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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Jim Kastama

AG asked if audits can be delayed

OLYMPIA — The state attorney general's office will weigh in on a potential fight between the Legislature and the Executive branch over the meaning of three little words: “within available funds.”

Those three words appear twice in a 2005 statute that requires state agencies to develop “quality management systems” to help figure out ways to do their jobs better.  Most agencies have never done such  assessments because the deadlines were delayed and then the recession hit and budgets tightened.

This year, the governor's office asked for another delay. The Legislature said no, but it also didn't set aside any extra money for the assessments. Last month, Marty Brown, director of the Office of Financial Management, told agency leaders not to perform the quality management assessments because after billions of dollars of budget cuts, the funds aren't available.

“The intent was, if you had the money you would do this; if you didn't, you wouldn't,” Brown said Thursday.

In the statute's three paragraphs that call for the development of quality management systems, the first two contain the words “within available funds.” The third paragrah does not add that caveat.

Two legislative Democrats, Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way and Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup, who are running respectively for state auditor and secretary of state, are challenging the order to drop the quality assessments. They sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire, objecting to Brown's directive to the agencies, and a separate letter to the attorney general's office, asking for an opinion on whether the assessments have to be done.

“They're getting rid of accountability,” Miloscia said in an interview Thursday.

Not so, says Brown. The state has other programs to improve performance, such as the Lean system that private businesses use to look for waste and the Government Management Accountability Project.

But those look at different things, Miloscia said. If a governor can ignore this law that requires state agencies to do something, he or she could ignore other laws requiring other actions. He drafted the legislation in 2005 and contends it says “within available funds” because the Legislature never intended to give the agencies extra money for the assessments. They'd have to find ways to pay for it within the budgets they had.

In the past, the Legislature approved delays requested by Gregoire. This year, it dropped the requested delay from the final budget deal that passed on the last day of the special session. But it didn't come up with any extra money, and it didn't repeal the words “within available funds” from the existing law.

Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even said he would research the question and come up with an informal opinion about the legal meaning of those words. That analysis typically takes about two months, he said, so it should be available by mid August.

Day 1 Filing Week. Some races fill up quickly

OLYMPIA — Some races are starting to fill up quickly on the first morning of filing week as many of the expected candidates and a few surprises turn in their forms and fees.

The top of the ballot for the Aug. 7 primary, the U.S. Senate race, had three names before lunchtime: Incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell, state Sen. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane's 6th Legislative District were “givens.” But filing first was a previously unheralded candidate, Chuck Jackson of Snohomish. He listed Republican as his party preference, and scaryreality.com as his e-mail provider.

The statewide race attracting the most attention so far is secretary of state. Incumbent Sam Reed is retiring, and five candidates already want to take his place. First in the blocks, and perhaps the first person to file this morning at 8:00 a.m., was Sam Wright of Olympia, who lists his preference as the Human Rights Party. Perhaps more recognizable to a larger chunk of the state's electorate is former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, listing Democrat as his party preference. Democratic State Sen. Jim Kastama also wants that job, as does Democrat Kathleen Drew, a former state senator, and Karen Murray of Quincy, who lists the Constitution Party as her preference.

On a local note, Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase filed for the County Commissioner seat being vacated by fellow Republican Mark Richard.

For more candidate filings, go inside the blog. We'll update the list several times a day.

Special Session: Budget deal may be far away

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans and the conservative Democrats who helped them pass an alternate budget last month said they are no closer to agreement on a plan to fix the state's operating budget problems.

“The longer we stay here, the less sustainable th budget they put out becomes,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said. The proposal released Wednesday morning by House Democrats “just moved us farther apart as far as the structure of the budget.”

Prospects that both chambers will pass a budget and accompanying reforms before the next Tuesday, when the special session is scheduled to end, seemed to grow dimmer with each passing hour.

Zarelli, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, contended it was the GOP and the three “road kill” Democrats who have given up the most in negotiations over certain reforms.  They dropped a proposal to skip next year's payment to the state pension system and a proposal to close one of the pension plans. But they want to end early retirement provisions for state employees set up under two separate laws; House Democrats are proposing just ending the most recent law.

“We've moved significantly, but we're not going to fold our tent and go home,” Zarelli said. Democrats have supported the complete package of changes to early retirement provisions in the past, he added.

Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup, one of the three Democrats who voted for the budget crafted by Republicans, said a new proposal to pass a law requiring a balanced budget for two years and develop ways to balance it over four years doesn't go far enough toward the goal of structuring spending plans so legislators don't face massive cuts every year when they start a session.

The Legislature already passes a balanced budget over two years, even if that's not required by law, Kastama added. “If we didn't do that, we couldn't sell our bonds.”

Through the assembled reporters, the coalition of senators traded jabs with House Democrats and their earlier statements about who was responsible for the slow progress toward a budget deal in this latest special session.  Each group accused the other of refusing to make concessions, and painted themselves as the ones giving the most in closed door negotiations.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, had said negotiators hadn't even been able to negotiate the budget because of Senate Republicans insistence on reforming state government. “We've come significantly toward their position.”

Countered Zarelli: “I don't see it as a good faith effort. They want to take the last few days before Easter, and send an Easter egg our way.”

To complete its work by Tuesday, the House will have to pass a budget and the bills surrounding it sometime this week, and send them to the Senate where it must pass in the same version. House Democratic leaders said they don't know if they have the votes to pass some of the reforms they are proposing; if they do, it goes to the Senate where Democrats also hold a majority but don't have the votes to pass the current proposal.

Asked whether the state was looking at another special session — which would be the third since Thanksgiving to address the current budget problem — Zarelli said Republicans expected “to be flexible but not roll over” and weren't going to be rushed into a vote: “It's going to take whatever time it takes.”

WA Lege Day 11: Kastama to vote yes on gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington state inched closer to passage today as one of the few “undecideds” said he would be voting yes.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said times have changed and “I believe we have reached the point where society is ready to recognize and support same-sex couples who seek the bonds, benefits and security of marriage.”

According to a tally by the Associated Press, the same-sex marriage bill had 23 yes votes prior to Kastama announcing his decision. It needs at least 25 to pass the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a sponsor of the bill, said major corporations including Microsoft, Group Health and RealNetworks said they will support same-sex marriage.

Jumping into 2012 races

OLYMPIA — Five days left in this election cycle, but here's some candidates for the 2012 election.

Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said today he'll run for State Auditor. Longtime Auditor Brian Sonntag announced more than a month ago he wouldn't seek re-election, and Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, got in the race in October, and Rep. Chris Reykdahl, D-Olympia set up “an exploratory committee” to consider the run. One possible factor in Pridemore's decision: Sen. Lisa Brown, the Senate Majority leader from Spokane, said earlier this week she would not run for auditor.

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, is running for Secretary of State. That seat is also open, as longtime Sec. State Sam Reed announced this summer he was retiring.  State Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, and Republican Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman are already in that race.

All the state reps will give up their seats if they stay in the race. So will Pridemore and Kastama, because they face re-election in 2012. So the dominoes could start falling in legislative districts around the state.

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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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