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More proposed state budget cuts

The new cuts will seriously undermine the poor in the state, and it seems like only constitutionally protected items are safe. But the environment took a massive hit. Below is a press release from the Washington Environmental Council.

The proposed state budget would:

Leave our water and coastal areas more susceptible to devastating pollution like oil spills. Weakening of the state oil spills program for the Puget Sound and costal beaches— a $1.9 million reduction will mean 135 fewer vessels boarded and inspected and fewer oil response drills in our waterways. The Oil Spill Oversight Council will also be eliminated.



Reduce public participation in toxic cleanups, which has been a cornerstone of Washington’s way of life. The entire $2 million program is eliminated for public participation grants making it impossible for the public to have a meaningful role in decision making for toxic cleanup in their back yards.

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

Mt. Spokane to close? Maybe.

It’s on the list, another potential victim of the state budget. Park and Recreation officials will meet today in Olympia and figure a way to deal with a $23 million budget cut over the next two years which includes temporarily closing, or worse, Mt. Spokane State Park.



According to Richard Roesler, as an example of a way to prioritize parks, “commissioners have been given a list of more than 30 (Ed.—-out of 121 total) parks, ranked by visitation, where closure would save the state at least $150,000 a year.” Visited by 485, 000 annually, it was the only park in the area that could face closure.

We love Mt. Spokane, even though it’s imperfect. We ski in the winter. We hike during the summer. It was one of our seven wonders. The thought of it closing is extremely damaging to our recreation, our near nature sensibilities so close to home. But local businesses would feel it much worse.

Full story here

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.

Gregoire: Don’t look for a revenue uptick until December, folks…

I spent a couple of hours yesterday sitting in on meetings between state officials and a large group of business/political/community leaders from Spokane. Among the things that came up:

-Gov. Chris Gregoire said she expects the state’s revenue picture to keep getting worse for a while. The March, June and even September revenue forecasts, she believes, will all be worse.

“The hopes are that it won’t be down in December,” she said.

-If she mentioned a source on this I missed it, but by way of good news, Gregoire also said that Washington is the second best-positioned state to emerge quickly from the recession.

-She said that the likely federal infrastructure money — $535 million — was less than the billions the state had been hoping for.

-And she also repeatedly cautioned that that other federal money will come with a lot of strings, conditions and restrictions attached, rather than just being a big check that state budget writers can use to backfill any cuts.

“They (the feds) have kind of learned the lesson of giving $350 billion to Wall Street with no strings attached,” she said.

-Also, one observation: this is a business-organized trip, but this year, business people were pretty scarce among the 85 Spokane-area folks who made the trip. Far more numerous: local government officials (mayors, city council members) and people with a direct stake in how the state’s budget pie is divvied up (WSU, hospital folks, community organizations, the Armed Forces and Aerospace Museum, SIRTI, the MAC, etc.). In a year of cuts, organizer Rich Hadley said, many were there largely to play defense.

Here’s the print version:

OLYMPIA _ Gov. Chris Gregoire once was asked by a reporter if there was anything she didn’t like about the job.

Yes, she said. She hated getting the news that a child in the state’s care had died.

Four years later, Gregoire says there’s a second thing she doesn’t like: getting notice after notice that companies are about to lay off workers.

“And it comes in a wave, every day,” she said.

Gregoire spoke Thursday to politicians, business leaders and other Spokane-area officials on their annual lobbying trip to Olympia. Some 85 people from the region are spending three days in the capital pushing local priorities and trying to keep Spokane on lawmakers’ radar.

The message from Gregoire and top lawmakers: Things are bleak, but Washington is well- positioned to rebound quickly. And as in the other Washington, Olympia is trying various tactics to kick-start the economy.

“No one knows what to do right now, to be perfectly honest with you,” Gregoire said. “We are in uncharted territory.”

The state’s economy relies 

Lunchtime reading for you…

What we’re reading:

-This analysis, by a private think tank called the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, of the differences between House Democrats’ recent cost-cutting plan and a similar proposal from Gov. Chris Gregoire. Researcher Jeff Chapman concludes that the House would reduce the budget by $172 million more than the governor, largely because its plan ignores “maintenance level” changes like counting the 1,700 more students than expected who are enrolling in schools.

-This article in The New Yorker, detailing the views of the worst-case-scenario crowd. Among them: a Russian emigre who sold his Boston apartment and moved onto a sailboat, the better to flee (and trade commodities like apples) in the coming financial apocalypse. The story includes peak-oil folks, fans of gold bullion, Vermont secessionists and an upstate New York author who argues that postwar suburban sprawl will prove a massive national mistake.

-This post, by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly, who argues that the recent election of Spokane’s Sharon Smith as vice chair of the state Democratic Party “signals an increasing presence for Eastern Washington’s Democrats.”

Connelly doesn’t mention the fact that the previous vice chair, Eileen Macoll, lives in Pullman. But he points to two other big Democratic victories east of the Cascades recently: November’s victory for Okanogan’s Peter Goldmark as lands commissioner and, two years earlier, Sen. Chris Marr’s ousting a Republican in a largely suburban Spokane district.

House Democrats propose more than $600 million in cuts for the next six months…

House Democrats have just released a 48 page list of budget cuts that they say will save $640 million by June 30,2009.

Among them: less spending on nursing homes, local mental health treatment and hospitals.

“We know there is going to be significant pain as a result of actions we’re going to have to take, House Ways and Means committee chairwoman Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said in a written statement.

Here’s the list.

Higher ed: Cut us and it’ll cost ya…

Go to any budget committee in Olympia and it will quickly become apparent that the near-universal argument for anyone seeking state money is this:

“Spend on this worthy program now. You’ll save money down the road.”

At the moment, some of the bigger voices in this chorus come from the state’s colleges. The state Higher Education Coordinating Board on Thursday released a report saying, in essence, that the colleges should be spared severe cuts because they’re so valuable. It’s title: “The Benefits of Investing in Higher Education: A Return on Investment.”

The board, recalling previous downturns, is clearly trying to head off deep cuts combined with big tuition hikes.

Eollege-educated people earn more money, pay more taxes, commit less crime, volunteer more and vote more, the HEC Board notes. Parents without a college degree, it says, use food stamps and welfare more. The colleges also “serve as incubators for growth and innovation” and provide a steady supply of trained workers, the report says.

Instead of cuts, the study suggests that the state should put more money into colleges now. The federal government, through the G.I. Bill, poured money and students into schools in 1946, at a time when the nation feared a fall into recession.

And it’s not just the graduating students. The report pointedly notes that Eastern Washington University’s payroll, for example, means $77 million in spending in Spokane County. (2004 figures.)

Republicans blame Democrats for ramping up spending, Seattle senator blames Tim Eyman for starving government…

Republicans blame Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democratic lawmakers for the state’s budget mess. Gregoire and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown blame the Bush Administration.

Add another to the mix: state Sen. Adam Kline blames initiative pitchman Tim Eyman. From Kline’s Senate blog:

My last post spoke of the magnitude of our budget shortfall. I’ll talk about why we find ourselves in this terrible situation. A succession of Tim Eyman-inspired tax cutting initiatives made our cities, counties and the state extremely vulnerable to this nation-wide economic downturn.

He cites Eyman’s I-695, which — with a big assist from then-Gov. Gary Locke and state lawmakers — largely did away what Kline says was the state’s only progressive tax: the pay-more-for-an-expensive-car license tab fee. The came property tax limits (I-722 and 747).

Guess what? We’re now taking in so little revenue that we can no longer afford the services that are among the core missions of any government.

Kline writes. Now — courtesy Eyman’s I-960 and a predecessor — lawmakers wanting to increase taxes to keep key government services going have two choices. They can muster a two-thirds vote from state lawmakers — which is unlikely — or they can ask voters statewide to approve the increase. Kline continues:

We would have to go easy because most folks in Washington are experiencing their own budget crises….As the price for my vote to raise taxes, I would insist that we not just raise some existing tax, but literally overhaul our tax structure and aim the tax directly at the discretionary income of wealthy people.  Under our current post-Eyman tax structure, the wealthy escape taxation to a distressing degree.

Republican reaction to Gregoire…

Mixed reviews from the GOP side of the aisle to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s call for an economic stimulus plan, government reform and other changes this year:

“This is a financial wreck that she spent four years creating, and then to be shocked when it comes due is a little scary for me. We’ve been saying for 3-4 years this would be a wreck.” (Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda)

“I’m excited to look at these things, but the proof’s in the pudding.” (Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax)

“This session can’t be about platitudes and it can’t be about slogans. It has to be about real solutions.” (Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis) (In fairness, this line is becoming a bit of a slogan in itself. It’s at least the second time DeBolt’s used this line in news conferences.)

Online Poll: Otter’s Budget

What do you think of Butch Otter’s proposed budget, which includes a 5% cut in education?/Idaho Statesman

*Love it

*Not enough cuts

*Too many cuts

*Close, but needs work

Catching up…

From the print paper:


Each January, by tradition, Washington’s top lawmakers choose theme songs for the upcoming session. Most are lighthearted.

Speaking to reporters last week, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown read from a Bob Dylan song.

“Broken hands on broken plows, broken treaties, broken vows,” she read. “Broken pipes, broken tools, people bending broken rules.

“Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking, everything is broken.”

Welcome to Olympia, on the eve of a $6 billion state budget shortfall. Brown and the state’s other 148 lawmakers on Monday will begin a high-stakes battle over what to cut, what to save, and whether they can persuade a recession-saddled public to support tax increases. The state’s budget woes are fixable, Brown says, but it won’t be easy.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said state Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.

The $6 billion gap is unprecedented, although as a percentage, the state’s faced worse.

“It’s not even remotely close to what the 1933 and 1935 legislatures faced,” said historian Don Brazier. Still, he said, “this is the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve been here 42 years.”

Click here to read the story.

Third lawsuit filed by union members unhappy with Gregoire budget

A new lawsuit was filed Tuesday by child care providers, asking a court to force the governor to ask lawmakers for more money for the workers.

It’s the third such suit involving a proposed union contract. After negotiating agreements covering thousands of state-paid workers last summer and fall, Gregoire’s budget director said last month that the deals were not feasible in the face of the state’s budget shortfall. Gregoire didn’t include the proposals – including millions of dollars in cost-of-living increases, more training, and additional benefits – in the budget she proposed to lawmakers Dec. 18.

Service Employees International Union Local 925 filed the suit Tuesday with the superior court in Olympia.

A second local of the same union, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, has filed a similar suit. At stake are raises of 22 cents to 25 cents over the next two years for 23,000 home care workers. The health aides, who earn less than $11 an hour, are paid by the state to help senior citizens and the disabled.

The home care workers’ contract included nearly $27 million in raises, health benefits and training, none of which Gregoire included in her budget suggestion.

Gregoire says the workers deserve the raise, but that the state – wrestling with an unprecedented $6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years – can’t afford it.

Also suing Gregoire over raises and contracts is the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 40,000 workers.

Proposed for the chopping block: the state’s only women’s prison east of the Cascades….

From tomorrow’s paper:

Citing the state’s budget woes, prison officials want to close Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, Washington’s only women’s prison east of the Cascade Mountains.


As early as next summer, the state would start transferring roughly 350 inmates to a prison near Vancouver. About 140 workers would have to shift to jobs elsewhere or be laid off.

“It was pretty clear that based on the fiscal constraints we’re going to be facing, that we need to close a facility,” said Dick Morgan, director of the state Department of Corrections’ prisons division.

Pine Lodge, located in Medical Lake, includes some aging buildings that need costly renovations, he said, “so it became the most likely candidate.”

The state would save about $14 million over the next two years, he said.

Although state lawmakers will have the final say, Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed billions of dollars in reduced spending over the next two years, forcing state agencies to find ways to wring that money from their budgets.

Pine Lodge superintendent Walker Morton said he’s urging staff at the minimum custody prison to try not to worry, that it’s just a proposal. If the prison closes, he said, he’s been told it wouldn’t take place until February of 2010.

“We just have to keep our eyes and ears open until the legislators do their thing,” he said.

Morton met with the prison’s inmates Tuesday and told them the news. Most were understanding, he said.

Closing Pine Lodge is only one facet of Gregoire’s proposed $125 million in savings at the Department of Corrections. And the agency isn’t alone; the Department of Social and Health Services is trying to figure out how to cut spending by nearly $1.3 billion; the Department of Health by $75 million.

Morgan said prison officials would be happy to consider money-saving alternatives to closing Pine Lodge. But the state is facing 1,000 fewer inmates than expected, Morgan said, and in the face of a massive budget shortfall, its hard to justify keeping all the prisons open.

News of the proposal, which initially trickled out in phone calls and emails, stunned workers.
“Some people can’t believe this,”said Dawnel Southwick, a secretary supervisor at the prison for the past 9 years. “This facility is not the run-down, broken-down, not-going-to-survive-until-next-week facility that they’re making it out to be.”

“These are good, family-wage jobs,” said Matthew Pederson, executive director of the West Plains chamber of commerce.

The state has two prisons with female inmates in Western Washington. The Washington State Corrections Center for Women is near Gig Harbor, and Mission Creek is near Shelton.

“I’ve never heard of them closing a prison,” said Marye Jorgenson, who works in Pine Lodge’s records department. “You keep up hope that if people fight hard and long enough, we can hang on, hopefully through this recession.”

The Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents most of the workers, said that the state should instead be looking at ways to bring more money into the state treasury.

“I don’t think we can cut our way out of this huge deficit,” said union spokesman Tim Welch. One obvious place to look, he said, are the “huge tax loopholes” for businesses.

For inmates from Eastern Washington, the transfer to Larch Corrections Center would mean being hundreds of miles away from loved ones.

“It’s going to devastate families, and most women in prison have children,” said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, a sentencing-reform group based in Colville. “If you move them to where you can’t see them in a day and get home, most people won’t be able to afford to visit.”

Morgan concedes that the move could be tough on Eastern Washington families. But he said most inmates – like most Washingtonians – are from the western side of the state.

State employees’ union files suit over Gregoire’s refusal to include raises in her budget…

The largest state-workers’ union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, filed a lawsuit today against Gov. Chris Gregoire for not including workers’ cost-of-living increases in her budget proposal.

This fall, Gregoire’s office negotiated cost-of-living increases averaging about 2 percent a year for workers over the next two years. But she didn’t include that in her budget plan, released last Thursday.

Gregoire’s budget director, Victor Moore, says that the raises need to be part of the governor’s budget request only if he certifies the contract as “feasible financially” for the state. If Moore says it’s not feasible, he maintains, the governor “is prohibited from submitting a request for funds to the Legislature.” (Here’s a link to a  copy of the letter, in this blog post by the Tacoma News-Tribune’s Joe Turner.)

Moore says that the contracts, finalized in August and September, “were concluded prior to the global financial market crisis we all witnessed in October.” The state’s November revenue forecast, which predicted $1.9 billion less in revenues than projected just two months earlier, hurt the state’s financial plans dramatically. Paying for the raises, Moore writes, would mean even deeper cuts to the social safety net.

The lawsuit asks a Thurston County judge to “compel” the governor to submit the pay raises and the other economic parts of five negotiated contracts to state lawmakers. The agreements cover 30,000 government employees and another 10,000 at a dozen community colleges and some four-year schools.

“Both parties agreed to the terms of that agreement, with the express or implied understanding that by this agreement, the director of OFM was committing to certify that the contractual commitments were financially feasible for the state,” the lawsuit says.


Living within your means…

As my son rejoices at the closure of school for the day, I am thinking about the people in the homeless shelters and using food banks, and the families who created the longest line ever for the Christmas Bureau sponsored annually by the Spokesman-Review. 

So begins a recent blog post by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who’s clearly worried about what the $5.7 billion (or more) budget shortfall will mean to struggling people and families.

Brown was muted in her criticism yesterday of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s all-cuts budget proposal for the next two years. Among those cuts: eliminating adult day health programs that help senior citizens and disabled adults remain in their homes, doing away with $339-a-month checks and health coverage of thousands of people deemed “unemployable” due to mental or physical problems, and a 42 percent cut in state-subsidized health coverage for the working poor.

But the former Senate budget writer also implies that a budget written by the Senate will look a lot different. Brown writes:

I respect the principle behind the Governor’s admonition to the legislature (prompted by press inquiries about alternatives to an all-cuts budget) that “we’ve got to live within our means”.  But something sticks in my throat when I think about the contrast between the high-flying corporate executives and the mentally and physically challenged people living one step up from the streets on GA-U. How do they live within their means if we completely eliminate them?

State worker union head: “Don’t panic. Fight.”

Washington Federation of State Employees president Carol Dotlich had some words of advice for fellow union members at a recent banquet in Spokane:

“When you see that budget, I don’t want you to overreact to it,” she reportedly told the crowd. “I don’t want you to be panicked. I want you to be determined.”

The 40,000-member union is trying to stave off some of the cuts proposed yesterday by Gov. Chris Gregoire, including suspending all cost-of-living increases for state employees.

Some members are also heeding Gregoire’s call to not just say “don’t cut”, but to instead say “cut this other thing instead.”

For some members at the state Department of Ecology, that meant filing a public disclosure request for the salaries, bonuses and other pay given to the agency’s managers over the past 8 years. They found that rank-and-file workers got pay raises totalling about 28 percent, while managers’ totaled nearly 42 percent.

The union’s executive director, Greg Devereux, is calling for management bonuses to be eliminated.

Hat tip: The Olympian’s Adam Wilson.



Budget-crisis suggestions, from insiders and the hinterlands…

From the print paper:

Think back to the last time you renewed your driver’s license. Do you remember the shoes on the person behind the counter?

Of course not. But you probably paid for them. Taxpayers provide a $97-a-year “shoe allowance” for the 330 folks working at the state’s 60-plus driver licensing offices. You also pick up the tab for the employees’ shirts, pants, sweaters, jackets and hats, as well as a $27-a-month stipend for dry cleaning.

With Washington’s government facing a $5 billion to $6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years, residents are trying to find new ways to save. Doing away with the clothing allowance was among the nearly 2,000 ideas submitted over the past few weeks to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who recently release a budget proposal including deep spending cuts.

“We looked at all the suggestions and had them in mind as we were making decisions” on that proposal, said Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for the governor’s budget office. Many of the ideas, he said, could also be wrapped into a broader package of government reforms Gregoire plans to propose in January.