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ID can find budget savings that WA can’t

Colleague Betsy Russell at Eye on Boise tells of an election-related savings in Idaho that isn’t available in Washington. But even if it was, Washington Republicans would probably be more than happy to put the money in the budget.

As reported here, it seems that Gov. Butch Otter’s office was submitting its 2011, which, like the governor’s budget in Washington, is mostly staff expenses. There’s also $15,000 contingency line item for transition, should Otter not be re-elected and a successor have to take over. (All kinds of campaign slogans come to mind, like “Save 15K with ButchO”)

In Washington, the gubernatorial election is still nearly three years off. But Republicans have been out of the governor’s mansion for so long that if this comes up in 2012, they’ll see it as a worthwhile investment.

WA Lege Day 30: ‘Early savings’

OLYMPIA — The Senate approved a round of budget reductions as a downpayment on more cuts to come.

On a bipartisan vote, it approved the latest version of cuts first approved in the House of Representatives, ESHB 2921. Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, seemed to be foreshadowing the coming fights by noting “we are working together on some things.”

It passed 45-3.

A bill to suspend raises for most non-union state employees, with a few exceptions like college instructors who are taking on extra duties in the summer, passed 33-15.

Lege to Spokane group: Don’t get yer hopes up

OLYMPIA – A Spokane-area delegation on its annual pilgrimage to the state capital got a consistently downbeat message this week: Don’t expect money for new programs or projects.

“The message is being reinforced: There is no money,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said. It’s a message that comes as no surprise, but may good for some people to hear it repeated, she said..

With Washington state’s well-publicized budget woes, the message was expected, said Rich Hadley, president of the Greater Spokane Inc. which organized the trip.

“We’re trying to protect (what we have), to prevent damage from being done,” Hadley said during a break between presentations from leaders of both parties and both legislative houses.

GOP gets nautical on “ship of state”

Legislative Republicans searched for the right metaphor to describe their situation regarding the state budget Tuesday.

They say they’ve got lots of good ideas, if the governor and majority Democrats would only listen. Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’d listen to any ideas from anyone, called for nonpartisanship, and so on, but they were skeptical that any of their ideas would get much of a hearing.

“At the end of the day,” Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking R on Ways and Means, said, “we’re passengers on the Titanic, we’re not captaining it…They can ignore us, as they’ve chosen to do, in which case we’ve done our job.”

No, said Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalils, the House minority leader: “It’s more like the Lusitania.”

The what? asked Zarelli.

“The Lusitania. It’s the torpedoes that are going to get us,” DeBolt said.

This is not the first nautical reference Zarelli has made, by the way. Last week, during the legislative preview, he said Republicans have been on “the U.S.S. Titanic.”

Which, it should be noted, is not a correct reference because the Titanic was a British ship, not an American ship. Although he might have been making a reference to the very long ballad from the 1960s by Jaimie Brockett…

No, probably not.

 

Gregoire calls for balanced approach and nonpartisanship; GOP skeptical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not good.

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

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

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

Gregoire wants tax hikes, tax cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jail Lts. give up COLAs

Spokane County jail lieutenants agreed to contract concessions that will wipe out their cost-of-living raises, overtime and comp time in 2010.

The agreement with the county, which comes as most departments are expecting to start next year with a budget that is 11 percent smaller than the one the had at the end of last year, would reduced the Sheriff’s budget by about $57,000.

“It wasn’t a hard sell at all,” Lt. Jay Hughes, the head of the seven member unit said Wednesday. “We all knew the budget was suffering.”

Under their existing contract, members of Local 492CL were scheduled to get a 1 percent cost-of-living raise on Jan. 1, and another 1 percent on July 1. They are also entitled to overtime or compensatory time when working more than 40 hours a week. Under the agreement, proposed by the unit members themselves, they will remain at this year’s pay, and become salaried employees not eligible for overtime or comp time. In return, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich guaranteed that none of them would be demoted to close the gap in the budget.

Jail lieutenants, who work at either the County Jail or the Geiger Corrections Center, earn between $64,990 and $87,695 a year. Their three-year contract, which ends Dec. 31, 2010, had a 1 percent cost of living increase in 2008, plus 1 percent increases this year on Jan. 1 and July 1.

Speak the speech I pray you speak

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Gov. Gregoire about K-12 education
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Gregoire on Aerospace Council
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Gregoire on speechwriter’s job

Whether they like it or not, practically everyone attached to state government in Washington is being forced to cut back.

Universities are cancelling programs and students are facing higher tuition. School teachers are getting layoff notices. State employees are looking at lower wages or higher benefit costs or both.

In the midst of such hard times, does it seem strange to anyone else that Gov. Chris Gregoire is looking for a speechwriter with a possible salary of $63,000 a year? (And no, I’m not jealous because I want to change jobs.)

Whether the job of crafting the governor’s spoken words is worth 63K may be worth discussion. That may be the going rate for someone who can, as the political cognoscenti say, “shape the message”, although the law of supply and demand in the labor market probably doesn’t apply as easily to the craft of speechwriter as it does to say, the craft of cab driver or plumber or bartender.

This isn’t a denigration of the job, which is often filled by former brethren journalists. Goodness knows there are more former journalists in need of a new line of work with each passing week. Anything that gives them a shot at a new career is a good thing.

If the governor had a longtime speechwriter in the job, former journalist or not, it would be cruel to suggest he or she should hit the bricks. But in this case, her speechwriter Hal Spencer left, and she’s looking to fill the spot. Why not do without?

That question was put to Gregoire late last week during an interview with The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board…

 

Fees going up for students, most businesses, and yes, Christmas tree growers…

From my weekly print column

The state budget, slated to be signed into law early next week, includes no new state tax increases. Lawmakers were unable to get a two-thirds vote, even a for a 25-cent increase on your phone bill to pay for better emergency-call-handling.

Fees, however, are a different thing. State law doesn’t require a two-thirds vote for those. And up they went.

Lawmakers approved increases in 48 different fees, totaling $87 million this year and $186 million next year.

Who will pay more? Lots of people. Electricians and plumbers will pay more for their licenses, as will doctors, dentists and Christmas-tree growers. So will most businesses, nurseries, Realtors, funeral homes and architects.

The vast majority of the increases, however, involve higher education. These include tens of millions of dollars in higher tuition, operating fees and a long list of other college-related charges: student and activities fees, a building fee, and lab and class fees.

The Seattle Times has posted a list of the fee increases in the budget this year. Click here.

Shadle’s Rodgers commits to WSU


COUGARS

Just got finished talking with Shadle Park High’s Jake Rodgers, who decided Thursday he is going to accept a football scholarship from Washington State. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound senior-to-be said he like the WSU atmosphere and how everyone seems so close knit, among other reasons for picking the Cougars. Read on for the unedited version of the story that will be in tomorrow’s S-R.

A closer look at the budget moving swiftly through the statehouse…

It’s clear from reviewing the proposed budget documents that in addition to major changes for schools, colleges, social services and health care, budget writers also did some work with the fiscal equivalent of a scalpel, trimming spending on things like the governor’s bodyguards, classes on robots, and the flower plantings around the state capitol.

“No one was spared the pain,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. The bodyguard budget was reduced by $190,000. The flowers were cut $42,000. And the robot class will be ended, saving $300,000.

Gone also is a “teak surfing” awareness program to tell people that it’s foolish to hang onto the back of a speeding motorboat. It will be replaced by a sticker warning would-be teak surfers about carbon monoxide.

Some things were added. Lawmakers set aside $642,000, for example, to open the Eastern Washington Veterans’ Cemetery on Memorial Day 2010.

Here’s a look at where some of the chips fell. Except where noted, the numbers are compared to the previous state budget.

House and Senate just about agreed on a budget….

After days of negotiation, House and Senate lawmakers are very close to agreement on a budget.

“All the big points have been resolved,” said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina.

There’s still some talk going on over minor things, he said, but things are close.

A closer look at the budget…

Lawmakers on Friday released the details of their proposed two-year operating budget and a quick scan of the 515-page document suggests that they did, in fact, use scalpels instead of hatchets. In addition to the major changes for schools, colleges, social services and health care, lawmakers ended up trimming spending on things like the governor’s bodyguards, classes on robots, and the flower plantings around the state capitol.

“No one was spared the pain,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. The bodyguard budget was reduced by $190,000. The flowers were cut $42,000. And the robot class will be ended, saving $300,000.

Gone also is a “teak surfing” awareness program to tell people that it’s foolish to hang onto the back of a speeding motorboat. It will be replaced by a sticker warning would-be teak surfers about carbon monoxide.

Some things were added. Lawmakers set aside $642,000, for example, to open the Eastern Washington Veterans’ Cemetery on Memorial Day 2010.

Here’s a look at where some of the chips fell. Except where noted, the numbers are compared to the previous state budget. Follow the link below for a breakdown for K-12 schools, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, health care, law enforcement, community colleges and other things.

Figureskating with a target on their back…

I missed this in the Senate budget earlier this week, but others sure didn’t:

45. Star USA Skating Spokane - Funding is provided to Star USA to assist hosting the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, scheduled for Jan. 14-24, 2010.

How much funding? A couple hundred grand.

That’s quite a bit less than the $600,000 that the group was hoping for (see page 13) on the eve of the legislative session last December. But it’s still raised some eyebrows among budget hawks, at a time when the state is proposing laying off thousands of people and slashing university budgets, health care for the poor, and support for things as basic as the state’s poison control center.

From Northwest Public Radio: So what do lawmakers fund? One item in the Senate budget – but not the House – is 200-thousand dollars for the US Figure Skating Championships in Spokane next year. That was a special request of Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown – a Democrat from Spokane.

From the Washington Policy Center: Here are some examples of those priorities that apparently are recession proof…

From the Tacoma News-Tribune: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown is from Spokane. (It’s just a coincidence, I’m sure.)…I point this out only because, in a sea of $4 billion in “hard” spending cuts, isn’t it interesting to see what new things are being paid for?

Information clampdown in Olympia

It’s pretty tough to get news out of the Legislature on what’s going to happen with the state budget. Rich Roesler had a column about that. Now, here’s a Seatte Times writer wondering why House Leader Frank Chopp won’t meet the press.

Must be pretty awful news if it’s being guarded so zealously from the pubilc (and lobbyists), but don’t we already know that? Bring it on. The sooner we know, the sooner we can debate.

 

State workers rally: An all-cuts budget would be disastrous…

In a scene replicated throughout the state today, a small group of state workers held a rally on the muddy capitol lawn today, calling on lawmakers to look at raising taxes to offset some deep budget cuts.

“Hey hey, ho ho, an all-cuts budget’s got to go,” they chanted.

Given Washington’s $8.5 billion budget shortfall, state workers have virtually no hope of getting the 2 percent cost of living increases they’d expected for this year and next. At this point, they’re more trying to protect state jobs, programs and services.

“The only thing we’re concerned about is what is quality of life going to look like under an all-cuts budget,” said the Washington Federation of State Employees’ Carol Dotlich.

Instead of a much bigger capitol rally, the union slated more than 60 similar events Tuesday across the state. Executive director Greg Devereux said the federation felt it was more important to relay the message from as many lawmakers’ districts as possible.

Apparently getting the message were local Rep. Sam Hunt and Sen. Karen Fraser.

Hunt, who noted that state lawmakers are state employees too, said the upcoming budget plan will be “drastic,” and that he’s lobbying to layoff to start at the top, with supervisors. This drew a cheer.

“And as a last resort, we reduce line workers,” he said. “…because that is the guts and glory of state service.”

Fraser told the workers that it’s important to get out the message of how critical state services are.

“It’s very important that people understand this,” she said. “…Once these horrible cuts come out, you’re going to hear people talking about how important you are.”

A few hundred yards away, a smaller group of anti-tax advocates held a “Push back, no tax” rally of their own. With families across the state struggling with their budgets, people can’t afford more taxes, said the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Amber Gunn.

“It’s not an ideal world. This is reality,” she said. State revenue over the next two years is still forecast to increase — albeit barely — she said. And her side argues that the term “all-cuts” is misleading when the state will actually collect slightly more money than in the last two years.

“A reduction in an increase is not the same thing as a real decrease,” said Gunn.

Both sides plan more — and bigger — rallies in the coming weeks.

About those polls and focus groups re: taxes that we’ve been hearing about…

Confirmed.

A group of health- and education groups have each kicked in $20,000 each to pay for polls and focus groups to figure out which tax increases would have the best chance with voters. The group has no name, but contributors include the state hospital association, community clinics, Group Health, the Washington Education Association and SEIU, according to Cassie Sauer, spokeswoman for the hospital association.

“All of us felt that the (state budget) cuts, without revenue, are so devastating, especially to health care and education, that it would be irreponsible, immoral and unconscionable to not consider whether we could raise revenues,” Sauer said.

She wouldn’t share the polling data, but said that the results, gathered over the past month, suggest that the public has no idea how deep state budget cuts could go. When told, she said, voters seem willing to pay for some taxes to offset those cuts.

The groups have aimed for about $2 billion in new money, asking people how they feel about certain cuts and certain taxes. Sin taxes — cigarettes, alcohol, candy, gum — seem acceptable, Sauer said.

They didn’t even try asking about a property tax hike, she said. “I don’t think that’s going to be on the table at all,” Sauer said. People are too concerned about losing their homes, she said.

Voters were somewhat willing to consider a sales tax increase, she said.

Interestingly, when the focus groups were asked what might be cut, the only thing most could cite was the recent decision to close some driver-licensing offices.

“People have no clue what the cuts are that are being considered,” she said. “They’re aware that there’s a huge budget shortfall, but they don’t know what’s at risk. When they hear what’s at risk, they’re stunned.”

Sauer said that lawmakers were briefed on the results over the weekend.

“They are definitely interested,” she said.

Lawmakers have repeatedly said that if they decide to try to offset deep budget cuts with a tax hike, they’ll put the proposal before voters. Sauer said the coalition is also preparing for a campaign to convince voters to back such a measure.

In the face of a $10-$23 million budget cut, state trying to decide which parks to close…

Back in December, Gov. Chris Gregoire called on the state Parks and Recreation Commission to come up with 10 percent in budget savings over the next two years. Lawmakers have now asked to see what a 23 percent budget cut would look like. Neither is final, but the statehouse clearly wants to see what deep cuts to parks (and higher ed, etc.) would look like.

At the $10 million level, parks officials have drawn up plans to cut staff, postpone equipment purchases and to try to get rid of 13 state parks. Those parks, ideally, would be given to local cities or counties to take care of. Two other parks would be closed.

Here’s that list:

Parks Proposed for Transfer

1.Bogachiel State Park
2.Brooks Memorial State Park
3.Fay Bainbridge State Park
4.Fort Okanogan State Park
5.Fort Ward State Park
6.Joemma Beach State Park
7.Kopachuck State Park
8.Lake Sylvia State Park
9.Old Fort Townsend State Park
10.Osoyoos Lake Veterans Memorial State Park
11.Schafer State Park
12.Tolmie State Park
13.Wenberg State Park

Parks Proposed to be Mothballed: 

1.    Nolte State Park
2.    Squilchuck State Park.

At the $23 million cut level, things get even more dramatic. Instead of getting rid of yet more

Senate, House pass first round of cuts…belt-tightening metaphor now extended to trousers…

The state Senate and House this morning each approved spending cuts this morning, in the first of what will be several whacks at state spending.

“For those that say you want to cut more, just sit in your seats,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. “You’ll have a chance.”

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, clearly responding to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s criticism of lawmakers’ budget-cutting pace earlier in the week, said that no Washington legislature has ever approved budget reductions this early in a legislative session.

Brown also said lawmakers were proud to preserve a state plan to allow families living on up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($63,600 for a family of 4) to buy into the state’s health insurance plan for kids.

“The sacred cow here is kids’ health,” she said in a press release. “We are keeping a commitment.”

In the House, Rep. Gary Alexander said that the bill there is a first step in state belt-tightening. But he warned that “we’re going to have to go many, many, many notches further.”

Pushing the metaphor further, Alexander suggested that lawmakers might, in fact, have to “take our pants off and go back and purchase a pair that are about three sizes smaller.”

Tough words yesterday from House lawmakers re: the state budget mess…

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There was some blunt talk yesterday from members of a House committee, as officials from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture tried to argue against deep budget cuts that they say will backfire by hurting local fundraising.

In this clip, Reps. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, and Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, respond that things are bad — much worse than expected — and that saying that cuts will be hard “is falling on our deaf ears,” as Darneille put it.

JFAC Sets Budget $100M Below Guv’s

It would also mean $62 million in budget cuts for public schools next year, no increase in the grocery tax credit, no conformance with IRS tax law changes (a $2 million cost, and a bill that’s already moving quickly through the Legislature), no enhancements in any agency budgets, and more - all decisions that haven’t yet been made, and that, if they go otherwise, will require other cuts or other budget changes. The approach also anticipates spending $95 million from the state’s various reserve funds, another call that hasn’t yet been made/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

MAC attack turned partly back…

This one’s of interest mainly to readers in Spokane. From tomorrow’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ A controversial proposal to merge the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture with its Western Washington counterpart appears to be dead.

One of the state’s most powerful lawmakers said Thursday that the Senate will not be approving the plan, which was proposed in December as a cost-cutting move by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“The bill is on my desk. It’s not going to be introduced in the Senate,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

So it’s dead on arrival, a reporter asked.

“It is,” responded Brown.

The bad news: torpedoing the merger won’t necessarily shield the museum and its operations from state budget cuts. Gov. Chris Gregoire in December proposed cutting the MAC budget by $524,000 over the next two years, which is about a 13 percent cut. And the state’s budget picture is now believed to be much bleaker.

Stopping the merger, however, would keep the MAC as a distinct organization, separate from the Tacoma-based Washington State Historical Society.

Brown’s comments came on the same day that MAC officials were in Olympia, urging skeptical House lawmakers not to allow the merger or deep budget cuts.

“Simply saying that it’s going to be hard or that it would be impossible is falling on our deaf ears,” state Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, warned CEO Dennis Hession and development officer Lorna Walsh Thursday. “…We’re looking at just the most dire of budget circumstances.”

When Gregoire called for the $524,000 cut, state budget writers thought they faced a shortfall of

Eastern Washington University’s turn: what deep budget cuts would mean…

From tomorrow’s print paper:

OLYMPIA _ When he took over as acting president of Eastern Washington University, John Mason was given a sign for his office.

“Thou shalt not whine,” it reads.

On Wednesday, Mason mostly stuck to that commandment, even as he described how proposed state budget cuts would affect the school and its students.

“I’ve been telling everyone at Eastern Washington University that there is no part of the university that will not be impacted,” he said.

Under the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in December, Eastern estimates that its state funding would drop about $17 million, which is about 14 percent.

Since state revenues have continued to fall below expectations, the Senate has also asked the school to show what it would do in the face of a $25 million – or 20 percent – budget cut.

Trying to write a budget that copes with a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion, lawmakers this week held hearings to find out how officials at each state college would handle deep cuts. No final budget decisions are likely, however, until at least April.

“None of us love the cards we’ve been dealt,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. “We have control over how we play them.”

Under either budget scenario, Mason said, “we will see a reduction in jobs. There is no way that will not happen.”

How many? A minimum of 150 to 225, he said. And those figures assume a 7 percent tuition hike this year and next.

Mason said Eastern would try to protect teaching and learning, but that fallout is inevitable. The

Lisa Brown: Amid pressure to cut the budget quicker, Brown says wait for next week’s federal and state figures…

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, writing on her blog, says that the federal stimulus bill “is not a state bailout bill.”

The money it includes for state “is just not big enough to make up for the deep dive our state revenues have taken” she writes. And the Senate version had less than originally proposed for both state budgets and building/renovating schools. Writes Brown:

The tax cuts in the bill are popular and everyone could use a little extra cash, but from an economic stimulus perspective, direct infrastructure investment would create more jobs and more flexible allocations to states would save more jobs.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Brown’s Republican colleagues have both said that they’re frustrated by Democratic legislative leaders’ slow pace enacting cuts. Brown has said that she didn’t want to cut people off of health care or aid, for example, only to find out later that federal help or changing economic news rendered those cuts unecessary.

Two key numbers will come next week, Brown writes. On Monday, President Obama’s slated to sign the final version of the stimulus bill. And on Thursday (Brown says Tuesday in the blog post), the state’s economic weather forecasters will deliver an unusual early “preliminary forecast” of state revenues.

Brown’s clearly not expecting good news, writing that those two numbers will give lawmakers critical information “about how much larger our budget-writing challenge is than the one facing the governor just two months ago.” She writes:

“That’s when our conversation with the public about a positive direction forward will begin in earnest.”

What’s that mean? Turning to the public and asking for support of at least some additional taxes in order to support critical programs. Unlike Gregoire, who pledged — and delivered — a no-new-taxes budget proposal, Brown has for months been hinting that the solution the state’s deep budget woes is likely to include some tax increases. That, after all, is what’s happened in Olympia in every other economic downturn for the past 40 years.

And Brown is convinced that voters, if shown the need, will support paying more. In late 2002, for example, Washingtonians supported a 9-cent gas tax increase and vehicle sales tax hike in order to raise billions of dollars for transportation projects across the state. They voted to make it easier for schools to raise property taxes. Locally, voters in Spokane have increased their own taxes to pay for mental health treatment, and in Central Puget Sound, as recently as December, they’ve done the same thing for rail and transportation projects.

Brown is largely sticking to a course of action she laid out more than two months ago at a legislative forum hosted by Greater Spokane Inc., a local business group.  In this clip, watch how she responds to budget criticism from Rep. Bill Hinkle, a Republican from Cle Elum.

(Tech note: This works in Internet Explorer and Safari; I haven’t gotten it to work in Firefox. Also, to replay this clip, hit refresh on your browser first.)

More on the porn tax…

From an interview last night with Rep. Mark Miloscia, who’s proposed tacking on an extra 18.5 percent sales tax onto adult videos, cable shows, etc.

“Somebody brought this to me and I said `Wow. Well, why not?’” said Miloscia, D-Federal Way.

His bill is actually a nearly-verbatim copy of a 2004 proposal from Sen. Val Stevens: SB 6741. That bill never even got a hearing.

Unlike a lot of business taxes, Miloscia said he’s not worried about hurting the business climate for porn.

“My constituent, while they care about Microsoft or Boeing, I don’t think the adult entertainment industry is an industry that my constituents would worry about going out of state,” he said. He also said that in a decade in the statehouse, this is the first tax bill he’s ever prime-sponsored.

He gives his own bill “low odds” of passing.

“Tax increases tend to be the issue that people do not support,” he said. To improve its odds, he’s willing to have a statewide vote on the proposal. He said he’s confident that voters would approve.

But even if it passed, one big loophole would remain: Internet pornography.

“The Internet is really tough to tax,” said Miloscia. “The Internet is wild west.”

He spent much of Tuesday fielding calls from reporters about the proposal.

“I didn’t think it was going to get as much attention as it has,” he said.

Budget: not getting better…

The news continues to get worse for Washington’s treasury.

The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council today said that state revenue is down about $63 million lower than expected over the past four weeks. Revenue from Jan. 11 to Feb. 10 — which due to delays in tax payments largely reflects December sales and business — were expected to go down less than 6 percent over the same time a year ago. But the drop was steeper: just over 10 percent.

Since November, revenues are $197 million less than expected.

“Preliminary industry detail of tax payments…shows widespread weakness,” today’s report says, with particularly large drops in furniture sales (-30 percent), car dealers (-27 percent), gas stations and convenience stores (-20 percent), and clothing and accessories (-19 percent).

“The auto sector, the largest retail trade category, has now reported a year-over-year decline in tax payments for thirteen consecutive months,” reads the report, written by senior economic forecaster Eric Swenson.

The number of real estate transactions in December was down 24 percent from a year earlier — and the average price was down by a third.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and some Republican lawmakers want the Legislature’s Democratic leaders to move faster on budget cuts. Gregoire yesterday said she’s frustrated at lawmakers’ pace, and the GOP budget person in the Senate, Sen. Joe Zarelli, says that the state now faces the prospect of cutting a billion dollars in spending between now and June 30. Zarelli’s been calling for immediate legislative cuts since early December.

“While the Legislature waits, non-entitlement caseloads grow, salary increases for union employees continue to be granted, and agencies seeking flexibility to make cuts are hamstrung,” he said in a written statement. That will mean deeper cuts, “more one-time money and gimmicks” to balance the budget, and “tax increases will be proposed,” he said.

Adult day health programs: Hope in the state Senate…

Back on Tuesday, more than 150 advocates for saving adult day health programs fanned out around the capitol campus to make the case for preserving the centers. These are places where elderly or otherwise frail adults can go to take part in activities, meet people, and often get some counseling or health screenings. They also provide families and other caregivers with a break for a few hours.

In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed cutting the programs — which serve about 1,900 elderly or developmentally-disabled people — in order to save a little over $20 million over the next two years. (The federal government also contributes about $20 million.)

The state is wrestling with a $6 billion budget shortfall, although it’s looking more and more like Gregoire will be the bad budget cop to the Legislature’s good budget cop. Unless the recession gets much worse or lasts a long time, it looks like whatever budget lawmakers ultimately agree on won’t be as bad as the deep cuts proposed in Gregoire’s no-new-taxes plan. That’s because Gregoire counted on abotu $1 billion in federal help when she wrote her budget last fall; it now looks like it will be substantially more than that.

Adult day health also has some powerful defenders in Olympia, including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. It may be trimmed, she said in a recent meeting with reporters at the capitol, but lawmakers hope to find a way to avoid cutting it entirely. House Speaker Frank Chopp — who’s clearly been hearing from Brown on the topic — also seems to be leaning that way.

People involved with the program are looking at ways to make it more efficient, Brown said, particularly with transporting the people to the centers. But overall, she said:

“Many legislators believe that is not a program that should be eliminated, and I don’t see it being eliminated. It fits within the whole continuum of care for long-term and deverlopmentally disabled people that it just doesn’t make sense to us to cut it out.

“You could be essentially putting people into emergency rooms and nursing homes and more costly settings. That (cut) is one that we disagree with.”

Planned Parenthood staves off cut to family-planning nurses…

Planned Parenthood has managed to un-do a budget cut, convincing lawmakers and the governor to overrule a state agency’s decision to ctop paying for 70 family planning nurses across the state.

The Department of Social and Health Services had decded to end those contract positions today. But heavy lobbying to Planned Parenthood and its supporters reversed that decision, getting the nurses’ contracts renewed through June.

Advocates said the nurses are key to getting birth control information to people, particularly in rural areas with few health resources. They also argued that it was foolish to cut a program that returns $9 from the feds for every $1 spent by the state.