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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Hans Dunshee

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.

Capital budget signed; Baumgartner questions project list

TACOMA – More than $1 billion in construction projects, from storm water runoff systems costing a thousand of dollars to the second half of a medical research facility in Spokane costing some $37 million, were signed into law Monday.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the capital projects budget at Tacoma Community College, where the state will spend $39 million for a new Health Career Center. She called it a package of jobs that present “a way out of the recession.”

While Gregoire and other legislators were lauding the list of projects, state Sen. Mike Baumgartner was requesting a study of whether election-year politics helped determine where money went. Districts represented by Democratic senators and Democratic senators facing re-election this year received far more than the state average per district and more than their GOP counterparts, his analysis showed. 

“I voted for the capital budget and it contains many worthwhile projects, but we need to make sure it’s not used for pork barrel projects in election years,” said Baumgartner, a first-term state senator from Spokane’s 6th District.

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Special Session: New House budget may not have the votes

OLYMPIA — House Democrats rolled out the latest version of a general operating budget this morning, along with several changes to state programs, but conceded they didn't know whether this exact plan will break the ongoing stalemate.

“We actually don't know if we have the votes for all this,” Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, called it an effort to “get the ball rolling” and address concerns from Republicans that have been discussed in negotiations, rather than the final package of budget and supporting laws that will pass.

“It's mostly an effort to keep the process moving,” Sullivan said. The clock is ticking. The last day of the special session is Tuesday, and in between are Good Friday, the beginning of Passover, and Easter.

Hunter said he assumes there are enough Democratic votes to pass the budget in the House, but some of the other changes that the budget relies on — changes to the state's early retirement plans, reduced class sizes that are on the books from a statewide initiative but often cancelled to cut costs, new rules for balancing the budget over two and four years — will need Republican votes to pass. Although Democrats and Republicans from both chambers have been in negotiations for three weeks, there's no indication the GOP will sign on.

In a report on Northwest News Service, Joe Zarelli, the top Republican on budget matters in the Senate, referred to reforms the Democrats were proposing as “dust.” Senate Republicans, and Democrats who joined with them during the regular session to pass a very different budget, scheduled a press conference for 12:30 p.m. For a report on that press conference, click here.

House Democrats also said they would introduced a pared down version of the Capital Budget, which they refer to as the Jobs Plan, that is nearly $1 billion. It's that plan that has major state construction project, some of them funded by state bond sales and others by special accounts. On the list of projects from various accounts is some $37 million to complete the Biomedical and Health Sciences building at Washington State University's Riverpoint campus in Spokane.

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, said it was time to take advantage of low interest rates in the bond market to build the projects. All the projects listed would employ more than 22,000 people, most in the hard-hit construction sector.

But the Capital Budget is tied in part to the General Operating budget, which revenue projections and scheduled expenses say has a hole of more than $1 billion. Legislators struggled through the regular 60-day session and are 23 days into their 30-day special session, trying to fill that hole.

In past budget plans, Democrats have suggested an accounting shift that delays a payment to the state's school districts by a few days, moving it into the next biennium so it doesn't show up on the state's books. Republicans have criticized that as a gimmick, and the latest budget drops that.

It also does not have a Republican proposal to skip a payment to the state's pension plans, which Democrats have derided as a gimmick and did not include in previous budgets. Democrats are proposing one shift to the state pension system, eliminating for new employees an option for early retirement that was approved in 2007, allowing retilrement with a full pension at 62 for those with 30 years of service; Republicans also wanted another early retirement option passed by the Legislature in 2000; Democrats don't have that, nor are they calling for the closure of some other plans. That cuts estimates for long-term savings about in half, to $1 billion over some 20 years, but doesn't really help or hurt the General Fund's bottom line this biennium.

Instead of the delayed school payment or the skipped pension payment, House Democrats embrace a proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire to modernize the system the state uses to pay cities and counties the money collected for sales tax. That shifts about $238 million into a working reserve, and boosts the budget's bottom line.

The budget has  no tax increases, and no reductions to tax credits or exemptions offered to busineses. It makes no changes to public schools or state universities and colleges, and drops a proposed 5 percent increase in Temporary Assistance to Need Families payments.

The package of reforms that will have a hearing this afternoon in the House Ways and Means Committee includes a new law that would require a two-year balanced budget and propose a way to create a four-year balanced budget. But that could fall short of a proposal by Senate Republicans and some conservative Democrats for a four-year balanced budget amendment.

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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WA Lege Day 18: Split the House districts?

OLYMPIA — Splitting the legislative districts in half, so that a different state representative is elected in each half, would  increase the contacts with constituents, the sponsor of the plan said.

But it would also cut in half each voter's representation in the House, and could result in a more narrow focus for each member, Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee argued.

“If you divide these districts in half, you increase your contact with your constituents,” Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said of his proposal, HB 1092. But each representative would still have the needs of the large community in mind, he added.

“Spokane is after a building that would be in Riverpoint, but all their representatives are going to be for that building because of the economic benefit it would have,” he said. “I would think you would care about your region.

Dunshee had just come from a meeting with about 90 business and government leaders from Spokane and the surrounding area, where he'd been asked about the $70.8 million building for a new medical school in Spokane. He told them the project couldn't get on the proposed Capital Budget without Republican help.

Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Bellingham, whose district adjoins Dunshee's, said he “took offense” with Dunshee referring during his presentation to some rural portions of the districts as “banjo areas”.

“A little humor doesn't hurt anything,” Dunshee replied. “I repsesnt more rural people than you do  now.”

AWB challenges ballot title of Energy Rehab bonds

OLYMPIA — The Association of Washington Business says it will challenge the proposed ballot title for Referendum 52, the measure that asks voters to approve bonds for a half billion worth of energy retrofits at public schools and colleges.

Dubbed “Hans Bonds” during the late legislative session because they were the brainchild of Rep. Hans Dunshee, the bonds would be sold to pay for energy savings rehabilitation that would save the schools money and create jobs in the lagging construction sector of the economy. Or at least that was the pitch from Dunshee and House Democrats, who finally got the bonds past the Senate late in the special session.

But not until the legislation added a refendum clause, allowing voters to decide whether they want to pay for the bonds by making the now-temporary tax on bottled water permanent, and the source for paying off the bonds.

AWB says the ballot title language should state that very fact, and wants to add “and make the sales tax on bottled water permanent” to the end of the title. The challenge will get a Superior Court hearing laster this month.

UPDATE: Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center notes this afternoon that legislative Democrats can’t say they weren’t warned that the language would prompt a legal challenge. During debate on the bill, Sen.Linda Parlette, R-Wenatchee, sponsored an amendment to add the language about a permanent water tax to the required ballot title. Democratic Sens. Karen Fraser of Olympia and Lisa Brown of Spokane argued that the tax isn’t really permanent because it could be removed at the Legislature at any time.

The amendment failed 16-30. Mercier has posted a clip of the debate on his blog.

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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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