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Posts tagged: Washington Legislature

Spec Sess Day8: Wenatchee PFD bailout passes

OLYMPIA — The House passed a bill that would loan a troubled public facilities district $42 million to avoid default, but only after limiting the way cities and counties involved can raise taxes.

On a 56-33 bipartisan vote, the House passed HB 2145, which would help the Wenatchee Public Facilities District repay investors after it defaulted on short-term bonds on Dec. 1. The money would be paid back to the state over 10 years, starting in 2013, and the cities and counties involved could raise local sales taxes by as much as two-tenths of a percent to cover the loan payments to the state.

But a change just before the bill came to a vote did not sit well with Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, one of the bill's original sponsors. The original bill said taxes could be raised by a vote of the local legislative body or the voters. The amendment allows a tax increase onlly if voters approve it.

“This takes us down the slope to total bond default,” Armstrong said, and voted no.

The bill's two other sponsors, however, Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, and Ross Hunter, D-Medina, voted yes.

Officials at the Spokane Public Facilities District say they are watching progress of the Wenatchee PFD bailout closely, because Spokane is scheduled to sell bonds on Dec. 13 in an effort to cut costs by refinancing at a lower interest rate.

The Spokane-area delegation's vote can be found inside the blog. 

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans are said to be divided over a bailout to the PFD.

Spec Sess Day8: Get ‘er done, Brown urges

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's administration is beginning to show a certain frustration with the slow pace of the Legislature in its 30-day special session.

Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown today sent all 147 legislators an e-mail saying the state is burning through $41 million a day with the current level of programs, policies and salaries in the 2011-13 budget. That's Gregoire's reason for bringing legislators back to Olympia early in an effort to pass a revised budget that would cut about $2 billion from those projected expenses.

Failing to pass a budget in the special session, and waiting until the regular session that begins Jan. 9, puts the state farther behind, and would require more cuts in more programs, Brown said.

The e-mail follows a week in which the legislative progress might have to be measured with a magnifying glass. An emergency bill to bail out the Wenatchee Public Facilities District and avoid default to that district's investors needed to pass by Dec. 1; that deadline passed with no action on the first proposal, and House Ways and Means managed to approve a revised bailout package late Friday.

One Republican House member openly doubted the Legislature would even vote on the governor's budget proposal in the special session. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said in a TVW interview that they were looking at changing legislative rules so that bills that pass only one house in the special session don't have to go back to that chamber and start all over again when the regular session begins in January.

Thanks to pro-forma floor sessions and a lack of committee hearings, most senators took a four-day weekend. Budget leaders remained behind in Olympia, but there's no sign yet of any progress they might have made.

To read Brown's e-mail to legislators, click here to go inside the blog.

Sunday Spin: Unrequested advice to ‘occupiers’

OLYMPIA – It may be pointless to offer advice that hasn’t been requested, but should some leader of the “Occupy” movement ask I’d be happy to give it.
This assumes, of course, that this is a movement and has a leader, the first of which is debatable and the second often denied. Still, minor problems like that never keep a reporter from sticking his nose into something…
  

Spec Sess Day 5: No budget by end of session?

OLYMPIA — A Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee expressed serious doubts Friday the Legislature would pass a new budget before time ran out on the special session. And the chairman of the committee did nothing to contradict him.

At the start of a hearing on various programs that would be eliminated under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed cuts of some $2 billion, Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, wondered if anyone in the room thought the Legislature “would vote the governor's budget out by the end of special session.”

“I don't think it's going to happen,” Hinkle said. “Are we really going to do that?”

Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, replied that was a question “the chair is unable to answer.”

Hinkle asked for a show of hands for those who thought it would happen, but Hunter didn't allow that vote to proceed, and began taking testimony on a bill to reduce the state's payments to rural hospitals.

Spec Sess Day5: Slow day in the Capitol

OLYMPIA — Legislative action will be at a minimum today.

The Senate has only a pro forma session at noon. Pro forma is Latin for “we aren't really doing anything.” None of its committees are meeeting, either. Senators who want to go home can beat the evening traffic on I-5 and make it over Snoqualmie Pass when temperatures are above freezing.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, had planned a press conference over the lunch hour to blast Attorney General Rob McKenna for proposing new state programs without explaining how he'd pay for them. But that event was cancelled earlier this morning “due to a last-minute scheduling conflict”. Not sure what the scheduling conflict is. Murray is the chairman of Senate Ways and Means, but it's not a public hearing for Senate W&M.

The House also has a pro forma session in the morning. But its members have a full day of committee hearings, closing with a  House Ways and Means hearing at 3:30 p.m. Ways & Means is the committee in charge of the budget — you know, the thing that's about $1.4 billion short of what it needs to pay for all the stuff the Legislature approved earlier this year? the thing that brought the honorables back to Olympia more than a month early to get fixed as fast as possible, to maximize savings?

The hearing isn't about the budget per se, but about several bills that would cut or delay certan programs. They might also talk about a possible solution for the Wenatchee Public Facilities District's financial problems, although the drop dead date for the PFD was originally supposed to be Thursday.

There is activity in and around the Capitol, however. Protests continue, and today's theme is kids. The Childrens Alliance will hold a noon rally on the Capitol steps, with adult and youth speakers asking legislators not to cut programs for children, and spend the rest of the day looking for members of their local delegations to deliver a proclamation and lobby. As one pundit said recently, at least the protesters are using the Capitol, since the legislators don't seem to be interested in doing so.

On a more seasonal note, there will be a holiday wreath laying at the Law Enforcement Memorial north of the Temple of Justice, and the holiday tree will be formally lit this evening.

Spec Sess Day4: Shin says raise sales tax 1 percent

OLYMPIA — State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, is doubling down on Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to raise the state sales tax by a half-cent for three years to help rescue state programs from the chopping block.

Shin introduced a bill to raise the sales tax by 1 percent, or one penny on each dollar spent, from June 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015. That would raise an estimated $1 billion to be applied to the gap between scheduled state spending and projected state revenues currently estimated at $1.4 billion. He has two other Democrats in the Senate as co-sponsors.

Also on the tax front, a group of Republican senators have a joint resolution that would make all new tax increases expire after five years.

Spec Sess Day 4: Can they get anything done in Dec.?

OLYMPIA — Legislators have until Dec. 28 to find ways to close the projected $1.4 billion budget gap, and maybe ask voters to raise the state sales tax to save some programs.

Some legislators of both parties have expressed doubt that they can do it in the time allotted, and the fact the regular 2012 session follows the special session by about two weeks has them suggesting some things may just have to wait.

This kind of talk does not sit well with Gov. Chris Gregoire, who called them back for this emergency session with the idea of getting the messy budget stuff out of the way as soon as possible, so savings can start accruing. If the Legislature doesn't agree by the end of the month to put a half-cent sales tax before voters, it can't go on the March ballot.

“I've heard a lot of skepticism from legislators on whether they can get the job done. I'm not willing to accept that,” she said Thursday. “Is there job tough? Absolutely. It's the reality we face today.”

She also took shots at some proposals to increase state revenue without raising the sales tax, as she has suggested, or other taxes. One of them is to expand casino gambling off the reservations. “Voters said,  not all that long ago, 'No,'” she said.

Another one, particularly popular with protesters who continue to march in and around the Capitol, is an end to a tax exemption banks have on first mortgages. That might raise $18 million, which doesn't close much of the budget gap, she said. Closing any tax loophole will take a two-thirds majority in the Legislature and “that just isn't going to  happen,” she said.

Spec Sess Day 4: Workers comp, unemployment rates, budgets

OLYMPIA — The new rates for unemployment insurance and workers compensation taxes will be announced this morning in a press conference by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The gov has been touting reforms earlier this year to both systems as proof that her administration and the Legislature are serious about government reform. The proof in this case may be in how much, or whether, the rates change.

In the Legislature, both the House and Senate Ways and Means committees have budget hearings this afternoon. So do both chambers' Transportation committees.

Floor action? Likely none in the Senate, which is scheduled only for a pro forma session at noon. Possibility of something in the House, which convened at 10 a.m. and went into caucus. Prospects for a proposed bailout of the Wenatchee Public Facilities District, however, have to be rated as dismal to non-existant at the start of the day. Today is the deadline, and neither chamber has moved a bill.

Spec Sess Day 3: Education cuts blasted

 

OLYMPIA — School administrators, teachers, middle school pupils and college students pleaded with a Senate panel to spare many of the programs on the chopping block in a budget fix proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Some broke down in tears when they described state programs that kept them in school or returned them so they could graduate. One group of technical college students played a YouTube video in an effort to convince legislators that budget cuts now would darken the future for years to come.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn criticized Gregoire's plan to save $99 million in the General Fund by cutting four days from the school year in 2012-13 and another $152 million by rearranging the levy equalization system so that poor school districts get less and more affluent districts could get none at all.

“Cutting four school days is simply not going to help students,” Dorn said. “Kids deserve an opportunity to reach their maximum potential.”

Students from Renton Technical College played a video they produced called “Don't Cut the Solution” (above) which features those in welding, computer aided design, medical assistants, auto technology and culinary arts holding up signs that said they had been unemployed but can expect to be working, and paying taxes, when they graduate.

The committee's opening hearing on the budget was interrupted for about a half-hour Tuesday by protesters who demanded the committee abandon its rules and abide by their rules for a “general assembly.” Several of those protesters were escorted or carried out of the committee room before that hearing could continue.

There were no such interruptions Wednesday. The committee, which has primary budget-writing authority in the Senate, will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon on proposed cuts to state Social Service programs, Health and Long-term Care programs on Monday afternoon, natural resources and general government programs Tuesday afternoon.

Spec Sess Day 3: Budget hearings and medical marijuana

Maintenance worker checks the Capitol dome for leaks Wednesday morning.

OLYMPIA — Senate budget hearings resume this afternoon, with the Ways and Means Committee scheduled to concentrate on proposed cuts to public schools and state universities.

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to come into session at 10 a.m., but then break fairly quickly for caucuses. The House put off any debate Tuesday on a plan to help save the Wenatchee Public Facilities District from default, and would have to do something today to have any hope of meeting a deadline on Thursday. But that proposal is in trouble, with little movement in the Senate after a fairly skeptical reception in committee Tuesday, and things don't look good for what some legislators see as a precedent-setting bailout.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has a lunchtime telephonic press conference on medical marijuana. It's a joint event — sorry, couldn't resist — with Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Meanwhile, the state is checking the Capitol dome for any leaks or other maintenance problems that need attending. It contracted with a Seattle architectural firm for someone to rappel down the dome and check out the condition of the roof.

(Editor's note: An earlier version of the post said a Seattle television station sent a news helicopter to check out the person on the dome because of recent protests. But a spokesman for the state Department of Enterprise Services, which is in charge of state buildings, said tne news chopper came down for an aerial view for a story on the planned maintenance to the dome.)

Spec Sess Day 2: Spokane protesters in the Capitol

Chris Clark of Deer Park ties a list of concerns about budget cuts to the string of a helium balloon outside the Capitol.

OLYMPIA — About 20 people from the Spokane area joined protesters in the state Capitol urging legislators to close a budget gap with a combination of taxes and cuts.

The group drove across the state on Monday, but arrived in Olympia after the building was closed to the public by state officials. Unlike some demonstrators, they didn't try to rush the building to force their way in.

Tuesday they lobbied Spokane area legislators to consider closing tax exemptions, particularly for large national banks. They're not wild about the half-cent increase in the state sales tax that Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed, but would support it to save programs.

The sales tax is regressive, Shar Lichty said. “But cuts are more regressive than a sales tax increase.”

Members of the group had hoped to tie a list of their requests to the string of helium balloons that they would let loose in the Capitol. The balloons would rise to the dome, then slowly descend as the helium ran out, and bring the messages down.

But building officials wouldn't let the balloons into the building. The balloons were tied into the shape of a Christmas tree and tied to a weight on the north steps of the Capitol.

Spec Sess Day: Protesters arrested, several Tased

OLYMPIA – Fasten your seatbelts, to paraphrase Bette Davis. It’s going to be a bumpy month.
Amid chants in the hallways and rallies on the Capitol steps, the Legislature began its 30-day emergency session to close a $1.4 billion gap in its operating budget.
Social service agencies and teachers journeyed to Olympia to ask legislators to close some of the gap with new taxes rather than cuts. State aid recipients offered touching and sometimes tearful testimony about how program cuts would affect them.
  Four protesters were arrested and booked into jail for refusing to leave the Capitol Monday evening, and 30 were cited for trespass and released. They face arrest and jail if they return to the Capitol Campus anytime over the next 30 days, authorities said. Four were shocked with Tasers when they tried to force their way into the building after it was closed to the public around 5:30 pm.
After repeated warnings from the Washington State Patrol, demonstrators who linked arms around or near the Christmas tree in the Rotunda were carried one at a time down marble steps by four or five troopers and cited for trespass.
“We respect your right to free speech and protest. We ask you to do it within the building’s hours,” Lt. Mark Arras, the acting captain of the Capitol Campus unit, told them before troopers moved in.
“This is not a protest, this is an occupation,” one demonstrator shouted back.
Asked if he was prepared to have troopers clear the building every evening during the session, Patrol Chief John Batiste replied: “If we have to, yes.”
  

Brown: Senate Dems don’t favor “all-cuts” budget

OLYMPIA — Most Senate Democrats oppose a plan that closes the state's $1.4  billion budget gap solely with cuts, but there's no agreement at this point on where to find more tax revenue, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Monday.

“It's going to take a little while to figure this out,”  Brown, D-Spokane, said meeting with her caucus. “Some level of reduction is inevitable.”

They haven't yet discussed Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to raise the state sales tax by one-half cent per $1 for three years.

Democratic leaders of different committees are meeting with Republican counterparts to try to find cuts to which both sides can agree, she said. Gregoire submitted one such spending plan, which calls for nearly $2 billion in cuts, with a separate bill to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase that would raise nearly $500 million that would be directed to restore some cuts to public schools, state colleges, long-term care and public safety programs.

Brown said she couldn't speculate on whether there would be agreement with the governor that her proposal would contain the proper amount, time or programs to be restored.

Spec Sess Day 1: Shouting down a hearing

OLYMPIA — Members of the “occupy” movement are interrupting the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on a plan to help the struggling Wenatchee Public Facilities District by demanding a “citizens arrest” of the Legislature.

Chairman Ross Hunter has tried several times to get a staff briefing on a proposal for bonds, only to have protesters shout over the top of staff.

Among their chants, which they punctuate with rounds of self-applause: “We need to work together. We need to tax the rich. Fund our schools.”

They don't seem to understand that as long as they keep shouting, no one will work together on anything.

The meeting adjourned for about a half hour, then resumed with an explanation of HB 2126, a bill to keept Wenatchee PFD from defaulting on bonds.

Spec Sess Day 1: Occupying an empty Senate

OLYMPIA — If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make a noise?

If the Occupy movement occupies the Senate gallery, and no senators are there, does it make its point?

When some 200 “occupiers” crowded into the Senate gallery Monday, they chanted for about a half-hour to a mostly empty chamber.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, was present for some of it, and Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline,  sat through bits and pieces.  But for much of the demonstration, the Senate floor was empty except for some security officials and a few journalists.

Spec Sess Day 1: Legislature convenes

OLYMPIA — With protesters outside on the Capitol steps and more expected later today, the Legislature started its special session shortly after noon with limited pomp and circumstance. The Legislature is generally without its army of teen-aged pages for this emergency budget session. The pages often form a color guard to bring the U.S. and state flags into the chamber. The Senate improvised today by having Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, as the flag bearers. (above) Once flags were firmly in place, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s official call was read for the emergency session to address the projected budget shortfall, and other matters as legislators see fit. The Senate also had a few housekeeping details to attend, including the swearing-in of two recently appointed members. There will be another such ceremony on Tuesday for Mike Padden, who won the Nov. 8 election in Spokane’s 4th District, but doesn’t take office until the election results are certified Tuesday afternoon.

Spec Sess Day 1: Protesters want more taxes, but don’t agree on where

OLYMPIA — Protesters filling the north steps of the Capitol seem united in their call for at least some new taxes to help close the gap in the state budget. But the source of those taxes may lead to disputes among the protesters as well as among legislators who start their special session today. While some speakers led the protesters in a chant of “half-a-cent is what it takes” to help save Medicaid — a reference to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to raise the state sales tax for three years by a half cent on every dollar spent — others were clearly opposed. Tax the 1 percent, not the 99%/ No Sales Tax” said a large sign in the back of the crowd. While many held the standard protest signs, other demonstrators showed some originality. Members of Hero House, a facility for adults with developmental disabilities in Bellevue, had salvaged more than a dozen dress forms from a nearby recycling center, attached them to long poles and dressed the forms in T-shirts that carried messages against further cuts in state services. Kari Moore, an employment specialist for Hero House, said 25 staff members and clients made the trip from Bellevue in a caravan of min-vans.

Special Session Day 1: Forces gathering

OLYMPIA — Legislative caucuses meet at 10 a.m. while home care workers will gathering on the steps outside the Capitol Building.

Large tents have been set up on the lawn to the east of the Legislative Building, and protesters with signs are already moving across the sidewalks and grass still wet from the morning fog.

A series of “marches” on the capitol have been scheduled throughout the day, and the House Ways and Means Committee hearing at 1:30 p.m. is expected to play to a packed house.

Expect a full day of action out of Olympia. Not sure how much news will accompany the action

WA Lege: Coming Monday

OLYMPIA — It won't be just the state's 147 legislators — 148 if you count the two state senators from Spokane Valley's 4th District — who will be coming to the capital Monday for the start of the special session.

The Occupy movement, along with organized labor and the Washington Education Association, plan to be there for the beginning, and some may be staying through the bitter end.

Occupy Olympia has been encamped in Heritage Park down the hill from the Capitol Campus for about two months, and the Occupy Seattle protesters may send a contingent via caravan on Sunday or Monday morning. Washington Community Action Network, an umbrella for progressive groups, also is urging members to show up Monday. The WEA has a rally for public school and college faculty at noon on the West Campus.

Noon is also when the Senate and House are set to convene, after most parties in the two chambers hold caucuses at 10 a.m.

House Ways and Means, where the budget cutting discussions will start in a session designed to find some $2 billion in savings or new revenue in the state's $31 billion budget, starts at 1:30 p.m.

Ways and Means hearings always draw a large contingent of lobbyists. This time around, they're likely to draw an even bigger crowd

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.”

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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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