Latest from The Spokesman-Review
OLYMPIA — Patients at state mental institutions who have been judged criminally insane will be limited in the reasons that they can leave for field trips or other reasons.
The House of Representatives gave final passage Monday to House Bill 2717, which is designed to prevent instances like the escape last September of accused murderer Phillip Paul during an Eastern State Hospital field trip to the Spokane County Fair.
The bill limits patients who have been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity from trips away from the hospital that don’t involve medical treatment or a family emergency. It was sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley and received near unanimous support at step of the process. It now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature.
Paul, who was found criminally insane for a 1987 murder of a 78-year-old Sunnyside woman, was among a group of about 30 patients on a field trip to the fair when he escaped on Sept. 17. He was captured three days later in Klickitat County.
OLYMPIA – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is suggesting Washington businesses come over to his side of the border if taxes go up like they have in Oregon.
In a “love letter to our neighbors,” Otter argues that Idaho has a better plan than other states for handling the recession: “Predictable tax and regulatory policies are what our employers need in order to maintain their operations through this rough patch.”
OLYMPIA — With four days left in the regular session, both houses have full days scheduled.
The Senate is off over the lunch hour while their Ways and Means Committee meets to clear up some bills that have fiscal impact. But both chambers are saying they could go into the evening if they need to.
The Senate tax package now in the House, attention shifts to see what that chamber is going to do on different ways to raise taxes.
Meanwhile, there’s a blood drive, sponsored by the Governor’s Office, going on around the Capitol. No one has remarked on the irony…yet.
OLYMPIA — With not a vote to spare, Senate Democrats approved an $805 million tax package that includes hikes in sales and business taxes, sending it to the House for an almost certain overhaul.
After four hours of debate and parliamentary maneuvering Saturday, and two more today, the Senate voted 25-23 on the SB 6143, which has 21 separate changes to the state’s tax laws. It’s part of a balance approach to the state’s $2.8 billion budget shortfall, Democrats said. It’s a job killer, Republicans said.
Among Spokane area legislators, Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D, voted yes. Sens. Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler, both R, and Chris Marr, D, voted no.
OLYMPIA — Lt. Gov. Brad Owen said rules don’t allow dividing up a bill. It could result in “logistical chaos.”
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, then moves to table, and Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, asks for a roll call vote.
Motion fails, 17-31 on a party-line vote.
Vote on bill is next
OLYMPIA — The state Senate appears to be almost done debating the merits or demerits of the Democrats’ tax bill.
Now there’s just one question to answer: Will they take one vote on the entire bill, or, as Sen. Don Benton just requested in a motion, take 22 separate votes — one for each of the different tax changes in SB 6143.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen took time to consider Benton’s motion, and should be back any moment.
OLYMPIA – Republicans have argued for weeks the governor should declare a financial emergency and reopen the contracts with the state employees unions, cutting pay and benefits to help balance the budget.
Workers in private industry all over the state are taking pay cuts and furloughs and paying higher medical premiums; state workers should do the same thing, they say. GOP leaders often look knowingly at the assembled press corps when they say this, realizing that newspapers have gone through multiple rounds of those changes.
“When you’re in good times, you bargain. When you’re in bad times, you bargain,” House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said last week.
The law that gave state workers collective bargaining has a provision requiring a return to the bargaining table if such a financial emergency is declared, so it’s not like Republicans are pulling this out of their ears.
The amount it would save is in dispute…
OLYMPIA — The Senate recessed Saturday afternoon without voting on their major tax package, after more than four hours of contentious, and occasionally heated debate..
Democrats were one vote shy of the constitutional majority they need to pass the bill because one member Sen. Paull Shin, had to leave to attend a funeral.
OLYMPIA — A move to put the tax package on the ballot in November is proposed by Republicans.
Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake,said the package should be called “the kitchen sink bill…As in sink Washington.” A recent poll says people overwhelmingly think suspending Inititiative 960 was wrong thing to do. Eliminating the emergency clause and holding off on any taxes until voters have a chance to say yes or now would mean they would “Stop telling the working taxpayers just be quiet and pay up.”
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, called the bill a massive tax increase, repeating the refrain that it is “the largest tax increase in the history of the state of Washington.” Citizens have a right to have a say, he added. The state’s was founded by pioneers who came West and weren’t happy about the governments they left behind. They included the right of referendum and initiative, because they were afraid of measures just like this one.
“They knew how dangerous and tyrannical a government can be,” Benton said.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina countered: “If you like the budget vote for it. If you don’t like it, don’t vote for it. Don’t build budgets around referendums.”
Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, corrected Benton on his history: Initiative and Ref wasn’t initally in the state constituion, it was added in 1912 or 1913.
The tax increase is not the largest in state history, Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane said. That honor belongs to a $1.1 million tax increase in 1981…when the Legislature was controlled by Republicans.
The measure fails 20-26.
OLYMPIA — Sen. Joe Zarelli suggests an incentive to make sure the temporary sales tax temporary.
If it doesn’t go away in 2013, legislators don’t get their per diem.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says in “the spirit of bipartisanship” he was supporting the amendment, even though he doubts it will change Republicans idea on the tax package.
Passes on a voice vote, apparently unanimously.
OLYMPIA — This is the biggie, the three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax for the next three years.
Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, says Democrats are always saying the sales tax is the most regressive, and yet they want to raise its. She also doubts it will be temporary: “I’d love to see a show of hands on who believes that. I’ve never seen a temporary tax.”
Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: This is temporary and I do believe it’s temporary. It’s small, 30 cents if you spend $100.” It also expands the workingn families credit for low income families, so most of them will be better off.
It’s also the general public’s contribution to “more state patrol on the roads, more public services. Those essential public structures…to improve the quality of life for our citizens.”
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville: “I don’t look at this as contributions. These are taxes that employers will be paying, that make it more difficult to raise salaries or benefits or hires. I’d call it the Idaho Economic Development Act. Three-tenths of a cent is real money when you’re buying construction equipment, when you’re buying farm equipment.”
Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley: “It isn’t just a third of a cent, it’s another third of a cent.”
Holmquist amendment to drop the sales tax increase fails on a voice vote.
An amendment to raise the sales tax by a full percent is withdrawn.
OLYMPIA—Republican offer an amendment to strip out an increase to the business and occupation tax on service businesses.
The Senate Democrats’ proposal raises the current rate of 1.5 percent on gross receipts to 1.75 percent on one of the largest categories of businesses.
How big? Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgeview begins reading from the state manual:Accounting, actuarial, appraisers, architects, beauty salons, sales person, comp services, dentists orthodontist, graphic design…
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said this is part of an attempt to spread the burden of the tax increase around. The general public pays a little more, businesses pay a bit more.
But the state is also doubling the small business tax credit, Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam says.
Amendment fails 20-27.
Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker offers an amendment to remove real estate brokers and agents from the increase in the B&O tax.
That’s not consistent, Zarelli argues. Why pull out one profession?
Amendment fails on a voice vote.
OLYMPIA — Republicans try to strip out a provision that puts the state sales tax on bottled water.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, says previous debates have been “pretty esoteric” about things “that really don’t direct the lives of individuals. This one does.”
“Here is a $30 million tax,” Carrell said. “We should not be balancing the budget on the needs of babies, children, parents, grandparents. A direct tax on something that is now part of our culture.”
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, counters this is not a new tax. Prior to 2005 “we had sales tax on bottled water. We have billions of bottles that go in our landfills every year.”
Republican Sen. Curtis King replies: “This may not be a new idea. That doesn’t mean it’s a better idea.”
The bill covers 5-gallon containers in dispensers, but has an exemption for people who do not have potable water.
Amendment fails 19-26.
OLYMPIA — Republicans are offering an amendment to take away a tax on property management firms. Right now those companies have an exemption to the business and occupation tax on salaries.
Sen.Chris Marr, D-Spokane, agrees, saying it will cause rents to go up as the tax is passed through.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says it makes no sense to treat property management firms different than many other management firms.
Amendment fails 23-24.
OLYMPIA — Republicans ask to strip out theprovisions that make top corporate officers liable for unpaid taxes of a terminated or insolvent Limited Liability Corportion.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, says that will just result in businesses setting up their LLCs in another state.
Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Seattle, counters: “It’s the CEOs that have gotten us into this mess. CEOs ought to know what they’re doing.”
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, says the legislators keep talking about accountability, it’s time to hold corporate officers accountable, too.
Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, argues its’ unfair: “It holds the CEO strictly liable…even if it’s not your fault. You’re already liable if it is your fault. I don’t feel better just because a CEO somewhere did something wrong, and got bailed out by the federal government.”
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, adds the people covered in the tax bill are top officers at small corporations in Washington.: “This isn’t the fat cats that took our money. It’s hardly the Wall Street bailout.”
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, calls the bill “vindictive and predatory.” Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objects that she seems to be impugning the motives or characters of Senate Democrats.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen rules Brown is correct, although they don’t seem to be directed at a particular member. He warns everyone to be careful.
Pflug says Democrats are impugning CEOs. Owen says you can impugn any corporation you want, but not the individual.
“If I’m impugning anything, it would be the government,” Roach says.
Amendment fails, so the provision stays in the tax package, on a voice votes.
OLYMPIA — Sen. Don Benton offers an amendment to strip out a provision that gets rid of the exemption from the real estate excise tax for homes sold from foreclosure.
On normal sales, the real estate excise tax, or REET, is paid by the seller. But in foreclosures, the seller is gone and the bank is trying to get money back.
“The provision will tatke the responsibility of the previous owner and move it to the new owner,” Benton said. It’s another “onerous tax” that will stifle the real estate market and stall the recovery.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says it’s an issue of taxpayer fairness. Sell a house the normal way, the REET is paid. Sell it on the courthouse steps, it’s not. People show up for foreclosure auctions with cashiers checks to pay the whole amount he says. Perhaps, he adds, Benton has never been to an auction…
Benton objects. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen says people are getting a little sensitive. But I have been to an auction, Benton says. You can mention it in your closing remarks, Owen said.
Amendment fails 22-26 on a roll call vote.
OLYMPIA — Sen. Val Stevens argues the tax falls unfairly on “direct sellers” like Avon ladies, and offers an amendment to strip provisions on the business and occupation tax changes out of that.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says she should read her own amendment, because she mentions sales taxes but the languages is about B&O taxes.
Stevens tries to close debate by suggesting Tom doesn’t understand basic economis.
Sen. Karen Keiser says it doesn’t affect Avon ladies, “it affects Avon, the multinational corporation.”
Amendment fails on a voice vote.
OLYMPIA—Sen. Don Benton offers an amendment that argues rules giving the Department of revenue authority to go after companies avoiding taxes are too broad.
“It gives the department the ability to go on witchhunts throughout the business community, it’s another job killing tactic,” Benton says.
Other Republicans argue it’s like determining businesses are guilty until proven innocent, and that the department should have the authority, the Legislature should.Sen. Pam Roach called revenue agents “heat seeking missiles.”
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, says that’s not it at all: “If you’re for tax avoidance, maybe this is a good amendment. All we’re trying to do is make sure that businesses that should be paying taxes are paying taxes.”
Democrats say Republicans should stop demagoguing against state employees. Republicans object to that characterization.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen warns both sides to cool the rhetoric.
Benton closes debate with a warning about an overwhelming tyrannical bureaucracy.
Amendment fails on a voice vote.
OLYMPIA — Opening salvo in the Senate debate over a package of tax increases to help ballot the state’s operating budget.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, argues the whole bill is unconstitutional because it contains too many subjects. It’s logrolling, he contends.
This bill contains 21 different taxes and I don’t believe any one of these can stand on their own,” he says.
Senate Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, counters the title of the bill is broad enough to cover everything in the bill.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, presiding over the Senate, breaks to make a ruling on Benton’s point of order: “The title properly reflects the content of the bill. Sen. Benton’s point of order is not well taken.”
Debate on amendments will begin.
OLYMPIA — The Lege is working Saturday, and likely Sunday, as the clock ticks down to a scheduled adjournment on Thursday.
Senate Democrats just placed their tax package on the calendar for a vote sometime today, which suggests they have the 25 votes necessary to pass it.
Before that, however, they have scheduled a vote on the latest version of new laws governing driving while cell-phoning, and several other bills.
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.
OLYMPIA — Taxing bottled water is such a bad thing that Sen. Mike Carrell wondered today where it would all stop, and offered up no less an expert than The Beatles to prove his point.
But Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, made it clear she wasn’t going to be out-Beatled.
Carrell, R-Lakewood, was trying to force a November advisory vote on a section of the Senate Democrats’ proposal that would extend the sales tax to bottled water. Right now, it’s considered a food item, and exempt from the tax. Republicans had already won the point that the tax should be temporary, but Carrell wanted the plebiscite “to let the people know who is for taxing.”
After all, this is taxing water, he said. What’s next? “There’s an old Beatles song about taxing the air we breathe. This is getting close to that.”
Prentice signaled she’d had enough of the argument by replying: “That Beatles reference is from their album ‘Revolver.’ ”
True Beatles fans know one of them is wrong. Go inside the blog to find out who.
OLYMPIA — Between Democratic confusion over how to treat tax exemptions for a coal fired power plant in Lewis County, and Republican amendments that demanded public advisory votes on practically every tax Democrats want to change, a Senate committee had to recess Friday afternoon without voting on the main tax package.
The Ways and Means Committee members had to return to the floor to vote on other items. Chairwoman Margarita Prentice said they’ll be back a half hour after floor action, which probably won’t be until this evening because of the rush to pass bills out of chamber before a deadline.
OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats’ plans to raise taxes could move to the Senate floor over lunchtime.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee just began a hearing on a revised tax package that has some tweaks in the proposal released last week. Gone is the removal of the exemption for trade-in vehicles. But it still proposes raising the sales tax by three-tenths of a cent per dollar for the next three years. It does place a sales tax on bottled water.
It would raise about $805 million in new tax revenue.
Not included is the idea of offering voters to swap the sales tax increase, and another five-tenths of a cent, for an income tax on individuals making more than $200,000 a year or couples making more than $400,000. That bill got a hearing Thursday, but is separate from the overall tax package.
Some Republicans on the committee are sporting lapel buttons with “A.B.R.” which they said stands for “Anything But Reform” — their complaint that the budget raises taxes but doesn’t reform underlying problems with the state’s general fund budget.
1:20 p.m. update: Republicans are running a series of amendments to take out individual tax changes, or put them to an advisory vote on the November ballot. All are failing on party-line vote.
OLYMPIA — Expect a flurry of activity today because it is one of the big “cut off” days. Most bills that started in one house (and passed) have to get out of the other house by 5 p.m. today.
That doesn’t apply to budget bills and a few other exceptions. But generally speaking, if your favorite legislator had a great idea and convinced his or her seatmates and colleagues to vote for it, a majority of folks in the other chamber have to say yes, too, by 5 p.m., or the bill is kaput.
This makes sense, from a calendar standpoint, because the Legislature has six — count ‘em, six — days left to get its work done.
It’s main work, of course, is fixing the projected $2.8 billion hole in the budget. On that score, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which on Thursday had a hearing on a proposal to institute a temporary sales tax and give voters a chance in November to swap it for an income tax on “high earners”, has a noon hearing at which they could vote on whether to send that to the floor.
The proposal, which hadn’t been mentioned in the previous 52 days of the session, was the big surprise of Thursday. Who knows what surprises are in store for Friday?
Both chambers start early. They may go late. They’ll be back Saturday and Sunday, because — did anyone mention this? OK, yes, but it bears repeating — they are running out of time.
Talk of a special session is circulating, but it always is at this point in the regular session.
OLYMPIA — Two bills sparked by an Eastern State Hospital patient’s escape during a Spokane County Fair field trip last September moved easily through the Senate Thursday.
Philip Paul was part of an Eastern State group visiting the fair when he slipped away from the other patients and staff, and left the fairgrounds. Police were not notified for hours that Paul, who was at Eastern State after being found not guilty by reason of insanity of a murder charge,escaped and was loose in the community. He was captured three days later, near Yakima.
House Bill 2422, requires hospital staff to contact law enforcement after an escape, passed 47-0. and goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature. “When a convicted murderer escapes and no one takes responsibility, something is wrong,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said.
House Bill 2717, which limits the opportunities for criminally insane patients to leave state hospitals unless approved by a judge or for a family emergency, passed 48-0. It returns to the House because of minor amendments included in the Senate version.
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.
OLYMPIA — The Legislature is scheduled to wrap up a week from today, although some legislators are saying they wouldn’t bet the rent or the budget on that happening. Tax and spending proposals still have to be reconciled, and many people mention “25 and 50”.
It’s not a second grade arithmetic question, it’s the bare minimum of votes any plan has to get in the Senate and House, respectively, to pass. It doesn’t seem that any plan yet will pass that test.
In the meantime, Olympic athletes from Washington will be honored with a resolution during the day and a reception in the evening at the governor’s mansion.
Evergreen State College students are taking part in a nationwide protest against cuts to higher education programs and are planning to travel from the campus to the Capitol this afternoon as part of their demonstration. One report is they plan to bring a coffin to carry up the steps. Extra state troopers will be on hand to make sure, in the words of on state official “all are kept civil.”
OLYMPIA — Churches would be able to hold occasional farmer’s markets on their property without losing their tax exempt status under a bill passed overwhelmingly Wednesday by the Senate.
The Senate gave 46-1 approval to a bill that allows churches and other public meeting places owned by nonprofit organizations to hold farmers markets for as many as 53 days a year, as long as the money the organization gets goes for charitable purposes.
Last summer the state Department of Revenue informed two Spokane churches and one in Millwood they’d have to pay taxes on their property or stop holding farmer’s markets on it. Tax-exempt organizations aren’t allowed to run commercial businesses on their property under state law, the department said.
House Bill 2402 sets up standards that churches and other nonprofits must follow in setting up the markets. It returns to the House, where it passed 97-0 last month, because of amendments approved in the Senate.
OLYMPIA — Dry Fly Distillery and any other “craft” maker of distilled liquor will be able to grow three times larger than the current limits under a bill that passed the House Wednesday.
Small or craft distilleries were unknown in Washington two years ago when the Legislature passed a law allowing operators to make up to 20,000 gallons of distilled spirits. Dry Fly of Spokane was the first to open, and now there are 26 companies around the state that hold or have applied for a license, Rep. Alex Wood, D-Spokane said. They use local farm products and are becoming “another industry for our state,” he said.
But in setting up the law, the Legislature picked an arbitrary limit of 20,000 gallons, he said. Senate Bill 6458 raises that to 60,000 gallons. The House approved the measure 97-1, and sent it back to the Senate because of a minor amendment to one section.