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WA Lege Day 89: House budget discussion begins and ends for a day

OLYMPIA — Floor action began this afternoon on the proposed House Democratic budget with a handful of amendments being approved by voice votes.

Republicans did not offer to substitute their alternative budget, which would cuts about $500 million more. "It wasn't submitted," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ross Hunter said a few minutes before floor action started.

The amendments were mainly non-controversial house-keeping measures, corrections to things inadvertantly left in or out of the 450-page bill in the process of drafting and redrafting.

Now the budget must sit — lay on the bar, in legislative language — for 24 hours after the amendments are printed and added to the bill, so the members and the public have a chance to read it.

Debate and voting happens tomorrow afternoon.

WA Lege Day 89: Union rally and budget debate

Protesters gather near the World War I memorial on the state Capitol Campus Friday.

OLYMPIA — The last of four days of protests in and around the Capitol over a proposed "all-cut" budget will feature thousands of labor union members joining other demonstrators on the north steps at noon.

How many thousands isn't clear, but the steps were already filling up at 11 a.m., as buses dropped off more demonstrators on the Capitol campus. The unions brought their own "marshalls" to keep some semblance of order, and a healthy complement of state troopers is visible inside and outside the building.

Sometime this afternoon the House is expected to begin debate of the 2011-13 budget that demonstrators don't like. There are actually two budgets, the House Democrats' version that was reported out of the Ways and Means Committee, and the House Republicans' alternative, which the GOP will likely try to swap out through a striking amendment.

If there aren't other amendments as well, it would be a very rare budget indeed. All this is a way of saying that although the debate is scheduled to start today, it's not possible to predict whether it will finish today, too. The House is scheduled to be in session on Saturday as well.

Meanwhile, the Senate is running through a long list of appointments and bills that are not part of the budget.

WA Lege Day 88: Protesters arrested outside governor’s office

State troopers arrest Karen Washington, left, outside the governor's office Thursday.

OLYMPIA — Sixteen protesters were arrested outside the governor's office today in the third day of demonstrations against proposed budget cuts. Fifteen were cited for disorderly conduct and released, while one was also cited for assaulting two state troopers, and jailed.

Protesters swarmed into the Capitol Building around lunchtime, marched around the hallways outside the Senate and House chambers chanting slogans lilke "This is what democracy looks like" and "Who's house? Our house."

Around 15 were ejected from the House gallery when they stood to speak to the legislators on the floor below. After escorting them out, however, Washington State Patrol officers released them without arrest.

About an hour later protesters gathered outside the governor's office on the floor below the legislative chambers. While some confronted a phalanx of troopers in front of the office doors, others pushed in from behind. Patrol officials warned them that they would be arrested if they did not step back; the ones who remained were arrested, mostly without incident.

They were taken to a room on the lower level of the Capitol, where a patrol spokesman said they would be cited and released unless they have other problems, such as outstanding warrants.

Karen Washington, a home health care worker from Spokane, was among protesters in the House gallery, and was later among those group arrested outside the governor's office.

She said she came from Spokane on a busload of protesters to try to convince legislators to close tax exemptions for some businesses instead of adopting an all-cuts budget. The group went into the gallery because "we knew they wouldn't be able to hear us" inside the House chambers. The chanting is significantly muffled inside the chamber because the doors to the chamber are thick, and walls are lined with marble on both sides.

Protesters have talked to some legislators, but don't feel like they're making much headway, Washington said. "When the legislators say 'Yes we know, but —' There is no 'But."

More photos below.

WA Lege Day 87: Protesters settle in for night

OLYMPIA — About 100 protesters chanted into the evening in the Capitol Rotunda, ignoring a request to clear the building when it officially closed at 7 p.m.

There's no threat of arrest. The Washington State Patrol is prepared to stay the night if the protesters do. And some clearly plan to, because they've unrolled sleeping bags on the rotunda floor, right up to the seal of George Washington. Could be a long and noisy night.

WA Lege Day 87: House GOP counters with its own budget plan

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt makes a point during the unveiling of the GOP budget plan.

OLYMPIA — House Republicans unveiled a leaner spending plan for 2011-13 than their Democratic counterparts, one that eliminates some social programs but spends more on education.

Like the Democratic proposal, it has no tax increases.

Republican leaders released the budget at an 11:30 p.m. press conference, and plan to offer it as a substitute for HB 1087, the House Democratic spending plan when the Ways and Means Committee meets this afternoon.

For details on the House Republicans' plan, or to comment, click to go inside the blog.

Wa Lege Day 86: Rain dampens protests

Protesters gather on the north steps of the Capitol Tuesday at noon.

OLYMPIA — Tuesday is the start of several days of protests over proposed cuts in the state budget. Organizers had promised to bring a couple hundred to the Capital from around Olympia, but it seemed that the protesters at the noon rally could be counted in the dozens.

One problem may have been the weather, which was sometimes rainy, sometimes windy, and often times both.

Weather may not get much better the rest of the week. Unclear what that means for future demonstrations.

WA Lege Day 61: How bad will forecast be? We’ll know Thursday

OLYMPIA — Washington officials are bracing for more bad budget news next week, and the only real question seems to be "How bad?"
Already expecting a $4.6 billion gap between the cost of existing programs and the expected revenue for the coming two-year budget cycle, legislative leaders have said that figure could grow by at least $500 million — and maybe as much as $2 billion — when the state economic forecast is released on Thursday.
Gov. Chris Gregoire used the $2 billion figure Thursday in an interview with The Spokesman-Review editorial board, and Republican legislative leaders put it at the top of the range they were hearing discussed during a press conference Wednesday.
State officials are already looking at an array of budget reductions, such as eliminating or significantly scaling back some programs like the Basic Health Plan and the Disability Lifeline, cutting funding to colleges while allowing them more power to raise tuition, cutting pay to state workers and charging them more for benefits. But even with all the proposed cuts, closing a $4.6 billion gap was already difficult so the degree of difficulty increases with the projected deficit.
"I don't know that we have a Plan B yet," Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.
Brown said she considered two ideas being floated by some House Democrats unlikely: One would be creating a "25th month" by using July's revenues to pay for expenses in June, the end of the current biennium; the other is "revenue securitization" which basically raises money now by a bond sale based on the promise of future revenue.
The Senate is "not looking at" the 25th month at this point, she said, and securitization "is not where we're headed….we're looking at the cut side"
But there are only a few things that can definitely be ruled out: "We will not do a sales tax on food. No income tax, either."
A sales tax on food, levied in the early '80s when the state faced an economic downturn, was quickly repealed by voters. Income taxes have been tried several times, including last year when an initiative to impose the tax only on "high earners" was soundly defeated at the polls."

Gregoire, too, has ruled out tax increases, saying the voters spoke clearly last year that they expect government to reduce spending, not raise taxes. The lower revenue projections may convince legislators to eliminate programs as she's proposed, rather than trying to pare them back as they did in a supplemental budget that tries to keep the state out of the red through June 30. Legislators are "going to see my ideas aren't so hare-brained in the next week," she told the editorial board Thursday.


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Solution to save WIC funding from budget cuts


Two weeks ago I mentioned the unfair cuts to agriculture
, specifically to WIC funding. Here’s your chance to speak out. For a little background, the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WIC FMNP) provides vouchers to low-income mothers and children to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables directly from farmers at farmers markets. This program secured $613,000 in federal dollars last year.

The problem is Governor Gregoire’s budget maintains the program for 2011, but then it eliminates all funding for the program in 2012.  Without a state program the federal funds will go to a different state.

Here’s the request: Transfer $50,000 from 2011 funds into 2012 funds. This will not change the Governor's budget BUT it will restore the program for 2012. And it keeps federal dollars coming to Washington State for fresh, local fruits and vegetables for low-income kids.

Cutting earmarks…

 

Good morning, Netizens…

 

In his contribution to edification, cartoonist David Horsey attempts to depict the quandary surrounding earmarks facing our national leadership, regardless of their political affiliation. Earmarks, those subtle, sometimes very costly additions tagged onto otherwise existing pieces of legislation, have been the political footballs of members of both Democrats and Republicans for decades. An otherwise innocuous piece of legislation that might not otherwise alarm taxpayers, seems a perfectly good place to hide other spending.

 

Every instance a new piece of legislation is submitted for House or Senate consideration, the first thought that crosses my addled mind is I immediately suspect the legislation has lots of earmarks tagged onto the bill thus perpetuating the myth of “good legislation”, for I no longer believe that any legislation put forth by either political party is worth the cost of the ink to print it; the cost of the earmarks alone are far too costly for our troubled national economy to bear. But on the other hand, earmarks are what get political candidates elected and re-elected, year after nauseous year. Political candidates have made certain promises to their constituents that they will add certain budgetary line items to legislation for popular local items, and no one is wiser for it. If they cannot muster enough votes to put a local issue on the House floor, simply find a way to write it onto an otherwise innocent-appearing bill and nobody is the wiser.

 

What to do, what to do…

 

As of this morning, I have spoken with my omnipresent Sage, Arnold the Cat, regarding how best to deal with this issue of earmarks, simply because neither National Party has been able to keep their itching little fingers out of the pie. What is even more troublesome is that at this point in American history, we can ill afford to spend another penny of taxpayer's money; we are broke, or nearly so, and only a tight-fisted approach to our national budget will keep us off the economic rocks. Even a blonde hued feline house cat with little interest in national politics knows that much.

 

It is also readily apparent that neither Republicans nor Democrats can agree on where to cut earmarks. We have to fix our national budget! Of course, your results may differ.

 

Dave

WA Lege Day 23: Senate budget deal in works

OLYMPIA — State Senate budget writers have what's being described as a $254 million bipartisan budget agreement that could get a vote yet this week.
Just hours before a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing, Chairman Ed Murray released a plan to cut more than either the House or Gov. Chris Gregoire previously proposed, but still keep some pieces of the Basic Health Care, the Children’s Health Program and the Disability Lifeline.
“This is another installment in a huge budget crisis in a huge economic crisis, ” Murray, D-Seattle, told reporters. “In a crisis this big, everybody gets cut.”
The plan reduces General Fund spending by some $254 million through June 30. It does that in part by reducing Basic Health Care through an enrollment freeze and new eligibility tests that include a valid Social Security Number; freezing enrollment in Children’s Health and dropping eligibility to families at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less, down from 250 percent; eliminating cash payments for those in the Disability Lifeline program but retaining their medical coverage.
It also transfers some $25 million the colleges receive in tuition from students into financial aid. It makes smaller cuts to the public school budget by keeping some money for smaller classes in kindergarten through 4th grade but cuts some $23.5 million in “safety net” programs from schools.
It has a 3 percent salary reduction for non-union state employees that would start in April, three months earlier than the governor's plan. It also moves $6 million in profits from liquor sales into training for corrections officers in the wake of the murder of an officer at the Monroe facility last weekend.
The proposal was worked out with Republican Sens. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, Murray said. They must still sell it to their caucus just as he must sell it to the Democrats. He would expect the proposal to pass with support from both parties.
“If we don't have a good count out of both caucuses, the agreement will shift,” Murray said. The full Senate could vote on it before the end of the week, and the Ways and Means Committee will be asked to vote on it Thursday.
The state’s General Fund budget was estimated in November to be about $1.1 billion out of balance through the end of June, and the state can’t run a deficit. In a special one-day session in December, the Legislature cut about $600 million, leaving another $500 million to be cut for the remaining six months of this biennium.
The latest Senate proposal cuts about $254 million, compared to $242 million in  Gregoire’s proposal and $222 million in a plan approved by the Democratic majority in the House without Republican support.

  

WA Lege Day 15: Budget debate in House

OLYMPIA — The first floor debate on budget cuts this session is scheduled for this morning as the state House of Representatives takes up a portion of the 2011 supplemental budget.

This is the budget that gets the state through June 30 — although not the entire budget for that period. The Legislature trimmed some things in the one-day special session in December, and this plan still leaves some spending questions unanswered.

But it does address cuts in education, Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline. The Democratic bill, HB 1086, has some Republican amendments.

Spin Control will provide updates from the House floor.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, a Senate committee is expected to vote on a proposal to do away with the 2012 presidential primary to save the state about $10 million. A House committee will be looking at the governor's plan to consolidate state agencies. Another House committee has a hearing on the Basic Health plan.

Otter: ‘No Time For More Taxes’

The governor said his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 is “based on a modest but responsible 3 percent growth rate in our state revenue.” That's despite the fact that his own Division of Financial Management economists are forecasting 6.9 percent more in tax revenue will come into state coffers in fiscal 2012. Otter is proposing to budget to just the 3 percent figure - leaving $91 million on the table if the state's forecasts prove true. Lawmakers have been pessimistic about forecasts since revenues fell short in the past few years/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here. And: text of speech here.

Question: Do you have high hopes for 2011 Legislature?

Signe: No Free Lunch?

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Inquirer

Mayor’s budget presentation Monday

Mayor Mary Verner will present her 2011 Budget proposal to the Spokane City Council on Monday during the Council’s legislative meeting in Council Chambers in the lower level of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard.  The Council has changed its meeting time on Monday to 4:30 p.m., from the usual time of 6 p.m.
After Mayor Verner’s presentation, the budget proposal will be in the hands of the City Council, who will hold public hearings on the budget on Mondays throughout November.  The Council must adopt a balanced budget by the end of the year to comply with state law.
Those who are unable to attend the meeting in person also can watch it live on CityCable 5, the City of Spokane’s government access cable station found on channel 5 on the Comcast cable system in Spokane, or on the web at www.spokanecity.org

 

 Via e-mail from the City of Spokane this afternoon.

Mayor presents budget Monday

Mayor Mary Verner will present her 2011 Budget proposal to the Spokane City Council on Monday during the Council’s legislative meeting in Council Chambers in the lower level of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard.  The Council has changed its meeting time on Monday to 4:30 p.m., from the usual time of 6 p.m.
After Mayor Verner’s presentation, the budget proposal will be in the hands of the City Council, who will hold public hearings on the budget on Mondays throughout November.  The Council must adopt a balanced budget by the end of the year to comply with state law.
Those who are unable to attend the meeting in person also can watch it live on CityCable 5, the City of Spokane’s government access cable station found on channel 5 on the Comcast cable system in Spokane, or on the web at www.spokanecity.org

 

 Via e-mail from the City of Spokane this afternoon.

HBO Poll: Otter Budget Hurt Education

  • Thursday Poll: 96 of 154 (62%) respondents said Gov. Butch Otter hurt Idaho education by offering & approving a budget that was too conservative. 55 of 154 (36%) said he wasn’t. 3 of 154 (2%) were undecided.
  • Weekend Poll: Which talented team will emerge as football champion of the 5A Inland Empire League?

Sheriff Sues County Seeking More Money

Item: Sheriff sues Kootenai County: Watson wants attorney fees paid so he can file suit over budget issues/Alecia Warren, CdA Press

More Info: Frustrated at how county department budgets have been slashed evenly during the recession, Watson says he wants to sue to determine if its legal for the county to fund unmandated services while mandated ones — like sheriff’s department staff — go underfunded.

Question: Does Sheriff Watson have a legitimate point? Or is he being unrealistic on seeking more money for his department at a time when public agencies are pinching pennies?

State worker furloughs start next Monday

OLYMPIA — Many Washington state employees will get another three-day weekend after this Friday, but this one will be without a paid holiday.

Next Monday is the first of 10 unpaid “furlough” days the Legislature mandated this spring as it battled over ways to close a looming budget deficit. Most non-essential personnel will stay away from work next Monday and nine other designated days without pay. Estimates from the Office of Financial Management say that all-told, that will save the state about $70 million.

A state employees union challenged the furloughs, but a judge  has declined to issue an order that would block them.

If you’re thinking about zipping across the state at 100  miles an hour without having to worry about being caught by a state trooper,  however, think again. Law enforcement personnel on the streets are exempt from the furloughs.

So are corrections officers, emergency public heath and safety personnel And while the state Liquor Control Board offices are closed, the liquor stores will be open.

Next furlough day will be Aug. 6.

For a list of all the offices, agencies, boards and commissions that will be taking the day off, go inside the blog.

Special session could be needed, Gregoire says

OLYMPIA — Washington may need another special session of the Legislature if Congress doesn’t come through with some $480 million in higher payments for Medicaid, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

Concerns over the mounting federal deficit have delayed congressional approval of what Gregoire and officials of other state’s once considered a sure thing — a boost in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, or FMAP, for Medicaid costs which are shared with the states.

Washington is expecting a total of $480 million, and all but $30 million is dedicated to giving the state a General Fund ending balance that would carry over into the 2011-13 biennium.

The Obama Administration has called for the extra FMAP money, and both houses have approved it in some appropriation bill, but not yet in the same appropriations bill. As the days move toward the November elections, Congress may be increasingly reluctant to approve the higher Medicaid payments, which would add $23 billion to the federal deficit, she said.

“I think what the big hangup is, we’re in an election year and there’s all this talk about deficit spending, which is resonating,” she said.

Congress could attach the money to any of the remaining spending bills, or might wait until after the election to approve the money in a “lame duck” session after the elections, she said: “It will be a nail-biter, all the way.”

If the state gets a bad economic forecast next week or in September, she could call a special session to decide how to cut the budget. Because the state has accepted stimulus money, which comes with requirements to continue certain programs, only about 29 percent of the state’s general fund spending can be cut, she said. Basic education and higher education would generally be protected from the cuts; health care, social services and corrections would not.

“It depends on our forecast,” Gregoire said. “It’s a little premature right now. If we got a terrible forecast …I’d have to rethink this.”

Gregoire defended herself and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature against criticism that the state budget should not have counted on money that Congress hadn’t approved. She said it isn’t a partisan thing, because Republican governors and legislatures around the country also budgeted the money; some even allocated it to be spent for programs. 

“It happened everywhere. Everybody was confident (FMAP approval) was going to  happen,” she said.

United Way official chosen to serve on Spokane’s library board

A United Way official will join the Spokane Public Library Board of Trustees in time to decide how to deal with major budget cuts proposed by Mayor Mary Verner.

The Spokane City Council on Tuesday unanimously appointed Janice Marich, the vice president of community relations for Spokane County United Way, to the city’s library board for a five-year term.

Marich, 62, said in an interview Tuesday evening that she is open to “all the options” for solving the budget problem.

“What’s really important to me is keeping the resources available to as many people as possible,” said Marich, whose mother worked as a librarian in McKinleyville, Calif.

The five-member board sets library policy and determines how to spend money set aside for libraries by the City Council. Marich was nominated for the job by Verner.

Although use of the city’s libraries continues to increase, Verner announced last month her intention to cut the library budget twice as much as the 2.85 percent cut she proposed in most city departments.

WA Lege SpecSess: Looking back

OLYMPIA – Most years when the Legislature goes home, the winners and losers are pretty obvious. You count the scars and tote up the pork.
This year, everyone has scars and the Lege wasn’t cutting on a fat hog, so the final judgment may wait at least until November when voters decide whether half the Senate and the whole House should be rehired.
But some folks are better or worse off after the session lurched to its close early Tuesday morning than they were when it started in January with all the yada-yada about bipartisan cooperation.
Bipartisanship was a clear loser. Democrats had such a big majorities in both chambers that the real fight was among their factions, rather than a Republican/Democrat struggle.
The “business moderate” wing of the Democratic Party, which would include Spokane Sen. Chris Marr and Rep. John Driscoll, argued for more cuts and fewer tax hikes. They lost. They consistently voted against the budgets, but the budgets passed. Republican opponents might not be able to pound them quite so hard this fall, but the biz Ds will still have to work to distance themselves from the rest of the pack if voters are torqued.

WA Lege SpecSess: At the end of the day…it’s the middle of the night

OLYMPIA – By the time the Legislature wrapped up 90 days of heated and sometimes confusing debate over taxes and spending Tuesday, it had raised taxes on a wide array of consumers and businesses, cut some programs, boosted others, moved hundreds of millions of dollars around, and penciled in hundreds of millions more by betting on the federal government to come through.
But the final hours of the special session did not go smoothly, and at one point the governor made a rare visit to the Senate floor to keep the state from facing cash flow problems in the fall. The Senate had not passed a bill to move some $230 million from the state’s Rainy Day account into the general operating budget and without it, the state’s cash reserves could dip perilously low at some point before the two-year budget cycle ends in June 2011.
“I have a problem,” a visibly angry Gregoire said as she stormed passed reporters, into the wings of the Senate chamber and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s office at 11:12 p.m….

State treasurer to Lege: OK, we can pay the bills.

OLYMPIA — State Treasurer Jim McIntire added his kudos to the just concluded legislative session with a note that should make all Washingtonians feel a little better.

The state now probably has enough money to pay its bills through June 2011.

Not that the state would be bouncing checks or anything. But earlier in the session, McIntire notified legislators and the governor that the rate that money was coming in was not keeping pace with the way it was going out, and Washington could hit a point in the fall were its reserves were so low it might have to borrow short-term to pay some of its obligations. Like payroll.

“Based on a preliminary assessment of the tax and budget package, we believe we have a sufficient cushion to ensure we have the cash necessary to pay our bills,” McIntire said.

Other states, most notably California, had to issue I.O.U.s at one point because of cash flow problems.

WA Lege SpecSess: Capital budget passes

OLYMPIA — The House passed the supplemental capital budget, the “bricks and mortar” budget that spends money on things like school buildings and sewer plants, as well as fire reduction, water projects and corrections.

It passed 61-36. Republicans, including Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, warned of the rising debt level the state is amassing. But Democrats said the bill provides jobs as well as needed infrastructure.

The end of the session is near.

WA Lege SpecSess: Senate passes budget

OLYMPIA — The Senate passed the supplemental budget Monday evening, joining the House in a spending plan that tries to fill an estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state’s two-year operating budget.

On a 25-21 vote, it added its approval to the budget approved a few hours earlier across the Capitol.

Republicans, who were unanimous in their opposition, said the bill was being forced through without careful consideration, in the closing hours of the session, and has significant problems.

“Voting on a budget is a big decision,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said. “Those who are going to vote for it, have you read it?”

Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said the Legislature spent the month of a special session, figuring out how to raise taxes, not making any changes to a broken system.

Some Democrats also refused to support the budget. Sen. Rodney Tom of Bellevue said it doesn’t grasp the reality of the economy, and sets up education to fail.

But Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the economy is cyclical, and when times are tough, the demand for state services go up. “Just when the gap opens up, we need it the most. Many things are going to cost more, but we did the right thing..”

The budget has cuts as well as tax increases, Brown said, and no one say it’s perfect. “We are not a Legislature of 1. This job gets done by working together.”

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, an economic downturn is not the time to implement all day kindergarten or a major energy savings construction plan. “How can we say it suddenly became a crisis to add these programs?” It may not be a Legislature of 1, she added “but it is a Legislature of one party.”

WA Lege SpecSess: Budgets released, vote to come

OLYMPIA — Democratic legislators released their spending plan  with a combination of cuts and assumed tax hikes, designed to fill a $2.8 billion hole in the state’s operating budget.

If passed as expected later today or Tuesday, the budget pulls in $757 million in new taxes, cuts $840 million in programs, pulls in at least $618 million in federal funds, and moves nearly $600 million around from other accounts and reserves.

Among the cuts are nearly $55 million by closing or reducing state prisons. Slated for closure is  the Pine Lodge Correctional Facililty for Women in Medical Lake.

In making the closures, budget negotiators “looked closely at a report done last year…and tried to minimize politics,” Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said. Pine Lodge is in the Spokane area, which has Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown among its legislative delegation.

That report,  however, recommends leaving Pine Lodge open to have a corrections center for women inmates in Eastern Washington. Asked about the difference, Linville replied: “We used the report as a basis. We were trying to use real information first, and then we negotiated the budget.”

The budget also cuts more than $150 million in  K-12 programs, $73 million from colleges and assumes almost $49 million in savings through temporary layoffs of state employees.

It uses money from the tax increases to maintain all-day kindergarten, gifted program and levy equalization for public schools, state need grants for college students, the current levels for Basic Health and the Apple Health for children programs. Temporary assistance for needy family levels would remain at their current levels, as would most foster care payments and nursing home payments, and some nursing home cuts would be restored.

Approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee was a supplemental Capital Budget Plan that would spend nearly $241 million for major and minor construction projects.

Included in the supplemental capital budget are $3.5 million for the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building at Washington State University Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus and about $3.5 million in repairs, maintenance and improvements to buildings at Eastern Washington State University. The proposed Spokane Aerospace Center also would receive $400,000.

The budgets have been under discussion since before the session began because the two-year budget approved by the Legislature last year has been out of balance almost from the day it went into effect on July 1, 2009. The gap between what the state can expect to take in from taxes and fees compared to what that original budget planned to spend grew to $2.8 billion by February. In ability to agree on a spending plan and tax increases forced a 30-day special session that is scheduled to end Tuesday.

But Monday afternoon was the first chance the public and some members of the Legislature got to see the finished product, which has been the subject of intense negotiations by Democratic leaders. Republicans who are in the minority and have refused to vote for any tax increases until significant reforms are made, have been largely shut out of the process.

Democratic budget negotiators defended the short notice and review time before legislators vote.

“We have gone through this time after time,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. “I believe our members know what’s in this. There aren’t any surprises.”

“It was mostly our budget 30 days ago,” Linville said.

A different way to chew on the tax debate

OLYMPIA – When talking about the Legislature, it’s easy to get wrapped up in parliamentary details and arcane political jargon. To avoid that, here’s a simple way to look at the budget and tax plans as the “seven-day” special session enters Day 28.

Think of solving the budget deficit as a family dinner. Like parents who profess to know what’s good for us, top legislative Democrats are about to make Washington residents eat our Brussels sprouts for the next 30 months.

They’ve treated options on the budget and taxes like menu choices. There’s stuff we all like, other things we’re OK with, and some things we’re going to turn our collective nose up at. Just as mom and dad don’t ask the kids to plan the menu, lest we ask for pizza and ice cream three times a day, they didn’t give us much say in what to serve.

For those who say “No fair!” parents can argue that when you’re going to serve Brussels sprouts, you certainly don’t tell the kids at noon, because they’ll just talk friends into having their moms invite them over. So the Democratic parental units held the menu close to the vest, not even releasing it until about a half-hour before the other grown-ups showed up Saturday. By then the menu was a done deal, with the Brussels sprouts purchased, in the pot, about to be put on the stove.

In the living room, the Republicans are arguing that we don’t need to eat Brussels sprouts.

Tax plan passes House, heads to Senate

OLYMPIA – Democratic leaders began pushing a package of some $668 million in higher taxes through the Legislature Saturday, suspending rules as they tried to beat the Tuesday deadline to adjourn.
The House of Representatives voted 52-44 to approve the tax plan that was just made public a few hours earlier after more than a week of closed-door negotiations between Democratic leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Some Democrats who voted yes conceded it was a less than perfect plan. Rep. Timm Ormsby of Spokane said he liked some of the earlier House tax proposals which closed off more tax exemptions and hit consumers of certain items less.
The proposal would raise taxes on candy and gum, soda, bottled water and mass-production beer.
“These are some of the things that people use to reward themselves,” said Ormsby, the sole Spokane-area representative voting yes. But the bill couldn’t be amended because of legislative rules governing the way it was presented, so it was an up or down vote on a plan to balance the budget, he said.
Republicans were united against the bill, contending it wouldn’t treat people equally. Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, noted that beer from large out-of-state breweries is taxed an extra 50 cents a gallon, or about a nickel for a 12-ounce can, but more expensive beer from microbreweries is exempt from the tax.
“This Legislature couldn’t even be fair on how it raises the tax on beer,” he said. “You stick it to the working man and give the high-fallutin’, high-paid guy in Seattle a break.”

WA Lege SpecSess: Tax plan cometh

OLYMPIA — Democratic leaders released their tax plan this afternoon, and as expected, it would raise taxes on the service industry, candy and gum, bottled water, mass-production beer, out-of-state companies with business in Washington, property management firms, some bank costs for servicing mortgages.

Some items discussed in previous hearings or approved in one chamber or the other over the last three months, were struck from the final plan. Spared new taxes are private plane owners, people who buy houses that are in foreclosure, machiinery used for wind powered turbines, coal purchased for for a power plant in Centralia, out-of-state shoppers hitting the stores in Washington, and consumers in general who at one point were facing a jump in the sales tax.

In total the tax package would raise about $668 million through the rest of the biennium, if Democrats have enough votes in the House and the Senate to pass it. Another $100 million would be raised in a separate bill, through higher taxes on tobacco.

Both chambers returned for floor debates and votes on the budget, taxes and several other issues at 2 p.m. Democrats quickly huddled in caucuses to see if they had the votes needed to pass the plan.

The House of Representatives, who has the tax package bill because the most recent vote on it occurred in the Senate, could vote on the proposal as soon as this evening if leaders determine they have the necessary 50 votes to pass it.

Legislators have until midnight Tuesday, when the special session expires, to complete all their work.

Gregoire on tax plan: Don’t go changin’, rearrangin’

OLYMPIA – The Legislature returns Saturday with time running out in its special session and only two options on its unbalanced budget, Gov. Chris Gregoire said. Pass an array of taxes that covers everything from soda and bottled water to candy and cigarettes, or go home and have her cut the general fund budget by 20 percent.

A tax package, which has not been seen by the public because it was not final as of Friday afternoon, will be released along with a final spending plan sometime in the next four days. Democrats in both houses will have to get at least a simple majority to pass it, because Republicans remain united against any tax increase and want more cuts in wages, programs and state systems.

Based on comments by Gregoire, various legislative leaders and versions of the tax plan leaked to various news agencies or posted but later removed from a House Web site, the so-called go-home package collects an extra $800 million in taxes as part of a Democratic plan to close a $2.8 billion gap between projected revenues and scheduled expenses. The tax proposal:

• raises the tax on soda pop by the equivalent of about 2 cents a can or 50 cents a case at the wholesale level;
• places the state sales tax on bottled water, candy and gum;
• raises the tax on beer from large national breweries by 50 cents per gallon, or about a nickel for a 12 ounce can; microbreweries would be exempt;
• increases the business and occupation tax on most of the service industry from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent of gross receipts;
• adds another $1 per pack to cigarettes, and similar tax increases to other tobacco products;
• changes systems for taxing out-of-state firms that do business in Washington.

Taxes on soda, bottled water, sweets, beer and the service industries would expire in mid 2013, although a future Legislature could change that.

Even though the public and most legislators haven’t seen the tax plan in writing, some of those affected are fighting the inclusion of their product or industry…