Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

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…

WA Lege SpecSess: Will they gain or lose votes before Saturday

OLYMPIA — The Legislature did just this side of bupkiss in public Friday, to the chagrin of folks who bottle, distribute and sell soda, and some state employees hoping to make a point about layoffs.

A coalition of folks opposed to a proposed soda tax gathered on the steps of the Capitol this morning, hoping to make the most of media exposure before lobbying senators showing up for a full day of work.

But the schedule changed late Thursday and the Senate held only a pro forma session in which one Democrat and one Republican were on the floor for about 90 seconds until the gavel came down to go away and come back at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The House was also in pro forma, which is Latin for “we’ll get around to important stuff eventually”, and is also due back Saturday afternoon.

So the 50 or so soda pop tax folks out numbered visible senators roughly 25 to 1. (Heck, the number of reporters outnumbered visible senators by 2 to 1.) Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, who managed the floor for the majority party, insisted that lots of work was going on behind the scenes on budget and taxes.

Out on the steps, members of the anti-soda tax coalition insisted the new tax was unfair and would cost the state jobs. Ron Bradford of the Coca Cola Bottling operation in Spokane, said a fairer tax would be an increase in the sales tax.

“Overall, I think the people of Washington would accept it if this was a tenth of a cent or two,” said Bradford. The bottling operation has about 100 employees in production and distribution in Spokane, he said, but he’s not yet sure how many jobs would be lost if the tax went through.

The soda tax amounts to about 2 cents on a 12 ounce can, or 50 cents on a case. It’s really a double tax, Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, said because the tax goes on at the wholesale level, then is part of the amount subjected to the sales tax at retail.

He, too, argued the state should raise the sales tax, rather than pick from a menu of smaller taxes on soda, beer, bottled water, candy and gum

“It’s an issue of fairness,” Gilliam said. “Why should soda drinkers be more responsible for schools or prisons?”

The anti-soda tax coalition bought full-page ads in The Spokesman-Review and the Seattle Times Friday to drive home their point.As a counterweight, Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition , a group supporting the soda tax and other increases in the still-not-officially-released-because-we-might-not-have-the-votes tax package put up radio ads supporting it.

A group of state workers from the Department of Social and Health Services, which announced layoffs Thursday, planned a lunchtime march from their Olympia office to the Capitol, with hopes of sitting in the Senate gallery to help make their point. Before they were even close to the building, however, the pro forma session had opened and closed.

Anti-soda tax people said they’ll be back Saturday. So too, in all likelihood, will be squadrons of folks opposed to other taxes in the package. Could be an interesting four days, which is all the Legislature will have left in the special session. The opponents will be trying to peel off votes just as hard as Democratic leaders will be trying to add and hold them.

Verner says she won’t ask for tax increases to deal with 2011 deficit

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner says she’s not considering new taxes to bail the city out of its $10 million hole for 2011.

City leaders are getting an early start to the budget for the second year in a row and will present a preliminary budget plan to City Council by early May, Verner said in an interview this week. She said she is asking all departments to take an across-the-board cut of nearly 3 percent that will save $3.5 million and will unveil a plan in the coming weeks that will deal with the remeaining $6.5 million hole.

“Our work force will shrink this time around. There’s no way around it,” Verner said. “This year, there will be impact on services,”

Verner has ruled out raising utility taxes and says she doesn’t plan to ask voters for higher property taxes through a levy lid lift. That was part of Mayor Jim West’s strategy to help deal with significant deficits in 2005.

“I’m not counting on any increased on-going source of revenue,” Verner said. “One reason that I’m not counting on them is …  I don’t know if they’re going to be viable in this economic climate.”

WA Lege Spec Sess: Say what?

OLYMPIA — Debate sometimes gets so heated in the Legislature that the honorables mix their metaphors or jumble their allusions.

Today’s House debate on the Democrats’ “Jobs” bill, which asks for $861 million in bonds to do energy refits in schools around the state, was one of those times.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, warned about the mounting debt, and taking on even more, particulary when the state faces growing health care and pension costs. “Mr. Speaker, the cash register is ticking.”

Clocks tick. Bombs tick. But seems like even in the days of manually cranked cash registers, they didn’t tick, although they sometimes when ka-chunk, and sometimes went ka-ching.

Rep. David Taylor, R-Oak Harbor, tried a topical literary and cinematic allusion, although he prefaced it by saying he didn’t get around to seeing “Alice In Wonderland” on his weekend away from the Legislature. The bond bill was putting money, Wonderland-like, down a bunny  hole, he said.

“This may be the bunny hole of doom,” he warned.

Bunny hole of doom? Go ask Alice. Don’t eat the pills, stay away from the Mad Hatter but remember what the doormouse said.

WA Lege SpecSess: Rebooting budget bill

OLYMPIA – The Legislature picked up Monday where it left off Thursday trying close estimated $2.8 billion hole in the state’s operating budget.
Legislative leaders said they were closer to agreeing how much to cut and spend, and how much to raise in taxes, but didn’t release figures. Everything is subject to ongoing negotiations, they said, and still must find approval with at least a bare majority of the Democrats who control each chamber.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she remains opposed to an increase in the sales tax, which is part of the Senate’s tax increase plan, and is pushing what she calls “targeted revenue”, a series of smaller increases on other taxes, to raise money.
“I spent most of my day working on a jobs package, but I’ll be contacting Lisa and Frank before the day is out on revenue,” Gregoire said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.

WA Lege Day 54: Tax package out of committee

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.

WA Lege Day 51: Talking taxes. Voting taxes

OLYMPIA — A new tax proposal would place unfair burdens on janitors, cigar sellers, plastic surgeons, candy makers and lawyers, opponents of a House plan said today.

They’d also save vital services for schools, colleges, the poor and the sick, supporters of the proposal said.

They’re a good start, but they need to be bigger, said a third chorus of witnesses as the House Finance Committee held a hearing on the tax package announced less than 24 hours earlier. Click here to see a comparison of the House, Senate and governor’s tax packages.

With some minor adjustments, the committee voted 6-3 to send the proposal to the House for a floor debate, even though the Democrats who plan to vote for it today said it will change before it passes.

“This is not what will pass off the floor of the House,” Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland said.

Republicans, who voted no, said no taxes should be raised at this point: “Our problem is spending, not revenue,” Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee said.”We have a certain amount of revenue to work with…We need to change direction.”

Among Republicans voting no was Rep. Kevin Parker of Spokane.

Further look at House Dems tax plan

OLYMPIA – People who smoke, chew gum, drink bottled water or get a face lift would pay more taxes this year under a plan by the House Democrats to find extra money to balance the state’s budget.

Lawyers, accountants and marketing specialists would see their taxes go up. So would airplane owners, anyone buying customized software.

Out-of-state shoppers would pay the same sales tax as Washington residents, and out-of-state businesses could face higher taxes under new formulas. But Washington shoppers would continue to pay the same sales tax they currently pay.

Those are some of the ways the chairman of the House Finance Committee, Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, proposed Monday to raise an extra $758 million in taxes through June 2011 to help with the state’s $2.8 billion budget hole. The rest of the estimated shortfall would have to be covered with budget cuts, federal money and shifting money from other accounts.

Like Gov. Chris Gregoire and Senate Democrats, who previously released budgets that contain a mixture of taxes increase, program cuts and federal money,  (click to see comparison of all three)Hunter called it a balanced approach. But all three strike the balance differently…


WA Lege Day 50: House Dems propose taxes on candy, gum, bottled water, lawyers and facelifts

OLYMPIA — House Democrats will get a chance to help the state’s budget woes by putting a sales tax on bottled water, candy and gum and cosmetic surgery. Upping the business taxes on lawyers, accountants and marketing consultants. Repealing or reducing an array of tax exemptions or “loopholes.” And upping the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.

House Finance Committed Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, released the long-awaited House tax package that raises $857 million in taxes, part of a combination of cuts, taxes and federal money that would fill the projected $2.8 billion hole in the state’s budget through June 2011.

The tax increases are a “menu” of changes, similar to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal, rather than the three-tenths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax proposed by Senate Democrats. A list of the House proposals can be found here.

Hunter said he believes he can get to 50 votes — the bare minimum needed for a majority in the House — easier with his package than Senate Democrats can get to their needed 25 votes with their plan.

WA Lege Day 50: House Dems probably won’t call for sales tax hike

OLYMPIA — House Democrats have not yet released a budget, but early word is that it doesn’t call for an increase in a sales tax. More likely, it’s a menu of smaller taxes to get to the target in extra revenue.

This comes from a well placed source…Gov. Chris Gregoire.

At a press conference this morning to discuss the prospects of drought (extremely high, because of El Nino) Gregoire said she say the House Democrats long-awaited tax plan over the weekend. She wouldn’t steal their thunder by saying what’s in it, but she said she likes it better than the Senate Democrats’ current proposal.

To be fair, though, she likes the Senate Democrats’ spending plan better than the House Democrats, so if the two can just get together, they could pass a budget, she could sign it, the Lege could go home on time…and taxes would go up.

Gregoire said the House plan will have a range of smaller taxes similar to her “menu” approach. Whether it includes the same fresh sheet as her restaurant has — bottled water, candy and gum, soda, gasoline by way of a jump in the toxics tax — is unknown yet. But she continued to argue against an increase in the sales tax, which Senate Democrat have in their plan, saying it would hurt the recovery, particularly the construction industry.

And the drought? Go inside the blog for details on that.

WA Lege Day 50: House Dems tax plan cometh

OLYMPIA — House Democrats say they will release their tax package today that is part of their overall plan to fill the state’s $2.8 billion budget hole.

Really. Seriously. We have it in writing this morning. Finance Committee Chairman Ross Hunter’s going to release it at noon. Although we’ve been given false alarms before in the week since they released a budget package minus a tax plan — which is sort of like a weight loss plan without telling you whether you’re goiong on Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers or Scarsdale . They’ve never been specific about a time and place before, so it’s probably going to happen.

That will provide a better, across the board look at how the House, Senate and Governor’s budget match up. Final budget is likely to be a “One for Column A, One from Column B” sort of thing.

That all has to happen in the next 11 days, because, as the headline notes, we are at Day 50 of 60. Which grade school math reminds us is 5/6ths, or 83 percent over.

Committee hearings today mainly deal with budgets, both houses’ Ways and Means Committees have afternoon sessions. Schedule, as usual, is inside the blog.