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Spin Control

Archive for June 2013

Sunday spin: Lots to learn from six months of session

There are things one learns after 153 days watching the Legislature.

Well, technically not 153 days of watching, because there were big stretches of time in the 105-day regular session, the 30-day first special session and the 18-day second special session that there really was no Legislature to watch. Most of the honorables were gone home and the few leaders and budget negotiators were squirreled away from the prying eyes of the public. But even when they are gone, there were lessons to be learned. Such as:

To read the list, or to comment, click here to continue inside the blog.

WA Lege: That’s all, folks

OLYMPIA – After 153 days, the Washington Legislature decided Saturday it had had enough, even though Gov. Jay Inslee wanted it to do more.

In quick succession, the House and Senate passed a $3.6 billion spending plan for large capital construction projects with large majorities from both parties. In less than an hour, legislators adjourned their second special session and headed home.

A short time earlier, the Senate had killed a $10 billion plan for road and bridge projects, which the House passed and Inslee supported. The predominantly Republican majority coalition, which held a tight rein on its members the entire year, defeated a parliamentary measure that could have shocked it back to life. . . 

To read the rest of this post, and a list of local construction projects in the Capital Budget, go inside the blog


Capital budget passes. Lege to adjourn

OLYMPIA — The Legislature passed a $3.6 billion capital projects budget this evening as its last action of its protracted session.

In quick succession, the House and Senate both passed the list of projects and gave the state the authority to sell bonds to build them.

With a plan to spend an extra $10 billion on transportation projects dead, the capital budget was the final thing on the Legislature's plate and adjournment is expected soon.

Quite moment on Senate floor

OLYMPIA — Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, holds Henry Schlicher while his father, Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, handles a motion on the Senate floor. The extended special session prompted Schlicher to bring his son to the Legislature Saturday.

Transpo package dead

OLYMPIA — That sound you heard was the last gasp death rattle of a $10 billion plan to raise gasoline taxes to pay for new road projects, fix existing roads and bridges and boost mass transit.

Despite a plea from Gov. Jay INslee earlier in the day to pass the package, which was declare dead but then moved to life support late Friday night, the coalition that controls the Senate said there were too many questions about the list of projects, the cost of doing them without further reforms in the state Transportation Department or rules for building roads and bridges.

Senate Democrats tried to force the bill onto the floor through a parliamentary maneuver. Inslee had predicted if the predominately Republican coalition would allow a vote, it could pass.

Before the vote on the maneuver, technically known as a motion to move to the Ninth Order, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, asked to reject it as a “procedural vote.” In case anyone missed his point, Schoesler used the word procedural four times. The coalition has always held its 25-24 margin on procedural votes.

It did this time, too. The motion failed 26-21.

Legislature expects to adjourn later today.

Legislature passes budget

OLYMPIA — With strong bipartisan majorities in both houses, the Legislature passed a $33.6 billion operating budget, staving off a threatened shutdown of some state government services.

After nearly six months which included a 105-day regular session, a first special session of 30 days and a second special session now in its 16th day, a budget that some described as not having anything that everyone might want, but enough things that most can support, sailed through both chambers.

To read the rest of this item, or to see how the Spokane-area delegation voted, continue inside the blog.

What’s in the state budget “deal”, anyway?

OLYMPIA — There was very little information on the 2013-15 operating budget that was announced Thursday, and only “broad-brush” details emerged during the day. 

Late last night, however, the Legislature got the whole enchilada up on the budget website. Plenty of time for everyone to read it before this morning's 8:30 a.m. hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Not to worry, though, Chairman Andy Hill assured folks who showed up bright and early for the hearing. The budget is really just a “compilation of bills that have already been heard in this committee” — with the exception of a couple of tax exemptions for renewable energy projects.

Lobbyists who had gathered for what is likely to be their last big committee hearing of 2012 were mostly complimentary of the latest incarnation of a spending plan, which does not remove most of the tax credits and exemptions for businesses that some legislators had targeted at the beginning of the year.

French named to MRSC post

Spokane County Commissioner Al French has been elected secretary of the board of directors of the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. That puts him on track to become vice president in 2014 and president in 2015.

French in a news release said he will be working on issues and programs cut costs in government and improve service to citizens. He also serves on the board of the Washington State Association of Counties.

MRSC provides consultation, research and information technology services to government agencies in the state.

Budget agreement reached

Inslee and legislative leaders say there's a budget deal.

OLYMPIA – After 150 days of debating, posturing and negotiating legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee reached agreement Thursday – Day 151 – on a $33.6 billion spending plan to carry many state programs through the next two fiscal years.

“State government will continue to operate,” Inslee said.

The deal should be passed by both houses and on his desk by 5 p.m. today, Inslee said in a brief announcement attended by a bipartisan group of 10 legislators. He released no details of the agreement, but legislative leaders later offered only some broad outlines of the deal, either in meetings with their rank and file members or to the press.

Among them:

Tougher DUI bill passes House

OLYMPIA — Like the Senate a day before, the House gave unanimous approval Thursday to tougher penalties for people who drive drunk or under the influence of drugs.

It requires anyone arrested on a second driving under the influence charge be taken to jail, spends more money to speed prosecutions and requires an interlock system be installed on the suspect's car within five days of release. It also sets up a test program for daily testing for alcohol and drugs, plus electronic monitoring of  people convicted of multiple drunk driving offenses as an alternative to incarceration.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, passed the House 92-0 after a 46-0 vote in the Senate. Tougher DUI standards was one of the priorities Gov. Jay Inslee had set for the special session of the Legislature.

Announcing the deal

OLYMPIA — Here's what it looked like when Gov. Jay Inslee announced they had a budget deal… just before the left without answering any questions about it

Left to right: Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, Inslee, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan House Speaker Frank Chopp, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, Sen. Jim Hargrovve, Sen. Nick Harper, Rep. Gary Alexander.

Question: What's missing from this group? 

Answer inside the blog.

Budget impasse keeps Inslee out of Hoopfest

Inslee goes up for a rebound last January in pickup game at governor's mansion.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature has until Sunday night to pass a budget that would stave off a partial state government shutdown, but the impasse will keep Gov. Jay Inslee out of Hoopfest this weekend.

 An avid basketball player who arranged a pick-up game on Inauguration Day between his swearing in and the ball, Inslee put together a team last year when he was on the campaign trail. He had promised a contingent from the Spokane-area chambers of commerce that he'd bring a team to Hoopfest this year and vowed to double the wins from 2012… to two.

But that was in January, when it seemed like the Legislature had plenty of time in its 105-day regular session to agree on the 2013-15 operating budget. One regular session and 1.5 special sessions later, that budget deal remains elusive. If that deal is reached, both chambers will have to pass it and Inslee sign it before midnight Sunday to give the state the authority to spend money on certain programs and pay wages and benefits for many state workers.

“He is not going to be leaving town this weekend,” spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.

Team Inslee would have been down two players. State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, was on the roster and he, too, is stuck in Olympia. They didn't sign up for the tournament, Smith said.

Senate passes tougher DUI bill

OLYMPIA – The Senate gave unanimous approval Wednesday to tougher laws against people who drive drunk or under the influence of drugs, particularly repeat offenders.

The proposal would require an automatic arrest for a second offense, and require ignition interlock devices on their vehicles before their cases go to trial. It would require a court appearance within 48 hours and set up a test program for repeat offenders have their sobriety monitored on a daily basis with electronic  home monitoring  rather than more expensive incarceration.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the bill’s sponsor, called drunk driving a “preventable disease” that costs victims, their families and society. The bill now goes to the House, which must pass it before the second special session ends.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, argued that judges should be given greater leeway with drivers convicted of impaired driving if they have a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana. Chemicals from marijuana remain in the blood stream longer than alcohol or many other drugs, and making patients give up their medical marijuana in order to drive was “totally unjust.”

But judges routinely order drunk drivers not to drive if they drink, Padden said, and marijuana should be treated the same way if a person is convicted of impaired driving. “Impaired means impaired,” he said.

Court ruling expands rights for WA same-sex couples

OLYMPIA – Supporters of Washington’s same-sex marriage law called Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions a major step forward for gay and lesbian couples, but warned it’s not the end of the road. There are more than 1,000 federal rules and regulations that will have to be studied, and likely more court battles ahead.

“We’re on a long road and today was a Mach 1 step forward,” Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said. “It doesn’t mean we’re at the endpoint.”

When the Legislature approved a same-sex marriage law last spring and voters affirmed it in the November elections,  that invalided the state’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act. But same-sex couples weren’t eligible for some federal benefits, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor, said. . . 

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

Gov’s office preps for shutdown, hopes for deal

Heuschel describes some effects of a partial state government shutdown to reporters Wednesday.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee's staff tried to emphasize “tremendous concern” over a potential government shutdown that could be required next week without suggesting “the sky is falling”.

 But they stressed there was no agreement yet on a 2013-15 budget which would eliminate the need for a shutdown. Although the predominantly Republican coalition that controls the Senate said late this morning that an agreement had been reached, other sides involved in negotiations called that premature.

“This came as a big surprise to the other parties,” David Postman, the governor's spokesman, said. “They were negotiating at the time of the announcement . . These things happen. We all make mistakes.”

Inslee's cabinet spent an hour Wednesday discussing the effects of a partial government shutdown in the event a deal is not reached, passed and signed by midnight Saturday, the final day of the current fiscal year. 

Mary Alice Heuschel, Inslee's chief of staff, emerged to offer a partial list of people being notified about the state services that could feel the impacts on Monday.  . .

Deal or no deal? Senate Majority: ‘Yes’; Gov: Not yet

OLYMPIA — The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus is telling its members a deal has been struck over the state's 2013-15 budget. 

Gov. Jay Inslee's staff cautions, however, that there is no final agreement.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, in an e-mail to members, describes it as “truly a compromise budget”.  in which no one got everything they wanted but “in the end I think we arrived at a balanced approach that everyone can live with and that brings us closer to the education-first budget many of us envisioned. ”

It may not  be a fully cooked deal, however, Sen. Joe Fain, the coalitions floor leader, told reporters there are still some issues to be worked out, just before leaving the House wings with Rep. Reuven Carlyle, the House Finance Committee Chairman.

David Postman, the governor's spokesman, said talk of a deal is premature: No one has reported to the governor or his budget director that there is an agreement. And, in fact, the House has told us that it is still negotiating with the Senate at this hour. We believe we are close, but as of now there is more work to be done. I’ll take it as a good sign that the Senate is anxious to make an announcement, but it is premature for anyone to say at this point that a deal has been struck. 

Inslee has a noon meeting with his cabinet to discuss contingencies in case there's a partial government shutdown next week. His staff is scheduled to give an update when that meeting ends around 1 p.m.


Parlette's e-mail is inside the blog.

This protest required a lot of air

Protesters work to prop up an elephant they are inflating on the Capitol Rotunda floor as part of a call for a state income tax.

OLYMPIA — As legislative leaders sweated the small stuff on the operating budget and other members awaited word of a deal, protesters called for something that isn't really on anyone's radar screen right now.

A progressive income tax for the state.

Members of the Backbone Campaign draped a banner for a state income tax over the fourth floor railing and chanted while others worked to inflate a large elephant on the rotunda floor. The sign on the side of the elephant, readable once it got nearly to full inflate: “Progressive Income Tax.”

While a proposal for a state income tax gets introduced by someone almost every year, there was  no serious discussion of such a tax this year as legislators struggled with the budget. An initiative for an income tax on the wealthy was defeated in 2010, and several times before that, reaching back to the 1930s.

“Somebody's got to have the guts to talk abour real reform,” Bill Moyer, of Vashion Island, co-founder and director of the Backbone Campaign, said. Legislators should “stretch the boundaries of what the perceive is politically possible.” 

Running out of ‘close’ metaphors. A good sign?

OLYMPIA — Legislative budget negotiators appear to be running out of ways to describe how close they are to an agreement without actually reaching one. 

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, described the sides simply as “so close” and unlike last week wouldn't venture a prediction as to when there would be an agreement. Lots of details to work out in a 500-page document, he said. 

“More important than expediency is getting the job done right,” Tom told reporters who are channeling Howie Mandel's question of deal or no deal?

An agreement may be close enough that legislative leaders are figuring out how they would announce the broad outlines to the budget then brief their members, but no times or locations for such announcements have been announced yet.

Meanwhile, the House is scheduled to take up another hot topic this afternoon, a transportation proposal that could raise gasoline taxes to pay for some new road and bridge projects and increase maintenance on others.

Spec Sess II Day 14: No deal yet; House voting on other bills

OLYMPIA — Budget negotiators reported worked late into the night Monday — or early into the morning Tuesday, depending on various accounts — but had no deal to report at the start of the legislative day.

A new word of warning was being sounded, however: It takes time to prepare a budget of about 400 pages after an agreement is reached, including typing, printing, proofing and revising, then having it presented to the legislators, and subjected to votes in both houses where it might be amended. How much time varies a bit, depending on who is making the estimate. 

But without an agreement by Wednesday, there might not be enough time to get all of that done before midnight Sunday, when the current fiscal year ends and the new fiscal year starts. The budget is what gives the state the authority to spend money on many of its programs, and pay salaries for many of its employees in that new fiscal year. Hence the worry of a partial government shutdown.

The House is voting on a serious of bills designed to improve state transportation projects. Bills to require permits be issued faster, construction errors be reported more promptly and have the department reported major changes to the Office of Financial Management passed with huge margins.

Budget deal? Not yet

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee might be the latest player in the state's budget drama to offer an overly optimistic prediction of a possible conclusion.

Legislative sources said late Monday afternoon it seemed unlikely a handshake over a budget agreement would come by Monday night. Although some of the biggest hurdles have been jumped, some smaller details still had to be worked out, and that was pointing to a Tuesday announcement, at the earliest.

At a mid-afternoon press conference, Inslee was there was “a very, very good chance in the next few hours for an agreement.” He also seemed to describe a deal as imminent — but come to think of it, what he really meant was the deal is eminent, which is to say “outstanding.”

Or maybe imminent could be stretched to mean the next day, considering how long negotiations have been going. It's not quite so definitive as last week's “we should be done and out of here by Sunday” prediction from the Majority Coalition that controls the Senate.

Legislative leaders had “found a path” to the deal, Inslee said. He wouldn't describe what allowed them to the path, and what it was paved with, other than to say it was “something significant that I won't be able to share with you.” 

He was going to respect the confidentiality of the budget negotiating process. And why not? The process of conducting budget talks in secret has been working so well for them over the last two-plus months.

But sources close to the negotiations say at least part of the breakthrough involves an agreement to pass a change in telecommunications taxes that equalizes the sales tax for companies that provide land line service and those that provide cellular service; the state  is facing litigation if it doesn't do that.

Revenue from what is generally know as the Telcom fix would allow additional spending on public schools to hit $1 billion — a major goal of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — rather than some slightly lesser amount the House Democrats were budgeting.

So what do caucus coalition members get for swallowing Telcom? Not clear yet, but one source hinted it could be a change in tax law that is heavily favored by the Association of Washington Business, which changes the tax rules on for something known as “paymaster services”, a way of setting up an umbrella company to handle the payroll of several smaller companies with the same owners. This might not be a particularly heavy lift because the House and Senate versions of that bill have bipartisan sponsorship. 

Time will tell whether that's the last yellow brick that will let them ease on down the road, and out of town. But it would be wrong to play the old Chamber's Brothers song, “Time Has Come Today” yet. 

Inslee: Budget deal “very close”

Inslee predicts budget agreement by end of Monday.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said legislators are could reach an agreement on the 2013-15 operating budget by the end of the day.

“The current state of negotiations gives me confidence that agreement is imminent,” Inslee told reporters at a 2:30 p.m. press conference. “I'm more confident than I was at 9 o'clock this morning.”

Legislative leaders have come up with a “significant change”, which, Inslee said “I won't be able to share with you.”

But those changes have created a way the state can meet its mandate to improve public education and preserve the safety net, he said.

Inslee spoke slightly more than an hour after state agencies began sending temporary layoff notices to some employees who would be told not to show up for work next Monday if the Legislature doesn't pass and Inslee sign the 2013-15 operating budget. About 26,000 workers, out of the 59,000 or so in state employ, would be subject to layoff because the budget gives the state the legal authority to spend money on programs and salaries.

The Legislature was unable to agree on a budget during its regular 105-day session or the 30-day special session that followed. It is now on Day 13 of its second special session. In recent days, some legislative leaders have made predictions about a deal being reached that proved overly optimistic and Inslee was asked why the public should think this was any different.

“This is the first time I have said there has been very substantial progress in negotiations,” he replied 

Spec Sess II Day 13: Layoff notices go out

OLYMPIA — Most state agencies sent notices to their employees around 1 p.m. about temporary layoffs that would be coming if the Legislature does not pass a budget by June 30.

If negotiators for the House and Senate reach an agreement that can be passed before then, there would be no layoffs. While legislators on both sides say the prospects of a deal at some point this week, maybe even at some point today, are good. There's no deal yet.

A source said one group of employees that has not received layoff notices are the staff of the Senate. The Majority Coalition Caucus that controls the Senate has been adamant in their view that a layoff will not happen and any talk of a shut down is, in the words of Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, “nonsense.” 

Gov. Jay Inslee has said that notifying employees that they could be laid off if a budget isn't passed is prudent and contingency plans for a government shut down are required by law.

Inslee has a 2:30 p.m. press conference.

Spec Sess II Day 13: Notices going out at noon

OLYMPIA — Temporary layoff notices to some state employees are set to go out by e-mail at noon today. The question is whether they will include an addendum that says the Legislature's budget negotiators have reached a deal in principle on the 2013-15 operating budget.

Negotiators for House Democrats and the Senate Coalition are said to be close to a deal, perhaps as close as one set of sticking points apart. Allegedly it involves House Democrats saying the only way to get to the Coalition's goal of a $1 billion increase for basic education and no tuition increase for state colleges is to pass the change in tax laws for telecommunications.

The Telcom fix, as it is usually called, passed the House with some Republican support, earlier and could  pass the Senate with bipartisan support. Although it is generally supported by the telcom industry, it would be characterized as a tax increase, and the Coalition has repeatedly stated there's no need for further tax increases because of last week's improved revenue forecast.

If anyone cuts the Gordian Knot. we'll update you.

For those keeping count at  home, this is Day 148 that the Legislature has been in regular, special or extra-special session.

Sunday Spin: When they try to buy our votes, shouldn’t they buy other local things too?

OLYMPIAWashington is developing into THE PLACE for interest groups of every political stripe to try out their ballot initiative.

From gun control to same-sex marriage to legalized marijuana, national organizations have decided they love a state big enough to test out their legislation on a diverse population, but small enough to have relatively few media markets (the term campaign types use for cities) and relatively affordable ad rates.

Thus we see corporate agriculture and the organic food industry preparing to spend millions on a food labeling initiative. They’ll likely subscribe to the Costco theory of ballot politics, which says that if you spend enough money, and try enough times, you can convince Washington voters to pass almost anything.

It’s not a terrible thing have outside interests using their money trying to tell Washington voters what to do…


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

Sunday Spin2: Clarifying on the estate tax

Last Sunday’s column on possible budget movement in the moribund Legislature included a brief reference to a recently passed change in the estate tax designed to overcome a state Supreme Court ruling that was about to require refunds to some families.


A member of one of those families took us to taxk for the short-handed way the a so-called “technical glitch” in the estate tax law was described, and thought it made the families who stood to get refunds seem like “a bunch of wealthy people trying to dodge a legitimate tax.”


If anyone drew that inference, it was not the intent. The trusts were set up in good faith and people who challenged the law obviously had firm legal ground on which to stand. Although the column didn’t mention it, previous stories on the estate tax problem pointed out that many people, including some legislators, doubt whether the new law can be applied retroactively.


That’s something for at least five members of the state Supreme Court to decide. I wouldn’t bet on the outcome of such a challenge, but am willing to offer very good odds there will be one.

Today’s Fun Video: Senate majority puts budget stance to music

OLYMPIA — While it may seem like not much is getting done on the budget in the Legislature, negotiators have been working regularly to come to some kind of deal that will allow them to get out of town.

And those not negotiating? Well, some of them are keeping busy, too.

Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, is the floor leader, which means he has the job of moving things along for the Majority Coalition Caucus, even if that's just moving to accept yesterday's journal and adjourn until the next day. He used some of his free time to put together a music video to drum up support for the caucus's stand on a budget without new taxes. 

It could use a bit more video to go with the music. But the tune is at least catchy

WA Lege: No budget deal yet

OLYMPIA – Legislative negotiators remained locked in negotiations over the state’s 2013-15 budget Friday with prospects that a final agreement could be reached this weekend.

The prospect of a partial state government shutdown seemed to be receding, although notices of a possible temporary layoff might have to be sent Monday to state employees because of labor contracts.

Those layoffs wouldn’t be necessary if the Legislature passes a budget that Gov. Jay Inslee can sign before June 30, giving the state the legal authority to spend money on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

Legislators and Inslee seemed confident Friday the shutdown wouldn’t be necessary. “We need to be prepared, just in case,” the governor said. “These contingency plans are required by law.”

Inslee said he was “very hopeful” the Legislature would also pass a multi-year plan to build new road projects and maintain existing roads and bridges through increased gasoline taxes and vehicle fees. Legislators have said the state’s two-year $32.5 billion operating budget is the main concern as they pass the tenth day of their second special session, and they may adjourn the after passing that.

The separate transportation package would give provide jobs that gives the state an economic boost, and enough work has been done on it that a bill could be done in a few days, Inslee said. But he added it was “premature” to talk about calling a third special session for transportation if a package if the second session ends without one.

Preparing for shutdown, or a budget deal

OLYMPIA — With state agencies preparing to warn many of their workers of temporary layoffs on Monday, legislators signaled they are close to a deal on a two-year operating budget.

So close, in fact, the leaders of the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus were predicting it would be “done and out of here by Sunday.”

House leaders were less specific about when a deal could be reached, but Speaker Frank Chopp said a morning of what he called shuttle diplomacy had produced “a good exchange of offers.”

Earlier in the morning, Gov. Jay Inslee's staff released a list of which agencies would be completely or partially shut down, and which would remain open, if the Legislature didn't pass an operating budget by July 1. The budget contains legal authority for the state to spend money on many programs and pay the salaries of state employees connected to them. In the last week, each agency was required to determine which programs get spending authority from a separate account, or would be required under separate constitutional authority, federal law or certain contracts.

In releasing the list, Mary Alice Heuschel, Inslee's chief of staff, said that while budget negotiations are continuing, the state needed an emergency plan.

“Like an earthquake… we need to have a plan in case this occurs,” she said. If there's no budget plan that has been through at least some legislative action by Monday, temporary layoff notices would go out to thousands of state workers because of contract requirements.

As Heuschel and other state officials were finishing up their press conference, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, and Assistant Leader Linda Evans Parlette stopped in the room on their way to a meeting with Inslee. They left the governor's office a few  minutes later, went to Chopp's office on the House side of the Capitol, then Chopp and Hunter accompanied the Senate leaders to Tom's office on the other side of the building.

Chopp later characterized it as “a good productive conversation” but would give no details. He said it was possible that a budget agreement would be ready and have had some legislative action by Monday. Most House members are back home, but Chopp said they could be brought back to Olympia within the two days it would take to process and print a full budget, if there's an agreement.

Mid afternoon update: Before the Senate's afternoon session started, Tom said budget negotiations were moving well enough that he predicted “an agreement in principle, today or tomorrow.” The biggest question in his mind was how much of the $480 million from an improved economic forecast, lower demand for state services and a change in the estate tax would go into education.

“We are going to finish on Sunday,” he predicted. “There's no reason not to have it all done by then.”

Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said negotiators had exchanged two different offers in three hours and that there were only “a couple sticking points” remaining. He wouldn't elaborate on what those were, but agreed it was “definitely possible” that a budget could be passed by Sunday.

The mechanics of budget writing, however, whould make that difficult unless a deal is struck Thursday. After an agreement is reached on the overall size of the budget and its major components, legislator and staff must go through the document line by line to adjust spending levels for each program in a document that usually exceeds 400 pages. Those figures have to be checked and the document printed, then introduced either as a separate bill or an amendment to an existing budget bill before one chamber can vote on it. 

Government shutdown list in works

OLYMPIA — Despite a slightly better economic forecast and expectations of a budget deal among legislators, Gov. Jay Inslee's office has prepared a list of state services that would and wouldn't be available July 1 if a budget isn't passed.

The preliminary list divides agencies into three categories: No shutdown; partial shutdown and complete shutdown. Among those staying open are the state colleges and universities, the courts and those that receive money from something other than the operating budget, such as the Transportation Department, Innovate Washington, Financial Institutions, Treasurer and Traffic Safety Commission.

Some smaller agencies — the Arts Commission, Public Disclosure Commission, Eastern Historical Society, Liquor Control Board, Human Rights Commission and Indian Affairs — would be among those facing complete shutdown, as would the state Parks.

Partial shutdown is more complicated, but it includes many of the big agencies like Departments of Social and Health Services, Health, Military, Natural Resources, Corrections and State Patrol. But no, the last two don't mean the prisons doors would be thrown open or no one would be writing tickets on I-90.

For a look at the list, click here.

Hamilton says he misspoke

Spokane City Council candidate Mark Hamilton says he misspoke at Monday's council meeting.

Testifying about the proposed pedestrian bridge that would link the WSU-Spokane campus with East Sprague Avenue over the BNSF tracks, Hamilton said: “We don't want a handle put on a broken cup. We don't need to feed the dying horse in the U District and hook it up to a new cart. We've got to use our senses.”

Hamilton says he meant to say that “We need to feed the dying horse …”

His position on the pedestrian bridge, he said, is that it should only be built if the city invests other resources to boost the area south of the BSNF tracks.

Try your hand at the News Quiz

Take the news quizThis week's That's News to You Quiz has questions about Riverfront Park, the U.S. Supreme Court and Deacon Jones.

If you get them all right, you could win a $50 gift card to the Davenport Hotel. Even if you go 0 for 10, you could win free movie tickets. Could be your lucky day, but as the Lotto people like to say, you can't win if you don't play. (And the news quiz odds are MUCH better than the lottery's odds.)

Today’s fun video: Quick look at Tuesday


A look at the grilling of NSA officials from Tuesday, courtesy of Talking Points Memo

Good forecast could mean Lege gets outta town

State economist Steve Lerch, right, explains figures from the latest economic forecast to Rep. Ross Hunter Tuesday.

OLYMPIA — The state's economic outlook is improving, in part because of better home sales, and the state could have an extra $231 million in tax revenue over the next two years for its general operating budget.

That's the word from the Revenue and Forecast Council, which believes the March projections were a bit low by about $110 million for this biennium and $121 million for the 2013-15 biennium.

While a relatively small percentage of the state's operating budget, which tops $32 billion, negotiators who have been locked in budget talks for weeks predicted it will generate an agreement relatively soon and prevent a partial government shutdown in July.

“We'll get closer as a result of this,” Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said.

“It should break one of the final logjams,” Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said. . . 

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Is Tuesday D-Day for the budget?

OLYMPIA — After 141 days of regular and special session, the most important day for the 2013 Legislature could be Tuesday.

That's when the June economic forecast will be released, and good numbers on increasing revenue coming in and decreasing demand on services could be enough for the House and Senate to settle on a budget.

In an interview Monday, House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, wouldn't go so far as to say he was optimistic that the forecast would be that good. But he was, in a word, hopeful.

“I'll deal with whatever it brings,” he said.

Early indications are the state could see $90 million in savings from lower projected costs for services, known as the caseload forecast. Tax revenue could also be higher than predicted in March. Whether that  will quiet House Democrats' calls for closing some tax loopholes to generate extra money for the 2013-15 operating budget, isn't clear. And Chopp wouldn't be pinned down on hypotheticals.

“Let's just wait  until we see the revenue forecast,” he said.

Without the need for tax increases from House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee, the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate has little leverage for reforms. Last week Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said the group was willing to give up on two reforms it passed in the closing days of the first special session: one that tied growth in non-education spending to a formula that includes inflation and population growth and another that would allow school principals to reject teachers assigned to their schools.

The Senate has already passed another set of education reforms that could be more palatable to the House.

So that left the third reform, some changes in the workers compensation system's rules for structured settlements to injured workers. That's still a no-go in the House, and Chopp argues there's no deficit in the system that needs to be addressed at this point and the best way to save money quickly is to get injured workers back sooner, like in the state program that provides incentives for companies that bring them back in different jobs with lighter duties while they recover.

If the Legislature reaches a quick agreement on the 2013-15 operating budget, there is a question about whether it will pass two other priorities set down by Gov. Jay Inslee at the start of the first special session: a package of new transportation projects and increased maintenance for existing roads and bridges, funded by new gasoline and vehicle taxes; and tougher penalties for repeat drunk drivers.

Both are important, Chopp said. Legislative leaders are trying to work out the timing on the transportation package and still in discussions over drunk driving laws.

But the operating budget is the thing “we need to have done.”  

The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Coal ports: Economic plus or minus?

OLYMPIA – Building new coal terminals near Bellingham and Longview will have major economic benefits for the entire state, a new study conducted for the Washington Farm Bureau suggests.

“All Washington exporters stand to benefit,” John Stuhmiller, Farm Bureau director, said. More trains and bigger terminals will help Northwest farmers, who export most of their wheat and some of their other crops.

“We have to trade, we have to import,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said at the news conference to announce the report.

But opponents of the terminals and the increase in coal trains that would feed them say there are negative impacts, too, that the state should study…


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Sunday Spin: Signs of progress in the Lege?

OLYMPIA — There are signs that the ice dam that is the Washington Legislature may be starting to melt after the glaciation of the regular and first special sessions.

Such deep freezes are normally hard to sustain in the Capitol, in part because there are things that must be done, like passing a budget so the state can spend the money taxpayers are paying, and in part because there is usually a significant amount of hot air trapped under the dome.

The most promising sign of sub-domal warming was last week’s passage of a change in the estate tax law. . .

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Senate passes estate tax ‘fix’

OLYMPIA — Minutes before midnight, the Senate passed a change to the state's estate tax that supporters called a technical fix and opponents called an unconstitutional “reach back”.

After a day of negotiations and discussions about other bills that might be traded in exchange for a yes vote on the bill, the Senate voted 30-19 to allow the tax to be levied on certain trusts set up by married couples.

The law allows the estate to defer taxes when the first spouse dies, and pay them when the second spouse dies. The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year the law was incorrectly written to cover some estates in which the first spouse died before the law passed in 2005. The ruling allows some couples to escape the estate tax, which a single person's estate would have to pay.

“It truly does close a loophole that was determined by the Supreme Court,” Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said. It also keeps the state from having to pay some $160 million in refunds over the next two years, which he said should be spent on education and end talk of raising taxes for the state's operating budget, which is still under negotiations.

Sen. Rodney Tom,D-Medina, said he voted against the estate tax in 2005 because he thinks it's a bad tax for a state to levy. But he voted for the fix because “it was very clear when we passed that the intent wasn't to tax couples and singles differently.”

But some Republicans argued that the bill wasn't a fix at all, but an invitation to another lawsuit, and another court loss.

“I don't think we'll ever see this money,” Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said. “The Supreme Court will rule the retroactivity is unconstitutional.”

Before the Senate would vote on the estate tax, the Majority Coalition Caucus insisted that both it and the House pass reforms to the state's Model Toxics Control Act. After a day of negotiations, it passed that bill and sent it to the House, which passed that bill in a matter of minutes.

That action had some of the House's more conservative members, like Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, in rare agreement with some of its more liberal members, like Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. Short said the reforms would encourage faster cleanups of toxic sites.

Some members complained that it was a complicated bill that they hadn't had time to read. After a short debate, however, the toxics cleanup bill passed 67-18.

Speedy work after a slow day

OLYMPIA — After spending most of Thursday in meetings or “at ease” the Legislature moved with uncharacteristic speed to pass bills as part of a complicated deal and beat a deadline on fixing the estate tax.

The Senate passed a change to the Model Toxics Control Act and sent it the House, which passed it in a matter of minutes. That sets up a vote in the Senate on a change in the estate tax the House approved earlier in the day

No on I-522 money flooding in from out of state

OLYMPIA – In another sign that Washington will be the national battleground this fall over genetically altered foods, opponents of a ballot measure requiring those products to be labeled raised almost $1 million last month.

None of it came from Washington state. . .

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

No Senate vote yet on estate tax ‘fix’

OLYMPIA — The Senate remains “at ease” while leader discuss a possible “fix” to a problem with the estate tax.

The House passed the bill late this morning, in what was described in that chamber as an agreement over language worked out between the two different versions each chamber passed to address what's known as the Supreme Court's Bracken decision.

But one Senate source says that while there is an agreement on the language, there is not yet an agreement by the Majority Coalition Caucus to vote on the bill — a distinction that could make a big difference because the clock is ticking toward Friday morning when the state will have to start sending out refunds.

Before agreeing to vote on the bill, some members of that caucus could also seek a vote on one or more of their reform bills, to change state policy on schools, budget increases or the workers compensation system.

Those discussion continue, so the Senate remains “at ease” and legislators and staff have been told to prepare for a long night.

One of the rules of demanding a ransom is you must first know what ransom you want to demand.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post said the Senate was expected to vote on the bill today, and that there was an agreement to take the vote, based on conversations with legislators. A spokesman for the Majority Coalition Caucus says, however, that there was never an agreement to vote, only an agreement on the language that would be in the bill if it came to a vote, and a vote was never scheduled.

Baumgartner cancels potluck

OLYMPIA — Sen. Mike Baumgartner's annual Flag Day Potluck is the latest casualty of the Legislature's inability to get a budget. 

The potluck, scheduled for Friday at Comstock Park, was cancelled because Baumgartner can't attend. He's in Olympia with the other legislators (most of them anyway) with the second special session which began Wednesday.

Baumgartner said the food will go to the Union Gospel Mission.

House passes estate tax ‘fix’

OLYMPIA — The House approved a change in the estate tax to address a loss in court that could cost the state more than $40 million in the coming weeks.

On a 53-33 vote, it approved a deal negotiated with Senate Republicans that could keep refund checks being sent tomorrow to families that challenged one aspect of the estate tax that was enacted in 2005. It provides some new deductions for family owned businesses that have high property assets but relatively small cash reserves. . .

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

Hamilton says he’s city resident in new court filing

City Council candidate Mark Hamilton says he hasn't lived at his address in the city of Spokane since November and barely lived in the home since September as a result of construction in the home.

But Hamilton, a real estate agent and the pastor of 1Body Ministries, also said that from the time he acquired the dilapidated home at 217 E. Pacific in May 2012 until September he usually spent about four nights a week there. Utility records show the home had no water or electricity the first month he lived there. He claims to have slept on a cot at his newly-purchased home rather than at his other home outside city limits.

“I actually slept on the premises beginning on May 15, 2012, on a camp cot in the upstairs bedroom. There were no utilities at the time, but I was concerned about the homeless and transient persons in the area and lack of security,” Hamilton said in a court declaration. He said he bathed at a friend's home or at his other home outside city limits.

Last month two residents who live in Hamilton's council district filed a lawsuit arguing that Hamilton wasn't qualified to appear on the ballot. He is challenging Councilwoman Amber Waldref in her bid for reelection.

In February, responding to questions about whether he met residency requirements to run for Spokane City Council, Hamilton said he had spent the majority of his nights since May at the home on Pacific.

When Hamilton voted in November, he was registered to vote an address outside city limits. That's one of many factors noted in the lawsuit as reasons Hamilton doesn't meet residency requirements.

The Spokane City Charter says “a person must be a qualified voter of the City of Spokane and have been a resident of the City, and of the appropriate council district, for the one year immediately preceding the time of filing as a candidate for, or the time of appointment to, the office of mayor, council president, or council member.”

 Hamilton's attorney, Dustin Deissner, argues that the line in the charter does not require a candidate to be a qualified voter “for the one year immediately preceding the time of filing” (last month). That time requirement, he said, only applies to being a resident. He said it was an oversight that Hamilton was registered to vote at an address outside city limits.

The lawsuit and Hamilton's response is attached to this post.

Hamilton has said he will no longer respond to requests for comment from The Spokesman-Review and in a Facebook post last month called on pastors to rise up against the newspaper. He also called S-R reporters “demonic soothsayers.” To see his full post, written soon after this column appeared in the newspaper, keep reading this post.


Inslee sending proxy to Paris Air Show

OLYMPIA — With the state looking at the prospect of wandering off a fiscal cliff without a budget, Gov. Jay Inslee today canceled a planned trip to the Paris Air Show next week to helpboost Boeing and the rest of the state's aviation industry.

The biannual international air show was the anchor for  European trade missions in 2011 and 2005 by Inslee's predecessor, and then-Gov. Chris Gregoire sandwiched the last trip between stops in Spain and Germany.

But the trip is always eyed skeptically by critics, and with the Legislature entering its second special session without a budget that would give the state the authority to continue many programs and policies after June 30, Inslee said earlier in the week he might not make the final decision until just before the plane left for Paris.

“I think it would be important for the governor to be there,” he said, adding that the governors from other states with prominient aviaition industries are expected to attend.

This morning, however, Inslee's office announced he was asking U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a fellow Democrat and a member of the House Aviation subcommittee, to take his place in the 52-person delegation. 

Condon and Stuckart no Simon and Garfunkel

WARNING: This video is painful to watch and hear. Its only saving grace is that this exercise helped raise money for the Second Harvest Food Bank. Let's hope this duo does not reunite. The political pro of Street Music Week remains — sorry, mayor and council president — Mary Verner.

A new class of troopers

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Patrol swore in 27 new troopers Wednesday, graduates of the 101st class from the agency's academy.

State Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst administered the oath of office as Gov. Jay Inslee, Chief John Batiste and family members watching from the railings on two upper floors looked on.

Watch for them soon in a patrol car near you.

Special Session: The sequel

OLYMPIA — The Second Special Session began this morning with a bang — of the gavel, anyway — and not much more than a whimper in the House, which went into recess until tomorrow morning.

The Senate had about two dozen folks on hand for the official opening, which was followed by  some long pauses, the reading of the official call for the second overtime session, and an immediate caucus by the Majority Coalition Caucus. Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, underscored immediate, apparently in an effort to herd the cats into the meeting room.

The biggest problem right now for Spin Control is how to refer to this new special session in short hand.

Spec Sess 2?  2nd Spec Sess?  Spec Sess II?

And is it most accurate to describe this is Day 1 of the second special session, or Day 31 of this year's special sessions, or Day 136 of the entire session?

The Secretary of State office has done some research on special sessions over the years, and notes long overtimes were needed in 1951, 1973 and 2001. The most days ever needed was 163, in 1973 and 2001.

If legislators take the full 30 days for this special session, they'll go 165 days and set a new record — which may not be something many of them will brag about in the next election.

Special Session 1 over. Special Session 2 ahead

OLYMPIA – The Legislature closed for about 17 hours overnight Tuesday – the amount of time between its ineffectual first special session and a second special session that some say could bring the state to a fiscal cliff.

Gov. Jay Inslee criticized the largely Republican Senate majority for pushing ideology over budget compromise as he issued the proclamation for a second legislative overtime period Tuesday morning.

“The budget is our primary duty. That’s where our focus should be,” Inslee said. “They need to come to a common-sense position, so that we can fulfill the obligation to our kids”. . .

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

Gavel down on Spec Sess 1

Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen are projected on the wall of the Senate as each brings down a gavel to close the special session.

OLYMPIA — The First Special Session of the 2013 Legislature closed this afternoon with the bang of gavels in the Senate and House, and a smattering of applause from legislators in their seats.

Or as they'd probably say on ESPN, the First Special Session is in the books…

Day one of the Second Special Session starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Spec Sess No. 1 approaches last gasp

OLYMPIA — The First Special Session of the 2013 Legislature is expected to be gavelled to a close around 3:30 p.m.

Legislators are being told to be back at their seats around then, and this special session will end less than 18 hours before the Second Special Session begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Normally the end of a session is called sine die, pronounced SIGH-nee DIE.

This one, however, might more properly be called Tiny die.

Or Phony die?

Or Whiny die?

Inslee: Second special session called

OLYMPIA — Criticizing Senate Republicans for pushing ideology over budget compromise, Gov. Jay Inslee this morning called the Legislature into a second special session starting Wednesday.

He also said he was directing his cabinet to study what state government services would have to be shut down if the Legislature goes beyond July 1 — the start of the fiscal year — without passing a budget.

“They need to come to a common-sense position, so that we can fulfill the obligation to our kids,” Inslee said.

Senate Majority Coalition Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said Inslee was wrong in his assertion that House Democrats have done all the compromising and the coalition has done none. But discussions will continue, and a budget agreement will be reached before July 1.

“We will get the job done,” said Tom, one of two Democrats who joined with all 23 Republicans to form the coalition before the legislative session started. “This talk of a government shutdown is nonsense. It's not going to happen.”

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said he also hoped a budget would be negotiated and passed before the end of this month, but Inslee was right to study the implications of that not  happening. Tom has been wrong in some previous predictions, Sullivan said.

“I believe at the start of the regular session, he said we'd be done in 105 days,” Sullivan said.

Today is the last day of the first 30-day special session Inslee called after the Legislature failed to pass an operating budget of more than $33 billion during the regular 105-day session. The two chambers have spent most of that month in recess and passed relatively little legislation as most members awaited word from their leaders on progress of budget negotiations. There's little incentive to pass any new bills in either chamber today, because under legislative rules they would be returned to their house of origin when the second special session starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

All sides in the budget impasse argue that they are doing the right thing to increase spending on public school education, which is a mandate from the state Supreme Court. Inslee said House Democrats have compromised the most by dropping many of their proposals to reduce or eliminate tax breaks while balancing increases in the budget between schools and needed social services.

Senate Republicans say their basic budget spends more education than the House's basic budget, about $1 billion compared to $700 million, and does it without tax incrases. House Democrats say they boost that $700 million by more than $100 million through the closure of tax breaks in separate legislation, giving the Senate the chance to accept or reject extra programs for public schools and the state's college system.

Along with the budget, however, the Senate Majoritiy Coalition also passed three  bills over the weekend that require certain changes or reforms in state law. One would allow principals to reject teachers being assigned to their schools, another would cap the growth in state spending on non-education programs to a formula based on inflation and population, and a third would expand the two-year-old system of allowing injured workers to accept structured settlements rather than regular payments from the state's worker's compensation system.

Coalition members call those proposals reforms. Inslee and House Democrats call them ideological policy decisions.

House Democrats gave up their ideological policy bills on topics like abortion and expanding some state college aid to immigrants, Inslee said, but the Senate continues to push theirs.

“We have made significant movement,” Tom countered, including agreeing to accept federal money by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and discussing some tax increases. “But there needs to be reform.”

Sullivan said there has only been small progress on the budget, in part because of Senate Republicans' insistence on their policy bills. “We haven't gotten to the point where we are actually negotiating the budget.”


Spec Sess Day 30 or Day Minus-1

OLYMPIA — It's the final day of the First Special Session. Or possibly the eve of the Second Special Session. Take your pick.

Legislators don't have much incentive to pass anything today unless they could pass it in both chambers, because at the beginning of a special session everything still hanging fire goes back to its “house of origin”, which means they'd just have to pass it again.

Gov. Jay Inslee has a 10:30 a.m. press conference “to discuss the special session”, which means he could issue the call for the second session at that point, or urge them to get as much done as possible before midnight before the call goes out.

Spec Sess Day 29: Get ready for double overtime

OLYMPIA — The Legislature slid toward a second special session today with all sides agreeing they couldn't finish negotiating and adopting a two-year operating budget before time runs out in the first special session Tuesday at midnight.

Both chambers have passed an operating budget, but the two plans are so different that they would be difficult to reconcile even if there was general willingness to compromise and ongoing negotiations.

There isn't, and there aren't.

At the end of the regular session six weeks ago, Gov. Jay Inslee described the House and Senate as “light years apart.” Today House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the gap has closed, but not nearlyl enough.

“We're still somewhere out in space,” Sullivan said of the differences.

Looking beyond Tuesday's special session deadline to another date on the calendar, the start of the state's fiscal year on July 1, the House passed a “bare bones” measure to continue work on existing capital construction projects. Without it, Capital Budget Chairman Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said, those projects would run out of  money on July 1 and work would stop. 

There were charges of Washington, D.C., style politics — about the worst insult one legislator can hurl at another in Olympia — as the two chambers dug in for an unknown number of days beyond Tuesday. It wasn't strictly partisan; some criticism involved members of one chamber dissing the other.

“The other chamber wants to take us right off a cliff,” Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said during debate on the capital budget stop gap measure.

“There is no tolerance for shutting down the government. Let's don't play politics,” Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton said before voting for the same bill. Smith was forced to cut her speech short when Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, ruled her comments about playing politics went too far for the debate rules of the House.

In the afternoon, the Senate Ways and Means Committee held hearings on eight bills, including several tax proposals that would be necessary to pay for a wide range of education and social programs in the coming two-year fiscal period. Normal rules of the Legislature wouldn't allow those bills to move through both chambers in the day remaining in the current special session, so they offer discussion points for the next special session.

After hearing public testimony on the eight bills, the committee recessed until Tuesday morning to decide whether to pass them to the Senate floor, but not before Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, wondered aloud what Republicans who make up most of the Majority Coalition Caucus had in mind.

“It would be fairly helpful to know what the plan is,” Nelson said.

Inslee has said he will call a second special session to start Wednesday if legislators didn't pass an operating budget, a plan to improve the state's transportation system and toughen drunk driving laws in the first special session. None of those three has passed.

Today’s fun video: Obama v. Obama on NSA spying

The only comment we'll make is that it's amazing how much grayer President Obama is than Candidate Obama.

Spec Sess Day 29: Formal farewell to Sen. Mike Carrell

Rep. Maureen Walsh leads Senate in the chorus of “I Can See Clearly Now” at the close of the memorial service for Sen. Mike Carrell.

OLYMPIA — The Senate held a formal memorial service for Sen. Mike Carrell this morning, with tributes from several of his close friends in the Senate and Gov. Jay Inslee.

Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, “sang them out” at the close of the service. Rather than a standard like “Amazing Grace,” she had the chamber join in with something more in keeping with Carrell's upbeat demeanor.

“I Can See Clearly Now”. She got most of them to join in for the chorus of “gonna be a bright, bright, bright sunshiny day.”

Spec Sess Day 29: Tick, tick, tick

OLYMPIA — Two days.

That's what's left in the oh-so special session. With each chamber having passed a budget in the last several days we all  know the parameters of a possible deal. So the thing to watch for will be some sign of movement from each side on both the budget and the policy or “reform” bills.

Can they be done with everything by midnight tomorrow? Only the great Karnak could say for sure. But if one were betting this like a football game, Spin Control would offer its standard advice on the length of legislative sessions.

Always bet the over. Never bet the under. 

Sunday Spin: On not negotiating in the media

OLYMPIA – Among the bromides passed off as great wisdom during this special session of the Legislature is that budget negotiators should not – nay, absolutely must not, and therefore do not – negotiate a budget in the media.

This has been mentioned at various times by players, from the governor to the leadership of the Senate and House to the negotiators themselves as though the admonition were cast in stone, or at least referenced through an asterisk on the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai and clear for anyone who read the next few verses in Deuteronomy.

Let’s get the office Bible down and check. Ah yes, here it is …Shalt not covet thy neighbor’s whatever. Shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. Shalt not negotiate budgets in the media.

The media, it should surprise no one, thinks this is a silly commandment… ,

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

Today’s fun video: What’s up with Doc?


Loyal reader and former colleague Dan Hansen pointed out a glitch in a recent Saturday Night Live skit that probably wouldn't cause the New York staff to blink but should have struck folks in the Inland Northwest as bizarre.

The skit makes fun of House investigations into Benghazi, with an back-and-forth between Republican Rep. Darrell Issa and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings. But the name plate in front of Kenan Thompson, who is playing Cummings, is for someone else… someone who almost certainly has never been confused with the Maryland congressman.

Senate majority claims counter on budget, mum on details

OLYMPIA — Leaders of the coalition that controls the Senate say they have made a counter offer on the budget to the House Democrats, who yesterday announced a $33.6 billion spending plan for 2013-15.

It's a “comprehensive” offer, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina said. It spends more than $1 billion extra on public schools. 

So what's in it and how is it different from House Bill 1057?

“We're not going to negotiate in the press,” Tom said at a press conference the Majority Coalition Caucus called, ostensibly to say they had countered on the budget.

Told that the House Democrats plan to spend about $1 billion extra for schools, too, Tom said the budget really only has $700 million. It relies on closing a list of tax credits to raise money beyond that level for schools, and that's not a reliable solution.

“It needs to be dependable funding,” Tom said. “Going out to the voters, by nature is not a dependable source.”

There's no guarantee the voters will say yes, he added. “This is not the Soviet Union where you can guarantee a vote.”

But the House tax package does not have a referendum clause, its author, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said. It  is expected to have an emergency clause, making it unlikely the taxes could be placed on the ballot by a signature campaign.  

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House Democrats chief budget negotiator, declined to say whether the Senate Majority Caucus, which includes 23 Republicans and two Democrats, had presented a comprehensive counter offer. 

“We're moving a budget so we have a vehicle,” Hunter said. That process is public, but negotiations are in private. “I'm not going to characterize those private offers.” 

1 marriage in 5 involved same-sex couple

About one Washington state wedding in five between early December and the end of March involved a same-sex couple, state figures show.

The state Department of Health said nearly 2,500 same-sex couples were married in Washington between Dec. 6, when a voter approved law took effect, and March 31. That's about 20 percent of the 11,661 marriages performed and reported to county officials.

More than half of them took place in King County, the state's most populous. Spokane County recorded 504 couples married during that period, with 88 or 17.5 percent of them for same sex couples, the department said. 

Four counties — Asotin, Ferry, Garfield and Wahkiakum — had no same sex marriages on file.

Female couples were almost twice as likely as male couples to get married, comprising some 63 percent of the same-sex marriages during that period. Same sex couples were also more likely to travel to Washington to get married than heterosexual couples, the department said; 14 percent of the same-sex marriages had both couples from out of state, compared to 4 percent of heterosexual couples both being from out of state.

Washington became the seventh state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage on Nov. 6 when voters approved Referendum 74, a ballot measure asking whether a law passed earlier in the year by the Legislatulre should be upheld. The law took effect one month later when the election results were certified.

For a county-by-county breakdown, click on the document below.


Today’s fun video: McDermott v. Kelly


U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott received the wrath of conservatives and FOX News for his questioning of groups who were questioned about their activities by the IRS when applying for a tax exemption.

Yesterday he squared off with Fox's Megyn Kelly over his testimony, and whether she was putting words in his mouth. Judge for yourself who gets the better of the confrontation.

House Democrats offer ‘significant compromise’ budget

Rep. Ross Hunter explains a point in the new House budget proposal, flanked by other Democrats from the Senate and House.

OLYMPIA — House Democrats offered to trim back spending and drop many proposals on taxes as part of a compromise they say would allow the Legislature to pass a 2013-15 operating budget before time runs out in the special session.

The $33.6 billion plan for the next biennium spends an extra $700 million on public schools in an attempt to meet a state Supreme Court mandate, although less than their leaders proposed at the beginning of the year.

It closes fewer tax exemptions and preferences and would not extend a business and occupation tax surcharge or higher taxes on beer that are scheduled to expire at the end of the month. A separate proposal would close or reduce seven tax exemptions, raising an estimated $256 million. That money would be dedicated to specific programs in public schools or colleges if they pass as separate legislation…


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Spec Sess Day 24: Democrats to roll out budget

OLYMPIA — House and Senate Democrats will release their latest 2013-15 operating budget plan this afternoon, with a press conference at 12:15 p.m. and a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee at 1:30 p.m.

Whether it's a budget that can pass both houses in the week that remains in the current special session remains to be seen. Leaders of the majority coalition in the Senate said Tuesday they were still opposed to higher taxes, so if it relies on closing tax exemptions or extending temporary taxes, it could be in for tough sledding in the Senate.

And the coalition is back to an actual 25-vote majority this morning with the swearing-in of Republican Steve O'Ban to the seat left open by the death of Sen. Mike Carrell.

Preparing for fire season

Inslee deploys a fire shelter.

OLYMPIA — Jay Inslee completed one of the annual spring rituals for a Washington governor this morning: passing the test for minimum wildfire training in the advance of the state's fire season.

To do this, one must walk a mile in no more than 16 minutes. He managed it in just over 13, strolling with Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark staff and assorted media, on a course laid out by the Department of Natural Resources at Capitol Lake. Possibly most impressive, he did it in his dress shoes.

One must also demonstrate the ability to unpack and crawl into a fire shelter in 26 seconds. He had a few seconds to spare.

“I'm trying to get a budget through the Washington Legislature. Geting into a fire shelter is nothing,” he told reporters afterwards.

This doesn't qualify one to fight wildfires in the forests or ranges. That's a much tougher test. This is the minimum for going up to the fire line.

Summers are getting warmer, drier and longer with each passing decade, and tree kills by beetles more frequent, Inslee said, which means fire seasons in most years are getting more longer and more intense.

One might assume that if the governor showed up at a wildfire, they'd let him go to the fireline if he wanted, but governors usually take the test to show support for the DNR.

Inslee: Senate prefers rich over school kids

Inslee criticizes Senate plan to change estate tax.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee, clearly frustrated over a lack of progress in budget negotiations and a plan to fix a problem with the estate tax, accused the Senate today of hurting school children to help multi-millionaires…


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Spec Sess Day 23: Gone in 34 seconds

OLYMPIA — The Senate got through its pro forma session this morning in 34 seconds. That was about 5 seconds short of the record, but still in the neighborhood of “don't blink or you'll miss it.”

Gov. Jay Inslee has a noon press conference to discuss “budget issues pending in the special session.” Considering he issued a statement on Friday in which he said he was “increasingly concerned about the pace of budget negotiations”, and the pace has not picked up one might reasonably expect he is at least still concerned. You can watch it live on TVW; we'll have a report shortly after the press conference concludes.

The House Appropriations Committee has a hearing tomorrow on a bill to eliminate some tax preferences; would love to tell you what's in it but it won't be available until Wednesday, possibly not until noon, which is 90 minutes before the hearing starts.

The committee might also vote on an early House Democratic budget, House Bill 1057, which predates the proposals that passed at the end of the regular session.

Murray: We’re headed for a fiscal cliff

OLYMPIA — The Senate's top Democrat accused the coalition that controls the chamber of driving the state toward a government shutdown by stalling on budget negotiations.

Sen. Ed Murray of Seattle said the Legislature is moving backwards in trying to reach an agreement on the 2013-15 operating budget: “Senate Republicans want to close down government on July 1 and send us over a fiscal cliff.”

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, acknowledged it will be difficult to write and pass a budget by June 11, when the special session must end. But he said he remains optimistic that can happen with “hard work and good faith.”

“The last thing we want is to drive anything off a cliff,” Schoesler said.

Murray's comments came after a rare floor session with most senators present to  honor Republican Mike Carrell, who died last week. After an hour of tributes to the longtime legislator from Lakewood, both sides met in caucus, and the Senate eventually adjourned until Tuesday without further action.

Monday was the 22nd day of the special session, making next Tuesday the final day of the overtime session. Murray said the Legislature is quickly running out of time in which a budget can be passed, even if an agreement is reached. The text of the budget, which could be between $34 billion and $35 billion, often runs 400 pages or more and lists appropriations for most state programs outside of transportation and major building projects. It takes time to print and fact check and move between the two chambers to pass in the same form.

If the Legislature doesn't pass a budget by next Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee immediately could call another special session. But that would put the start of the state's fiscal year, July 1, squarely in the middle of that second overtime.

If delays continue, the state would be without a budget on July 1, and without legal authority to spend money on many non-emergency programs. “I don't see how we avoid a shutdown” of at least some programs like Parks, Licensing, Early Learning and Basic Health, he said, if a budget hasn't been passed by then. 

The state's ability to pay principal and interest on its bonds could also be challenged in court, and its bond rating dropped, he said.

Schoesler said his members aren't anxious for a second special session. “I want to see this completed in the (current) special session as much as anyone in the state,” he added.

He refused to discuss budget discussions, insisting “I have not negotiated in the press and I will not start negotiating in the press”. But negotiations were occuring, he added.

“We're still talking. We're still working,” he said.

Last Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement that he was concerned about the pace of budget negotiations. On Monday, an Inslee spokeswoman said the governor “remains hopeful” that a budget agreement can be reached and passed before the end of this special session, but acknowledged that gets less likely with each passing day.

“There's a lot that needs to get done,” Jaime Smith said. Inslee is talking with legislative leaders and budget writers on an almost daily basis, and bringing the budget committee leaders together every few days, she said.

Last Friday, however, Inslee was concerned that Senate Republicans had introduced and passed a different plan to address a change in the estate tax designed to close what some consider a loophole opened by a state Supreme Court ruling.

Murray said the bill that came out of the Ways and Means Committee was different than previous agreements on how to address the estate tax problem, generates less revenue and was a sign of “backwards movement” on the budget.

Skagit bridge rename proposed

OLYMPIA — Legislators from a northern Puget Sound district want to rename the Skagit River bridge for the state trooper who was killed there last week.

The delegation from the 40th District said this morning the state should rename the bridge in honor of Trooper Sean O'Connell, who was killed Friday while directing traffic that needs to be rerouted because a section of the bridge collapsed the previous week.

Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island and Reps. Jeff Morris of Mount Vernon and Kristine Lytton of Anacortes, all Democrats, said renaming the span the Troooper #1076 Sean M. O'Connell Memorial Bridge is a small token that “doesn't even begin to display the level of appreciation all Washingtonians have for his service or the heartache and compassion we feel for his family in the wake of his loss.”

Spec Sess Day 22: Senate action in afternoon?

Memorial to Sen. Mike Carrell in the Senate chamber.

OLYMPIA — The Senate appears poised for action this afternoon on as yet unscheduled bills.

With a portrait of the late Sen. Mike Carrell looking on and a state flag folded ceremonially on his desk, the Senate moved quickly this morning through the standard pro forma session. Standard until the very end when instead of adjourning for the day, the chamber went “at ease, subject to call.”

Republicans then went into caucus. Democratic leadership huddled with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen in the wings. A regular session was set for 1 p.m.

There may be some tributes to Carrell, who died last week of complications from treatment for a blood disorder, when most Republican senators weren't in town and shocked Democrats only learned of it in an announcement on the chamber floor.

As far as legislation, the list of possibilities isn't long, but it does have two bills the Ways and Means Committee sent out on Friday: one for tougher penalties on repeat DUI offenders and another that attempts to fix a problem with the state's estate tax. 

Sunday Spin: No action doesn’t yet equal Armageddon

OLYMPIA – Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

So it’s not surprising that into the vacuum that is the Legislature’s special session – where the most special thing about it to date may be that so little has been done – those with nothing to do are pouring predictions of disasters lurking beyond the horizon.

Even Gov. Jay Inslee, normally the most upbeat of guys, said Friday he was “becoming increasingly concerned about the pace of budget negotiations.” The press corps was mildly surprised to discover negotiations could be described as having a pace.

Some people watching closely the various happenings and non-happenings in Olympia may believe we are close to a zombie apocalypse, followed by Armageddon, followed by a nuclear winter, followed by intense global warming and possibly a plague of frogs and locusts.

Before you run out and stock up on bottled water, canned food and ammunition let me violate the Journalists’ Credo for Filling Slow News Days and say, it’s a bit early to panic. Or even get too worried. Here’s water to throw on the various fires being fanned by the worriers.

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About this blog

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

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

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

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

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