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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Washington Legislature

Sunday Spin2: Courting contempt

OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court’s order for the Legislature to show up at the Temple of Justice on the first week of September and explain why it shouldn’t be held in contempt is prompting some interesting speculation around the Capitol Campus.

For example, the court’s order actually is for “the state” to show up, but it would be difficult to fit the 6 million-plus residents into the smallish courtroom, and it’s clear from the rest of the order that the court is really just peeved at the Legislature. All 147 legislators wouldn’t fit in the courtroom, and even if they could, there’s no way the court would want to hear from each one. . . 

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

 

Sunday Spin: What’s the infrequency, Kenneth?

OLYMPIA – The biggest challenge for this period between sessions – or at least the biggest one after convincing the state Supreme Court not to witch slap the Legislature for ignoring a fairly plain order on school funding – may be to define the word “infrequent.”

As in “legislators may accept complimentary legislative business meals on infrequent occasions”, which is what their Ethics Code says.

The problem is somewhat akin to the medieval debate of how many angels can fit on the point of a needle. . . 

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

Billig running for re-election

Democratic State Rep. Andy Billig made it official Thursday that he would run for re-election in the 3rd Legislative District.

Billig, the co-owner of the Spokane Indians baseball team, was elected to an open seat in 2010 in a crowded race. With just over two weeks before candidates file for office, he has no announced opposition.

He scheduled a campaign kickoff event for May 16, saying he wants to continue “to fight for our community's values like equal rights, justice and prosperity.”

The 3rd District covers much of central Spokane, including downtown, he lower South Hill, East Central, Logan, Hillyard and West Central. It's one of the state's most reliably Democratic districts.

Although Billig is the district's least senior legislator, his two seatmates have already drawn Republican opponents. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown faces Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin and Rep. Timm Ormsby faces Dave White, who ran unsuccessfully against Billig in 2010.

 

White enters 3rd District House race

Dave White, a county utilities inspector and Republican activist, will run for the state House of Representatives this fall in central Spokane’s 3rd District in an effort to rein in state spending and improve state infrastructure.
White, 59, said Thursday he’ll challenge Democratic incumbent Timm Ormsby, hoping to fare better than 2010 when he lost the race for the other House seat to Democrat Andy Billig.
“Two years ago, I was an unknown and got almost 40 percent with very little help,” he said. Since that time, he has served as a Republican precinct officer, been more involved in the political process and worked to keep the city from closing a branch library.
White criticized Democrats for wasting the public’s time by not passing a budget even though they hold majorities in both houses. “We keep spending money that we do not have,” he contended.
The solution is for Republicans to pick up enough seats in the House to get the majority there, then “put our politics aside and just do what is right.”
White is the first Republican to file for a legislative race in the 3rd, which usually is a strongly Democratic district. All three incumbents, Ormsby, Billig and state Sen. Lisa Brown, are seeking re-election.

For more about White's campaign platform, read his press release.


Documents:

Gregoire signs budget; tougher decisions ahead

Rep. Ross Hunter checks his hands for tan after Gov. Chris Gregoire says legislators need to show up “tan, rested and ready” in January to cut more than the budget she signed Tuesday.

OLYMPIA – With advice to the Legislature to show up “tan, rested and ready” in January to finish fixing the state’s budget problems, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the $480 million “downpayment” supplemental budget.

It is, Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House budget committee, said, merely the first supplemental budget of the two-year fiscal cycle.

“Count on it,” Gregoire replied, adding the votes needed to find another $1.5 billion in savings will present legislators with “the worst votes they’re ever going to take in their lives.”

The budget signed Tuesday had bipartisan support in both chambers, but involves a number of fund transfers and accounting maneuvers to accomplish some of the savings…

To read the rest of this post, click here to go inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: It’s not over til…

OLYMPIA – In trying to come up with a pity description for late special session, I couldn’t shake the memory of a particularly annoying greeting that adults seemed to enjoy during my teenage years: Working hard, or hardly working?

Ask the handful of legislators involved in budget negotiations, they’d say the former. Ask many others in or around the Capitol, the judgment would likely be the latter.

By outward appearances, the workload for this emergency session was disappointingly light.

Even protesters from Occupy Olympia, who had to be escorted out of budget hearings and forcibly removed from the Capitol rotunda at the start of the first week, gave up any pretense of interest by the second week. They showed an amazing lack of staying power.

By the time the session wound down on the final day, Jen Estroff, the government relations director for the Children’s Alliance, had coined a phrase summing things up nicely. . .

To read the rest of this item, go inside the blog.
  

Shall we hold our breath?

During the special session, both chambers approved a Joint Resolution asking Congress to pass the Main Street Fairness Act, which would require Internet retailers to collect sales tax from their customers, just like brick-and-mortar stores do, and remit those taxes to the appropriate states.

Could be worth hundreds of millions a year for Washington, so it’s nothing to scoff at. But isn’t there something odd about a Legislature, itself divided on taxes, asking a paralyzed Congress to do something about them?
  

Worth a look: Initiatives that are paid for

Although the Legislature is on break, new legislation continues to pop up. Among ideas is a proposed constitutional amendment from Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester and other Republicans like Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla.

It requires any initiative that starts a new program or expands an existing one to identify a way to pay for it.

In the past, voters have approved initiatives to give public school teachers regular raises or shrink classroom sizes or, just last month, require more training for home care providers. But the initiatives didn’t come up with new sources of money to cover those changes. Legislators often suspend those directives in tough budget times.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said last week she hadn’t read the proposal, but might support it. The Legislature has to identify a money source when it comes up with a new program, she said. When voters pass legislation at the ballot box, maybe they should, too.
  

Special Session is a wrap. Budget passed, legislators head home

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla hug and other senators applaud as the gavel comes down to adjourn the special session.

OLYMPIA — Unable to find $2 billion in savings over 30 days, the Legislature agreed to about a fourth of that — $480 million — in 17 days, and called it quits for now.

The Senate approved a $480 million budget adjustment this afternoon that uses a combination of budget transfers, accounting maneuvers and cuts to state programs or departments. The rest of the savings, and possibly more if the state's economic outlook doesn't improve, will have to wait for a 60-day regular session.

That starts in less than three weeks.

Like the House on Tuesday, the Senate gave overwhelming and bipartisan support to the changes to the General Fund budget, known by some as the “Early Action Package” and by others as a partial downpayment. Those who are disappointed because the savings aren't greater right now can blame him, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.It's not particularly helpful to cast blame, he said. “But I'm willing to take that responsibility. Then, let's move on.”

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate budget panel, called it “a good start on a huge problem.” While Gov. Chris Gregoire was able to name $2 billion worth of cuts in the two months after a bad revenue forecast in September, she only had to get one vote for those choices, he said. Hers.

In the Legislature, “you've got to move these things back and forth,” Zarelli said. “I'm happy that we're getting something done.”

One of the things in the budget fix is a nine-month delay of payments to school districts for school bus maintenance and depreciation. That saves the state about $50 million, at least on paper, but could leave schools strapped for cash if their buses break down. Murray said the Legislature will set up a contingency fund for hardship cases when it returns in January.

Among those voting no were Republican Sens. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane and Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley.

Baumgartner called the budget “the lowest common denominator” of what budget negotiators could agree to. “I think a lot more could've been done. It's still Wednesday, Dec. 14. There's no reason we couldn't work through this process some more.”

Padden said the budget fix relies on too many gimmicks, like the bus depreciation. “That's not real savings,” he said. “It's not some of the real reforms we should've been looking at.”

Spec Sess Day17: Padden ‘hazed’ by other senators

OLYMPIA — Newly elected Sen. Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley received his traditional hazing by colleagues today as the Senate wound down toward adjournment of the special session.

After passing a $480 million partial fix to the budget and some bills necessary to make that work, Padden received a “point of personal privilege” ostensably to thank other senators for a resolution early this year honoring predecessor Bob McCaslin, someone who was “a delight to be around — most of teh time,” he noted.

McCaslin and Padden were both first elected to the Legislature in 1980. Some other members who served with Padden in the House chided him that things have changed a bit since he left the other chamber in the mid '90s to become a judge. Padden is like the movie character Austin Powers who was frozen in time, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said: “We have to help Mike adjust to this century.”

Things have changed politically, too, Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane said. When he was first elected, he was among the Legislature's most conservative members. “Now you're a moderate for the 4th District,” she said. “Although you still vote No a lot.”

Padden was one of just six Senate votes against the supplemental budget.

Spec Sess Day17: Senate begins budget debate

OLYMPIA — The Senate is beginning debate on the “early action budget” which closes about $480 million of the state's budget gap.

It's the same budget approved Tuesday evening in the House.

Senate Ways and Means Commitee Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said some people call it a “disappointing” budget. But it's time to adopt it as a down payment and move on in the upcoming general session.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, ranking Republican on the budget committee, called it a good start: “I'm happy that we're getting something done.”

Leaders of both parties indicate the Senate has the bills to pass the budget.

Spec Sess Day17: A good day for adjournment?

OLYMPIA — Some strong signs that this could be the last day of the Legislature's emergency session on the budget:

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, in the Senate wings before the morning session started: “Looks like a good day for sine die.” '

The Senate should have the votes to pass the same budget approved by the House Tuesday evening, she said. There are a few more bills that could come to a vote, including some of the governor's requested aid to aerospace training and a bill that would help military spouses who relocate to Washington get easier certification for certain jobs.

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, said Republicans have been told to prepare for a long day, but the last day.

Most telling sign, however, is that most legislators and staff are smiling like they know this is the last hump to get over.

Spec Sess Day16: House panel OKs “partial downpayment” budget

OLYMPIA — Despite misgivings that it was too meager, the House Ways and Means Committee gave overwhelming support to a $480 million change in the state's financially strapped budget.

Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called it a downpayment.

Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the Republican budget leader, said it was a disappointing “partial downpayment. Yet Alexander and all other Republican members of the panel except one voted with Democrats to move the cuts to the floor with only minor amendments to cover technical problems and funding for a new aviation education program.

Among other amendments voted down was a proposal by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, to end a program reward state employees for reducing commuter miles by carpooling and other means. He called it the commute trip reduction system a bonus with a state employees the state can no  longer afford.

When Republicans said they hoped the plan would be considered for elimination in January, when the Legislature tackles the more difficult cuts, Hunter replied: “I can safely say everything is under consideration.

Spec Sess Day15: State Budget 2.0

OLYMPIA —  Legislative budget negotiators have twin proposals to reduce the state's fiscally challenged General Fund budget by about $480 million.

The “Early Action Supplemental Budget” — which consists of matching bills in the House and the Senate  — involve a series of administrative cuts, fund transfers and savings being achieved around in different state agencies. They do not involve any of the controversial eliminations of programs that Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.

The plans are scheduled for public hearings this afternoon, about four hours after they were released. Legislators are describing them as a “down payment,” something they can pass in the coming days during this emergency session, then return in January for the regular session for more budget work.

The projected gap between currently approved spending and projected revenues is $1.4 billion, and Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed cuts totalling about $2 billion to provide for a cushion if tax collections continule to fall. These plans amount to less than a fourth of that amount.

House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the legislative proposals focus on administrative cuts and noncontroversial things to which both parties can agree:  “We're going to wind up doing this stuff anyway, let's do it now.”

Some of that reductions are achieved through accounting maneuvers. For example, the state would delay a payment to schools to help cover bus depreciation for nine months, which saves about $49 million. It would make some changes in the way schools report enrollment, which saves money in some places, costs a little more in others. But there's no change to the levy equalization program or the number of school days, which are key elements of Gregoire's budget proposal. Overall, public schools would lose a total of about $54 million, not some $300 million in the governor's plan.

“We don't have consensus on cutting four days out of the school year,” Hunter said.

Also missing is any plan to eliminate the Disability Lifeline program or Basic Health Plan, which accounted for about $125 million in cuts in Gregoire's budget. The Senate and House proposals would cut $1.5 million from the State Health Care Authority, in part through keeping vacant positions vacant.

“This is not easy stuff, this is easier,” Hunter said.

The bills, plus summaries, are available on the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program web site.

Sunday Spin: What’s fair when keeping candidates from cash?

OLYMPIA – Washington Republicans are exorcised over a wrinkle in state election laws that restricts some candidates, but not others, from raising money during a legislative session. Their concern is logical, although not necessarily consistent. It goes like this:
No state elected official can raise money for a state office while the Legislature is in session. That means Rob McKenna, the state attorney general who would like to be governor, can’t hold fundraisers or dial for dollars while, or shortly before, the legislators are ensconced in Olympia.
Given the bleak prospects for legislators settling the budget problems any time soon, Republican McKenna is at a disadvantage with Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, who is not a state official and is under no such restriction.
States have limited ability to tell members of Congress how they can or can’t raise money – it’s a federalism vs. state’s rights thing – but an argument can be made at some point this gets seriously out of whack in the money-grabbing department. Maybe if the Legislature goes from its current special session into a regular session a few weeks later, then needs another special session to finish work (as it has the last two years), McKenna should be allowed some sort of catch-up period in which he’d be allowed two fundraisers for every one of Inslee.
Restrictions on money-raising during a session were approved to keep some people from donating to a candidate not because they think he or she is the best person to hold the office being sought, but to influence legislation in the session at hand. It’s a good, if imperfect, law.
But Republicans might want to think before protesting too loudly, because if one were to expand it logically, it also would bar legislators who are running for Congressional office from raising money during the session. That’s currently allowed, and a good argument can be made that it’s closer to the public goal of separating campaign contributions from current job performance.
There’s a fair number of legislators running for Congress in 2012, including state Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane. This kind of rule would put him at an even greater disadvantage in his fledgling race against U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Strangely enough, a bill introduced by several Republican legislators to address the McKenna-Inslee situation doesn’t get around to the Baumgartner-Cantwell situation. There may be federal court fights in the wings for either change, but if they were really serious about the good government aspect of this, seems they’d cast a wider net.
  

Spec Sess Day12: Brown says they’ll find a partial solution

OLYMPIA — Legislators will try to fill some of the looming budget gap next week, but won't come close to the $2 billion in cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she expects a budget proposal to be introduced Monday that will address a “substantial piece” of the projected shortfall. She declined to list a specific number, but hinted the amount could be between $100 million and $500 million.

It will be an amount that a majority of legislators in both chambers can agree on, she said. Further cuts and government reforms will come up in the regular session, due to start Jan. 9, she said: “We'll still have a long way to go.”

The Legislature won't vote on Gregoire's request for a temporary half-cent sales tax in the special session. The governor had asked for that by the end of the session to put the proposal before voters in March, and buy back some of the $2 billion in cuts she was asking legislators to approve in the emergency 30-day session.

“I thought that was an overly ambitious assignment from the start,” Brown said.

On Thursday, Gregoire also publically scaled back her expectations, saying she'd be happy with a “significant downpayment” on budget cuts and didn't expect passage of the sales tax proposal.

“I don't see any revenue measures in the special session,” Brown said. Legislators first want to consider reforms and set priorities on programs. Some of the governor's proposed cuts would save money initially by ending programs, but cost money in the long run. One such example is a proposal to make cuts to “critical access hospitals” in rural areas, which actually cost the hospitals double because the facilities would lose federal money as well as state money, she said.

Legislators are also not inclined to eliminate the Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline, Brown said, or to make cuts in Corrections Programs, as Gregoire has proposed.

Spec Sess Day11: Gregoire says some cuts likely to wait until next year

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire acknowledged legislators are unlikely to pass the $2 billion in budget cuts she proposed in this special session and sees no chance they'll ask voters to approve a temporary half-cent sales tax increase in March.

In a conversation with reporters after a Senate hearing, Gregoire said she now believes whatever budget changes legislators can pass in the special session, it won't be “a full meal deal.”

Instead, she said she would consider “a significant down payment” acceptable, but declined to describe a level of cuts that she would regard as a success for the emergency session, which began last Monday.

But the special session will be valuable, she said, because it will give legislators a head-start on budget discussions which will continue when the regular session begins on Jan. 9. She predicted it will allow the Legislature to pass the earliest supplemental budget in history.

Last year, the Legislature was able to agree on some cuts to the budget during a one-day session in December. “The problem with this budget is, it's a whole new budget. It's not 'We're going to plug a small hole,'” Gregoire said.

Since the special session began, some Republicans have called for government reform in conjunction with cuts, and before any new taxes. Some Democrats have called for a better balance between program cuts and new taxes.

“Everybody's got their slogan,” she said. “At some point we need to get past the rhetoric and get to work.”

Gregoire called legislators into a special session on Nov. 28 after giving them a plan some 11 days earlier to cut about $2 billion in programs and salaries in the face of a looming gap in the budget. She also asked them to ask voters to “buy back” about $500 million of those cuts, through a statewide vote on a three-year sales tax increase.

More than a third of the way into the special session, visible progress on the budget is hard to find. Many legislators who are not in leadership or members of the budget-writing Ways and Means committees have returned to their homes, and the two chambers hold “pro forma” sessions most days.

House and Senate leaders, and the chairmen of the budget committees, have been involved in closed-door discussions among themselves and with Gregoire. The budget committees, meanwhile, have held a series of hearings in which people who rely on state programs for health care, education or social services have described the possible effects of those programs being eliminated. In the early days of the special session, protesters marched through the Capitol with chants and signs, sat down in the Rotunda until being forcibly removed by state troopers and interrupted some budget hearings with demands the Legislature raise taxes rather than cut services.

This week, however, the protesters are absent, as if they, too, are saving their energy for the regular session.

Until legislators settle on an “all cuts” budget and sees the effect those cuts have on state programs, Gregoire said, they won't be ready to ask voters to approve a tax increase like the one she's proposing, a three-year, half-cent increase in the sales tax, with money dedicated to certain public school, college, health care and public safety programs that will be cut from the budget if that tax isn't approved.

That won't  happen by the end of the special session, which means the state will miss the Dec. 31 deadline for proposing a ballot measure for a special election in March. Delaying the chances for a vote on a sales tax increase means it would delay bringing revenue into the state if it passes.

“Every month that goes by that they don't have a budget, we have a bigger hole,” she said.

Spec Sess Day11: It’s not like NOTHING is happening

OLYMPIA — There have been some complaints about the activity, or lack of it, so far in the special session.

But while the Senate has yet to vote on anything of substance, and the House has managed only a vote on an emergency bailout of the Wenatchee arena, legislators aren't completely idle.

For example, three senators today filed a bill to add a special license plate for drivers, that would honor the state flower. It would add another specialty plate to the state's list of specialty plates, which currently stands at about two dozen.

We have plates to honor all the branches of the armed services, the various state universities, endangered wildlife, volunteer firefighters, professional firefighters and the Law Enforcement Memorial. There are plates that urge motorists to keep kids safe and help them speak, to share the road with bicyclists. Others take note of lighthouses, state parks, Gonzaga alums, pets, national parks in the state, state parks in the state, state wildlife, baseball stadiums, musicians and square dancers.

There's also a moratorium on new plate designs. But SB 5990 would make an exception to that section of the law, the way the Legislature did earlier this year for volunteer firefighters.

Quick: What is the state flower, anyway? Answer inside the blog

Spec Sess Day11: More than a third gone

OLYMPIA — The Legislature continues its “special but we're in no real hurry” session with a series of committee hearings today and no votes on either floor.

No word on when, if at all, Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget cuts will get out of either chamber's Ways and Means Committee and head for the floor.

Senate Ways and Means isn't even talking about the budget today. They have a joint meeting with the Senate Economic Development Committee on Project Pegasus. That started out as an effort to keep Boeing's 737 MAX assembly line in Washington state. Now that Boeing announced it will build the plane in Renton — more a result of a deal with the company's unions — Pegasus may be a project looking for a new goal.

Some other committees will meet throughout the day in work sessions, but others have cancelled hearings.

Spec Sess Day10: Would school cuts lead to more failures?

OLYMPIA – School officials from across the state urged legislators to reject plans to cut four days out of the school year or reduce payments designed to help poor districts keep pace with richer ones.

The Legislature should consider other ways to cut education costs, they said, like state spending per student or teacher bonuses, or eliminating things the state requires, but doesn’t pay for.

A key player in the ongoing budget debate floated an idea to stave off the cuts proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire by increasing the state’s property tax levy and spreading it among districts throughout Washington. But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, acknowledged his plan was in its early stages, and represents a shift in the way tax rates are currently calculated…

To read the rest of this post, go inside the 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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