challenged in court, and while the court case was pending, primaries in which voters had to choose a Democratic or Republican ballot or nonpartisan ballot if there were nonpartisan races or measures in the same election.
Eventually the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 the Top 2 primary was, on its face, constitutional. But it left open the possibility that it could be administered in a way that was unconstitutional. The parties challenged the way the primary ballot identifies a candidate's party preference, arguing they don't have an adequate way of objecting to a candidate who claims to be associated with them, and that voters might be confused that listing of party preference indicates the candidate is a member of the party.
That challenge failed with a U.S. District Court judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ballot contains a disclaimer that a candidate's preference does not necessarily have the support of that party, and the appeals court said that was enough. The parties are saying, however, there wasn't any evidence in front of the appeals court to show “that voters read or understand the disclaimer or that doing so would affect voter perceptions of the candidate-party association.”
Secretary of State Sam Reed defended the Top 2 primary as a way for state residents to vote for the person, not the party label. “I hope the Supreme Court will decline to take the case, and will acknowledge that we followed to court's roadmap for how to conduct the primary as a nonpartisan, winnow election that puts the voter in the driver's seat.”
The state Republican Party had been involved in the previous court cases, but is not part of the latest effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, which is a request for a writ of certiorari.
OLYMPIA — A week after the Legislature's overtime session wrapped up, Democrats accused GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna of delaying the final compromise by bringing politics into the process.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, joined members of the campaign for Democratic governor hopeful Jay Inslee to accuse McKenna of using the budget stalemate “for political purposes” to push reform proposals.
A spokesman for the McKenna campaign called the accusations “nonsensical.” McKenna did talk about budget principles he would follow as governor, but “didn't try to inject himself into day-to-day negotiations,” Charles McCray III said.
Murray and the Inslee campaign were merely being “protectors of the status quo,” McCray said. “It's the status quo mentality in Olympia that is the reason it took so long.”
McKenna did support a maneuver by all 22 Republicans and three breakaway Democrats late in the regular session that pushed through an alternative budget. Murray questioned how McKenna, who has called for increased spending on education, could support a budget that cut public schools and colleges.
McKenna later said he “wasn't thrilled” with the education cuts in that alternative budget, which later was revised in the House. At a campaign press conference during the third week of the special session, he said if he'd been involved in discussions over that alternative Senate budget “I would've gone to them and said 'Let's not make the education cuts.'”
At that press conference, McKenna accused Democratic leaders in general, and House Speaker Frank Chopp in particular, of holding up negotiations by refusing to allow votes on reforms.
The partisan lines over the reforms aren't so clear-cut. The original proposal on a four-year balanced budget, a constitutional amendment, came from a Senate Democrat, one of the three who joined Republicans on the budget vote.
Murray said that's a stricter rule than any state in the union has, and “forces you to predict something in the future that is almost unpredictable.” The negotiated settlement over the budget and reforms is a statutory requirement, with some exceptions, for a four-year budget, which would be easier to amend by future Legislatures.
“It took us to bring some common sense to it,” Murray said.
On his website, McKenna details a series of ideas to reform the budget process he would push as governor. But he doesn't mention balancing the budget for four years, rather than the current two years. At his press conference earlier this month, he said he supports a four-year balanced budget but “I don't know if it requires a constitutional amendment.”
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said Tuesday that he's unlikely to propose a new resolution in support of gay marriage until opponents earn enough signatures to force the issue on the ballot.
At Monday's council meeting, Stuckart warned that he might repeatedly bring a resolution forward until the council takes a stance on the resolution, but he moderated that position today.
Stuckart said that since the City Council has previously taken positions on state ballot items, there is precedent for reconsidering the resolution if repeal of gay marriage makes it to a public vote.
If forced to take a vote on the resolution, council members agree it would be approved in a 5-2 vote. But two supporters of gay marriage, Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori, say the council shouldn't vote on it. They argue that it's not a local issue.
When he requested to table the resolution, Councilman Mike Fagan pointed to a council rule that says, “The Council shall not consider or pass any ordinance or resolution the subject matter of which is not directly related to local affairs or municipal business.”
Stuckart said the overflow turnout at the meeting, which attracted about 300 people — 93 of whom testified — is proof that the issue is local and affects the citizenry.
“I can't see why that's outside the city's business,” he said.
A pair of Republicans will compete against a former Democratic legislator for a newly open seat in the state House in Spokane’s 6th Legislative District.
Larry Keller, the superintendent of the Cheney School District and Spokane attorney Jeff Holy will try to keep a seat Rep. John Ahern’s seat in Republican hands while Dennis Dellwo will try to return to the Legislature after a 16-year absence, and in a new district.
Ahern, who as recently as last Tuesday said he planned to run for re-election, announced over the weekend he will step down at the end of this term but may run for Spokane City Council next year.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers may be a longshot for the veep nod as today's story explains, but she was the designated hitter for the GOP this morning on CNN's State of the Union news magazine when it talked about the “war on women.”
She and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., were interviewed by Candy Crowley
Councilman Mike Fagan, who is co-sponsoring legislation amending the city's initiative process, has proposed initiatives using the direct filing method he now proposes to ban. In May 2010 he submitted two initiatives to the City Clerk's office using the direct petition model. They would have banned the city's participation in groups like the United Nations and restricted portions of the Sustainability Plan, which was developed to decrease the city's impact on global warming.
Fagan said Friday he didn't remember filing initiatives using the direct-petition option. In April 2010 he filed initiatives on the same topics using the assistance of the city attorney's office, which drafted two ballot questions. He later withdrew the proposals and refiled slightly different ones using the direct option. Fagan never made a serious effort to collect signatures on the initiatives.
Fagan, a co-director along with Tim Eyman of Voters Want More Choices, which puts a citizens' initiative on the state ballot almost annually, has taken heat for his sponsorship of the initiative changes, given that he makes his living by campaigning for initiatives.
The Inlander even quoted Eyman criticizing Fagan and Councilman Steve Salvatori's plan in last week's edition.
“You have to continually remind yourself: It’s called the citizen’s initiative process,” Eyman said, according to the Inlander. “I really, really hope that City Council will not do this.”
OLYMPIA – Now that the Legislature has wandered, bleary-eyed, out of town, would it be too much to hope they took some of their over-worked phrases with them and didn’t bring them back?
First on the list: “Bending the curve.” Throughout the session, legislators talked about bending the curve on unemployment, bending the curve on spending, bending the curve on health care costs.
Gov. Chris Gregoire may be partly responsible for this. In her state of the state address, she urged them to be like race car drivers who win by accelerating in the turns, when others get cautious and slow down. Who knew the governor was a NASCAR fan? But so many legislators picked up the theme that for a while it seemed as though the Capitol had 147 pitchers, and no hitters.
And really, don’t curves bend on their own? If you try to bend them some more, they break. Let’s straighten the curve on bending the curve, hit the gas and just power through…
Envision Spokane on Thursday filed its Community Bill of Rights initiative with the Spokane City Clerk's office.
This is the third time the group has filed a Community Bill of Rights. It succeeded the previous two times in collecting the needed signatures to place the item on the ballot. Its 2009 proposal was easily defeated by voters, but its 2011 scaled-back version nearly passed. The initiative filed on Thursday mirrors the 2011 version (the petition filed on Thursday is linked to this post).
By filing now, the initiative is locked into initiative rules that currently are on the books. On Monday, the Spokane City Council will consider changing the initiative process to eliminate the filing method preferred by Envision Spokane. That method allows groups to place a question before voters without input from the City Attorney's Office.
The question could be put before voters this year or next, but if they want it on the ballot this year, they'll need to collect substantially more signatures.
“Everybody has to give. Everybody has to get,” Gov. Chris Gregoire says of the final budget deal.
OLYMPIA — Some state spending that legislators approved shortly before dawn Wednesday as part of a package deal to end the session may not survive the veto pen.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she would sign the major reforms which were part of a negotiated package of legislation that came together in the closing days of one special session and needed a few hours of yet another special session to pass a bleary-eyed Legislature.
That package includes changes to state employees' early retirement system for workers hired after June, an attempt to equalize health insurance plans for public school workers and state employees, and an effort to project out four years to get state spending and revenue to match up.
But legislators stuck special projects into the supplemental budget “at a fevered pitch” in the final discussions, she said, and she's having staff comb through the 280-page document.
“I didn't agree to every dotted “i” and crossed “t” in that budget,” she said. “I'm sure there are things in there that I will veto. I want more in the ending fund balance.”
In her budget proposal, Gregoire called for an ending fund balance, which serves as a cushion against further economic downturns, of about $600 million. The budget passed Wednesday morning has a balance of just over half that, about $320 million. She doesn't have an estimate of how much she might cut, but said there's no way to trim out $300 million.
The reforms that Republicans were demanding in return for a vote on the budget, however, were carefully studied, she said. Those include:
* A change to the early retirement system for new state employees. Any new employee would be able to retire before age 65 after 30 years in state service by accepting a reduction of 5 percent for each year under 65. A 2000 law allows existing workers with 30 years service a 3 percent per year reduction between 65 and 55, and a 2007 law and 2007 allows for full benefits at 62.
* A review of the public school employees' health insurance systems — which vary from district to district — and incentives for the districts to offer plans that are in line with plans available to state employees, including plans with high deductibles and health savings accounts. One of the key elements of that legislation is to encourage districts to offer plans in which family insurance premiums that are no more than three times the cost of an individual's plan.
* Requirements that the Legislature adopt a four-year budget plan, rather than the current two-year plan, for the state General Fund that projects that scheduled expenses won't exceed projected revenues, and provides an ending balance that's in the black. The law also adds the state treasurer to the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which produces the revenue outlook that becomes key to legislative budgeting.
Those reforms were key to Republicans and some conservative Democrats voting for the budget. For weeks, Republicans demanded reforms before they'd consider any decision on taxes or vote on the budget. Democrats wanted a commitment on searching for more revenue, particularly the closure of a tax exemption for first mortgages written by large, multi-state banks. The stalemate that developed near the end of the regular session carried over into the special session. Last weekend, Gregoire and her staff put together a package that included all elements and began working with legislative leaders and budget experts on a way to make that work.
They ran out of time on Tuesday, and she called another special session, one that legislative leaders agreed would only last until they voted on the package of bills, and told them to stay until it was done.
She denied reports that one side wanted negotiations to fail, and doubted that it could have happened any faster.
In the end, Democrats got a budget very close to what they had proposed in the Senate but couldn't pass because three of their members lined up with the 22 Republicans to pass a different spending plan. The final budget had no cuts to public schools or state colleges, saved the Disability Lifeline and the Basic Health plan. Republicans got the reforms they said were needed to make the budget “sustainable.”
“They all got something critical. They all gave,” she said. Everyone was tired of cutting programs, she added.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, who represented GOP Senate leadership in the negotiations, agreed with Gregoire's assessments on negotiations and the final package.
“I think it was a package deal. The governor is exactly right: We're all tired of cuts,” Parlette said.
But Gregoire's comments that she'd have staff go through the final budget for things she might veto that were added at the last minute struck one government watchdog as odd. Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center questioned why it was alright for the governor to say she didn't have enough time to review the final product when legislators had to vote on it without having time to study it, and the public never saw the final product before it was passed into law.
OLYMPIA – For almost 91 days the Legislature wrestled with a looming budget problem. For the first 90, it was even money, at best, whether the Legislature would win.
The final solution for the beleaguered operating budget – which included side deals on a separate capital construction budget as well as changes to state pensions, long-term budgeting and public school employee health care systems – evolved over the course of a 60-day regular session and a 30-day regular session.
Most legislators didn’t even see the operating budget on which they would vote until about 12:20 a.m. Wednesday morning, about 20 minutes after Gov. Chris Gregoire told them to pull the equivalent of an all-nighter and not leave the Capitol until all the connected pieces had passed.
Even Spokane legislators who voted against that budget as dawn was breaking said it was better than some other versions. Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, who like most House Republicans voted no, said he has concerns about the low reserves and the way some accounting maneuvers allow the state to count money that he describes as “not hard dollars.” But the final budget does not have drastic cuts to public schools and state colleges, and the debate forced through other reforms, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, who was in the middle of negotiations among the parties, the two chambers and Gregoire, contends the final budget is significantly better than the governor’s initial proposal and the earlier budget that cleared the Senate with all Republicans and three Democrats. Not only does it preserve public school and college programs, she said, it saves many social service and health programs critical to the state in general and Spokane in particular.
Her central Spokane district, one of the state’s poorest, has a high percentage of residents with disabilities, those who use state health care programs for treatment at community clinics, or rely on child care assistance as they work their way back from unemployment to family sustaining jobs.
“It’s disappointing that it took the extra special session to get there,” she said. But the final result was, in the Senate anyway, a budget with strong support from both parties.
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who also voted for the budget, called it “a productive session given the circumstances”.
“We ended up with a better operating budget, and good but not great reforms,” Baumgartner said.
The two-year $31.6 billion operating budget had a projected gap of as much as $1.4 billion when the regular session started in January. Gregoire had proposed some draconian cuts to public schools, state colleges, the Department of Corrections, state medical programs like Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline, and the Department of Social and Health Services. She proposed asking voters for a temporary increase in the state sales tax to “buy back” some of those services, particularly for education. She also said the state should have a reserve of at least $600 million, to guard against future economic downturns.
The sales tax increase was unpopular from the start and the Legislature never seriously considered it. All four caucuses crafted complete budgets, which was unusual. House Democrats passed one budget; Senate Republicans, with three breakaway Democrats, substituted their spending plan and sent it back to the House, where it was swapped again at the end of the regular session for a plan very close to a Democratic plan that was a vote shy in the Senate. The next full budget didn’t surface until early Wednesday morning. Here are some changes in key programs as the operating budget evolved:
OLYMPIA — A plan to end a tax exemption for large banks and extend tax breaks for some other businesses passed the Senate over objections from some of the chambers more conservative Republicans and more liberal Democrats.
The bill, which removes an exemption for large banks for first mortgages, required a two-thirds majority because it is a tax increase. Some senators tried to split that out from the revised tax exemptions for newspapers, food processing operations and server farms, which by themselves only require a simple majority.
“This is a bad precedent (mixing) tax breaks for some and tax increases for others,” Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, argued. “I assure you this will find its way to the courts.”
But the bill passed 35-10, two votes over the required super majority.
Among Spokane-area senators, Mike Baumgartner and Lisa Brown voted yes, Mike Padden and Mark Schoesler voted no. Bob Morton was excused.
Gov. Chris Gregoire orders Legislature into an all-nighter.
OLYMPIA — The Legislature ended one special session at midnight and began a new one as Wednesday began, working to finish work on a deal over budgets and reforms to state government.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was keeping legislators in the Capitol until they finished their work, not allowing them to go home for a few hours sleep and return to work in the morning.
“If I let them go home, the air will go out of the ballon again,” Gregoire told reporters at a news conference to announce the new, one-day special session. “There's only a few hours to get it done.. . No napping.”
Technically, the governor can't call a special session for less than 30 days. But Gregoire said she had an agreement with legislative leaders that the special session would only extend long enough to finish work on bills in an agreement that was reached Tuesday afternoon.
That agreement — which involves the out-of-balance operating budget, the capital construction budget and reforms to pensions, public school employee health insurance and four-year balanced budgets — showed signs of fraying throughout the night. The 282-page operating budget, which is a spending plan for many state programs through June 30, 2013, didn't even arrive on legislator's desks until after midnight.
Asked about the public's reaction to a budget and other legislation that is passed late at night, Gregoire insisted that there were no surprises in any of the bills.
“It isn't as if these issues haven't been vetted,” she said.
OLYMPIA — The road to to adjournment of the special session does not always run smooth.
Voting ground to a halt for a while Tuesday evening as the House waited on the Senate to pass the capital budget and the Senate waited on the House to pass changes to the state pension system.
Ronald Reagan's old phrase: “Trust but verify” could be heard in the wings on both sides of the rotunda.
But a visit by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the leadership offices of both chambers may have restarted the process.
“We're still working it. We're making progress,” Gregoire said as she strode quickly out of Speaker Frank Chopp's office with Majority Leader Lisa Brown at her side.
A few minutes earlier, Senate Democrats seemed convinced that Senate Republicans were about to leave the chamber. But the Republicans were meeting in their caucus room, going over the details of several bills on the list for an upcoming vote. One of their members was upset about something, and made moves to leave for the night, telling at least one colleague “see you next year.”
Benton was gone for a vote or two, but within a half hour was back on the floor and the Senate was voting on parts of the “package”. They approved a modernization of the way the state sends the sales taxes it collects to cities and counties, which provides a one-time boost to the operating budget of about $250 million. That bill, which was a key element of negotiations over the operating budget, has already passed the House and goes to the governor.
The House passed changes to the state pension system, limiting the ability of new hires to retire early with enhanced benefits.
The Senate began debating a change in taxes on “roll-your-own” cigarettes that are bought at machines in commerical establishments. Those cigarettes are currently taxed at a lower rate than a pack of manufactured cigarettes. But that vote was delayed when Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, asked whether it was a new tax which under state law requires a two-thirds majority to become law.
The “roll-your-own” cigarettes bill was set aside and the Senate passed a bill calling for budgets that balance over four years, rather than just two, by an overwhelming 38-9 vote.
OLYMPIA – Legislators slogged through a series of votes Tuesday night that would give the state a balanced budget, pay for nearly $1 billion in government construction projects and implement a series of reforms that could save the state money in the future.
Both chambers were poised to vote on a more than a half-dozen bills, an interconnected package of spending cuts and reforms hammered out in negotiations with Gov. Chris Gregoire as the clock ticked toward a midnight deadline.
They made plans to go into a brief special session if necessary to complete votes on the package, which would change the state’s pension system, revise health insurance programs for public school employees and require budgets that balance over four years rather than two.
Another year, another multimillion dollar deficit at Spokane City Hall.
Spokane Mayor David Condon pledged that his 2013 general fund budget proposal will not include higher taxes despite a forecasted deficit of up to $10 million.
“Our citizens expects us to live within our means Their incomes have not increased and ours is not going to either,” Condon said at a news conference on Tuesday, his 101st day in office.
The city’s general fund is made up of the services mostly paid for with sales, property and utility taxes. They include the fire, library, police and parks departments.
The deficit could improve soon. That’s because about $2 million of the deficit is based on a prediction that the state will slash revenue-sharing tax money with cities. The state’s budget, however, isn’t finalized.
OLYMPIA — Legislators expect to vote later tonight on a budget and a package of reforms that have been the subject of negotiations for more than a month.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said agreement has been reached on the budget and on changes to the state's pension system around early retirement provisions. A proposal for planning a four-year balanced budget instead of the current two years is almost done, and changes to public school employees' health care is also very close.
Those bills must still be printed, brought to one chamber's floor for passage, then moved to the other for passage in the same form.
“We have an agreement to vote,” Brown said. That's not quite the same as an agreement on all sides to pass all the legislation. That remains to be seen, in the voting.
There are questions about whether that can be done by midnight, the end of the special session. If they run out of time, it would be possible for the governor to call another special session with the understanding it was just to finish that work, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla said. It would also be possible for the Legislature to call itself back into special session.
Senate Democrats were called into a caucus at 5:20 p.m. with the admonition: If you want information, we have information.
OLYMPIA — Legislators appear close to an agreement on a budget fix and several other bills needed to get that budget passed — so close that they are trying out different ways to describe “almost a deal” without sounding too positive after leaving an afternoon meeting with Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield: “We're on the same sheet of music, except some of the notes need to be clarified… It's the little things, the little differences.”
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis: “It's a framework with some agreements in it…but there are so many moving pieces.”
One legislator described it as trying to juggle eight balls. Asked if that was a good description, DeBolt replied: “It'd be nice if it was only eight.”
Those moving pieces include a revision to the remaining 15 months in the state's current operating budget, which has a gap of about $1 billion between what the state is expected to collect in taxes and what it is scheduled to spend in programs and wages; the state's capital budget, a smaller spending plan for large construction projects, and ancillary questions over the state limit; changes to the state retirement system to close off some early retirement options for new hires; a way to bring the health insurance programs for state school employees in line with the benefits for state workers; and a way to project budgets over four years, instead of the current two years, in a way that prevents spending imbalances like the current one without requiring special sessions for small fluctuations in revenue forecasts.
OLYMPIA — A deal to break the budget stalemate is reportedly close, but the real question could be whether there's enough time left in the special session to pass it, should negotiators reach agreement.
Budget negotiators were down to the nitty gritty in the operating budget, known as provisos, in the afternoon while legislative leaders were preparing for yet another meeting with Gov. Chris Gregoire.
“We're getting close,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said after running the gauntlet of television cameras outside the governor's office.
A few minutes earlier in the Senate wings, Brown said Democrats and Republicans seemed close to a “tentative deal” explaining “It's a good sing we're writing budget provisos.”
Provisos are special instructions in a budget that direct spending on particular projects or programs.
But Brown acknowledged that the real problem is the clock. The special session will end at midnight tonight, and there is a question whether there is enough time to write, print and vote on the bills in both houses.
It would require agreement on all sides to waive certain rules that require waits for legislators to examine and propose amendments to bills, and wouldn't allow much time for debate.
OLYMPIA — Stop us if you've heard this one: Legislative leaders and the top budget writers huddled with Gov. Chris Gregoire this morning, looking for an agreement on the state's operating budgets and reform issues connected to it.
OK, so we've written that a few times lately. Here's the new part of it. It's the last day of the special session for them to come up with that agreement, get it printed and passed by both houses of the Legislature.
Leaders of the two parties in the two chambers, as well as the budget writers continued their marathon meetings with Gregoire around 10:10 this morning. Yes, the meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m., and there were some comments about invited guests who were not present, making everyone else wait.
The last participant, Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, ranking Republican on Senate Ways and Means, arrived a few minutes after everyone else, reportedly because he'd been huddling with committee staff.
Prognostications for an deal ranged from the very optimistic — members in both chambers were advised to be ready to work until midnight — to the very pessimistic by those who question how it is physically possible to produce the needed legislation, should an agreement be reached, in the time remaining.
Back in the day, legislators could fudge the end of a session, by stopping or covering the clock, and go past midnight on the final day to push through a bill or two. With computers and automatic time stamps, that's not really possible any more. When the clock strikes midnight, the special session turns into a pumpkin (or some other vegetable, take your pick).
One sign of an alternate plan: A bill was introduced in the Senate giving the governor discretionary authority on what to cut in the operating budget to close the estimated gap of more than $1 billion between projected revenue and scheduled expenses. Under current law, a governor can only cut across-the-board, so all programs suffer equally.
Spokane Mayor David Condon said Monday that he still is considering what his position will be on the two hottest topics for next week's City Council meeting.
Those issues are Councilman Jon Snyder's resolution in support of the state's gay marriage law and Councilman Mike Fagan's proposal to change the city's initiative process.
Two Republican-leaning council members, Mike Allen and Steve Salvatori, have said they likely will support Snyder's resolution.
The state approved same-sex marriage this year, but opponents are expected to collect enough signatures to force the issue on the November ballot.
Although supportive of the law, Salvatori has questioned the purpose of the council weighing in on gay marriage since it's not an issue that will be decided at the city level. He doubts the City Council will change anyone's mind on such a passionate topic.
“If I wanted to be in state Legislature, I would have run for the state Legislature,” Salvatori said.
The council has taken up several non-binding resolutions this year, including ones focused on federal marijuana law, the proposed Spokane Tribe of Indian's casino on the West Plains and campaign finance.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said while some of the issues may not be considered City Council business, they are important topics that affect the citizenry. He added voting on a resolution provides a forum for local residents to debate high-profile issues.
“Being an elected official means you have a voice, and you should us that voice,” Stuckart said.
Another year, another deficit.
Spokane Mayor David Condon is holding a news conference this morning to discuss the city's forecasted deficit for 2013.
As of a couple weeks ago, administrators were forecasting a gap of about $10 million between the revenue the city expects to collect in 2013 and the cost of maitaining current services and employee levels. Some of that deficit is based on predictions of revenue-sharing cuts from the unfinished state budget, so the final number may not be as dire.
We are used to the the annual spring deficit alarm bells, which have sounded the last four or five years. While the deficits usually hold somewhat true by the end of the year, the dire cuts have largely been avoided. Employee levels aren't much different than they were before the start of the 2008 recession. All the library branches still are open. Police officer levels are less than if the city had implemented the neighborhood policing plan promised by former Mayor Dennis Hession, but that plan never was implemented anyway. The number of officers in the Spokane Police Department has hardly changed — if you consider numbers over the past decade.
So will 2013 be the year that the sky falls? Or will union concessions, reserves from whatever fund happens to be overfunded, a sales tax windfall, bonus utility taxes or some other money plug the gap?
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders resumed their negotiations with the governor, apparently close to a possible agreement on the budget and surrounding issues.
“We're coming back to see if we've actually got an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said as leaders of both parties in the two chambers, as well as the top budget writers gathered in the waiting room outside the governor's office.
Words like framework, tentative agreement and possible agreement were all mentioned. “It's all just semantics,” Brown said. After leaving discussions with Gov. Chris Gregoire about 7 p.m., leaders outlined the proposals for a budget and several reforms to their members, testing the waters for support.
If they have enough support among the parties on both chambers, legislators will play “beat the clock” late Monday and throughout Tuesday as they race to beat adjournment of the special session, which must happen by midnight.
They will have to agree on language for bills, which must still be drafted and reviewed, then passed in the exact same form in both chambers. Legislative staff could work through the night, but only if that framework for an agreement turns into solid agreements on key pieces of legislation.
Legislators reportedly have been close on the operating budget itself, leaders said. The real holdups, as has been the case for weeks, are changes to state programs or policies, which some call reforms, that would reduce state expenses in future years. The main reforms involve revising state budget practices so projections for expenses and revenue balance for four years into the future, rather than two; making medical insurance plans for public school employees more like the health care plans for state employees; and revising the state pension systems so new employees will have a less generous system for early retirement.
OLYLMPIA — After meeting for about two hours, legislative leaders left their discussions with the governor to discuss a possible “framework for an agreement” with their members that could end the stalemate over the budget.
Leaders of both parties from the two chambers circumvented reporters sitting in the governor's waiting room and went up a floor to where most legislators have been waiting throughout the day. The leaders are due back at 8 p.m.
“She's still holding out hope of midnight” to wrap up all business without another special session, Cory Curtis, a spokesman for Gregoire, said.
But that would require an agreement on language for bills, that must still be drafted and reviewed, then passed in the exact same form in both chambers. Legislative staff could work through the night, but only if that framework for an agreement turns into solid agreements on key pieces of legislation.
Legislators are reportedly close on the operating budget itself, leaders said. The real holdups, as has been the case for weeks, are changes to state programs or policies, which some call reforms, that would reduce state expenses in future years. The main reforms involve revising state budget practices so projections for expenses and revenue balance for four years into the future, rather than two; making medical insurance plans for public school employees more like the health care plans for state employees; and revising the state pension systems so new employees will have a less generous system for early retirement.
OLYMPIA — A meeting among legislative leaders, top budget writers and Gov. Chris Gregoire continues into the evening as the group looks for a way to reach agreements on budgets and reforms connected to that spending plan.
Three reforms are reportedly under discussion: a way to plan for balanced budgets for four years, rather than the current two years; changes to public school employees' health benefits that eventually bring them in line with the state employees' system; revisions to state employees' pension plan that would eliminate some early retirement options for new hires.
Different versions of each exist in the House and Senate. With the clock ticking toward a midnight Tuesday adjournment, there's not enough time to keep passing different versions back and forth. Legislators will need to agree to one version of each reform bill, along with a final version of the revised operating budget and a capital budget, and get them passed in the same form by both chambers.
OLYMPIA — A summit between legislative leaders, their top budget writers and Gov. Chris Gregoire took a break about 3:30 p.m., but is scheduled to resume at 4 p.m.
Legislators came out saying they'd been told by Gregoire not to talk about the details of the proposal she's put before them. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, did say that most of the time is not being spent on the budget, but on a package of reforms tied to the budget.
Those reforms include separate bills that would revise the health insurance system for public school employees, change early retirement options for state employees, and require the Legislature to create a budget that balances not just this biennium, but the next biennium as well.
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders and their top budget writers were given a proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire that represents her “go-home” proposal, her staff said.
Democrats and Republicans met separately on the proposal — which includes a version of the K-12 insurance reforms, pension reforms and four-year balanced budget requirements — then returned to for another meeting with the governor.
A spokesman for Gregoire said her package was aiming for “a middle ground…one that would not make anyone happy.”
No details on what they are proposing and counterproposing. Anything they work out will have to be shown to the separate caucuses to see if it can pass.
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders and budget writers of both houses began huddling with the governor about 12:30 p.m., looking for a way to wrap up business before the clock runs out on the special session at midnight tomorrow.
On the plus side, everyone was quite chipper as they passed the time in the governor's waiting room, chatting about things like their Easter weekends.
On the minus side, the math says there's less than 36 hours left to do everything that needs doing — an operating budget, a capital budget, some version of the reform bills circulating.
As Gov. Chris Gregoire came out to motion legislators in, one of the ubiquitous tours of school children filed in to look at the portraits on the wall. Gregoire took the opportunity to greet them and explain what was going on.
Later in the day, she said, legislators might go on the House or Senate floor, “and you'd be able to see something.”
That brought some derisive chuckles from the assembled press corps, which had gathered on the waiting room couches to stake out the meeting and are already bracing for another special session.
“Hey! Hey!” Gregoire admonished the reporters in her sternest teacher tone, then told the students not to pay any attention to crew on the couches.
“We need to see if maybey we can get done with out jobs by midnight tomorrow,” Gregoire told the students as she left to start the meeting.
House Ways and Means Committee's hearing on several reform bills was postponed until 3 p.m. because of the leadership meeting.
OLYMPIA — Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt is back in the Senate wings today, less than a week after having surgery to remove a tumor from his chest.
The procedure to remove a tumor from his thymus, a small organ in the chest, was similar to open-heart surgery in that surgeons had to open his rip cage then tie it back together.
All things considered, the Walla Walla Republican is looking pretty good. A little pale and somewhat thinner, to be sure, but still. His wife Cory is nearby, with a pillow, just in case he has to sneeze or cough. Either one is terribly painful, he said.
He's available for votes, should any be taken.
Last week, during debates over when to schedule budgets and reform bills, Senate Republicans were wary of any move to push legislation to the floor, saying the Democrats could take advantage of Hewitt's absence and generate a 24-24 split over contentious issues that would be settled by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat. But Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane had said if Republicans got to a point where they needed a 25th vote, she'd cast it for Hewitt.
Hewitt said he'd heard about the offer, but he wasn't going to let that happen.
Now the Senate faces another numeric challenge. Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, is absent. Because he's one of three Democrats who gave Senate Republicans the 25-24 edge on the budget, a budget vote could again stack up as 24-24.
OLYMPIA - Less than 48 hours left in the extra special session and both houses expect some work on 'reform' bills.
The House Ways and Means Committee has a noon hearing on bills that passed the Senate on Saturday: new requirements for community supervision of recently released inmates, a new system to require budgets that balance over four years rather than two, and a major change to the health benefit programs for public school employees.
The Senate may vote on changes to the state pension system that end early retirement options for new state employees. That bill is reportedly a precedent to any Senate vote on the operating budget.
The big questions still remain, however. Will the House pass the 'reform' bills, and will the Senate pass the House budget?
OLYMPIA – The longer the Legislature goes, the more readers call with suggestions on how to make it stop.
Last week even featured a candidate for Lieutenant Governor suggesting that were he in charge (which the lt. gov. is, in the Senate) he would remove the dividing aisle and move senators around so members of the two parties sat together. Yes, clearly the key to the budget impasse is a new seating chart and better feng shui.
Some suggestions aren’t printable in a family newspaper, and some of them, when taken the wrong way, might bring a visit from police. But among the printable that are not potentially actionable, one keeps coming up: Don’t pay ‘em. . .
To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — A bit of drama this afternoon before the Senate broke for lunch, with plans by Democrats to go “at ease” in the afternoon while the Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing on the budget and reform bills connected to it…and possibly come back for votes in the evening or Saturday.
After the motion to go at ease, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, made a motion to recess until Monday. The difference: under the latter, no votes could be taken through the weekend.
Several Republicans had already headed home for the holiday weekend, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is recovering from surgery. Some Republicans were concerned about orders to return to the Senate on Saturday or Sunday to vote on the budget, and with Hewitt missing, even if they all made it back they could face a 24-24 vote, with Democrats holding most of their members but the three breakaway Ds from an early budget vote casting their lot again with the Republicans.
In case of a 24-24 tie, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, would cast the deciding vote.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown argued passionately against recess. The bills that Republicans had been pushing for could get through the committee and be available for a vote Friday or Saturday, she said. If the Legislature has a chance of getting done by Tuesday, they'll need to move that legislation to the House as quickly as possible.
“This is not about the illness of one member. This is about getting the business of the state done,” Brown, D-Spokane, said. “If necessary, I will personally take Sen. Hewitt's vote on that bill.”
There's no problem with holding the hearing, Schoesler said. But the threat of being called back on Saturday or Sunday is a problem with some members already home with their families.
“The threat of a call of the house with a holy holiday coming is a very serious issue,” he said.
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said her 94-year-old mother was being baptized as a Catholic on Saturday in Yakima, and “I hope to heck we get to go tomorrow.” Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said one of her relatives was also being baptized on Saturday. (Note: Catholics traditionally baptize new adult members during their Easter Vigil service.)
Not to be out religious-ed, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the Democrats two Jewish members had agreed to stay as late as necessary Friday night, which is the beginning of Passover, “willing to forego their very holy day in order to get the business of the state done.”
In the end, Owen ruled that the motion to go in recess came first, took precedence, and called for a vote on that. It passed. Unknown yet whether there will be votes late into the evening Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
OLYMPIA — It's a sunny day, at least outside the Capitol. As for inside, the outlook may depend on the outcome of this afternoon's Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing, where the growing list includes the operating budget passed yesterday in the House, along with a list of reforms being negotiated between the two parties.
The agenda has been fluid since the meeting was announced yesterday with both time and bills “to be announced.” The blanks began being filled in late yesterday afternoon and Chairman Ed Murray said this morning the operating budget would be added to it.
Senate Democrats are also talking about floor votes Saturday on bills that come out of that committee. But the budget may need significant revisions in order to pass. It's essentially the same one Senate Republicans and their breakway Democratic allies trashed earlier in the week.
Among the reforms being negotiated are changes to the state pension system, combining school employees' health insurance with the state system to save money and eliminating Initiative 728 (the smaller classroom size law passed in 2000 by voters).
That last one is still in the House, which has votes later today.
OLYMPIA — Admitting that it's not the final solultion to the state's fiscal problem but a way to “move the process forward”, House Democrats passed and sent to the Senate a spending plan to fill the state's budget hole.
The most important aspect of the budget that passed on a 54-42 vote, Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter emphasized, is “it does not cut education.”
That's a not too-veiled reference to a budget passed in the regular session by Senate Republicans and three break away Democrats that did cut public schools and colleges. That group has since proposed a budget that restored those cuts to education, but it has yet to receive a vote.
The House budget has no new taxes — some could be added later, including a tax on “roll your own” cigarettes the chamber passed earlier in the day and sent to the Senate — and leaves the state with an ending fund balance of about $336 million, or less than 2 percent of the overall two-year budget of nearly $31 billion.
“This is part of the resolution to the special session,” Hunter, D-Medina, said. The 30-day special session must end at midnight Tuesday, and many state officials believe it will be difficult to meet that deadline
Republicans said the budget doesn't go far enough to rein in state spending practices.
“It's not sustainable without the reforms,” Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, said. “It detracts from the negotiations process.”
The Senate could vote on the budget as early as tomorrow if its members can reach agreement on several reforms, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of that chamber's budget committee said.
OLYMPIA — The first test of whether the Legislature can wrap up its special session by Tuesday's deadline comes this afternoon, when the House will vote on its version of a revised operating budget.
House members have been given until noon to propose amendments to the spending plan, which is trying to close a gap of more than $1 billion in what the state expects to collect in revenues and what it is scheduled to spend on programs and salaries through June 2013.
The budget will go to the Senate if it passes the House. But Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman, said the real issue in that chamber isn't the spending plan but the package of reforms surrounding it. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans and the three Democrats who joined them to pass a much different budget, said they haven't seen enough give on those reforms to vote for the House budget.
Murray, who may be the most optimistic person in the Capitol, said different groups of senators are working on the key sticking points: a change in health insurance for teachers, reforms to the state pension system, dropping a state initiative required reduction in public school class sizes and language on balanced budgets — that could address the Republicans' issues. With those agreements, the disagreements over spending or cuts in the budget could be easily resolved, he said. It's as little as $150 million in a budget of nearly $31 billion.
“We could be done by midnight (Friday,” Murray said. Senators who are Jewish had agreed to skip Passover dinner with their families, if necessary, to vote on bills.
Done with just the budget, or done with all the bills needed to make it work, also, and thus done with the special session? he was asked.
“Done, done,” he replied.
That scenario, however, depends on the House passing a budget that can either be moved through the Senate Ways and Means Committee or directly onto the Senate floor for a quick vote. Both of those require agreement by Senate Republicans.
The postal workers union will demonstrate this afternoon in Spokane against plans to close some Post Office facilities.
But the notice of that demonstration seems to be a model of Murphy's Law about things going wrong.
First of all, the notice received Wednesday wasn't sent out by standard mail but by e-mail, which is one of the reasons postal volumes are down.
Second, the first notice had the wrong day. Well, good thing it was by e-mail, because the union was able to send out a quick correction saying it was actually today.
But that new notice had a problem itself. In explaining the reason for the protest, the press release contained the following:
“Our postal workers are on the front line and they know how much these congressionally mandated cuts will hurt their customers,” said xxxxx xxxxx (maybe local union pres).
Now, only the most naive reporter believes that a quote in this type of press release represents the exact words from the person mentioned. But rarely do we see such a blatant example of getting the cart before the horse in quotes, coming up with what the organization wants said, and looking around for someone to spoon feed that quote to.
When this last gaffe was mentioned to the union spokeswoman, her response wasn't really printable in a family newspaper, or even on a blog that it runs. But had they sent out the press release the old-fashioned way — typed it up, made copies and put them in a series of envelopes — there's a good chance someone would've noticed that little boo-boo.
The demonstration, by the way, is at 4:30 p.m. at 10 North Post Street.
Spokane Mayor David Condon will present his plan to revamp the city's water rates today.
Condon highlighted the city's restructured water rates in his campaign last year. The change, approved in 2010, lowered rates on those who use less and increased rates on those who use more.
City Council President Ben Stuckart said earlier this week that he had seen Condon's plan and likely would support it.
The brightest spots in Olympia are actually outside the Capitol. Cherry blossoms and daffodils are blooming on the Capitol Campus.
Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner won't challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers this year.
Verner emailed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Jan. 30 revealing her decision not to run, said Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party.
Verner had talked to Democratic officials late last year and early this year about a possible run.
McMorris Rodgers has used a possible a Verner challenge in fund-raising letters.
“Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner is considering a run against me, too. My former aide, David Condon, defeated her last November, so we should expect she'll pull no punches in trying to defeat me also,” McMorris Rodgers' letter from March 14 says.
(That's a pretty interesting analysis of Verner's mayoral campaign, which some might argue barely lifted a finger in response to Condon's effective campaign ads.)
Verner's decision about Congress isn't surprising. A Democratic candidate for Congress in eastern Washington would have to win big in the city of Spokane in order to win. Given that she lost a city-wide election so recently, Democratic leaders weren't eager about her candidacy and have lined up mostly behind Rich Cowan, the founder of North by Northwest, a local film production company.
Asked in an email about McMorris Rodgers' fund-raising letter and if she might run for office this fall, Verner said that she is “keeping her options open.”
Of course, Verner could be referring to other offices, such as county commission. No Democrat has announced for Spokane County Commission District 2 (Mark Richard's district), and that's where Verner lives.
OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans and the conservative Democrats who helped them pass an alternate budget last month said they are no closer to agreement on a plan to fix the state's operating budget problems.
“The longer we stay here, the less sustainable th budget they put out becomes,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said. The proposal released Wednesday morning by House Democrats “just moved us farther apart as far as the structure of the budget.”
Prospects that both chambers will pass a budget and accompanying reforms before the next Tuesday, when the special session is scheduled to end, seemed to grow dimmer with each passing hour.
Zarelli, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, contended it was the GOP and the three “road kill” Democrats who have given up the most in negotiations over certain reforms. They dropped a proposal to skip next year's payment to the state pension system and a proposal to close one of the pension plans. But they want to end early retirement provisions for state employees set up under two separate laws; House Democrats are proposing just ending the most recent law.
“We've moved significantly, but we're not going to fold our tent and go home,” Zarelli said. Democrats have supported the complete package of changes to early retirement provisions in the past, he added.
Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup, one of the three Democrats who voted for the budget crafted by Republicans, said a new proposal to pass a law requiring a balanced budget for two years and develop ways to balance it over four years doesn't go far enough toward the goal of structuring spending plans so legislators don't face massive cuts every year when they start a session.
The Legislature already passes a balanced budget over two years, even if that's not required by law, Kastama added. “If we didn't do that, we couldn't sell our bonds.”
Through the assembled reporters, the coalition of senators traded jabs with House Democrats and their earlier statements about who was responsible for the slow progress toward a budget deal in this latest special session. Each group accused the other of refusing to make concessions, and painted themselves as the ones giving the most in closed door negotiations.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, had said negotiators hadn't even been able to negotiate the budget because of Senate Republicans insistence on reforming state government. “We've come significantly toward their position.”
Countered Zarelli: “I don't see it as a good faith effort. They want to take the last few days before Easter, and send an Easter egg our way.”
To complete its work by Tuesday, the House will have to pass a budget and the bills surrounding it sometime this week, and send them to the Senate where it must pass in the same version. House Democratic leaders said they don't know if they have the votes to pass some of the reforms they are proposing; if they do, it goes to the Senate where Democrats also hold a majority but don't have the votes to pass the current proposal.
Asked whether the state was looking at another special session — which would be the third since Thanksgiving to address the current budget problem — Zarelli said Republicans expected “to be flexible but not roll over” and weren't going to be rushed into a vote: “It's going to take whatever time it takes.”
OLYMPIA (AP) — A state senator’s plan to split Washington in half is placing him in Double Jeopardy. Literally.
The long-running quiz show “Jeopardy!” used a clue in Tuesday night’s show that mentioned Republican state Sen. Bob Morton. The Kettle Falls lawmaker has previously proposed breaking Washington into two states, arguing that people on the eastern half have different politics, cultures and economies. Morton’s plan has never gotten any traction in the Legislature.
The proposal, however, found its way into a “Double Jeopardy!” segment under the category “Proposed States.” The $800 clue said: “State Senator Bob Morton has proposed that Washington east of these mountains go its own way.”
A contestant got the correct response: “What are the Cascades?”
OLYMPIA — House Democrats rolled out the latest version of a general operating budget this morning, along with several changes to state programs, but conceded they didn't know whether this exact plan will break the ongoing stalemate.
“We actually don't know if we have the votes for all this,” Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, called it an effort to “get the ball rolling” and address concerns from Republicans that have been discussed in negotiations, rather than the final package of budget and supporting laws that will pass.
“It's mostly an effort to keep the process moving,” Sullivan said. The clock is ticking. The last day of the special session is Tuesday, and in between are Good Friday, the beginning of Passover, and Easter.
Hunter said he assumes there are enough Democratic votes to pass the budget in the House, but some of the other changes that the budget relies on — changes to the state's early retirement plans, reduced class sizes that are on the books from a statewide initiative but often cancelled to cut costs, new rules for balancing the budget over two and four years — will need Republican votes to pass. Although Democrats and Republicans from both chambers have been in negotiations for three weeks, there's no indication the GOP will sign on.
In a report on Northwest News Service, Joe Zarelli, the top Republican on budget matters in the Senate, referred to reforms the Democrats were proposing as “dust.” Senate Republicans, and Democrats who joined with them during the regular session to pass a very different budget, scheduled a press conference for 12:30 p.m. For a report on that press conference, click here.
House Democrats also said they would introduced a pared down version of the Capital Budget, which they refer to as the Jobs Plan, that is nearly $1 billion. It's that plan that has major state construction project, some of them funded by state bond sales and others by special accounts. On the list of projects from various accounts is some $37 million to complete the Biomedical and Health Sciences building at Washington State University's Riverpoint campus in Spokane.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, said it was time to take advantage of low interest rates in the bond market to build the projects. All the projects listed would employ more than 22,000 people, most in the hard-hit construction sector.
But the Capital Budget is tied in part to the General Operating budget, which revenue projections and scheduled expenses say has a hole of more than $1 billion. Legislators struggled through the regular 60-day session and are 23 days into their 30-day special session, trying to fill that hole.
In past budget plans, Democrats have suggested an accounting shift that delays a payment to the state's school districts by a few days, moving it into the next biennium so it doesn't show up on the state's books. Republicans have criticized that as a gimmick, and the latest budget drops that.
It also does not have a Republican proposal to skip a payment to the state's pension plans, which Democrats have derided as a gimmick and did not include in previous budgets. Democrats are proposing one shift to the state pension system, eliminating for new employees an option for early retirement that was approved in 2007, allowing retilrement with a full pension at 62 for those with 30 years of service; Republicans also wanted another early retirement option passed by the Legislature in 2000; Democrats don't have that, nor are they calling for the closure of some other plans. That cuts estimates for long-term savings about in half, to $1 billion over some 20 years, but doesn't really help or hurt the General Fund's bottom line this biennium.
Instead of the delayed school payment or the skipped pension payment, House Democrats embrace a proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire to modernize the system the state uses to pay cities and counties the money collected for sales tax. That shifts about $238 million into a working reserve, and boosts the budget's bottom line.
The budget has no tax increases, and no reductions to tax credits or exemptions offered to busineses. It makes no changes to public schools or state universities and colleges, and drops a proposed 5 percent increase in Temporary Assistance to Need Families payments.
The package of reforms that will have a hearing this afternoon in the House Ways and Means Committee includes a new law that would require a two-year balanced budget and propose a way to create a four-year balanced budget. But that could fall short of a proposal by Senate Republicans and some conservative Democrats for a four-year balanced budget amendment.
OLYMPIA – With barely a week left in the special session, most legislators return to the Capitol Wednesday for the first public budget action since the special session started March 12.
They’ll get briefings on the latest version of an operating budget – to be unveiled in the morning – that will try to pass both chambers. The House Ways and Means Committee will hold an afternoon hearing on a half dozen reforms and changes to state law necessary to make that budget work.
The majority of legislators have spent most of the special session at home while their leaders and top budget writers tried to work out a compromise. That has kept some of the costs of this overtime session – the third since January 2011 – relatively low.
About half the House and two-thirds of the Senate have collected some payments for daily expenses, also known as sustenance pay, despite the low level of public activity in the Capitol. But most of the large payments went to those involved in the ongoing budget negotiations….
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OLYMPIA — Two more initiatives to legalize private use of marijuana hit the streets this week, as proponents of what's being dubbed the Cannabis Child Protection Act employ a two-pronged strategy.
They've drafted identical bills, one as an initiative to the voters for this fall's ballot and another as an initiative to next year's Legislature. If they collect signatures on both for the next three months, but if they don't have enough signatures on the first by early July, they'll scrap it and keep collecting signatures on the legislative initiative, which has a January deadline.
The proposal allows people 21 and older to grow, possess and use marijuana, and buy it from any other adult of their choosing. But it has penalties for minors who buy, sell or possess the drug, and felony charges for adults who sell to minors. There are exceptions for parents, giving them “the ability to guide their children's exposure for spiritual and social use”, and for medical marijuana patients.
Text of I-1223, the version that's trying to get on the November ballot, can be found here.
Voters already will face one marijuana initiative in the general election. I-502, which is a different approach to legalizing marijuana for personal use, was an initiative to the Legislature which goes to the voters because legislators failed to act on it.
OLYMPIA –Washington should reform its employees' pension systems now and other spending rules down the road to avoid annual problems with budgets that don't balance, Attorney General Rob McKenna, the likely Republican candidate for governor, said Monday.
As the Legislature entered the third week of a special session without a budget agreement, McKenna took several swipes at Democratic leaders, particularly House Speaker Frank Chopp: “What is holding this up is the speaker's refusal to allow votes on the reform bills,” McKenna said.
He later accused Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane of “not supporting reforms.”
But Chopp and Brown fired back, saying a new budget proposal will be unveiled later this week. Other bills tied to that budget, including some of the reform topics McKenna mentioned, are set for hearings on Wednesday.
“We’re going to come in and try to pass the budget,” Brown said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review. “The speaker has not derailed the process at all.”. . .
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The New York Times recently discovered a phenomenon about Washington that most state residents take for granted. We tend to elect women to office.
Last week, “All the News that’s Fit to Print” included a story about the evolving nature of women in politics that focused on Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. That’s because Washington is the only state with women in all three of those statewide positions. That will end next year, the Times noted, because Gregoire’s not seeking re-election and the likely replacements are men.
It also mentioned the state had a woman as chief justice of the state Supreme Court, an earlier woman governor, Dixy Lee Ray, and Seattle has a woman for mayor back in the 1920s.
Had it looked just a tad east, the Times might have discovered Eastern Washington residents are even more prone to female representation, with a woman as their U.S. Representative, and until the beginning of this year when Spokane’s chief executive left office, many city residents north of the river had a woman as mayor, a city councilwoman and a state senator.
The fact that Mary Verner lost to David Condon doesn’t suggest residents are any less likely to elect a woman. Rather, it suggests that women may have achieved something close to equality in local politics, where their gender wasn’t a major factor in their election or unelection.
Still, it’s a decent article, with a great photo.