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Gregoire calls for balanced approach and nonpartisanship; GOP skeptical

Saying that many of the cuts she proposed last month are “unwise and unjust”, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a combination of program cuts, tax increases and federal aid to close the state’s projected $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

Gregoire told a joint session of the Legislature they face “an incredibly challenging year” and called for swift and decisive action.

“We cannot just cut or just tax our way out of this immediate budget shortfall,” she said. “We must have a responsible, balanced approach of painful cuts and new revenue.”

Majority Democrats praised her for a compassionate approach to an unbalanced budget. Minority Republicans said her proposals so far are short on specifics and would wait to see whether the nonpartisan approach she espoused would actually come to pass.

“This possibly could be the worst year I’ve ever seen,” said State Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane Valley, who has been in office since 1995. “I like the fact that she says she’s going to listen to everybody. But that generally doesn’t happen on the budget.”

Partial list of programs Gregoire would add back into the budget, taxes she’d raise or reinstate

Here’s a list of the major programs Gov. Chris Gregoire wants to “buy back” by raising taxes and/or getting federal recovery money:
K-12 Levy equalization, which sends state money to school districts with lower than average property tax bases. $165 million.
Basic Health Plan, which provides health insurance for 60,000 residents, $160 million.
Higher Education Need Grants, to 12,300 low and middle income students, $146 million
General Assistance Unemployable, revised to give a maximum of six months coverage at $250 per month, $84 million.
All-day kindergarten, gifted program and reading corps, $42 million
Working Connections Child Care, to those receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, $39.5 million
Maternity Support Services, to 50,000 women at risk of “poor birth outcomes”, $28 million
Optional Medicaid, dental, vision and podiatry services not covered by federal program, $21 million
Developmental Disabilities/Long-Term Care Housekeeping and Laundry, for 42,000 elderly residents, $18 million
Developmental Disabilities/Long-Term Care Homecare Provider Services, wages and benefits to individual providers, $14 million
Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, for 1,500 three-year-olds, $10.5 million
For list of tax changes, go inside the blog.

Serious days ahead — Gregoire

“Too many familes today are getting layoff notices. Watching unpaid bills pile up. Losing health care…” Gov. Chris Gregoire told the Legislature. “Let’s not waste their time or the crisis.”

“Let’s provide the decisive, compassionate leadership Washingtonians want and deserve.”

Rounds of applause, and the governor is being escorted out.

Leave politics to the elections, solve the problems—Gregoire

Big round of applause on both sides of the aisle for this line:

“Let’s leave the partisan politics to elections. Washingtonians hate how divided things have become. They just want us to solve problems.”

“Our communities are safer” — Gregoire

Communities are safer because the state gave law enforcement help to deal with sex offenders. Highways are safer because of tough DUI enforcement.

But more needs to be done, Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

“Our families aren’t safe…when a man convicte of the brutal murder of an elderly woman disappears on a field trip to a county fair,” Gregoire said in listing several problems in the state in 2009. She said she’ll propose a package of bills “to hold offenders accountable…and give more weight to law enforcement and criminal histories when making commitment decisions.”

Cuts, taxes and federal aid—Gregoire

“Later today I will present a budget I can support. It counts on new revenue of about $750 million and cuts of almost $1 billion. The revenue will come from new federal dollars, new taxes or both,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

“We mujst have a responsible, balanced approach of painful cuts and new revenue.”

She also wants early learning for all three and four-year-olds in the state, all-day kindergarten.

“Lift the levy lid and fund levy equalization,” she said.

And come up with a new evaluation system for teachers, she added. For schools with high dropout rates, poor student performance and no progress, “we need to be able to step in and turn them around.”

Gregoire: Instead of all those cuts…

After ticking off the effects of the cuts she proposed in December, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested the long-term costs would be too high.

We can make cuts that will write off a generation of kids…

We can make the cuts and waita for higher dropout rates and all the soaring social costs…

We can cut costs and transfer higher medical costs to our doctors, hospitals and insured families…

Budget reflects our values — Gregoire

Gov. Chris Gregoire says her December budget was balanced, but “unfair, unwise.”

It eliminates hospice care 2,500 patients, maternity care for 50,000 at-risk moms, eliminates health care for 70,000 individuals, 16,000 children, early learning for 1,500 kids, does away with all-day kindergarten, college aid for 12,300 students.

“That’s not wise.”

Make agencies accountable

State residents “don’t want to drive across town to brick-and-mortar government offices,” Gov. Chris Gregoire says. She wants more online applications, computer kiosks to apply for permits.

Department of Licensing is closing or modifying 26 offices.

Different state agencies are sharing data, using one scientist to do studies, than share results.

“It’s time to peel away the outdated and costly layers of government thaat we once needed but no longer do.”

She wants to eliminate 79 boards and commissions, reduce or eliminate a third of the 64 small state agencies.

She also wants to consolidate the state’s Growth Management Boards, now three, down to one.

And she wants to close or reduce 10 institutions. She didn’t mention any by name, but staff have said one is Pine Lodge Corrections in Medical Lake.

40,000 new jobs this year

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s description of work to attract clean technology to the state and Forbes Magazine’s high ranking for Washington as a place to do business gets applause from Democrats. Republicans seem unimpressed.

She’s calling for 40,000 new jobs this year by attracting $2 billion in capital investments. She also wants a new employee tax credit for each small business that hires a new full-tgime position.

She also wants to streamline permitting in a “One Fronts Door program to cut through red tape.

She also wants changes to the Rural County Tax Credit program to make it easier to hire more workers.

‘On the cusp of a new economy’

Jobs will come from the growth industries of the new economy, Gov. Chris Gregoire says.

Citizens “definigtely don’t want business as usual from government. They want real government reform, real service improvement and more value for their tax dollar…

“They want us to make the tough choices…Jobs are the way out of this recession.”

Gregoire: Time for leadership

“In the best of times, people forget legislative sessions. In the worst of times, history shows decisiveness is what matters,” Gov. Chris Gregoire says.

“Now is the time for compassion.”

Gregoire details economic problems

Gov. Chris Gregoire ticked off elements of what she called “the wors national economic collaps in 80 years,” and their effects on Washington state.

— 475,000signing up for unemployment benefits

— 1 in 13 Washingtonians receiving basic food assistance.

— 26,000 homes in foreclosure

— 86,000 on Basic Health Plan

Gregoire: “an incredibly challenging year.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire welcomed the Legislature back to work with a less than cheery outlook for the state, its economy and its citizens.

“It’s an understatement to say this year will be incredibly challenging,” she said in her opening remarks after greeting state officials and justices, and noting the presence of her husband, Mike and daughter Michelle.

She noted the loss of seven law enforcement officers and 13 military members from the state in 2009, calling it an “unspeakable tragedy.” Later in the speech, she’s expected to propose some changes to pension laws to allow the families of fallen law enforcement officers to qualify for pensions and free college tuition, regardless of the length of service.

“These Washingtonians gave their lives so we could have safer communities and a secure nation,” she said. “For them and theri families, we have a duty this session to help build a better future.”

Pledge, prayer over…

Colors posted, color guard has withdrawn. Speech imminent.

Flags arrive

Before the governor speaks, the colors have to be presented. They’re being marched in by the color guard from the Washington State Patrol, to the accompanying strains of bagpipes.

“Star Spangled Banner” coming next.

Here comes the gov…

With introductions of state officials, tribal leaders and consular officials over, Gov. Chris Gregoire is enterring the House chambers for the “state of the state” speech.

All rise…

Applause all around, somewhat more spirited from the Democratic side of the aisle, but hugs for members on both sides, and several members of the court.

State Supreme Court shows up

The Washington State Supreme Court is being introduced to the assembled legislators.

Statewide elected officials are next.

State of the state: Senators filing in

State senators are filing into the House chambers for the “state of the state” speech to a standing ovation from the state reps.

Any bets on whether this is the nicest the two chambers will be toward each other for the next 59 days.

Real speech time: around 12:30 p.m.

Although officially scheduled for noon, the governor’s office says Chris Gregoire’s “state of the state” speech probably won’t start until about 12:30 p.m., after all the formalities are done.

The state Senate must gather in its chamber and troop to the larger House chamber. There will be some intros, some niceties.

In any case, the governor has some broad themes, but the details on things like cuts and taxes may be waiting for the Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing at 3:30 p.m.

WA Lege Day 2: State of the state at high noon

Gov. Chris Gregoire delivers her “State of the State” speech today at noon. As one state senator said yesterday after the session went into recess, it could probably be summed up in two words:

Not good.

Her speech will be carried live on TVW, which is available on most cable systems around the state, or online at www.tvw.org.

She and OFM Director Victor Moore will also be discussing the budget proposal with the Senate Ways and Means Committee at 3:30 p.m.

For a full list of the committee hearings for Day 2 of the session, go inside the blog.

Is there money in getting out of the liquor biz? Maybe

Washington state could gain an extra $277 million over four years if it gets out of the liquor business, or lose $47 million, a state auditor’s review says.

Right now, the state controls the wholesale and retail liquor sales, with state employees operating the stores and distribution center, and is expected to make $2.36 billion between 2012 and 2016 under that system, Larisa Benton, director of performance audit, told the House Ways and Means Committee Monday.

If it turned the state distribution center and its state-owned stores over to private businesses and increased the number of stores, it could make between $163 million and $277 million over those four years. It could make less with other options, such as privatizing stores and letting the market to determine their number, but still generate extra revenue. But it would likely lose $47 million by just converting existing outlets to contract outlets.

Turning the liquor business over to the private sector, which would take the costs of those state workers off Washington’s strapped budget, is among the more popular options for helping the state’s projected shortfall of $2.6 billion. But Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, said he’s been in the Legislature 18 years, and the idea “has been here at least as long as I’ve been here.”

Day 1: That’s all folks

State House has also recessed for the day after comments by Speaker Frank Chopp and Minority Leader Richard DeBolt.

They got a chance to lay out the two parties positions. Democrats say the state can’t cut all these good programs like Basic Health, General Assistance to Unemployable Adults, student aid…all of which are in the governor’s “no new taxes” budget.

Republicans say the state can’t raise taxes in a recession.

So, other than being at two diametrically irreconcilable positions, things are just peachy here.

Coming tomorrow: Gov. Chris Gregoire’s “State of the State.”

At ease, senators

Having handled all the protocols and formalities, the state Senate is calling it quits for the day.

Tuesday they’ll troop over to the House chambers for a joint session to listen to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s “State of the state” address.

Gov to Lege: Good luck. . .

As protocol dictates, the Legislature sends a delegation to the governor, telling the state’s chief executive that it is in session and ready to do business.

The delegation just returned with office down the steps in the Capitol, carrying Gov. Chris Gregoire’s message:

“Good luck, Godspeed, and 59 days would be better than 60.”

The legislators are in the starting gate

State reps have filed into their chamber and a bagpiper led the flags into the Senate chamber after a roll call.

The Pledge of Allegiance has been said, the Star Spangled Banner sung, benedictions offered, with a wish for “creativity for a seemingly impossible situation.”

The 2010 Washington Legislature is underway…the Senate has transmitted word to the House that it is “organized and ready to do business.”

Well, as organized as it ever is.

Keeping up with the ‘Lege’

Every year, the newspaper gets requests from readers for updates on a particular bill or topic making its way through the Legislature. With thousands of bills introduced each session, there’s no way we can publish updates on every bill.

Most go nowhere, anyway. A few hundred get hearings, and a fraction of that (thankfully) pass.

But for readers who  have an interest in a particular bill or topic, there is help. The Legislature’s Web site will help you track bills, and even has a search engine that allows you to enter the bill number or topic.

If you know the bill number, you can enter it in the search box in the green window. Remember to check “Bills 2009-10” because bill numbers are recycled each session.

You can also entere a particular topic, although it helps to be as specific as possible. For example liquor will bring up 264 different possibilities, while state liquor sales will bring up 108 and “privatizing state liquor sales” — one of the topics being discussed as the Lege convenes today, as it is almost every year — will bring up 1.

That leads you to SB6204 a bill recently filed by Sen. Tim Sheldon, which is proposing the state get out of the liquor store buisness, and let private companies sell alcoholic beverages.

That shows you the full text of the bill, which was “pre-filed” before the session even started. 

Clicking on “Bill summary” will tell you where the bill is in the process, and as it winds its way through hearings and votes, the summary page is updated.

Eyman has no plans to run anything but initiatives

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Eyman vs. Gregoire
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Roach vs. Gregoire

Washington’s most active initiative sponsor dismissed a suggestion that he run for office rather than run initiative campaigns.

Tim Eyman also rejected Gov. Chris Gregoire’s suggestion that Washington could go the way of California and be “initiatived to death.”

“One or two initiatives a year, tops, ever qualify for the ballot,” Eyman said as he and others filed an initiative to return a requirement that the state needs a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

The state has such a law now, enacted by voters in 2007 with another Eyman initiative, I-960. But Democrats say they will try to modify or repeal that law before any discussion of raising taxes. Anticipating such a move, Eyman and company filed to give voters a change to reinstate it in November if they can gather enough signatures.

Gregoire wants tax hikes, tax cuts

Gov. Chris Gregoire plans to propose tax cuts as well as tax increases tomorrow when she makes her State of the State address.

Speaking at an impromptu press conference about three hours before the Legislature formally opens, Gregoire repeated she will propose closing some as yet unspecified “tax loopholes”, but also used the word “tax relief.”

When a reporter noted tax relief usually means reductions in taxes, she replied: “I will be proposing that as well…I want find a way incentivize business.”

Gregoire spoke after receiving petitions from the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition, a group of social services organizations, environmentalists and some labor unions, opposed to her December budget, which would close a $2.6 billion budget gap solely by cutting programs, not by raising taxes.

The level of tax increases and budget cuts will depend partly on the amount of money federal stimulus money approved by Congress, she said.

As Gregoire met with members of the coalition and talked with reporters, preparations for the noon start of the Legislature continued throughout the building. An honor guard practiced its maneuvers for delivering flags to the front of the House chamber and pages and interns scurried around the chambers.

At 10 a.m., initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman is scheduled to file this year’s initiative proposal at the Secretary of State’s office, a measure to reinstate the two-thirds majority for tax increases that voters passed in 2007 with I-960. That law remains in effect, although legislative Democrats have said they will try to repeal or amend it early this session in advance of proposing tax increases.

Asked about Eyman’s scheduled appearance down the hall in less than an hour, Gregoire said the continued use of inititatives could lead to putting Washington in the same straits as California.

“They have been initiatived to death,” Gregoire said of California. If Eyman wants to help make state policy, he should take another tack, she added:

“Come on down and run for election. Otherwise, leave it to us.”

Words for the start of the session

OLYMPIA – There are two relatively famous quotes that come to mind as the Legislature rumbles toward opening day on Monday.

One is the standard axiom, that no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session. That line has probably been uttered in every state capital since it was written down by Gideon Tucker in 1866.

It may be no more and no less true this year in Olympia, where a 60-day session will revolve around the state’s budget woes, and possibly devolve because of them.

Last Wednesday, at the annual pre-session preview, leaders of both parties in both houses made a point of saying how much they look forward to working with each other and how important it will be to put partisan differences aside for the good of the good people who sent them here. That sounded pretty impressive to an observer new to the fray, until some more experienced hands noted that they say the same thing every year, a few days before the session starts. The comity lasts, at best, into the first week.