OLYMPIA – The Legislature returns to town Monday in search of a compromise on a two-year operating budget that keeps the state in the black, uses relatively few accounting gimmicks, may or may not raise taxes and doesn’t get them hauled into court on a case they can’t win.
If those lines give you a sense of déjà vu, it’s probably because the same thing could have been written about the start of every regular session and special session since 2010.
A Google search would likely show it has been written by someone each of the last four year. Probably at least once by me.
Every regular session starting in 2010 required at least one special session to finish work on the budget. (Some careful readers might note that was when I started covering the Legislature full time in
Some years they go directly from the regular session into the special session, or take just a few days off for Easter or some other holiday that coincides with end of their allotted time. This year, Gov. Jay Inslee called a two-week break before going into overtime, sending most of them back to their districts to spend time with their families, and in a few cases, raise money for this year’s campaigns. While most don’t have to worry about re-election this year, a few have dreams of another office, like Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray who’d like to be mayor of
Not everyone was sent home for the duration, however. Leaders of the budget committees and their staffs were searching for a compromise that could be presented to the caucuses or sent to a hearing soon after other legislators return. At the end of last week, Inslee was doing his best to remain optimistic without over-promising.
Negotiators were making progress on a budget compromise, Inslee said, but not enough he could say for with any certainty the Legislature will be working full-time from the get-go Monday. He expects negotiators from both parties and both chambers will “start making the hard compromises necessary” and legislators could have a few other issues, like getting tougher on repeat drunk drivers, to occupy their early days back.
Compromises are a given, considering operating budgets passed by the Senate and House are more than $1 billion apart in terms of total spending, and the House budget calls for ending or shrinking some tax exemptions the Senate does not.
Inslee included himself among the folks who will have to compromise, although he didn’t suggest what his compromises might be, which would be akin to a poker play turning up his hole cards before going all-in during a game of Texas Hold ’em.
When the Legislature adjourned on April 28, Inslee described the sides as “light years apart.” Other than to say they were making progress Friday, Inslee said he couldn't elaborate: “We've agreed not to talk about negotiations.”
Perhaps, as colleague Jerry Cornfield of the Everett Herald suggested later, they’re approaching a point where they’re at least in the same solar system.
But don’t expect the rocket to land any time soon.
Remember how Congress moved almost like greased lightning to keep stop the slowdown in commercial flights that the sequester was going to cause?
And remember how the jaded among you said that was just because they were getting to leave on recess, and didn't want to face delays as they flew home for the break?
Well, turns out there's some dough left from the money the FAA moved around to keep air traffic controllers off furlough, and it's going to help the little airports like Felts Field. And gee, they almost never fly into the little airports…at least not outside of campaign season.
People thinking about running for local council or district offices who haven't yet made up their minds need to make a decision pretty quick. Filing week starts Monday morning.
On the ballot this year are council seats in cities and towns throughout Washington, as well as many mayoral slots. The City of Spokane has three openings — one for each council district — and the City of Spokane Valley has four at-large seats on this year's ballot.
Neither of those cities have a mayor's race — Spokane's isn't until 2015 and Spokane Valley's mayor is chosen from the council — but Cheney, Deer Park, Fairfield, Latah, Medical Lake, Millwood and Rockford are all electing mayors this year.
Many school districts, fire districts, water districts and cemetery districts also have positions on the ballot.
Most races are non-partisan, but Eastern Washington's 7th Legislative District has a partisan race to fill a state Senate seat. Bob Morton resigned his seat at the end of last year, and John Smith, a Colville businessman, was appointed to fill the position at the start of the legislative session. To retain the seat, Smith will have to survive the August primary and win the November election.
Smith is a Republican, but under the state's Top 2 primary system, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary advance to the general election regardless of party. In the strongly Republican 7th District, it's not unusual for two GOP candidates to be on the general election ballot.
Most candidates have until the elections office in their county closes on Friday afternoon to file for office. Candidates for offices in districts that cover more than one county, such as the 7th Legislative District, file with the Secretary of State in Olympia.
OLYMPIA —Negotiators are making progress on a budget compromise that would cover the state's operating costs for the next two years, Gov. Jay Inslee said this morning.
But not enough that Inslee could say for certainty whether the Legislature will be working full-time starting Monday, when the special session starts.
“I think progress was made this week,” Inslee told reporters after ceremonial bill signings in his office conference room. He expects negotiators from both parties and both chambers will “start making the hard compromises necessary.”
The Legislature failed to pass a two-year operating budget during its 105-day regular session which ended April 28. Inslee called a special session to begin May 13, but budget staff and key leaders have spent parts of the last two weeks trying to find areas for compromise. Operating budgets passed by the Senate and House are more than $1 billion apart in terms of total spending, and the House budget calls for changes in tax exemptions the Senate does not.
When the Legislature adjourned on April 28, Inslee described the sides as “light years apart.” Budget negotiators met on Tuesday and today, he said. Other than to say they were making progress, Inslee said he couldn't elaborate. “We've agreed not to talk about negotiations.”
After convening at 9 a.m. Monday, legislators could hold hearings on some other issues that they or Inslee would like brought up in the special session. Among those are tougher rules for repeat drunk-driving offenses which had strong support when introduced but hit a few roadblocks over questions of funding in the final weeks of the session. Inslee said he thought negotiators were “99.5 percent of the way” to a compromise that would save counties and cities money on drunk-driving cases but may cost the state more money. If that's the case, budget negotiators will have to be sure the operating budget will have money to cover those changes, he said.
Figures released Thursday by the state Department of Revenue showed that taxes from retail sales, which make up nearly half of the $109 billion in taxable sales, rose about 5.3 percent. Mike Gowrylow, a department spokesman, said the drop in consumer-driven retail sales tax revenue bottomed out in 2011 and showed increases in all quarters of 2012. But “it’s not like a big boom,” he added.
Total sales were still well below the nearly $119 billion collected in 2007.
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Washington beer drinkers pay a higher tax than any state west of the Mississippi in the continental U.S.
So says the Tax Foundation in its weekly map feature that shows various tax rates.
The rate in Washington is 76 cents per gallon, which is eighth highest in the nation. Alaska and Hawaii are higher, but all the states around Washington are significantly lower.
The listed rate includes the temporary tax set to expire on June 30. Some folks in the Legislature were considering making that tax permanent, but the beer tax extension was pulled from the most recent tax proposal in the House of Representatives.
If that tax goes away, the beer tax will go down to about 26 cents per gallon, which would still make Washington the highest in the region, but bring it down to about 25th in the nation.
OLYMPIA – State officials who ask the Legislature for more money or expanded programs could be fined, and pay the penalty out of their own pocket, if they don’t properly file lobbying reports with the Public Disclosure Commission.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, sets up a civil penalty of $100 per statement on a state agency head who fails to file lobbying reports with the commission and allows any state official or employee who improperly spends public money on lobbying to be fined.
Supporters say it’s a way to keep public money from being used to lobby for more public money. It doesn’t keep state officials from supplying information in response to legislative requests.
Signed Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee, it takes effect at the beginning of 2014.
The felony firearms registry, which would be maintained by the Washington State Patrol, was the most significant gun legislation to pass in the recently concluded session. Inslee challenged legislators to go further in the upcoming special session, which starts Monday, and vote on background checks for all gun purchases.
“We’ll not leave until gun violence is addressed in our state,” Inslee told reporters after signing a total of 25 bills on a wide variety of topics.
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Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has landed a new job at the Department of Natural Resources.
She will start next month as the deputy supervisor of resource protection and administration, said department spokesman Matthew Randazzo. That is the lead position over the resource protection division, he said.
Soon after leaving office at the end of 2011, Verner was named the CEO of Spokane Tribal Enterprises.
During a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Patty Murray questioned Air Force officials about reports that nearly two-thirds of military women who reported sexual assaults were retaliated against by their commanders.
The answer by Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, “we have to investigate that extensively.” He also said the Air Force is looking at how to change its organizational structure.
At the beginning of the clip, Murray, D-Wash., offers condolences for the recent loss of the KC-135 tanker with the Fairchild Air Force Base crew over Kyrgyzstan and gets in a plug for bringing the first squadrons of new tankers to the West Plains base.
Welsh said the decision on the first base for the new tankers is expected later this month.
As reported in this morning's paper, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers formally came out against a proposed West Plains casino as “encroachment” on Fairchild Air Force Base and the Spokane Tribe, which is planning the development, reiterated that it is no such thing.
Want to read more about it?
McMorris Rodgers' letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs is below.
The statement of Spokane Tribal Chairman Rudy Peone can be found inside the blog.
Congratulations to Councilwoman Amber Waldref, this year's top Bloomsday finisher among elected leaders (at least among those whose time we checked).
She easily beat out the rest of her City Council cohorts, though in defense of the others, she is the youngest elected official we located who ran the race.
Spin Control also offers the following trophy-less awards:
Participation Award: The Spokane County Commission. All three members finished the race. They are a shining example to the legislators serving the Third Legislative District. None of them completed the race even though the race is in their district.
Doomsday Hill Award: Jon Snyder, barely beat out Michael Baumgartner for the fastest time up Pettet Drive.
Here are the finishers we found. They are a bit slower than last year when former county commissioner and mountain climber John Roskelley ran the race.
In parenthesis are the official's age, followed by his or her final time, per-mile pace and his or her time on Doomsday Hill.
OLYMPIA – Before a special session was called Sunday for the Legislature to finish such important tasks as setting the state’s two-year operating budget, legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee seemed to agree on one thing: it would cost taxpayers $11,000 a day.
If history is any guide, that estimate could be high. Last year’s special session didn’t cost that much, even though pay and per diem schedules suggested it might.
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WASHINGTON — A change in Pentagon security procedures almost derailed Spokane's most recent formal pitch for new refueling tankers to land at Fairchild Air Force Base.
A group of city business and political leaders were in Washington, D.C. last week to meet with lawmakers and bureaucratic bigwigs to lobby for several pet projects. Chief among those was ensuring the new KC-46A tanker aircraft, rolling off Boeing production lines in Everett, would wind up in Fairchild's hangars.
But several members of the group, including Mayor David Condon and Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Rich Hadley, found themselves on the curb looking in when Pentagon security required two forms of identification to enter the building…
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Gov. Jay Inslee said he wants budget negotiators to stay in
Inslee said all sides need to be flexible on budget negotiations and other issues that may come up, but he seemed to be drawing a line in the sand that would require fewer cuts and at least some extra revenue from closing or shrinking some tax preferences.
“We will not balance that (budget) on the backs of seniors, homeless kids and the disabled,” he said.
Senate Republicans said they would have preferred to start the special session today Monday, without any break. Their members all want to be involved in discussions about programs and policies, Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said, and have different expertise on the intricacies of the budget. And they continue to oppose tax increases, he added.
Inslee wants legislators to also handle issues involving abortion, gun control and immigration, which have been blocked in the Senate. Republicans may have some issues that Inslee opposes that they will introduce, although “we haven’t had that discussion yet,” Schoesler said.
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OLYMPIA – There is an axiom in legislating, that when you have the votes to pass something, you shut up and cast them. When you don’t have the votes, you talk.
A corollary to that in this year’s legislative session seems to be that when you don’t have the votes, you offer up comments as quotable as possible. When you have the votes, you don’t need to be pithy or clever; you speak as little as possible, and cast them.
Thus it was on the floor of the House last week as legislators did battle over House Bill 2038, better know by Democrats as the close the tax loopholes to pay for education bill and by Republicans as the raise taxes and throw people out of work bill.
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With remarkable speed, the Legislature approved a technical change in the state’s new legalized marijuana law that takes the plant’s chemistry into account.
The biggest obstacle may have been the reading of the bill title in the Senate, where official reader Ken Edmonds stumbled over tetrahydracannibanol, the chemical in question.
Legislation does not come with a pronunciation guide, and
The only discouraging word on the quick fix for the law came from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who said he didn’t favor Initiative 502 in the first place, and the problem was an example of what can go wrong with a ballot measure, which isn’t subjected to the scrutiny and debate of a legislative bill.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you vote for an initiative,” Hargrove warned. “This was a flawed initiative, and now we’re having to use an extraordinary step here to fix it.”
But Hargrove voted yes for the change, as did everyone else in the Senate.
OLYMPIA — Working with uncharacteristic speed, both chambers cleared the way for a special vote to change in the state's marijuana, and the House gave the bill near-unanimous approval.
The problem with the state's legal definition of marijuana was discovered in the last week, as the state crime laboratory reported its test equipment doesn't differentiate between two different chemicals that can be present in the plant. Only one, delta-9 tetrahydracannibanol, is mentioned in the law voters approved last year that allows recreational use of marijuana by adults, and the percentage of that chemical present in any material determines whether it is marijuana.
That definition in Initiative 502 also governs the legal growing, processing and selling of marijuana, which is to be regulated by the state. But the equipment the lab uses turns another a non-psychoactive precursor chemical, tetrahydracannibanol acid which is also present in the plant into delta-9 THC, and THC-A isn't mentioned in the law. A lab analyst testifying in a drug growing or trafficking case can't say how much of the delta-9 THC in their findings was the legal THC-A when the substance was seized.
“They can no longer legally test the substance,” said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, the chairman of the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, which handles the legal issues surrounding the state's changing marijuana laws.
The solution was relatively easy: Change the law to so that any amount of delta-9 THC and THC-A above the set limit makes the substance marijuana. Getting there was not so easy, because the problem was reported to the Legislature in its last week of regular session, when normal deadlines for introducing new bills and voting on them had long passed.
A bill introduced Wednesday was passed by Hurst's committee Thursday and sent to the House, which voted to let both chambers suspend the normal rules and vote on the billl Friday morning. The Senate agreed, which allowed the bill to get a vote in the House Friday afternoon. Because it changes a new initiative, it needed at least a two-thirds majority to approve it; it got that easily, passing 95-1.
“There's no way we can wait 11 months to fix this,” Hurst said after the vote. The Senate is expected to take up the bill over the weekend before the regular session closes.
OLYMPIA — Time is running out in the session, but the House voted overwhelmingly today to consider a new bill to fix a problem with the state's new marijuana law.
As explained in a previous post, the definition from Initiativee 502 of what makes a substance illegal marijuana is creating problems for winning convictions in drug trafficking and growing cases. House Bill 2056 was drafted Wednesday, and had a hearing in a House committee Thursday, to rewrite the definition, but it's so late in the session that it needs special dispensation even to get a vote.
That comes through a concurrent resolution, that must be approved by both chambers by a two-thirds majority. The resolution sailed through the House on a 94-1 vote, and was sent to the Senate.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, couldn't resist a little nudge before the vote: “It is good to see there is a two-thirds vote required on this floor that is constitutional.”
For those not keeping close watch at home, that's a reference to the issue of requiring two-thirds majorities on tax increases. The state Supreme Court court ruled in January that must be done with a constitutional amendment, not through initiative as voters had done several times. Republicans also tried unsuccessfully to put the two-thirds majority requirement for taxes into legislative rules.
OLYMPIA — With a special session all but a foregone conclusion, some legislators might be wishing they were anywhere but here.
Partially granting that wish, it is Hawaiian music day in the Capitol, with guitars and ukeleles strumming, hula dancers in the Rotunda, and leis on each desk in the Senate before the 11 a.m. start.
The real question of the day is when will the special session start — on Monday, the day after the regular session skids to a stop, a few days later, or a couple weeks later? No answer yet, but the speculation changes almost by the hour.
On Thursday, a group from the Majority Coalition Caucus essentially demanded the governor call them back right away to keep legislators who have to run for their appointed slot or some other electoral post from raising money in the interim. State law doesn't allow legislators to raise money during a session, and they made a point of all but calling out Sen. Ed Murray, the Senate Democratic Leader who is considering a run for Seattle Mayor.
Which took a bit of chutzpah on their part, because as the Washington State Wire reports, the Senate Republican Caucus, which makes up 23/25ths of the Majority Caucus, has a fund-raiser scheduled for Monday morning, fitting neatly between what would be the narrowest window of money grubbing possibilities that would exist between the latest close of the regular session on midnight Sunday and the likely earliest start of a special session on noon Monday.
Still some folks steaming Friday over that press conference, but whether it is the determining factor on when the special session will start remains to be seen.