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Dem freshmen leap into tax reform

OLYMPIA — Democratic freshmen in the House called this morning for tax reforms ranging from a state capital gains tax to an end to sales tax exemptions for out-of-state shoppers.

At a press conference, a dozen first-term Democratic reps also said they'd like the Office of Financial Management to do a detailed study of the state's revenue picture and the tax burdens its citizens have. They'd also like to swap the Business and Occupation tax for a 1 percent income tax.

Spokane Rep. Andy Billig, one of the 12, said they wanted a tax system that's “fair and stable and adequate.”

It's Leap Day, as well as Day 52 of the 60-day session, so a reasonable question might be what's the prospect that any of this will pass before the gavel comes down on the session on March 8?

They're going to try to get proposals out of committees and onto the House floor for a vote, Billig said. But if not, they'll work over the interim to push these ideas. When they pushed for closing a tax exemption the state gives large banks on mortgages last year, they didn't get much support; this year members of both parties in both houses support it, Billig said.

The House is scheduled to vote sometime today on its version of a revised 2011-13 General Fund budget. Are they withholding their votes on their leadership's budget unless they get action on their package?

“We don't leverage votes,” Rep. Chris Reykdahl of Tumwater said. “We will vote on our budget today.”

Problems with the state's “structural problems” on taxes were a big topic of the House Ways and Means Committee hearing later in the morning, where Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, another one of the 12, got a hearing on her proposal for a state capital gains tax. Chairman Ross Hunter of Medina tried to corral testimony by reminding witnesses that the panel consider fiscal issues, not policy matters. That wasn't too successful, so he warned the crowd that anyone who questioned the motives an any legislator, on any side, would have their testimony cut off.

WA Lege Day 22: Initiative ads may have to list donors

OLYMPIA – In the wake of a campaign season that saw a single donor spend nearly $21 million on an initiative to change state liquor laws, a House panel approved a proposal that requires political ads for or against a ballot measure would have to name the largest donors to that campaign.

The House State Government Committee approved a bill Monday by Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, requiring campaign ads for or against initiatives and referenda to name the top five donors to the committee sponsoring the ad. It’s similar to a rule applied to independent campaign ads for or against candidates.

Supporters said the public has a right to know who’s pumping money into the campaigns. That means the names of the actual donors, not “some fluffy sounding name for a committee,” Steve Zemke, chairman of the King County Democratic Party said.

But opponents argued donor information is available on the Public Disclosure Commission’s web site and generally covered in news reports. “I can look that information up in about two seconds,” Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said.

Billig's proposal is a response in part to record spending on ballot initiatives last year, including nearly $21 million in contributions, plus other “in-kind” support, by Costco for an initiative that ended the state monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales.

The committee sent it to the full House on a 7-4 vote, but rejected a separate proposal by Billig to place limits on contributions to initiative campaigns similar to those faced by candidates for statewide office.

School Board campaign limits pass House

OLYMPIA — A proposal to place the same limits on campaign contributions to school board candidates that apply to legislators and other city and county candidates passed the House overwhelmingly Friday.

But not before some grousing by a few Republicans who thought the Legislature has better things to do.

Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said HB 2210 puts a limit of $800 on contributions to school board candidates. While most contributions are far less, in a few instances last year they were much more. One of them was in his district, Billig added. 

“These limits, they give confidence to voters, they reduce the opportunity for corruption and undue influence of large donations,” said Billig, the bill's prime sponsor.

That was a reference to last year's Spokane District 81 School Board race, in which Duane Alton, a retired tire dealer and longtime Republican activist, gave unsuccessful board candidate Sally Fullmer $6,350, which was almost half of all the money she raised.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, accused Billig and other Democrats of proposing a “cookie cutter solution” — and even worse a Seattle solution.

“We have Seattle pushing its rules on the rest of Washington,” DeBolt complained. Seattle can limit their contributions and “gum up their works.”

“If Seattle thinks they need to limit their contributions or add a dollar in their electric bill to pay for things like elections, then they can do that,” he added. The bill would make schools “go through more costs…when we're in a time when we can't even fully fund education, then I think that's absurd and that's exactly what's wrong with this place.”

(Note: There's really nothing in the bill that calls for adding a fee to electric bills to pay for elections, or placing the cost of elections or tracking contributions on schools.)

Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, countered with a “clarification” that the district Billig was talking about was in Eastern Washington.

The bill passed 71-24. You can see the entire debate in the video above.

Contribution limits for school board candidates

After dinging Rep. Andy Billig a bit below on proposed changes to voter registration, it only seems fair to note an excellent idea of his, which also got a hearing last week.

The Spokane Democrat has a bill that would set the same $800 limit on contributions to school board candidates that applies to people seeking legislative, county and city office. After several school board races with big donations, including one in Spokane last fall, it’s an idea whose time has come.

Sunday spin: Do non-voters protest a bit too much?

OLYMPIA – Washington voters have a very good track record of casting ballots – among the best in the country.
Is it perfect? No. Could it be better? Yes. Are there people who should vote but don’t? Probably. Is it worth making major changes to the current system to capture some shoulda-woulda-coulda voters?
Some legislators think so. Some state and local officials who run the elections wish they would knock it off. Judge for yourself who’s right.

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

Lege Day 4: Pre-registering voters at 16

OLYMPIA – One of the most popular ways to register to vote is to sign up when applying for a driver’s license. Unless you’re 16 or 17, the time when most drivers get their first license but are too young to vote.
State Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, thinks the state should help those young drivers and all 16- and 17-year-olds become good voters, by letting them “pre-register” to vote, so they’ll automatically be added to the rolls when they turn 18.


To read the rest of this item, or for links to the bills, click here to go inside the blog.


  

3rd Lege District “town hall” call on Wednesday

Residents of Spokane's 3rd Legislative District might be getting a call around 6 p.m. Wednesday inviting them to participate in a tele-town hall.

A what? you might say.

It's like a town hall meeting, only on the telephone.

Sen. Lisa Brown and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig will all be on the other end. Or more accurately, another ends. In a tele-town hall, there are lots of ends because hundreds of people can be on the line.

Participants can ask their questions, and listen to the questions of others and the answers from the three Democratic legislators. If you want to participate but don't get a call, you can dial toll-free at 1-877-229-8493. You'll have to enter an ID code when requested, of 18646.

A spokeswoman said the three legislators decided to do a town hall meeting by phone because scheduling a session in Spokane early the session can be difficult. They may do one in person later.

For 6th District residents, however, can ask their state senator questions the old fashioned, face-to-face way on Saturday. Sen. Mike Baumgartner is holding two standard town hall meetings.

The first will be at 8 a.m. at the Multipurpose Room, PUB 101, on EWU Cheney campus. (It's hosted by the Associated Students of Eastern Washington University, who apparently don't plan to party late into the night Friday to be up bright and early for the town hall meeting…or maybe they just won't go to bed until after the meeting is over.)

Another meeitng is at 10:30 a.m. at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Browne's Addition, 2316 West 1st Ave.

Legislative pay cut: Some say yes, some say no

OLYMPIA – About half of the 15 members of the Spokane-area legislative delegation have volunteered for the same level of pay cuts the imposed on state workers. That’s a level slightly better than legislators statewide.

Many who have done it, like Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, say it’s a personal decision.

“As a businessman, the buck starts and stops with me,” said Parker, who owns a chain of coffee shops. “It’s the same with us as legislators.”

Parker’s seatmate in Spokane’s 6th District, Republican John Ahern, said he doesn’t plan to ask for a pay cut, but he is donating 3 percent or more to charities, ranging from his church and the Boy Scouts to organizations that oppose abortion like Teen-Aid.

“This way I know exactly where the money is going,” Ahern said. If he took a pay cut, the money would stay in the state’s general fund, and go to state programs or agencies he doesn’t support….

To read the rest of this item, or for a list of the Spokane-area delegation's decisions on a voluntary pay cut, click here to go inside the blog
  

WA Lege Day 74: Plan to keep MAC open surfaces

OLYMPIA — A proposal that would keep the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane and the State History Museum in Tacoma open, by taking money from a fund to build a Heritage Center in Olympia, was introduced today in the House.

Supported by Spokane Reps. Andy Billig, Kevin Parker and Timm Ormsby, as well as members from the Tacoma area and even Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, the plan also creates a state Department of Heritage, Arts and Culture, which would oversee the three facilities.

“Rather than saving for a new museum, we're going to save two excellent museums we already have,” Billig said Thursday. “Ideally we would do it all, but we're not in ideal conditions.”

Secretary of State Sam Reed is not a fan. “It's like killing one institution to save two others.” Finding money for the two museums is “vitally important” but taking money for the Heritage Center — which would primarily be a home for the state archives and state library, and with display space but not a full-blown museum — is the wrong way to do it, he said….

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

Got something to say to your legislator? Here’s your chance

There's a break in the legislative action this weekend, so several Spokane-area legislators will be back in their home districts to hold town hall meetings.

The break is a result of the Legislature passing a major deadline for voting bills out of one chamber, and not yet reaching a key point in crafting the next biennium's budget, the state economic forecast which comes out March 17. Because of that, neither house is in session this weekend, so it's a good time for legislators to head home for a few days, and Saturday seems like a good day for town hall meetings.

Here's a list of what's scheduled for Saturday.

3rd Legislative District
Sen. Lisa Brown, Reps. Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig.
  10 a.m., Northeast Community Center, 4001 N. Cook St.
  2 p.m., Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 2316 W. 1st Ave.

6th Legislative District
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, Reps. Kevin Parker and John Ahern
  10:30 a.m. Northwood Middle School gymnasium, 13120 N. Pittsburg St.
Parker
  2 p.m., Education themed town hall at Northwood Middle School library, 13120 N. Pittsburg St.
Baumgartner
  5 p.m. town hall at the MAC, 2316 W. 1st Ave.

9th Legislative District
Rep. Susan Fagan

  10:30 a.m., WHMC Public Education Building, 1200 W. Fairview St., Colfax
  2 p.m., Cafe Moro, 100 E. Main St., Pullman

WA Lege Day 50: The green grass of home

OLYMPIA – Washington homeowners would be restricted from putting fertilizer with phosphorus on healthy lawns under a bill that passed the House Monday.

Despite complaints from Republicans that homeowners are able to decide what fertilizer to put on their grass or that restrictions will send grass-growers across the border into Idaho for bootleg lawn spreads, Democrats passed a bill sought by Spokane and other cities seeking to cut down phosphorus in nearby lakes and streams.

Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, the bill’s sponsor, said similar restrictions in other states have been successful in lowering phosphorus levels that boost algae growth. The bill allows phosphorus fertilizers for new lawns, restoring dead lawns, for golf courses and for agricultural uses; it requires stores to sell non-phosphorus fertilizer for healthy lawns.

“Phosphorus is necessary in some uses but it is not necessary for a healthy lawn,” Billig said.
Representatives from Eastern Washington dominated much of the debate…

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

Chadez endorses Billig

Lousie Chadez, who won about 20 percent of the vote in the four-way primary for the state House seat representing central Spokane, said this week she will endorse follow Democrat Andy Billig for the general election.

Billig finished second and will face the likely winner of the primary, Republican Dave White, in the November election. Here is a map showing where the Democrats in the race won their support.

Chadez’s decision isn’t a huge surprise. She and Billig shared many of the same positions during the campaign.

Meanwhile, third-place finisher, City Councilman Bob Apple, said Thursday that he has no plans to endorse either candidate.

How the Ds split the 3rd Leg District

The three Democrats running for the open House seat in Central Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District had very different bases of support.

The map shows the vote totals without Republican Dave White, who also seems set to advance to the general election from the Top Two primary. City Councilman Bob Apple ran strongest in his council district, which stretches east from Division, from the river to the northern city boundaries. Andy Billig ran stronger to the west of Division and up onto the South Hill. Louise Chadez ran strongest in West Central, and near Gonzaga University.

White has tough task in facing Billig





The top photo is Andy Billig’s reaction to the announcement that he would advance to the general election.

The next photo is Billig’s response to finding out he will face Republican Dave White in the general election.

It’s hard to blame Billig for appearing to be more jubilant when learning that he will face a Republican in the general election. The 3rd Legislative District is heavily Democratic.

Asked about his response, he said he was most excited to just move on.

“Our goal was to make it to the general election, and we achieved that goal,” Billig said.

White, Chadez, Billig and Apple take stands on budget cuts

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Here’s the latest video of candidates from the 3rd Legislative District vying to replace retiring state Rep. Alex Wood.

Billig gets Democratic nod over Apple, Chadez

Spokane County Democratic Party officials voted this week to endorse Andy Billig for the Statehouse seat now held by Democratic Rep. Alex Wood.

Billig, president of the Spokane Indians Baseball Blub, announced his candidacy last fall, before Woods announced his retirement.

Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple and social worker Louise Chadez also are running as Democrats on the August primary ballot. No Republicans have announced a run for the Third Legislative District seat, which represents central Spokane and is Eastern Washington’s most reliable Democratic district.

Billig’s endorsement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He already had won backing from many prominent Spokane Democrats, including three of Apple’s colleagues on City Council: Richard Rush, Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref.

The county party has typically not weighed in on candidates until after primaries, but county Chair Amy Biviano said state party officials decided that the party should select candidates in response to the top-two primary system.

More on Apple’s endorsement of Ahern

John Ahern’s campaign released this form Wednesday after Bob Apple denied endorsing Ahern. Both Ahern and his campaign manager, Josh Kerns, said they witnessed Apple signing it last year at the county fair.

The top of the form is quite clear: “I endorse John Ahern for State Representative in the 6th District, position 2. By signing below, I give permission to Citizens for Ahern to use my name in campaign materials for the 2010 election. Your contact information will not be shared with anyone outside the campaign. Thank you for your support!”

The campaign blocked other names and Apple’s contact information before releasing the document.

So far, Apple’s opponents in the race are Spokane Indians Baseball Club President Andy Billig and social worker Louise Chadez.

In an interview this morning, Billig said Apple’s endorsement is “surprising,” but that he had no further comment about the issue.

Apple says he’ll compete for Wood’s seat

The field of candidates is growing in the race to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Alex Wood.

Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple confirmed this week that he will compete for Wood’s seat representing the 3rd Legislative District, the most reliably Democratic district in eastern Washington.

Billig to run for 3rd Dist. House seat

Andy Billig, the president of the Spokane Indians baseball, wants to play in a different league. He’s running for the state Legislature in central Spokane’s 3rd District.

As ballots were being cast and counted this week for the 2009 election, Billig filed papers with the state Public Disclosure Commission to run for the state House of Representatives seat currently held by seven-term incumbent Alex Wood. Both are Democrats.

To read more, go inside the blog