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Gregoire: Time of essence on budget fix

Gov. Chris Gregoire says the budget gap is large, but the options for closing it are small, during a press conference Monday.

OLYMPIA — Warning that every month is critical in solving the state’s looming budget deficit, Gov. Chris Gregoire tried to prod legislators into suggesting their budget cuts for the rest of the fiscal year.

Gregoire said that three of the legislative leadership groups she’d ask for budget-cutting suggestions by today have asked for more time. She has no time table yet for deciding when or whether to call a special session to address a projected $385 million gap between state revenue and state expenses.

Last week, she proposed a series of cuts to state programs that are on the books, including the Basic Health Plan and Disability Lifeline. But many can’t be changed without at least 30 days of notice to recipients; it’s required by law, and it’s fair, she said.

“We’re taking away people’s livelihood,” she said. “We’re taking away people’s health care.”

Every dollar put off now means more money that has to be cut near the end of the budget cycle, Gregoire said. “For every inaction, there is going to have to be a counter action.”

Coming today: Order from gov, cuts from legislators?

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire is announcing an executive order to “enhance accountability” on state contracts at noon.

By the end of the day, legislative leaders from the two parties in the two houses are supposed to be reporting their proposals for cutting the state budget to keep it from going in the red by the end of the fiscal year.

DTK, as reporters used to write on bulletins in the days of typewriters and paper, which meant “details to come.”

State wants to reopen union contracts

OLYMPIA — Thursday’s worse than expected revenue forecast prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to order state employee unions back to the bargaining table to renegotiate contracts.

With a proclamation, Gregoire invoked a state law that allows her to ask the unions to reopen existing contracts. A separate declaration by Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown about the forecast for the 2011-13 biennium says the contracts reached for those years are also unfeasible and must be reopened.

Most of the major contracts for 2011-13 are still under negotiations, a spokeswoman for Gregoire said.

Gregoire had resisted declaring an emergency and trying to renegotiate the current contracts during the past session.

Supreme Court ponders: Who is the state?

OLYMPIA — The federal lawsuit in Florida over health care reform raises many interesting questions about state’s rights and federal mandates. But it also sparked some interesting debates today in the Washington Supreme Court over who represents the state in a legal dispute, and even, what is the state.

Read today’s report on City of Seattle v. Rob McKenna by clicking here.

We’re all Republicans now

At first, that seems to be the message with Gov. Gregoire’s executive order declaring a moratorium on new rules and regulations in order to conserve resources and help small businesses.

Sightline calls it a “big fat nothingburger” and you should check their post on the vagueness of the order. There are so many exceptions which are open to interpretation– maybe even too many for it to be practical. In “Is Gov. Gregoire the new Tim Eyman,” Knute Berger writes about the difficult task at hand for progressive elected officials and what this action means:“…the job is to prune government back as much as possible without killing it. In effect, we’re all Republicans now. And all operating (again) under the Tim Eyman plan of needing two-thirds of the legislature to agree on any new taxes….But it is a huge symbolic victory for the Eyman-Tea Party-GOP world view. In fact, Republicans are quickly taking credit for the governor’s action, which basically states that new regulations are bad for business, so no new pesky rules or regulations in 2011.” Does this signify less teeth to prevent shoreline development? It’s so muddled, one wonders about rules and regulations protecting our aquifer. Or if it will actually benefit small business seeking to redevelop.

On Monday, a coalition of environmental and labor groups—including the Washington Environmental Council, Washington Conservation Voters, SEIU 775, Transportation Choices Coalition, the AFL-CIO, and the Sierra Club—wrote a letter to Gregoire urging Gregoire not to unplug state agencies:

Gregoire: Quit making some of those rules

OLYMPIA– Washington state agencies will stop making so many rules that affect the daily lives of its citizens and businesses under an executive order issued Wednesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The order exempts some rules still in the making, such as those necessary for public health and safety or other critical functions, or those required by state or federal law. Rules that don’t qualify for an exemption are to be set aside until the end of 2011, with staff time that would have been spent drafting or updating rules redirected to helping businesses comply or enforcement.
“In these unprecedented economic times, this action will provide businesses with stability and predictability they need to help our state’s recovery,” Gregoire said in announcing the moratorium.
Although state agencies were having some difficulty Wednesday identifying which rules would be put on hold, conservatives applauded the measure while some progressive groups were critical.

Gregoire named NGA head

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire was elected to fill the opening as the chairwoman of the National Governors Association, her office announced today.

Gregoire will step into the job left vacant when West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin was elected to the U.S. Senate this month. She serves until next July. She said she would continue the organization’s initiative “Complete to Compete” that pushes college students to graduate and get degrees or certification.

In a prepared statement released by her office, Gregoire said she was honored to be selected by her peers for the job.

For the full press release, go inside the blog.

Washington Rejects Nativity Scene

Washington state officials have refused a small Nativity scene that a Catholic group sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire for the state Capitol. The Olympian reports state policy no long allows nongovernment displays inside Capitol buildings. The Department of General Administration says they may be displayed outside, if the meet certain conditions. The Nativity scene was sent to all 50 governors by the New York City-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights/Associated Press. More here.

Question: Our annual debate re: ‘war on Christmas’ begins with this post. Is the state of Washington being anal retentive in rejecting a nativity scene in state capital from Catholics?

Health care reform keeping lawyers busy

OLYMPIA – As Attorney General Rob McKenna prepares to convince the state Supreme Court why he can fight federal health care reform, a state legislator joined a group trying to tell a federal court that he shouldn’t.
McKenna is scheduled to be in the state’s highest court Thursday morning, defending against a challenge by the City of Seattle, the governor and others to his decision to add Washington to a federal lawsuit trying to stop portions of the new health care law.
The state’s highest court will be asked to decide whether McKenna could make Washington state a party to the federal challenge to a law that Gov. Chris Gregoire and others contend is good for the state and its residents.
“The attorney general has gone forward over the objections of the legislative leadership and the governor,” state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said Tuesday.
But it’s mainly the Democratic leadership who object….

Governor’s order targets barriers to small business

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire today ordered state agencies to develop programs and institute reforms that will boost small businesses faltering in the ongoing economic downturn.

The initiatives range from help with exports, to improving access to credit, to alleviating the burdens imposed by the state’s complex tax structure and regulatory requirements.

The economy is changing, and government must change to reflect the changes, she said.

Some changes have already been made, Gregoire said, and others will be implemented as soon as they can be identified with legislative consent.

“This is all stuff I think we can do ourselves,” she said, noting the state has already expanded business and occupation tax credits.

She sad 400 jobs were created thanks to $1 million in B&O tax credits targeted at rural counties.

Gregoire said 95 percent of Washington businesses have fewer than 50 employees.

“Clearly, small business represents the backbone of the economy in our state,” she said.

Triplet named new Superior Court judge

Spokane County Court Commissioner James Triplet had to keep the secret all of Sunday night: He’d been chosen by Gov. Chris Gregoire to replace Neal Rielly as Superior Court Judge.

“She swore me to secrecy until she could make the announcement today,” Triplet said of the governor. “It’s both an honor and a privilege to get this appointment.”

Gregoire picked Triplet over fellow finalists Mark Vovos, a prominent defense attorney, and former Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession.

“There was some stiff competition out there,” Triplet said. “I’ve been a fulltime court commissioner since 2004 so I feel I’m prepared for the next step in my career.”

Gregoire said in a news release that Triplet will continue to bring innovation to the court.

“As commissioner, he continually worked to provide understanding and accessibility to the general public regarding our court system,” Gregoire said in the release. “His passion and background will make him a strong addition to the Superior Court.”

Triplet — who earned his law degree in 1988 from Gonzaga University School of Law — said he’s currently working to transfer to another commissioner the cases involving 150 children in dependency and 300 family-law cases.

Earlier this year, the Washington State Bar Association named him Family Law Section Professional of the Year in recognition of his contributions to establishing a unified family court model.

Triplet said he worked for years under Rielly, who retired on Aug. 29.

“I have big shoes to try to fill,” Triplet said of Rielly. “But I think he got the better end of the deal. He’s retiring and gardening and playing golf. I have a lot of things I have to transition out of and into. That’s what I’m stressing about today.”

Vovos could not be reached late Monday for comment. Hession said he was disappointed but honored to have been considered a finalist.

“Jim Triplet is just a very good judicial officer,” Hession said. “He’s well respected and he will be an excellent Superior Court Judge.”

Gregoire won’t stop Cal Brown execution

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said this afternoon she will not commute the sentence of Cal Brown for the torture, rape and murder of Holly Washa.

Brown, who confessed to the murder, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994, and has lost subsequent appeals to overturn the sentence. The Clemency and Pardons Board split 2-2 last year on whether to commute the sentence; Gregoire said she reviewed the request and the record of the case and “found no basis to reverse his conviction or change the death sentence imposed by the jury.”

He is scheduled to be executed Thursday night.

Gives us an F, give us a MAP…

For weeks, the prospects for another special session in Washington state to deal with a budget crisis revolved around an acronym that became a four-letter word: FMAP.

Pronounced EFF-map, never fuh-map, it stands for federal medical assistance percentages, but was generally referred to as extra Medicaid money. It may have been the most important word in state politics last week as Washington got perilously close to a special session or across-the-board budget whacks. How that happened provides state officials with a valuable lesson in what not to do.

FMAP vote delayed until Wednesday

The U.S. Senate was poised to give Washington and other states a hint today at whether they should keep counting on extra Medicaid money. That could have signaled whether Gov. Chris Gregoire would be calling a special session to handle an expected budget shortfall.

But the vote on a special amendment on Federal Medical Assistance Percentages was delayed until at least Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray was going to sponsor the amendment and speak on it Monday afternoon, but Majority Leader Harry Reid bumped it back two days on the calendar. A spokesman for Murray said they are double checking figures that explain how the money will be paid for without adding to the deficit, which Republicans are demanding. They’ll also be using the time  to try to round up  more votes.

Even if the amendment gets introduced, gets killed by a filibuster or doesn’t pass the Senate, that may be the last shot the Senate will take before going on its August recess. Gregoire will have to decide — special session or across the board cuts.

If it survives any attempt to filibuster it to death and passes the Senate, there’s another small problem: The House of Representatives is on recess until September. They could be called back for a vote, but then again, they’re pretty busy doing the things reps do when not in the other Washington…like running for re-election.

Washington needs the FMAP to fill in a projected budget gap and provide an ending fund balance to move into the 2011-12 biennium. Gregoire said she hoped to decide this week about a special session.

Gregoire’s office says governor missed Spokane budget hearing to give speech at global health forum

NOTE: This is an updated version of an earlier post that had incomplete information. — Jonathan

Gov. Chris Gregoire missed Spokane’s public forum on the state budget on Thusday to speak at a forum on global health public policy, her office said Friday.

Gregoire spoke in Seattle at the forum, which was sponsored by the Center for Strategic and Interactive Studies, said Gregoire spokeswoman Karina Shagren.

At last night’s state budget hearing in Spokane, Gregoire apologized for not being in attendence, saying she “had a long standing commitment that has kept me away.”

Shagren said the commitment she was referring to was her speech that included information about life science companies in Washington.

Later in the evening Gregoire was scheduled to have a campaign fundraiser at a Seattle restaurant, according to Seattlepi.com. That event was advertised on invitations as “an intimate dinner and discussion” with donors who were asked to pay $1,000 a plate, seattlepi.com reported.

Gregoire to make special session decision next week

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire could decide by next week whether to call a special session to cut the state budget or apply across-the-board cuts of as much as 4 percent to many areas of the state’s general fund budget.

She’ll talk with the Democratic and Republican leaders of both legislative houses on Thursday, seeking a commitment that they would get in and out of a special session in two to three days and “make the decision before Congress goes on recess.”

“I want to know tomorrow where they are,” Gregoire said of Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Minority Leader Richard DeBolt. “I’ve had legislators saying don’t call uis back…They don’t think they can get it done.”

But Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the Senate Republican’s point man on budget matters, said Tuesday a special session would be much better than across the board cuts because it would allow the state to reduce the budget in a thoughtful way, get some long-term savings and create a reserve. The only reasons not to  have a special session, Zarelli said, are “political expediency” and “legislative incompetency.”

State law allows a special session to last 30 days, but Gregoire said she wants them to come to Olympia with a plan they can pass in two or three days, then adjourn. To do that, Democrats, who  hold large majorities in both houses, will need a consensus before they arrive, she said,

At the end of this year’s regular session, the supplemental budget was not finished and Gregoire called a special session, asking legislators to wrap it up in no more than seven days. They finished after midnight on the 30th day.

State law does not allow the governor to vary the cuts for different agencies, or single out some programs for elimination while sparing others from all cuts. “I think it’s a ridiculous tool,” Gregoire said.

She will urge the Legislature to change the law, but not in the special session. She will offer to give legislators a blueprint of budget cuts, asking Democratic leaders, “If I give you a proposed budget, could you come in and get it done?”

The state is facing a budget shortfall, in part because Congress has yet to approve extra money for Medicaid patients the states had been told early this year to expect. The anticipated $480 million was to be used as the state’s ending fund surplus, but no legislation with that money has made it through both chambers of Congress, and prospects are fading as members of Congress take heat for a ballooning federal deficit.

The state’s revenue projections also have dropped since the Legislature passed its supplemental budget in April. Without a special session, Gregoire can cut to eliminate the projected shortfall of more than $345 million to pay for existing programs and salaries, but can’t make cuts to leave additional money for a ending fund surplus.

Gregoire, others try to put best face on Race To Top loss

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire, Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn and others were trying to make lemonade Tuesday morning out of the federal government’s announcement that Washington didn’t make the list of finalists for Race To The Top.

All that work that was put into the application process can now be used as a roadmap to make Washington schools better, Gregoire, Dorn and state Education Board Chairman Jeff Vincent said in a prepared statement:

“When we put together our application, we were committed, win or lose, to making sure we would carry out education reform our way, the Washington way. Race to the Top enabled us to spend time creating a road map to our education reform efforts through a draft plan that reflected the work of many diverse groups as well as the good work started by our most recent education laws. We will finalize the plan this fall and use it to prioritize and allocate resources as we move ahead with our state education reform efforts.”

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the chairwoman of the Senate Early Learing and K-12 Education Committee, also was putting the best face on it:“Although we were not identified as a finalist in the RTTT competition, we will not waver in our work towards successful education reform.”

And from Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist:“…the steps we have already taken in preparation for Race to the Top money set a framework for investing in a stronger public schools system. The application process itself proves that we can and will continue to work together to continuously improve public education across Washington.”

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center, issued sort of a “told  ya so” statement, calling Washington’s cut from the team no surprise. The bill passed by the Legislature didn’t allow for innovative or charter schools, she said, create a rigorous enough evaluation process for teachers, make it easy enough for the state to turn around failng schools or assign good teachers to poor schools.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan talked about a quiet revolution in naming the finalist states, she noted: “Well, that revolution has clearly not reached the borders of Washington state, which continues to trap generations of children in second-rate schools.” 

Race to the Top is a competitive program, and states have to submit plans to meet certain goals to improve their schools. Tuesday morning the feds announced that 18 states and the District of Columbia are finalists and move on to further competition for the $3 billion.

Budget session Thursday

Got a thought on how to help solve the state’s budget woes?

Thursday may be your chance in Eastern Washington. That’s when the Office of Financial Management brings its road show to the Lair Student Center auditorium at Spokane Community College, for two hours, starting at 5 p.m.

The hearings are proving pretty popular — or at least well-attended. The first session in Tacoma drew 450 people and the second in Everett close to 400. The governor’s office moved the Spokane session to a larger venue to accommodate a similar response in Spokane.

Because of the big crowds, people who speak will be asked to keep their comments to two minutes to allow as many other speakers as possible. They’ll take written testimony, and people who want to offer ideas but don’t want to speak will be allowed to submit comments in writing.

And if you’ve got other plans for Thursday, but want to submit your ideas, you can do it online, by clicking here to go to the governor’s budget web site .

Gov. Chris Gregoire assigned OFM to hold the hearings to keep them focused on budget matters, but she stopped by the first two. There are no plans for her to show up in Spokane, despite what you may have heard on TV.

Gregoire Pushes Folks To Lawless Acts

I felt pretty damned righteous loading my alcoholic wares into the back of my ’67 Vista Cruiser station wagon. Making the short hop saved me a bundle. Plus it filled me with the rebellious satisfaction of knowing I had thumbed my nose at Washington’s egregious sin taxes. In a budget-balancing move a Mafia don would appreciate, Gov. Chris Gregoire not long ago gave the nod to placing higher taxes on many of the little vices that make life more enjoyable to Washington working stiffs. We’re talking tobacco, candy, soda pop, etc./Doug Clark, SR. More here.

Question: Has Washington state reached the point of no return where sin taxes will drive thousands of residents across the border to Idaho to buy tobacco, cigarettes, candy, soda, etc.?

Group sues Gregoire over climate order

A conservative think tank and a handful of Washington residents are suing Gov. Chris Gregoire over a 2009 executive order aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Associated Press.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation and six residents from around the state filed the lawsuit today in Thurston County Superior Court. The group says the order is unconstitutional and should be invalidated.

The executive order includes aspects of a climate change bill that the governor aggressively pushed but failed to pass in the 2009 legislative session.

Among other things, it directs the state Department of Ecology to work with large industries to find ways to cut emissions, and calls for plans to be drawn up on how the state’s largest counties can reduce the number of vehicles driven.

GOP to gov: Get agreement before spec session

OLYMPIA — Senate Republicans want Gov. Chris Gregoire to call the Legislature’s leadership and budget heads together before any special session and get an agreement on what should be cut.

In a letter today to Gregoire, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt and GOP Senate Budget Committee Leader Joe Zarelli, said a pre-session meeting that would “develop a general framework for possible cost savings before the full Legislature is brought back to Olympia” would be extremely valuable.

Such an agreement could result in changes that would help reduce the budgets in the next two biennia, which also are projected to be in the red, and would increase the likelihood of a “short and efficient session.”

Gregoire’s office said she’s travelling today and hasn’t had a chance yet to see it. But the governor has repeatedly said she wouldn’t call the Lege back unless she could get an agreement that they’d get in, get business done and get out in a day or two. So Hewitt and Zarelli’s letter seems in line with that.

The Republican leaders couldn’t resist a little “we told ya so” in their letter. The state’s budget problem is a result of assuming the federal government would provide an extra $480 million in higher Medicaid money, and that money is now in doubt as Congress struggles to pass anything that could add to the deficit.

“At the time the budget was written, members of our caucus warned against depending upone one-time moneys and assumed federal payouts to balance the budget. Unfortunately, it appears that our worst fears may be played out over the next few months and our state budget may be plunged into an instant deficit,” they wrote.

WA budget woes: cuts can only go so far

OLYMPIA — One of the state’s top budget hawks points out today that Gov. Chris Gregoire’s ability to order across the board budget cuts only goes so far if the federal government doesn’t come through on Medicaid funding.

In other words, if Congress punts on FMAP, a special session would be needed to allow the state to have something in the bank at the end of the biennium, Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center says.

That makes the prospect of a special session more likely if Congress doesn’t vote to approve some $480 million to Washington state for higher federal medical assistance percentages, Mercier contends.

The Office of Financial Management confirms that Mercier is right about the limits on why a governor can order cuts in the face of budget problems. The governor has the authority to order cuts to avoid a projected deficit, Glenn Kuper of OFM said. There’s some leeway for the size of a deficit based on economic projections or forecasts, so if all the signs point to a downturn, the ordered cuts could take that into account.

But the governor can’t order cuts to create a surplus, which is really what an ending fund balance is — the money left over at the end of one budget cycle that carries you into the next budget cycle, when expenses are immediate but income might be slow in showing up.

The state budget has an ending fund balance of about $450 million, which was going to be provided by the FMAP money. Gregoire said last week that she was willing to wait until Congress goes on its August recess to see if the two chambers can pass FMAP before deciding on what route to take.

That’s still her plan, Gregoire’s staff said today. Without FMAP across-the-board cuts are a real possibility but a special session isn’t automatic, spokeswoman Karina Shagren said. The governor won’t call the Legislature back unless she gets some assurances they’ll be in and out in one or two days.

“The last special session, though, lessened her confidence that the state Legislature can follow that timeline,” Shagren said.

OFM will be watching projections in August as Congress approaches its recess, and should have updated figures available for Gregoire to consider when making the decision. The next state Revenue Forecast isn’t until Sept. 16.

Gregoire, other govs repeat call for Medicaid money

OLYMPIA — Chris Gregoire and other governors from around the country are in Washington, D.C., asking, cajoling, lobbying, pleading (pick one) with Congress to approve more money for Medicaid payments.

They held a joint press conference about 11 a.m. PDT, reiterating what they’ve already repeated, that the promised federal medical assistance percentages, or FMAP, need to be raised to the levels they were told to expect early this year. Without it, their budgets look even worse than they do right now.

In the case of Washington, the $480 million for FMAP equals about 6,400 state jobs, although Gregoire was careful not to threaten to axe that many workers at a date certain if Congress doesn’t come through.

The prospect of Congress approving that money in the near future took a turn for the worse Tuesday night, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced a new version of a bill with some money to help those hit hard by the economy. It would extend unemployment insurance to workers who are losing that, and would extend a tax credit for home buyers. But it has no money for FMAP.

Gregoire said the unemployment benefits extension is more pressing, because people are being dropped from thr rolls right now: “That’s one piece of the puzzle. We’re here to get the other piece.”

There is another proposal in the Senate, from Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., that would provide the extra FMAP money.

Gregoire said she believes time is running out on waiting for Congress to approve the money.

“Once they go on their August recess (around Aug. 9) I don’t have any realistic expectation they’re going to come back and do anything with the fall elections,” she said.

If there’s no decision by then, Gregoire said she’ll call a special session to revise the state budget, but only if legislators can agree to meet for a day to handle the problem. “I am not going to call a Legislature in that’s going to sit there and do nothing for 30 days.”

Without such an agreement, she’ll order across the board cuts. State agencies would need cuts of about 7.5 percent to come up with the full $480 million. She couldn’t estimate how many layoffs that would mean, but said there aren’t many options for cutting programs so without a special session, the bulk of the reductions would have to come through employee reductions.

Gregoire heading north to look at big hole

OLYMPIA — The back and forth over plans to dig a humongously expensive tunnel for part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project is prompting Gov. Chris Gregoire to make a little day trip Thursday to Canada.

Gregoire’s office announced this afternoon she’ll be heading a delegation of state and Seattle area officials for a quick trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, to take a look at the deep bore tunnel for the Translink Canada Line from the city to the airport.

“The Washington delegation is seeking to learn firsthand about the multi-billion dollar transportation mega-project and what lessons can be learned as the state moves forward with the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project,” the goveonor’s staff said. Thinks like how to complete a project ahead of schedule and on budget.

The governor is taking Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver. Absent from the travelling list is Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who has been the most critical of the big dig project. Maybe he’ll just look at everyone’s vacation photos when they get back?

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.

Medicaid money, protesting Israel: Wassup June 2

Gov. Chris Gregoire is in “the other Washington” today, where she’s talking with a Pentagon panel about states and feds working together if there’s a WMD-type incident. Other familiar faces on the panel are Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg of the Washington National Guard, and former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt.

Gregoire is also talking with federal officials about Medicaid funding amounts, which have yet to pass Congress but which form the ending fund balance in Washington’s 2009-11 biennial budget. Without the expected payment levels for the money, known as Federal Medical Assistance Percentages or FMAP, the state would have the rough equivalent of pocket change to carry over into the next biennium. 

In Spokane this evening, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane will be protesting Israel’s strike on the flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza. They’ll be holdilng signs at Wellesley and Dviision (near Northtown) between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Elsewhere in Washington state, Democratic state Sen. Craig Pridemore is out of the congressional race to replace U.S. Rep. Brian Baird in  southwest Washington’s 3rd District. In an account in the The Olympian by Jordan Schrader, his withdrawal is partly a result of his inability to keep pace in raising money because of the “intense” pace of the special legislative session. If Pridemore thought the spec sess was intense…gotta wonder what he’d think of life in the U.S. House.

His departure leaves two Democrats, Cheryl Crist and Denny Heck, and two Republicans, David Castillo and Jaime Herrera, running hard.

And on a lighter note, Jon Stewart returns to take a look at the Gulf oil mess:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Spilling Fields
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

WA sends in its Race to the Top app

OLYMPIA — Washington has nearly 9 of 10 school districts signing on for the federal Race to the Top competition, hoping to get a total of $250 million in federal cash for a wide variety of education programs.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn had a made-for-media event late Tuesday morning at Nisqually Middle School in Lacey to give the application a formal send-off. They have 265 of the state’s 295 school districts — covering 97 percent of the total students —  signed on.

A couple of months ago, there was some concern the state wouldn’t be able to submit an application because so few districts had turned in their paperwork. But it looks like that was mainly a function of waiting until close to the deadline.

Finalists for the program — it’s competitive, so the Deparemtn of Education will have to pick winners and losers — will be announced in mid summer, and the winners in early September.

For a list of the school districts, go inside the blog.

Gregoire press conference about more than just Rossi

The political news out of the governor’s Tuesday morning press conference was all about a possible Dino Rossi v. Patty Murray matchup. While that filled the lunchtime blog post, there were other interesting items as well, which will be reported in Wednesday’s S-R. The “non-political junkie’s story, starts below, and continues inside the blog…Jim Camden

OLYMPIA – With the state facing a possible shortfall of $2 billion in the next budget cycle, the governor’s office will hold “town hall” meetings around the state on the budget this summer and early fall.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday she’ll send out the head of the Office of Financial Management to explain the tight budget and give residents “a full appreciation of the trade offs” for potential cuts.
“I think there’s a misimpression out there, that there’s lots of money in Olympia,” Gregoire said during a press conference. The meetings will give residents a chance to weigh in on “what are we willing to cut or get rid of.”…

Gregoire: Rossi’s been running all along

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’s not worried about fellow Democrat Patty Murray’s chances against here two-time opponent Dino Rossi. But trading a three-term incumbent like Murray for Rossi or any Republican challenger “would be a disaster for the state” by losing so much clout and hard work.

Mary Lane Strow, a spokeswoman for Rossi, replied: “Spoken like a true goverment insider. I would expect nothing less from another career politician.”

Asked about the potential matchup between Murray and Rossi at a morning press conference, Gregoire said if asked for advice, she’d urge Murray to compare their records for the last six years. Rossi gave up his state Senate seat in 2004 to run for governor, and has been in business since then, except for his 2008 rematch against her.

“What’s he been doing since 2004. Where’s he been? Talk about what she’s done, talk about what he’s done,” she said. “What has he done? He runs on ‘I wrote a budget once.’”

Strow countered that Rossi has been in business, “helping to contribute to economic growth” since leaving office.

“While Patty Murray has been sitting in Washington, D.C., spending massive amounts of tax dollars and bringing on huge debt levels…Dino has been working in the private sector,” she said, adding that politicians “tend to look down on people who work in the private enterprise.”

A poll released Monday shows Murray in a close race with Rossi or any Republican candidate, and with less than half the voters contacted saying they were ready to vote to re-elect her. Incumbents below 50 percent are generally considered vulnerable for re-election.

Gregoire said she thought there were other races around the country, particularly for governor’s posts, where the incumbents were in more jeopardy than Murray.”I’m not worried for Patty because Patty’s never taken anything for granted in a race.”

And she defended the opposition research against Rossi underway by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, even though he’s not yet officially in the race, as merely “due diligence”.

“I don’t think it’s any less fair than him holding…12 candidates at bay. What has been the issue that has taken him so long to make up  his mind,” she said.

Countered Strow: “That’s lawyer speak for dumpster diving. I’m sure Christine Gregoire is deeply concerned about the other Republicans in the U.S. Senate race.”

Rossi said as recently as Friday that he’s waiting for all members of his immediate family to be on board with a run, and trying to make sure he can put together all the pieces of a campaign. But he also told the Mainstream Republican Conference that his wife is “100 percent” behind him if he decides to run — a comment that some of the political activists in the room took as a sign he’d enter the race.

“I think he’s been running all along,” Gregoire said.

WA Poll: Jobs top issue, state on wrong track

More voters think Washington is “seriously on on the wrong” track than going in the right direction, a new survey by University of Washington researchers says.

More than half approve of the job President Obama is doing, and slightly les — 51 percent — approve of Sen. Patty Murray’s job performance. But less than one in three give Congress good marks for the work its doing.

Less than half say they’re planning to vote to re-elect Murray in November, and two out of five would either vote for Dino Rossi or any Republican candidate runnign against her.

The Washington Poll, which was released today, has more voters giving Gov. Chris Gregoire  bad marks than good marks for her job performance. While her overall numbers are relatively close — 44 percent say they approve compared to 47 percent who say they disapprove — those who feel strongly about it are much more likely to say they disapprove. Nearly a third, 30 percent, say they strongly disapprove compared to 17 percent who say they strongly approve.

Gregoire’s numbers look good compared to the Legislature. Only about one in three approved of the job the Legislature is doing, while 43 percent disapproved.

Attorney General Rob McKenna fared better than Gregoire or the Lege, with 41 percent saying they approve of the job he’s doing and 23 percent disapproving. But more than a third (37 percent, say they have no opinion or have never heard of him; less than one in 10 had no opinion of Gregoire.

Democrats currently have a slight edge in upcoming legislative races, the poll suggests, but nearly one in five voters polled was undecided when asked if they planned to vote for a Democrat or Republican candidate for the Legislature this fall.

The poll flagged something that could help Republicans and pose a problem for Democrats in the legislative elections: 60 percent said they support a two-thirds majority vote for the Legislature to raise taxes. The state had such a law, enacted by voters, until this year when Democrats in the Legislature voted to suspend it.

More than half the voters surveyed said they would for an initiative to institute a state income tax on those making more than $200,000 and another initiative to end the state ownership of liquor stores. Both proposals are among ballot measuers in the signature-gathering phase.

Voters surveyed were about evenly split on the new taxes the Legislature approved to support the budget, on the  health care reform approved by Congress, and on McKenna’s decision to sue the federal government to block some aspects of that reform from taking effect.

There was strong support for repealing the state’s civil and criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, something the Legislature considered briefly but didn’t pass.

The poll showed increasing support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, and allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and becoming citizens “but only if they meet certain requirements like working and paying back taxes over a period of time.

Want more poll results? Click here to see the full Washington Poll Issues and Opinions May 2010.