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Economic forecast partly sunny

OLYMPIA – This morning at the Capitol, state economist Arun Raha will offer up his latest economic weather forecast, predicting how the state will fare over the next two years.

Lawmakers are closely watching these reports, because if revenue drops much more, they may have to return to Olympia for another round of budget cutting. That could mean more state layoffs, more cuts to the social safety net and more things that lawmakers would like to avoid.

So what will Raha say? Here are some hints from an update earlier this month:

•“The freefall in the Washington economy appears to be abating.” Job losses, which have reached early-1980s levels, are likely to continue through the end of the year, but the rate of loss will slow. Look for employment growth to return in early 2010.

•“We expect the trough, or bottom, in the third quarter (of 2009), followed by weak growth into the middle of 2010.”

•Year over year, the sectors with the greatest drops in retail sales have been motor vehicles (21 percent), gas stations and convenience stores (20 percent) and furniture sellers (20 percent).

•The construction sector is down 22 percent, and manufacturing is down 39 percent.

•Who’s growing: Drug and health stores (up 8 percent), grocery stores (up 4 percent) and general retailers (up 3 percent).

Tim Eyman loses a day

This is a critical time of year for ballot measures, as organizers take to parking lots and storefronts to try to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to put something on the ballot in November. Every hour counts.

So professional initiative man Tim Eyman was dismayed this week to learn that the July 3 deadline for signatures is actually a day earlier. That’s because the Fourth of July falls on a Saturday, and most government offices and businesses are counting July 3 as a holiday.

“We need to work ever harder,” Eyman said in an e-mail to supporters Tuesday.

The hazards of being an intern

Speaking of signature-gathering, the extra-large petition for Referendum 71 has hit the streets, as organizers try to gather support for rolling back a new domestic partnerships law.

The petition itself was a technical achievement. State law requires that the full text of the affected bill be printed on the petition. In this case, the domestic partnerships bill was 114 pages long. That means a petition the size of a large road map with tiny 6-point type.

Virtually no one will read that. But the secretary of state’s office decided to figure out how long it would take. An intern named Heath was handed a magnifying glass and instructed to start reading.

Five minutes into it, Heath reported that he kept getting lost in the tiny text.

After 12 minutes, he gave up on the magnifying glass.

After 47 minutes, he briefly dozed off.

He finally finished after 2 hours, 24 minutes and 47 seconds.

North Spokane Corridor open houses

The state Department of Transportation is holding two open houses in Spokane to fill people in on the work and plans for the North Spokane Corridor, also known as the north-south freeway.

“We want to keep the community informed on the progress of our construction work, especially when it comes to some of the traffic impacts they may encounter,” the agency’s eastern regional director, Keith Metcalf, said in a press release.

He also wants to let you know when you can expect to drive the first segment of the highway, first envisioned decades ago. That first leg, from Francis to Farwell Road, will open in August. A second stretch, from Farwell to U.S. 395, is slated to open in 2011.

The first open house is next Thursday at Northwood Middle School, 13120 N. Pittsburg St. The second is July 15 at Rogers High School, 1622 E. Wellesley Ave. Both are from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Speaking of which

The state is now bidding out a contract estimated to be worth $60 million for a stretch of the highway from U.S. 2 to Wandermere Road. It includes two large bridges over Wandermere. The contract will be awarded in July, with the work expected to be done in the fall of 2011.