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Posts tagged: Frank Chopp

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.

McKenna calls for budget reforms, slams Chopp

OLYMPIA –Washington should reform its employees' pension systems now and other spending rules down the road to avoid annual problems with budgets that don't balance, Attorney General Rob McKenna, the likely Republican candidate for governor, said Monday.

As the Legislature entered the third week of a special session without a budget agreement, McKenna took several swipes at Democratic leaders, particularly House Speaker Frank Chopp: “What is holding this up is the speaker's refusal to allow votes on the reform bills,” McKenna said.

He later accused Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane of “not supporting reforms.”

But Chopp and Brown fired back, saying a new budget proposal will be unveiled later this week. Other bills tied to that budget, including some of the reform topics McKenna mentioned, are set for hearings on Wednesday.

“We’re going to come in and try to pass the budget,” Brown said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review. “The speaker has not derailed the process at all.”. . .

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WA Lege Day 1: And, they’re off…

House Speaker Frank Chopp listens to floor speeches on the opening day of the 2012 session.

OLYMPIA — The Legislature started it's 60-day session with the usual pomp and circumstance, and a preview of the debates ahead over the next 59 days.

As soon as the honor guard of State Troopers planted the flag, the pledge was said and an invocation offered, House Speaker Frank Chopp set down five goals of creating jobs, funding basic education, saving the safety net, ensuring equality and providing opportunity. Let's work together on those points, he told the full House chamber, like legislators did a few years ago in making changes designed to help Boeing and the machinists expand.

While those broad goals got general agreement and regular applause, minority Republicans were noticeably not clapping on certain points, such as Chopp's call for “marriage equality”, which would mean passing a law to allow same-sex marriage. They also refrained at Chopp's mention that government does create jobs, contrary to what conservatives often argue.

Just look at the hydropower projects in Eastern Washington, the Seattle Democrat  said, and argue that government doesn't create jobs.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt countered that Republicans were glad to hear the calls for more jobs and funding of basic education. But if Chopp and the Democrats are serious, he said, they'd write a budget that pays for education first and spend what's left on other programs.

And since Chopp mentioned hydropower, the Chehalis Republican said, how about a proposal the GOP has been pushing for years, that would declare power from the dams as “green” allowing it to be considered in a mix of options that would lower the cost of electricity.

The Legislature should also avoid filling out its budget with money from federal programs, which leaves the state “holding the bag” when Congress cancels a program.

“We've got to break the addiction to the federal government,” DeBolt said. As for that package to help Boeing a few years back: after it passed, the company moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, he added.

Wa Lege Day 25: House has new plan on unemployment insurance

OLYMPIA — House Democrats will not vote on the plan to block the unemployment insurance tax rate hike that passed the Senate Friday morning with a large bipartisan margin.

Instead, they will likely vote Monday on a different plan, House Speaker Frank Chopp said Friday afternoon.

The House version will keep most businesses from receiving an increase in their unemployment insurance tax rates this year. It will also allow workers who've been off the job for a long time to receive extended benefits from federal money approved by Congress late last year.

That's essentially where Friday's Senate version stops; it left until sometime later a decision on whether to use $98 million in available federal  money expand certain worker training programs or to raise benefits for unemployed workers. The House version does both.

That had been described as an either-or option, but Chopp said House research indicates that the state could be eligible for the $98 million if it makes some changes to existing training programs and eliminates some funding caps and limitations on workers getting the training. That would then free up the $98 million to be used for a temporary across-the-board bump in benefits of between $10 and $20 per week. (Final amount still under discussion.)

The Senate and Gov. Chris Gregoire support leaving the debate over training and higher benefits for later with a separate bill. “We're saying let's do this one thing that's comprehensive,” Chopp said.

That proposal is expected to go to the House floor on Monday, and Chopp believes it will get bipartisan support there. But that means it would go to the Senate no sooner than Tuesday, which has been described as the deadline for getting the scheduled unemployment insurance rates changed.

If the bipartisan support that was on display in the Senate Friday were to disappear and stall the bill, Chopp suggested there might be more time. Tuesday is an administrative deadline, not one set in statute; it's designed to get word of the rate change to businesses, who don't pay their first quarter unemployment taxes until April.

Split the state? Dissolve some counties? Not likely

OLYMPIA – The east-west split in Washington is probably never as interesting as in the early weeks of a legislative session, when hope springs eternal in the breasts of legislators with novel if not always practical ideas.

This period sometimes births proposals from Eastern Washington solons to divide the state along the crest of the Cascades and divest the right-thinking folks on the dry side from those people whose repeated exposure to rain, Microsoft money and ferry commutes makes them terrible spend thrifts intent on saddling every business owner, farmer and local official with a mountain of red tape and an army of bureaucrats. The proposal to set up this 51st state, possibly named Lincoln or Columbia, generally gets, at most, a hearing where some west siders have a chance to suggest good riddance to eastern brethren.

This year a small group of Western Washington legislators propose a remedy for an imbalance they see against their side of the mountains: Counties that receive far more in state money than they send to Olympia in taxes could be dissolved and attached to a neighboring county or divvied up among several….

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Lege leaders: Tax hikes, probably no; Basic Health, Lifeline, maybe yes

OLYMPIA — There's no chance the Legislature will ask voters for a tax increase for anything — except maybe for highways and other transportation projects — legislative leaders said today.

Appearing at forum to preview the upcoming legislative session, the Democratic and Republican leaders of both chambers agreed the Legislature will have to cut billions from the state's general fund spending rather than trying to raise taxes to fill some of the gap between expected revenues and the cost of state programs and salaries.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there was a chance the Legislature could put a “transportation package” on the November ballot for major road and bridge projects. “Any details would obviously have to be worked out. I'd like to see the North-South Corricer as part of the projects.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, was doubtful:  “The state doesn't have any money. It's going to be difficult to get anything past the voters.”

But Republican and Democratic leaders balked at Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to eliminate two major programs for the poor, state-funded Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline for people who are unable to work because they are disabled.

“I don't think it's in our best interest to eliminate this,” House Speaker Frank Chopp said.

Hewitt agreed, saying the programs might needs some revisions, a drop in benefit payments or tighter limits on eligibility, but were still needed to “catch the people at the bottom.” The state might consider making everyone reapply for the programs, as it did in 2003, which resulted in a 30 percent drop in participation because some recipients were no longer eligible.

“We're going to look for an alternative to completely eliminating them,” Brown said.

Miloscia to challenge Chopp for speaker

OLYMPIA — Rep. Mark Miloscia, a seven-term legislator from Federal Way, announced today he will run for speaker of the House, challenging current speaker Frank Chopp of Seattle.

In a prepared statement, Miloscia said Democratic leaders haven’t been offering hope, fision or plans to address the faltering economy. “Not one significant piece of government reform has passed the last two years…This failure cannot continue.”

Miloscia currently serves as chairman of the House Audit Review and Oversight Committee. His challenge comes after Democrats have lost seats in the House, but still have a strong majority.

Senate Democrats, who also lost seats but retained their majority, re-elected Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane over the weekend to majority leader in the upcoming session.

Gregoire’s budget a start, not an end

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed “all cuts, no new taxes” budget was described as everything from a good starting point to an unrealistic plan Wednesday in a Spokane forum. But even Gregoire’s own legislative liaison made clear it is far from a done deal.
Democratic leaders told the Greater Spokane Inc. Legislative Forum the budget, which state law requires the governor to produce before the session starts in January, said they don’t agree with all the cuts being proposed. The spending plan largely eliminates the Basic Health Plan for low income residents, health care for children, and changes school funding formulas.
“She’s laid out a blue print, not exactly a map,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.

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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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