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Spin Control

Posts tagged: 2010 Washington Legislature

WA Lege Day 74: Earlier primary, Ed Department

OLYMPIA — Committees are trying to wrap up “policy” bills with the approach of Friday's deadline that says they must be out of the committee in the second chamber if they want to stay alive.

So the Senate Government Ops has a hearing on moving the primary up a couple weeks in August so the state can get general election ballots to overseas voters sooner (and comply with federal law). It could  also be voting on whether booking photos are open to the public as soon as the suspect is charged. Senate Early Learning has a hearing on new version of a bill to create a state Department of Education, something Gov. Chris Gregoire is pushing to improve education systems from pre-school to grad school.

House Education is scheduled to vote on whether technology should be added as a “core concept”. House Higher Ed has a hearing on changes to the GET program that supporters say are needed to keep it solvent, and may vote out a bill involving a proposed University of North Puget Sound.

It is Science Day with folks from the Pacific Science Center in the Rotunda, and Catholic Advocacy Day, with the state Catholic Conference in the conference room.

In honor of the latter, dominus vobiscum.

Supplemental budget signed (most of it, anyway)

Gov. Chris Gregoire shakes hands with House Budget Chairwoman Kelli Linville and offers Linville the ceremonial pen after signing the supplemental budget.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a new spending plan Tuesday designed to close an estimated $2.8 billion gap in the state’s operating budget with what she said were a “fair mix” of cutting staff and programs, taking federal money and raising taxes.
Before the ink was dry, the Republicans’ top budget expert criticized it as relying on taxes rather than needed government reforms, and an analyst for a conservative think tank said the state was placing too much trust in Congress to come through with money for medical programs.
The budget, technically a revision for the fiscal biennium that runs through June 2011, closes or shrinks five state institutions, including the Pine Lodge Correctional Center for Women in Medical Lake.
Gregoire used the veto pen to remove some sections, including an exemption from increased liquor charges the Legislature approved for restaurants and bars, a commission to study public school district consolidations and legislative demands that various state agencies produce reports.

Soda tax exemption fell flat

OLYMPIA – Not to be a nag about the value of public hearings for important stuff government wants to do to us, but legislators’ penchant for closed-door, back-room discussions of the tax plan they passed may have bit them in the posterior.

Or more appropriately, bit them in the soda bottlers.

The tax on soda pop goes up 2 cents per 12-ounce can on July 1. Among all the taxes considered by the Legislature this year, the pop tax got the least public airing. There were no committee hearings on the pop tax comparable to some other taxes in the plan that passed – or even compared to some that didn’t pass and were never gonna pass, like Sen. Rosa Franklin’s state income tax proposal.

Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested a soda tax early in the session, but it didn’t bubble up in the Legislature until the final days, when word leaked out the weekend before the special session ended. The state’s bottlers and distributors stormed the Capitol on that Friday and Saturday, but there was no bill to look at. Instead, they got assurances of a “break,” with the first $10 million in sales exempt from the tax.

“Every one of my legislators said, ‘You’re going to be exempt,’ ” Tim Martin, president of the Washington Beverage Association, said recently.

No one outside the handful of legislators and governor’s staffers negotiating the budget saw the wording of the bill until about noon on the session’s last day, and if they’re honest, some legislators will admit they didn’t read the tax bill before voting on it that night.

Correction on tax initiatives

OLYMPIA — Initiative sponsor par excellance and alert reader Tim Eyman points out an inaccuracy in last Saturday’s item about the tax increases Gov. Chris Gregoire signed.

He and other tax foes in his camp have filed initiatives to repeal six of the taxes passed by the Legislature in its special session. The story said they had filed initiatives to repeal most of the taxes, and that’s numerically incorrect. The Legislature raised 17 taxes, so their initiatives only cover about a third of them.

Through various initiatives, Eyman et al want to repeal the new soda tax, the bottled water tax, the beer tax, the candy tax, the cigarette tax and the service industry business and occupation tax increase.

While these are the most recognizable (some might say notorious) tax changes coming out of the special session, there are about a dozen other smaller ones, such as the clarification of taxes on electricity from Public Utility Districts, taxes for officers of a failed limited liability corporation or the end to the sales tax exemption for handling livestock nutrients at dairies.

In terms of dollar figures, they are seeking to repeal taxes that would provide more than half of the new revenues the state expects to collect. But that’s different than “most of the taxes,” which is the phrase used in the item.

Gregoire signs, defends tax hikes

Gregoire signs tax bill as crowd that includes Rep. Ross Hunter (right) looks on.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed two major tax increases Friday, insisting the state had no choice but to raise taxes on a wide range of businesses and consumer goods to protect key services.

She discounted any potential electoral backlash for Democrats from the tax increases in November, saying the budget isn’t a partisan issue.

“This is not about partisan politics. This is about tough times in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said.

When Washington was in a major economic downturn in the early 1980s, the governor was a Republican and both house of the Legislature were controlled by the GOP. They raised taxes, too, she said.

But voters gave the Legislature back to Democrats in the 1982 election, and defeated Gov. John Spellman in 1984.

“I’m not forgetting that,” Gregoire said. But she did consult with Spellman during the tax discussions, and he said the biggest mistake he made was extending the sales tax to food, a move which was overturned at the ballot box. “That’s why I’ve said let’s go for things that are discretionary.”

Between May 1 and July 1, taxes will go up on a wide range of goods and services.

Cigarettes will cost an extra $1 per pack. Candy, gum and bottled water will be subject to state and local sales taxes (they’re currently exempt as food). Soda pop will cost an extra 2 cents per 12 ounce can. Beer from major breweries will cost an extra 28 cents per six-pack, although microbrewed beer will be exempt from the new tax levy.

The service industry, which includes a wide range of businesses from lawyers and accountants to barbers and musicians, will pay an extra .3 percent on gross revenues. Out of state businesses will see new tax formulas, and companies that supply goods to in-state distributors will continue paying a tax that the state Supreme Court ruled last fall was improperly being levied against one major food supplier, DOT Foods.

Gregoire said Washington residents could avoid many of the consumption taxes by changing their habits — drinking tap water instead of bottled water, for example, or giving up smoking. Or they could continue buying those items and pay the increases, which would find everything from education programs to health care to senior programs: “I believe in the people of the state of Washington. I’m asking them to stand up.”

Republicans, who spent the 60-day regular session and the 30-day special session fighting any tax increases, called them job killers. Sen Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, dubbed it the 7-11 Kwik-E-Mart tax package because so  many of the items are the stables of convenience store sales.

“This package exempts things like expensive microbrews, but taxes those items that most impact working class and low-income Washingtonians like canned meat,” said Holmquist. “This is no way to balance a budget.”
Gregoire said Republicans who complained about taxes never proposed a budget that showed what services they would cut without raising taxes: “Everyone could easily say waht the didn’t like. It’s easy to sit in the minority and say ‘No.’”
Initiative promoter Tim Eyman has filed a series of initiatives to give voters the chance to repeal most of the taxes if his organization collects enough signatures. Another group has filed an initiative to remove some of the current taxes and replace it with an income tax on people making more than $200,000 or couples making more than $400,000.
Gregoire said she would sign the income tax initiative petition, welcome the debate over it if the proposal makes it to the ballot, and may support it after studying it further:”I have been opposed to an income tax. This is a different kind of income tax.”
That prompted swift criticism from state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser, who said Gregoire campaigned for re-election in 2008 by saying it wasn’t time to raise taxes and that she did not support a state income tax.
“Taxpayers should note that Gov. Gregoire never wahts to ‘have a good discussion’ and a ‘debate’ over lowering taxes or keeping them constant but is always open to discussing tax increases,” Esser said in a press release.


WA Lege SpecSess: Looking back

OLYMPIA – Most years when the Legislature goes home, the winners and losers are pretty obvious. You count the scars and tote up the pork.
This year, everyone has scars and the Lege wasn’t cutting on a fat hog, so the final judgment may wait at least until November when voters decide whether half the Senate and the whole House should be rehired.
But some folks are better or worse off after the session lurched to its close early Tuesday morning than they were when it started in January with all the yada-yada about bipartisan cooperation.
Bipartisanship was a clear loser. Democrats had such a big majorities in both chambers that the real fight was among their factions, rather than a Republican/Democrat struggle.
The “business moderate” wing of the Democratic Party, which would include Spokane Sen. Chris Marr and Rep. John Driscoll, argued for more cuts and fewer tax hikes. They lost. They consistently voted against the budgets, but the budgets passed. Republican opponents might not be able to pound them quite so hard this fall, but the biz Ds will still have to work to distance themselves from the rest of the pack if voters are torqued.

WA Lege SpecSess: At the end of the day…it’s the middle of the night

OLYMPIA – By the time the Legislature wrapped up 90 days of heated and sometimes confusing debate over taxes and spending Tuesday, it had raised taxes on a wide array of consumers and businesses, cut some programs, boosted others, moved hundreds of millions of dollars around, and penciled in hundreds of millions more by betting on the federal government to come through.
But the final hours of the special session did not go smoothly, and at one point the governor made a rare visit to the Senate floor to keep the state from facing cash flow problems in the fall. The Senate had not passed a bill to move some $230 million from the state’s Rainy Day account into the general operating budget and without it, the state’s cash reserves could dip perilously low at some point before the two-year budget cycle ends in June 2011.
“I have a problem,” a visibly angry Gregoire said as she stormed passed reporters, into the wings of the Senate chamber and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s office at 11:12 p.m….

State treasurer to Lege: OK, we can pay the bills.

OLYMPIA — State Treasurer Jim McIntire added his kudos to the just concluded legislative session with a note that should make all Washingtonians feel a little better.

The state now probably has enough money to pay its bills through June 2011.

Not that the state would be bouncing checks or anything. But earlier in the session, McIntire notified legislators and the governor that the rate that money was coming in was not keeping pace with the way it was going out, and Washington could hit a point in the fall were its reserves were so low it might have to borrow short-term to pay some of its obligations. Like payroll.

“Based on a preliminary assessment of the tax and budget package, we believe we have a sufficient cushion to ensure we have the cash necessary to pay our bills,” McIntire said.

Other states, most notably California, had to issue I.O.U.s at one point because of cash flow problems.

Gregoire says new taxes worth paying

OLYMPIA — Repeating a mantra that “tough times require tough choices”, Gov. Chris Gregoire patted the Legislature on its collective back as members headed out of town Tuesday.

She sought to minimize the impacts of new taxes, which Republicans have predicted will be job killers. The average Washingtonian drinks 345 cans of soda a year, she said, and the extra 2 cents per can tax that passed Monday amounts to about $7 and the tax on large brewery beer is only 28 cents per six pack.

The extra tax money is going into the operating budget to help with such essential services as public schools, college student aid, health care, child care and help for the disabled and elderly, she said. “I think these things are worth paying for. All of us should be willing to step up.”

But some people — those who chew gum, drink bottled water, soda or mass-production beer — are being asked to step up more than others. Beer drinkers who favor micro brews don’t pay the new beer tax, and wine drinkers get no increase.

Gregoire defended the dichotomy on state grounds, not personal taste preferences. She drinks Washington wines because it supports Washington jobs, her husband Mike drinks Washington microbrews for the same reason, she said.

The governor’s office also parsed the amount of “new” money the state will be collecting, listing it at $613 million. That’s significantly below the $757 million listed by legislators just a day earlier.

That doesn’t mean Gregoire  has decided to line-item veto one of the taxes in the menu. Rather, she said $613 represents the “new revenues” the state didn’t have before. Not counted in the “new” are some $155 million in taxes the state used to collect from some out-of-state companies until the state Supreme Court struck down an old tax law last fall in what’s known as the DOT Foods decision. That’s a restored tax.

(Math whizzes already know in their heads the total still doesn’t come to $613 million, but the Legislature was counting a net total that also sliced off about $15 million from the lottery and s a $10 million shift in sales tax from the Seattle Convention Center account. To get its, net, however, the Lege added back in about $12 million worth of tax reductions that affect the bottom line…but, who’s counting? OK, so other than the Office of Financial Management.)

Meanwhile, the state’s premier initiative promoter filed a series of proposed ballot measures Tuesday to repeal many of the taxes— bottled water, macro-brew, soda pop,  cigarettes, the business and occupation tax hike on service businesses and the changes to home mortgage taxes —  the Legislature passed Monday. Tim Eyman, whose operation is already on the streets collecting signatures to reinstate the two-thirds requirement to pass any tax increase, will try to add eight more initiatives to the November ballot.

Gregoire said she told Democrats who voted for the tax increases and the underlying budget to “be proud about iit, do not be defensive” when they return home to voters, and promised to  campaign for them in the fall. But it’s too soon to predict how voters will react, she said.

“What happens in November is very dependent on what happens to the national economy as well as the state economy,” she said.

Legislature adjourns

OLYMPIA — It’s over.

The Legislature’s special session sloshed into the 30th and final day before being gaveled to a close.

The two chambers packed significant activity into the final evening Monday, passing a supplemental operating budget, a supplemental capital budget, higher cigarette taxes, increased business and consumer taxes.

A glitch on a bill to move money from the Rainy Day Fund to keep the state’s ending fund balance at an acceptable level causes a brief stir in the Senate around 11:30 p.m., and Rep. Lynn Kessler’s announcement she’s retiring prompted about a half-hour of improptu tributes in the House.

Gavel came down in the House at 1:05 a.m. Senate followed suit a few minutes later.

Kessler moved to adjourn sine die at 1:10 a.m. All ayes. House adjourned

WA Lege SpecSess: Capital budget passes

OLYMPIA — The House passed the supplemental capital budget, the “bricks and mortar” budget that spends money on things like school buildings and sewer plants, as well as fire reduction, water projects and corrections.

It passed 61-36. Republicans, including Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, warned of the rising debt level the state is amassing. But Democrats said the bill provides jobs as well as needed infrastructure.

The end of the session is near.

Wa Lege SpecSess: Lynn Kessler retiring

OLYMPIA — Rep. Lynn Kessler is bowing out after 18 years in the House. “I’m retiring, I’m almost 70 for God’s sake.”

As the Legislature moved beyond midnight, Kessler, D-Hoquiam, made an emotional farewell speech, celebrating the fact the state has worked to provide health care and education, protects victims of domestic violence

“Because of the positions we all have, we have been able to do great and small things, together,” she said. “Sometimes those trenches are deep, and very difficult. I hope we all appreciate our differences, because that’s what makes this place special.”

“I wish you all well, please be kind to one another,” she said as the House stood to applaud.


WA Lege SpecSess: Gregoire lobbies Senate

OLYMPIA — The session was winding down about 11:12 p.m., when Gov. Chris Gregoire chargedup the stairs between her office and the Senate with aides in tow.

Reporters moving to ask her for comments on the closing were cut off with the governor holding up her index finger and stating “I have a problem.”

Problem turned out to be the Senate’s failure to pass a bill that would move some $255 million from the state’s Rainy Day fund into the general fund to be spend in the remainder of the biennium. Without it, the state’s general fund end balance would be far below the $480 million the Legislature planned — the money the state needs to carry it over into the next biennium or use as a cushion should the revenue not come in as planned.

She had words with Majority Leader Lisa Brown, then talked with several senators on the floor, securing their votes to move the bill and pass it before the session concluded.

WA Lege SpecSess: Capital budget passes Senate

OLYMPIA — Moving rapidly toward adjournment, the Senate passed the supplemental capital budget with almost no debate, 33-13, and went at ease for a few minutes.

Capital budget now goes to the House, which, if the pattern holds should pass it and allow both to move toward adjourment.

If they can do all this in less than 80 minutes, they will technically be done before midnight and technically be done on the 29th Day of the 30 Day session.

So that’s a small victory, unless one considers it was only supposed to last 7 days is another matter.

WA Lege SpecSess: Senate passes budget

OLYMPIA — The Senate passed the supplemental budget Monday evening, joining the House in a spending plan that tries to fill an estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state’s two-year operating budget.

On a 25-21 vote, it added its approval to the budget approved a few hours earlier across the Capitol.

Republicans, who were unanimous in their opposition, said the bill was being forced through without careful consideration, in the closing hours of the session, and has significant problems.

“Voting on a budget is a big decision,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said. “Those who are going to vote for it, have you read it?”

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said the Legislature spent the month of a special session, figuring out how to raise taxes, not making any changes to a broken system.

Some Democrats also refused to support the budget. Sen. Rodney Tom of Bellevue said it doesn’t grasp the reality of the economy, and sets up education to fail.

But Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the economy is cyclical, and when times are tough, the demand for state services go up. “Just when the gap opens up, we need it the most. Many things are going to cost more, but we did the right thing..”

The budget has cuts as well as tax increases, Brown said, and no one say it’s perfect. “We are not a Legislature of 1. This job gets done by working together.”

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, an economic downturn is not the time to implement all day kindergarten or a major energy savings construction plan. “How can we say it suddenly became a crisis to add these programs?” It may not be a Legislature of 1, she added “but it is a Legislature of one party.”

WA Lege Spec Session: House passes budget, Senate passes tax plan

OLYMPIA — The Legislature chugged toward adjournment tonight as budgets and tax plans passed by narrow margins.

The Senate just passed the $668 million tax package 25-21, the bare minimum it needed.

About an hour earlier, the House passed the supplemental operating budget with spending, cuts and tax plans to fill the state’s estimated $2.8 billion budget gap.

The two houses still have bills to work on, but members are expecting to be done before midnight.

WA Lege SpecSess: Budgets released, vote to come

OLYMPIA — Democratic legislators released their spending plan  with a combination of cuts and assumed tax hikes, designed to fill a $2.8 billion hole in the state’s operating budget.

If passed as expected later today or Tuesday, the budget pulls in $757 million in new taxes, cuts $840 million in programs, pulls in at least $618 million in federal funds, and moves nearly $600 million around from other accounts and reserves.

Among the cuts are nearly $55 million by closing or reducing state prisons. Slated for closure is  the Pine Lodge Correctional Facililty for Women in Medical Lake.

In making the closures, budget negotiators “looked closely at a report done last year…and tried to minimize politics,” Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said. Pine Lodge is in the Spokane area, which has Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown among its legislative delegation.

That report,  however, recommends leaving Pine Lodge open to have a corrections center for women inmates in Eastern Washington. Asked about the difference, Linville replied: “We used the report as a basis. We were trying to use real information first, and then we negotiated the budget.”

The budget also cuts more than $150 million in  K-12 programs, $73 million from colleges and assumes almost $49 million in savings through temporary layoffs of state employees.

It uses money from the tax increases to maintain all-day kindergarten, gifted program and levy equalization for public schools, state need grants for college students, the current levels for Basic Health and the Apple Health for children programs. Temporary assistance for needy family levels would remain at their current levels, as would most foster care payments and nursing home payments, and some nursing home cuts would be restored.

Approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee was a supplemental Capital Budget Plan that would spend nearly $241 million for major and minor construction projects.

Included in the supplemental capital budget are $3.5 million for the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building at Washington State University Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus and about $3.5 million in repairs, maintenance and improvements to buildings at Eastern Washington State University. The proposed Spokane Aerospace Center also would receive $400,000.

The budgets have been under discussion since before the session began because the two-year budget approved by the Legislature last year has been out of balance almost from the day it went into effect on July 1, 2009. The gap between what the state can expect to take in from taxes and fees compared to what that original budget planned to spend grew to $2.8 billion by February. In ability to agree on a spending plan and tax increases forced a 30-day special session that is scheduled to end Tuesday.

But Monday afternoon was the first chance the public and some members of the Legislature got to see the finished product, which has been the subject of intense negotiations by Democratic leaders. Republicans who are in the minority and have refused to vote for any tax increases until significant reforms are made, have been largely shut out of the process.

Democratic budget negotiators defended the short notice and review time before legislators vote.

“We have gone through this time after time,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. “I believe our members know what’s in this. There aren’t any surprises.”

“It was mostly our budget 30 days ago,” Linville said.

WA Lege SpecSess: Cigarette tax passes

OLYMPIA — Smokers should expect to pay another $1 for a pack of cigarettes soon.

The Senate just passed a tax hike for cigarettes as the Legislature moves towards adjournment. It would raise an estimated $100 million in new tax revenue, an amount that’s being factored into the new taxes Democrats are raising to come with $800 million in new revenue as part of the “balanced solution” to the state’s $2.8 billion budget hole.

The House has already passed higher cigarette taxes.

The Senate vote was 28-17. To see the roll call, go inside the blog.

WA Lege SpecSess: Could this be last day?

OLYMPIA — This may be — emphasis on may — the final day of the special session.

The Senate is moving toward passing the same tax hike approved Saturday by the House. They both expect to vote on the changes to the operating budget and the capital budget today.

Democrats are saying this will be the final day, although Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla said he’d be willing to vote the last day technically will be Tuesday…perhaps some time after midnight?

Most vote schedules to be determined, but the Senate is expected to vote this morning on a House bill involving bonds for retrofitting schools to make them more energy efficient, just to get the ball rolling.

One complicating factor: The trip south to Olympia from the Seattle area is extremely slow today because of a major construction project on Interstate 5. Some of the Puget Sound legislators have yet to arrive..

A different way to chew on the tax debate

OLYMPIA – When talking about the Legislature, it’s easy to get wrapped up in parliamentary details and arcane political jargon. To avoid that, here’s a simple way to look at the budget and tax plans as the “seven-day” special session enters Day 28.

Think of solving the budget deficit as a family dinner. Like parents who profess to know what’s good for us, top legislative Democrats are about to make Washington residents eat our Brussels sprouts for the next 30 months.

They’ve treated options on the budget and taxes like menu choices. There’s stuff we all like, other things we’re OK with, and some things we’re going to turn our collective nose up at. Just as mom and dad don’t ask the kids to plan the menu, lest we ask for pizza and ice cream three times a day, they didn’t give us much say in what to serve.

For those who say “No fair!” parents can argue that when you’re going to serve Brussels sprouts, you certainly don’t tell the kids at noon, because they’ll just talk friends into having their moms invite them over. So the Democratic parental units held the menu close to the vest, not even releasing it until about a half-hour before the other grown-ups showed up Saturday. By then the menu was a done deal, with the Brussels sprouts purchased, in the pot, about to be put on the stove.

In the living room, the Republicans are arguing that we don’t need to eat Brussels sprouts.

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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.

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