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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Senate Democrats

Budget deal released

OLYMPIA — A supplemental budget that raises no taxes, offers no new tax loopholes and provides no state-funded raises for teachers is expected to be pushed through the Legislature today on a fast track.

Budget negotiators unveiled their negotiated spending plan to the public at lunchtime, using words like “modest”, “stable” and “pretty small.”

It will send an extra $58 million to public schools around the state for books and supplies. It will spend an extra $25 million on Opportunity Scholarships for college students, $22 million on mental health services and $4 million to expand prison capacity.

But some items that prompted major political arguments over the last two months are not in the budget. There is no cost-of-living adjustment for public school teachers, something Democrats in both chambers said they wanted. There are no new taxes, or increases of existing taxes, that would have paid for those raises. There are no major new or extended tax exemptions, which were supported by Republicans.

It is a traditional supplemental budget, legislators said, making small adjustments in the two-year spending plan approved in 2013 after two extensions to that legislative session. It is unlike recent supplemental budgets, which were essentially rewrites of previous spending plans made inoperable because of changing revenue estimates in the recession.

And it leaves until next year a  major fight over public schools, which the Legislature is under a state Supreme Court mandate to improve. The Legislature will need to come up with at least $2.2 billion for school programs, and perhaps another $1 billion for school employee wages, for the 2015-17 biennium to satisfy that court order. 

The budget is scheduled to be put to a vote in the House late this afternoon and be sent to the Senate for a vote later in the evening. That means the Legislature will suspend several rules that allow time for the public to see legislation, and for members to read and consider it.

 

WA Lege Day 44: Senate Dems offer education tax package

OLYMPIA — A day after some of their members showed support for a no new taxes budget “update” with few changes to existing state spending plans, Senate Democrats unveiled a more ambitious, and politically difficult — proposal to end four tax breaks and raise $100 million for schools.

Their hope: in the 16 days left in the session — or some time before an April 30 deadline to tell the state Supreme Court how the Legislature plans to improve state schools — they can get both houses to settle on this plan or something close to it. They'd give teachers a cost-of-living raise, give schools more money for books, labs and heating bills, speed up the move to all-day kindergarten and shrink the size of Second Grade classes in high poverty areas. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog. 

 

Sunday spin: A problem with caucus PACs

OLYMPIA – The political tempest blowing through the Puget Sound last week is the cautionary tale of Michael King and his apparent raids on the treasuries of political action committees set up to elect Democrats to the state Senate.

King was charged last week with embezzling up to $300,000 from the Senate Democratic Campaign Commitee. He was their executive director last year, so the fact that there are fewer Democrats in the Senate than in 2012 is a clue he wasn’t very good at his job. Some Democrats suggested last week that because he was siphoning off funds, the Ds find themselves on the Senate’s minority.

More likely, it highlights a major problem in Washington’s extensive but imperfect campaign finance system.. .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Today’s fun video: Senate D’s do up budget stalemate

At some point, you've probably seen “I'm Just a Bill”, a video that tries to explain to kids how a bill becomes law.

U.S. Senate Democrats have a new take on the old theme called “I'm Just a Budget” that tries to skewer Republicans for keeping the budget from going to conference. Graphics are about the same as the original, which is to say not phenomenal by 2013 standards.

It shares one other trait with the original. It's pretty simplistic. But among it's co-stars is Washington Sen. Patty Murray.

Sunday Spin: Bipartisanship in the eye of the beholder

OLYMPIA – As the Legislature passed a key deadline last week, the “bi” word was thrown around quite a bit. Bipartisan.

The problem was that bipartisan seems to mean different things to different people…

 

 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog

 

New state budget pushed into the fray

OLYMPIA — In an effort to break a budget logjam, Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies unveiled a new  spending plan Thursday morning that would spend more on public schools and state colleges.

It also offers more money for child care for working families and has no new taxes. But it does skip a $140 million payment to state pension systems in exchange for other changes to pension plans that would save money in the long run. 

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called it a “compromise approach” to the differences between the budget passed in a parliamentary takeover two weeks ago in the Senate and a significantly different plan passed by House Democrats on the last day of the regular session.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said it was a better plan than the one he joined with Republicans to pass. “It's a budget that can bring the special session to a close.”

Senate Democratic leaders, who only saw the proposal at the same time Republicans released it at a morning news conference, said it has “some very good movement,” because it restores money for public schools and higher education that Republicans proposed cutting two weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she was still concerned that the proposal cuts money for the Disability Lifeline, but “I feel great about the moves that were made on the spending side.”

The public release of a new budget proposal, signaled movement over talks which have essentially been at a stalemate for two weeks. But potential roadblocks quickly surfaced.

Democrats said they still have concerns about skipping the $140 million pension payment, because the cost of that grows over time. Republicans acknowledge the long-term cost of that is about $400 million over 25 years, but they estimate the savings from ending early retirements for new state employees would be $2 billion over that period, and that money could be used to shore up the pension funds.

The Legislature has skipped or delayed pension payments in six times since 2001, in budgets written by Democrats and Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire had asked legislative leaders to come  up with a budget that doesn't skip the pension payment, which Republicans favor but Democrats oppose, and also doesn't delay a $330 million payment to schools by shifting it from the end of this biennium to the first day of the next. Democrats favor that approach but Republicans call it unsustainable budgeting.

The new budget proposal doesn't do that. It also calls for the state to spend $780,000 to set up 10 charter schools, while cutting $1.5 million Democrats proposed for “collaborative schools”.  Charter schools, which can be set up by a public school and parents to try new methods and avoid some state requirements, would need new legislation to be passed along with the budget. Collaborative schools, a plan to pair the Education Departments of the state's colleges with troubled schools, has already passed.

Sen. Rodney Tom, another of the three Democrats who voted with Republicans on their Senate budget, is a strong supporter of charter schools. The budget would pay for 10 next year, in “persistently failing schools.” But Gregoire and other Democrats regard charter schools as taking money from the existing schools; the governor proposed the collaborative school program as a way to bring innovation into classrooms without setting up charter schools.

Sunday Spin: We love the bizarre in the last week. Honest

OLYMPIA – One of the hallmarks of the closing days of a legislative session is that people say and do bizarre things.
Make that more bizarre than normal. The marbled halls and floors of the Capitol Building don’t protect against the weird; they just dress it up a bit.
But after the Legislature tied itself into a Gordian knot over the budget with a week to go, partisans on both sides seemed to go farther into the deep than normal. Not that I’m complaining.
As most people with any interest in state politics know, Senate Republicans pulled off parliamentary coup of historic proportions over the state’s operating budget. Some think it was roughly on par with the tactics the Spartans holding off the Persians at Thermopylae about 2500 years ago, it’s unclear yet if they will fare better in the end than King Leonidas and company…
  

Special session looming

OLYMPIA — The Legislature seemed  headed for a special session Monday as leaders of both parties agreed it will be difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate a compromise between very different spending plans passed by the House and Senate in the next four days.

Thursday is the end of the regular 60-day session. In the remaining time, legislative budget leaders would have to schedule meetings, find some middle ground between a budget that passed the House solely with Democratic votes and a budget that passed the Senate with all the Republican and three Democratic votes.

The chances of that happening were rated as “highly unlikely” to “not possible” by members of both sides in the budget debate.

The remaining 24 Senate Democrats are very much opposed to both the content of that budget and the way it was introduced and passed without a hearing on a surprise parliamentary maneuver Friday.

“I don't get the timing …unless it was to say 'Take that, Democrats,' ” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane,said. The Ways and Means Committee had scheduled a hearing Saturday on the Senate Democrats budget, and Republicans could have introduced their budget there. Two of the Democrats who voted with Republicans in the marathon session Friday night are on that committee, so that would have blocked the main Senate Democratic proposal, and Republicans could have either tried to vote their budget out of committee or discussed compromises on different spending cuts and revenue options, she said.

That would  have been more in line with bipartisan work on budgets that was common in the Senate last year, she said.

Leading Senate Republicans contended that bipartisan budget discussions broke down in mid February after the latest revenue forecasts showed the state's revenue and expense projections improving, and Democrats hadn't rounded up the votes they need for their budget.  “Since when is it the ranking minority (of Ways and Means) member's responsibility to put together a budget and present it to the majority?” Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said.

House and Senate Democrats met over the weekend to discuss a budget compromises. Zarelli, R-Ridgeview, said  he has talked with two Ways and Means Committee chairmen,  Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, but no formal talks have been held, or even scheduled.

To find a compromise, Zarelli said everyone would need to agree to certain things. For Republicans, that would include a certain level for the reserve fund, and not spending more than comes in through an accounting maneuver that delays a $330 million payment to school districts by one day, shifting it into the next biennium. After that, negotiators can agree “on the stuff we're going to spend money on,” he said.

The $330 million payment, known as the apportionment payment, is a major bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans. It's money the state pays to school districts, and by delaying it a day, Democrats say they avoid deep cuts to schools, colleges and social programs. Republicans say it's fiscally irresponsible.

“What if we did the whole budget with a one-day delay? We'd have a surplus” on paper, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

But Brown countered Senate Democrats were proposing a permanent shift for the apportionment payment, so school districts would be able to fit that into their budgets. Republicans have different accounting shifts in their budget, so “I'm not getting why the (apportionment) shift is the big deal.”

But if it is a non-negotiable demand  on the part of Republicans — House Republicans are also opposed to the shift — they'll have to be willing to compromise on some things, too, such as closing some tax exemptions to increase the revenue side of the budget equation, Murray said. That would require a super majority, which means Republican votes.

“If people start drawing lines in the sand, we won't get out of here,” Murray said. “If it's simply asking us to cut, we're not going to get there.”

 

 

WA Lege: Senate Republicans pull budget coup

Senate Democrats try to regroup after Republicans seized control of the budget debate with parliamentary maneuvers.

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans, aided by three conservative Democrats, used parliamentary tactics to push their alternative budget to a vote Friday and embarass the majority of Democrats who up until that afternoon controlled the chamber.

They presented a budget that has no tax increases, some $773 million in cuts and avoids some of the accounting shifts that Democratic plans use to close a gap between the state's expected revenues and its planned expenses.

On a series of 25-24 votes, Republicans pulled a now obsolete budget proposed by the governor from the Ways and Means Committee where it has languished for months, then made a motion to substitute their alternative spending plan for the governor's.

The governor's budget was drafted before the latest economic forecasts, and has draconian cults that are no longer needed, Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle said. The Republican alternative hasn't even had a hearing.

“Transparency is being tossed out the window along with any hope for bipartisanship,” Murray said.

But Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said  bipartisanship has been lacking since the session started in January. Unlike last year, when Senate Democrats and Republicans worked together on a budget, Republicans felt shut out of discussions over budget cuts and reforms. But with less than a week left in the session, Senate Democrats still didn't have the votes needed to pass their budget, he said.

“This is not about partisan politics. This is about trying to get things to work right,” Hewitt said.

Democrats objected at every turn, as bills were moved around by parliamentary rules. But they didn't have the votes to stop it as three of their own — Sens. Jim Kastama, Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom — voted with Republicans. As a delaying tactic, the remaining Democrats invoked a rule that requires a bill to be read aloud in the chamber unless Senators waive that rule with a two-thirds majority.

Reader Ken Edmonds began reading the budget, more than 235 pages, in full, enunciating every digit, funding change and even website address. It's a rule that hasn't been successfully invoked in decades, longtime staffers said, and a process that one estimated could take at least five hours.

While Edmonds read on, Democrats gathered in the wings to draft amendments and Gov. Chris Gregoire met with House leaders, who have already approved a budget and were expecting to negotiate compromises in the coming days.

At about page 35, senators agreed to a pause while both sides ate dinner and Democrats began preparing amendments to the Republicans' amendment.

A clearly angry Gregoire emerged from the meeting, and with a voice cracking from laryngitis, blasted Senate Republicans for dropping an unseen budget never subjected to public hearings into the process with less than week remaining in the session. “This instittion is about transparency, it's about letting the voices of the people through the door,” she said.

Gregoire dismissed Republican complaints that they'd been shut out of the budgeting process. “I have reached out and worked with them. They never brought (their budget) to me.”

She said final negotiations on the state's $30 billion budget would be based on the House budget, which has had public hearings.

Hewitt shrugged when told of the governor's comments. “At least we broke the logjam,” he said.

Senators returned at 8 p.m., with a stack of amendments from Democrats that would restore funding to a wide range of programs. Amendments that would add funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Disability Lifeline to the state Energy Office, food assistance for legal immigrants all failed on votes of 24-25, or were shouted down on voice votes.

Senators clashed over whose plan was better for public schools when Democrats tried to restore state money for school-based medical services. The program involves medically fragile children the schools are required to serve, but by cutting the funding, Brown said “Olympia is saying 'Gee, sorry, you have to do it but we won't help.'”

Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking Republican on Ways and Means, said the GOP budget proposal spends $251 million more on public schools than the plan Senate Democrats released on Tuesday. But that's “slightly disingenuous,” Murray said, and only true if they count some $330 million that Democrats “save” through an accounting shift that moves a payment to schools from the last day of this biennium to the first day of the next.

 

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WA Lege Day 95: Senate Democrats offer tax plans

OLYMPIA — More than a dozen Senate Democrats want voters to reconsider their decision last November that makes it difficult for them to take state tax exemptions off the books.

On Thursday they unveiled a a new bill that would remove the requirement that both houses of the Legislature give a two-thirds majority to any plan to reduce or end a tax exemption. If it passes — a big “if” considering there are only 10 days left in the regular session and the bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing — it would be put before voters this November for their approval.

While the days are running out for the regular session “there may be an opportunity in the special session,” Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, said. 

The Legislature is still struggling with the general operating budget for 2011-13…

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Brown: Bipartisanship real right now, major reforms iffy

OLYMPIA – There’s more cooperation between the two political parties than previous years, but not much chance that some of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s major reforms will make pass this legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Friday.
Speaking with reporters at the end of the first week of the 105-day session, the Spokane Democrat said members of both parties are consulting and working together more than they have in years. Republican leaders made a similar statement on Tuesday.

“That’s real. That was true even before the tragedy in Arizona, that in difficult times like now… the public expects us not to focus on partisan differences,” she said. One move to give minority Republicans more say on the budget happened on the first day of the session, when the Senate changed rules to end a requirement that amendments to the general operating budget have a supermajority.

Neither party is willing to support Gregoire’s call to end state-sponsored Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline that provides temporary payments to disabled residents. Gregoire told Senate Democrats Friday morning to come up with alternative cuts and “wished us well,” Brown said.

Asked how those programs are likely to survive, she replied: “It’s too soon to tell.”

While Democrats may agree to streamline and consolidate some natural resource agencies, they aren’t likely to support setting up a new system to govern and raise taxes for Puget Sound ferries, Brown said. And they’re skeptical of Gregoire’s plan to consolidate all state education programs from pre-school to graduate degrees into one massive Department of Education, although they don’t know the details.

“We haven’t got the bill yet. There is interest in the Senate in not having so many agencies involved in education,” she said. It’s not clear yet what major changes can be proposed, debated and passed in a session so focused on the budget, she added.

Murray re-elected — to Democratic leadership

Sen. Patty Murray achieved her second re-election in two weeks today, winning another term as the Senate Democratic Conference secretary, the Number 4 position in Democratic leadership.

There were no changes, on either side of the aisle, in leadership positions. Harry Reid of Nevada is the majority leader and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is the minority leader.

The rest of the Democratic leadership is Dick Durbin of Illinois as assistant majority leader, Charles Schumer of New York as vice chairman of the conference.

The rest of the Republican leadership is Jon Kyl of Arizona as whip, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as conference chairman and John Barrasso of Wyoming as conference vice chairman.

WA Lege Day 54: Tax package out of committee

OLYMPIA – Despite warnings of wrath from voters in November, Senate Democrats moved a step closer to a vote on some $890 million in tax increases to fix the state’s budget hole.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved 12-10 a three-year increase in the sales tax and a series of changes to tax laws and loopholes designed to help fix a projected operating budget shortfall of $2.8 billion. They also are proposing cutting about $829 million in programs and using federal funds or transferring money out of other accounts to cover the rest.

The 21-part tax package would extend the sales tax to bottled water, cut exemptions for some equipment on wind and solar energy, raise the business and occupation tax on service businesses and raise taxes on out-of-state firms with representatives who sell directly to Washington customers.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the full Senate could debate the tax plan as early as today.

It does not include a recent proposal to ask voters in November if they want to cut back on the sales tax in favor of an income tax on people who make more than $200,000 a year. That could come up in a separate bill before the Legislature adjourns Thursday – if it can gather enough support, Brown said.

“There’s time (to pass the income tax bill) but there has to be willingness in both houses. On that, I’m not sure,” she said.

For almost every part of the 21-point tax package, Republicans offered amendments to strip or pare back a new tax or restore an exemption, then had separate amendments to put each tax change on the November ballot for an advisory vote.

“I think it is important to let people know who is doing what to whom,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said in asking for an advisory vote on changes to rules that establish when an out-of-state company is subject to Washington taxes.

At one point, the arguments became so repetitive that Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, merely said “Same speech, Madame Chair.” Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, ordered a vote, which got the same result, and the amendment failed.

Senate Dems: Swap some sales tax for income tax on rich?

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats may offer voters a choice of which tax they like better: a higher sales tax or an income tax on people making more than $200,000 a year.

With very short notice, the Senate Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a hearing this afternoon on a proposal to do just that. Raise the sales tax temporarily and have an automatic referendum for November. At that time, voters could decide to keep the higher sales tax or repeal the latest increase, plus another half cent on the dollar, and impose an income tax on so-called “high earners” — individuals who make more than $200,000 a year or families making more than $400,00.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, broached the idea today on her blog. The committee had scheduled a two-hour hearing to start at 5 p.m., then reset that for a one-hour discussion at 4:30 p.m.

Brown said she sees this as a possible solution to closing an estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state budget with a balance of program cuts and tax increases. But she also supports the concept.

“I would personally feel good about it…I’m not saying it has got to be this way,” she said

To do this, they would have to first substitute this plan for another tax package by Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. Franklin said she supports the income tax as fairrer, and has had many letters and calls from constituents calling for the state to develop a fairer tax system.

“With an income tax, I see more stability,” Franklin said. “It can with stand the downturns better.”

Asked about the short notice for such a significant proposal with a week left to go in the 60-day session, Franklin replied: “Things happen fast around here.”

A Democratic Senate source also noted that while the bill may have to be pushed through at the end of the session, the public will have the summer and fall to decide whether it would prefer the income tax to a higher sales tax. Some Washington Democrats have been pointing to last month’s election in Oregon where voters approved tax increases as a sign the public might accept tax increases and restructuring if given the chance.

But Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, isn’t sure that’s a good guidepost, and while he thinks it’s good to have the discussion on an income tax he does not support the plan.

“I didn’t like the sales tax (increase) and I like the idea of an income tax even less,” Marr said. “I question the willingness of the public to move in the direction of an income tax.”

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said bringing the bill up on short notice, near the end of the session, belies any suggesion of public involvement in the process.

“This is not open government, this is government by convenience,” Schoesler said.

Instituting an income tax requires a constitutional amendment, he said. Passing a bill with a bare majority and putting it to a referendum won’t withstand a court challenge.

Senate Dems: Sales tax hike would help balance cuts

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats unveiled a budget proposal that calls for a three-tenths of 1 cent sales tax hike for the next three years, an extra $1 per pack for cigarettes and the elimination of a string of tax exemptions.

At a morning press conference, Senate Democratic leaders said the state should cut about $840 million in programs, raise about $920 million in new taxes, transfer about $500 million from the Rainy Day Fund and other accounts and count on about $585 million in health care payment money from the federal government to fix a projected hole in the state’s budget.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane called the budget, which has its first hearing this afternoon in the Ways and Means Committee, “a moral document…a document about people.”

The proposal has some significant differences from Gov. Christine Gregoire’s latest plan to fill that $2.8 billion hole.

Gregoire said last week she did not support a general increase in the sales tax because of fears it would hurt a recovering economy. In a press conference this morning, she said the sales tax proposal was “no surprise,” but she would have to study the Senate Democrats’ plan.

“I continue to be concerned about the revenue source being the sales tax,” she said.

 

WA Lege Day 31: I-960 change could hit ‘bump’

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats apparently have a bill to do suspend Initiative 960 the way they want. Now they need Senate Republicans to go along if they have any chance of doing it before midnight.

It all has to do with the “bump” as explained by Jeff Reading of Senate Democratic staff:

The Senate is now heading back onto the floor to …attempt to move the 960 bill from second to third reading so that it may be voted on for final passage.

Procedurally, it takes a two-thirds vote of members present to “bump” a bill from second to third reading in the same day. The Republicans have indicated they won’t give the bump.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, have been huddling off and on, apparently in an attempt to negotiate this one out. Without the bump, Democrats would have to wait until after midnight, so they wouldn’t be making the move in the same day…

 

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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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