Latest from The Spokesman-Review
OLYMPIA — Repeating a mantra that “tough times require tough choices”, Gov. Chris Gregoire patted the Legislature on its collective back as members headed out of town Tuesday.
She sought to minimize the impacts of new taxes, which Republicans have predicted will be job killers. The average Washingtonian drinks 345 cans of soda a year, she said, and the extra 2 cents per can tax that passed Monday amounts to about $7 and the tax on large brewery beer is only 28 cents per six pack.
The extra tax money is going into the operating budget to help with such essential services as public schools, college student aid, health care, child care and help for the disabled and elderly, she said. “I think these things are worth paying for. All of us should be willing to step up.”
But some people — those who chew gum, drink bottled water, soda or mass-production beer — are being asked to step up more than others. Beer drinkers who favor micro brews don’t pay the new beer tax, and wine drinkers get no increase.
Gregoire defended the dichotomy on state grounds, not personal taste preferences. She drinks Washington wines because it supports Washington jobs, her husband Mike drinks Washington microbrews for the same reason, she said.
The governor’s office also parsed the amount of “new” money the state will be collecting, listing it at $613 million. That’s significantly below the $757 million listed by legislators just a day earlier.
That doesn’t mean Gregoire has decided to line-item veto one of the taxes in the menu. Rather, she said $613 represents the “new revenues” the state didn’t have before. Not counted in the “new” are some $155 million in taxes the state used to collect from some out-of-state companies until the state Supreme Court struck down an old tax law last fall in what’s known as the DOT Foods decision. That’s a restored tax.
(Math whizzes already know in their heads the total still doesn’t come to $613 million, but the Legislature was counting a net total that also sliced off about $15 million from the lottery and s a $10 million shift in sales tax from the Seattle Convention Center account. To get its, net, however, the Lege added back in about $12 million worth of tax reductions that affect the bottom line…but, who’s counting? OK, so other than the Office of Financial Management.)
Meanwhile, the state’s premier initiative promoter filed a series of proposed ballot measures Tuesday to repeal many of the taxes— bottled water, macro-brew, soda pop, cigarettes, the business and occupation tax hike on service businesses and the changes to home mortgage taxes — the Legislature passed Monday. Tim Eyman, whose operation is already on the streets collecting signatures to reinstate the two-thirds requirement to pass any tax increase, will try to add eight more initiatives to the November ballot.
Gregoire said she told Democrats who voted for the tax increases and the underlying budget to “be proud about iit, do not be defensive” when they return home to voters, and promised to campaign for them in the fall. But it’s too soon to predict how voters will react, she said.
“What happens in November is very dependent on what happens to the national economy as well as the state economy,” she said.
OLYMPIA – The Legislature returns Saturday with time running out in its special session and only two options on its unbalanced budget, Gov. Chris Gregoire said. Pass an array of taxes that covers everything from soda and bottled water to candy and cigarettes, or go home and have her cut the general fund budget by 20 percent.
A tax package, which has not been seen by the public because it was not final as of Friday afternoon, will be released along with a final spending plan sometime in the next four days. Democrats in both houses will have to get at least a simple majority to pass it, because Republicans remain united against any tax increase and want more cuts in wages, programs and state systems.
Based on comments by Gregoire, various legislative leaders and versions of the tax plan leaked to various news agencies or posted but later removed from a House Web site, the so-called go-home package collects an extra $800 million in taxes as part of a Democratic plan to close a $2.8 billion gap between projected revenues and scheduled expenses. The tax proposal:
• raises the tax on soda pop by the equivalent of about 2 cents a can or 50 cents a case at the wholesale level;
• places the state sales tax on bottled water, candy and gum;
• raises the tax on beer from large national breweries by 50 cents per gallon, or about a nickel for a 12 ounce can; microbreweries would be exempt;
• increases the business and occupation tax on most of the service industry from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent of gross receipts;
• adds another $1 per pack to cigarettes, and similar tax increases to other tobacco products;
• changes systems for taxing out-of-state firms that do business in Washington.
Taxes on soda, bottled water, sweets, beer and the service industries would expire in mid 2013, although a future Legislature could change that.
Even though the public and most legislators haven’t seen the tax plan in writing, some of those affected are fighting the inclusion of their product or industry…
OLYMPIA – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter continues to “court” Washington businesses, sending personal letters to their owners that suggest they should move to the Gem State.
That’s fair, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday, because the Evergreen State makes similar overtures to businesses in other states, including Idaho. She called foul last month when Otter sent out a blanket “love letter” to businesses in the Washington and Oregon that derided the neighboring states for tax increases.
“It is not normal for governors to send a so-called love letter. Governors absolutely do contact businesses in other states,” Gregoire said.
Hitting Washington for tax increases was “a little premature”, she added, because the Legislature hasn’t settled on any yet.
But it’s about to, warned Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla…
OLYMPIA – Small distilleries will be able to produce more liquor under a new law that triples their maximum capacity to 60,000 gallons.
The law, signed Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire, is a reflection of the fast growth of the Spokane’s “craft” distillery, Dry Fly, which was the first such operation in Washington since Prohibition when it was set up in 2007.
The original limit for craft distilleries of 20,000 gallons was essentially a guess, Dry Fly co-owner Don Poffenroth said Thursday. The Spokane operation is about three-fourths of the way to hitting that original limit and wants some room to expand, although it probably wouldn’t reach the new limit..
“I don’t think so, but I also never thought we’d grow this fast,” he said. But the higher limit is becoming a national standard, and the new law also allows distilleries to make liquor for a private customer from his or her own grain, without that counting against the 60,000 gallon limit.
At least four other craft distilleries have opened and several others have obtained permits, but Dry Fly remains the largest operation in Washington.
Gregoire paused before signing the bill, looked at its sponsor Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, and asked: “Where are my samples?”
Replied Marr: “I tried to stop by a state liquor store and it wasn’t open at 10 in the morning.”
Even if the store had been open, he would not have been able to buy any of Dry Fly’s wheat whiskey, he added. That product is in such limited supply it usually sells out the day it’s released.
OLYMPIA — State flags will be at half-staff Monday to honor Pfc. James L. Miller of Yakima, a member of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team killed in Afghanistan Monday.
Gov. Chris Gregoire issued the order this morning for lowering the flags. Miller, 21, died of injuries inflicted by a roadside bomb.
OLYMPIA – Washington state may be first in line for one aspect of the new federal Health Care Reform law, submitting a request for some $180 million in federal money to help with pay for the state’s Basic Health Plan.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell joined several state officials Monday in hailing the new law, and saying they’ve already sent in a request for what’s known as “bridge funding”. That provision allows a state to request money through 2014 to help cover the costs of health insurance of residents who make too much to receive Medicaid but can’t afford private plans.
Washington has about 65,000 people on its Basic Health Plan who state officials believe should be covered by a waiver. If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, the federal government could pay for two-thirds of their insurance costs, up to $180 million a year through 2014. That would ease the state’s budget problems and allow the state to expand the program.
“We want to be at the head of the line,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed late Monday Washington was the first to apply for the waiver, but could only say the application would be processed “as quickly as possible.”
While Gregoire is seeking the waiver, Attorney General Rob McKenna is challenging aspects of Health Care Reform. Last week he joined 12 other attorneys general in a lawsuit over the requirement that all individuals buy health insurance by 2014 and for provisions that would raise the cost of Medicaid later this decade.
McKenna said Monday that if the state receives the waiver and gets federal money for Basic Health, it won’t block Washington from arguing that other sections of the new law are unconstitutional. If the federal courts rule the individual insurance mandate and the Medicaid increases are unconstitutional, other provisions, including the bridge funding, the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or extending coverage to young adults on their parents plans would remain in place, he said.
Even though the provisions in the lawsuit don’t take effect for years, “these are important questions to challenge now,” McKenna said.
Gregoire disagrees with McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit and Monday repeated her belief that it has no merit. States can opt out of Medicaid, she said, if they’re willing to give up the federal money.
OLYMPIA — So the day after Attorney General Rob McKenna announced he was joining the lawsuit to challenge federal health care reform, things got ramped up a few notches.
President Obama signed the bill, and Vice President Joe Biden weighed in that this was a BFD.
McKenna didn’t personally answer most media inquiries about his decision, but his staff posted FAQs on the AG Web site and he did do an interview with KING-TV.
Gov. Chris Gregoire repeated her criticism of McKenna’s decision, both at an afternoon press conference and in a separate KING-TV session.
The Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank, released a review of health care reform that contends it would hurt Washington residents.
State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said he was introducing a bill to keep federal health care mandates from taking effect in Washington, and directing the attorney general to sue to enforce them.(Interesting, considering Benton, who is running against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, has not been in Olympia for the special session.)
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Eastern Washington, came out in support of fellow Republican McKenna. So did state Sens. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, and Val Stevens, R-Arlington, who mentioned they had introduced earlier in the session a bill that would keep federal health care mandates from taking effect in Washington. (But doesn’t require an AG to enforce that, like Benton’s bill does. Their bill got no hearing, and no vote in the regular session, but was resurrected for the special session.)
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, sent McKenna a letter asking him to reconsider, and called Benton’s legislation “more theatrics than substance” and said it has “zero chance” of passing in the special session, which is mainly relegated to the budget. The Legislature is at recess until Thursday, so Republicans have a bit of time to strategize a way to try to bring it up, if they are so inclined. (And no, recess for legislators does not include kickball and snacks.)
The Washington State Labor Council asked him to drop the lawsuit. (Yeah, organized labor telling a GOP attorney general to do something…that’ll do it.)
The State Democratic Party filed a public records request for any correspondence or other documents involving McKenna’s decision to join the lawsuit, saying the public has a right to know if he was doing this on behalf of the National Republican Party or the insurance industry.
OLYMPIA—Things were happening so fast and furious Tuesday with Attorney General Rob McKenna’s opting in to a lawsuit against federal health care reform that not everything could fit into this morning’s print edition story.
Based on the number of comments these stories are generating, there may be some appetite for more information. We’re more than happy to oblige.
So here’s a recap:
McKenna announced on Monday he was joining other states in challenging the health care reform that passed on Sunday and was being signed on Tuesday. He was out of town in the morning, and his office couldn’t confirm it until 1 p.m.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said at 1:30 p.m. Monday that McKenna hadn’t consulted with her about filing a lawsuit, and she thought he was getting in on the wrong side of the fight because Washington stands to benefit from health care reform. Her office issued a statement a few hours later.
Several other Democrats weighed in that afternoon and evening, including State Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee. Jumping in on behalf of McKenna was Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley. (Yes, Shea’s political affiliation was incorrect in Tuesday morning’s story. We apologize to members of both parties who were incensed, and thank them for reading all the way to the bottom of the story.)
Go inside the blog to read full texts of these statements. Tuesday recap continues above.
OLYMPIA – A special legislative session to address the state’s budget problems will continue until one side or the other blinks on the sales tax.
On one side: A majority of Democrats who control the Senate want to increase the sales tax as part of their plan to raise about $800 million in taxes as a balanced plan to close a projected $2.8 billion budget gap.
On the other side: A majority of Democrats who control the House of Representatives, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who want to raise that money with other taxes.
To read more tax talk, click here to go inside the blog
OLYMPIA — Washington’s Republican attorney general will join other states in a lawsuit against the federal health care reform plan, a move its Democratic governor denounced as “not representing the people of this state.”
Attorney General Rob McKenna said Monday afternoon he would join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform package passed Sunday by Congress and soon to be signed by President Obama. His was a rare discordant voice as other state officials praised the legislation as good for Washington and its troubled budget.
“I believe this new federal health care measure unconstitutionally imposes new requirements on our state and on its citizens,” McKenna said in a statement released by his office about 1 p.m. “This unprecedented federal mandate, requiring all Washingtonians to purchase health insurance, violates the Commerce Clause and the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
The 10th Amendment says powers not listed in the Constitution, or prohibited for the states, are left to the states and the people. That amendment is the one most often cited by proponents of greater sovereignty by the states, on everything from health care reform to gun rights to tax collection.
The bill places “an extraordinary burden” on the state budget by expanding its Medicaid eligibility standards, he said in the press release.
An hour later, a visibly irate Gov. Chris Gregoire said she “totally disagrees” with McKenna’s decision, which she didn’t know about until reading a news account. She said she then called him to discuss it.
“I don’t know who he’s representing,” Gregoire said. McKenna is not representing her, the people who will be added to the state’s Basic Health Plan because or the doctors and hospitals who will have larger Medicare reimbursement payments because of the new federal plan.
The attorney general’s office may need to assign an attorney to represent her “because I totally oppose what he’s doing.”
To read more on state officials reaction to the health care reform bill’s passage, click here go inside the blog
OLYMPIA – As the Legislature crawled through its fourth day of a special session without a solution to its budget problems, Gov. Chris Gregoire was among those expressing frustration with the progress, or apparent lack of it.
The session could be done by Sunday, which would be the absolute last day Gregoire said she wanted them to spend in this legislative overtime.
“I thought I was giving them a couple days extra time, just in case,” she said at a press conference called to tout the state’s growth in environmentally friendly or green jobs. “To talk about going another week, to me, is inexcusable.”
To read the rest of this story, or to see the list of legislators not taking a per diem during the special session, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – Washington counted twice as many people working in “green” jobs last year as in 2008.
Although changes in the way jobs were counted are responsible for much of that growth, the state still saw an increase in people building wind turbines, constructing new energy-efficient buildings or retrofitting old ones, and manufacturing or shipping the supplies needed cut energy use or clean up ecologic messes.
Gov. Chris Gregoire hailed the new figures as rare economic good news in the midst of the recession.
State senators are filing into the House chambers for the “state of the state” speech to a standing ovation from the state reps.
Any bets on whether this is the nicest the two chambers will be toward each other for the next 59 days.
Washington’s most active initiative sponsor dismissed a suggestion that he run for office rather than run initiative campaigns.
Tim Eyman also rejected Gov. Chris Gregoire’s suggestion that Washington could go the way of California and be “initiatived to death.”
“One or two initiatives a year, tops, ever qualify for the ballot,” Eyman said as he and others filed an initiative to return a requirement that the state needs a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
The state has such a law now, enacted by voters in 2007 with another Eyman initiative, I-960. But Democrats say they will try to modify or repeal that law before any discussion of raising taxes. Anticipating such a move, Eyman and company filed to give voters a change to reinstate it in November if they can gather enough signatures.
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.”
Those reading Thursday’s post (directly below) about Gov. Chris Gregoire’s press conference on tougher bail laws and other changes to combat the rash of police officer shootings might be asking “What else did she have to say?”
Here’s you chance to find out. The complete press conference, captured on digital audio, is above.
OLYMPIA – Judges should be able to deny bail to criminal suspects who are thought to be “inherently dangerous” to the public, Gov. Chris Gregoire and representatives of the state’s law enforcement system said Wednesday.
Gregoire said she will ask the Legislature to give voters the right this November to pass a constitutional amendment giving judges more flexibility to deny bail. They should not be limited to suspects accused of murder, who can now be held without bail, or someone facing a third-strike felony which could result in a life sentence upon conviction, she said.
“You may have someone who wants out on bail today who is an absolute harm to the public at large,” Gregoire said at a press conference where she was flanked by leaders of organizations representing sheriffs and police chiefs, officers and deputies, prosecutors and corrections officials. “I don’t believe it will be overused, misused. I think discretion is the better course.”
State Attorney General Rob McKenna says he’ll take Tuesday’s ruling that felons in prison have a right to vote up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
McKenna, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed all said Wednesday they opposed the decision, handed down Tuesday in a 2-1 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gregoire told reporters she’d back whichever route McKenna wants to take, whether it was a review by the 9th Circuit “en banc” or up to the Supremes.
“I think that case is not done,” Gregoire said during a presentation to reporters gathered for a legislative preview. “When you violate laws in the state, you lose your civil rights.
The state changed its laws last year to make it easier for felons to have their voting rights restored after they’ve served their time in prison and on parole. But the ruling by the appeals court would allow inmates in prison to cast ballots.
Local politics for the double 0’s, or whatever we call the last decade, started with a promise of a new millenium and a broken campaign promise. It ended of lots of zeroes behind red-hued numbers — the difference between what our governments expect to take in, and what they are scheduled to pay out.
In between, governments were re-arranged, ballots were recounted, politicians were recalled or forced to resign.
Here Spin Control’s quick look at the late, and probably not so lamented, decade in local politics:
2000: George Nethercutt breaks term limits pledge, wins re-election anyway.
2001: Spokane gets a new political structure.
2002: Spokane Valley incorporates.
2003: Jim West wins mayor job, loses it two years later.
2004: Chris Gregoire edges Dino Rossi.
2005: City settles River Park Square lawsuits.
2006: Otto Zehm’s fatal encounter.
2007: Bad year for “family values” types.
2008: Walt Minnick wins Idaho congressional seat.
2009: The budget blues.
For details, go inside the blog.
Washington state will loan the Spokane Housing Authority more than $2.5 million to help turn the old Hillyard High School into apartments for homeless and low-income residents.
The loan is among some $22.5 million in loans and grants from the state Commerce Department’s Housing Trust Fund announced Wednesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office.
“We’re very happy about that,” Steve Cervantes, executive director of the Spokane Housing Authority, said. “We have all the elements to make this work.”
The project will restore much needed housing and the construction will provide economic stimulus in the community, he said.
Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered state flags lowered to half staff today in honor of Pierce County Deputy Sheriff Kent Mundell, who died yesterday of wounds suffered in answering a domestic violence call. They’ll stay lowered for a week, through close of business on Jan. 5.
Western Washington was still reeling from the Thanksgiving weekend shooting of four officers in Lakewood when Mundell and Sgt. Nick Hausner were wounded in a shootout with David Crable three days before Christmas.
He’s the sixth police officer in the Puget Sound area to die in the line of duty in two months. On Halloween night, Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton was shot to death while sitting in his patrol car.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said today she’s checked out some energy-efficient cars while at the climate sumitt in Denmark, talked up Washington state with “green” manufacurers, had meetings with other governors and provincial premiers and spent time assuring delegates from around the world that things are happening in the United States to address climate change.
She got a chance to watch reports of the maiden flight of the Boeing 787 on Danish television, and while she didn’t understand what the newscaster was saying, the video looked good.
But she hasn’t seen any of the protests, which is part of the coverage many Americans are getting seeing from the UN Climate Summit in Copenagen.
“It’s sad that’s the representations we’re left with. I have not seen any of the disruptions,” Gregoire said in a telephone press conference.
Although she’s been told Danish security is respectful of free speech rights, she described their reaction to protests as anything but: They’ll round up 700 protesters, let 699 go the next day and just cite one.
“Nothing gets started. They take immediate action,” she said.
Most of the time, when a plane takes off and lands, that’s not news. It’s only when it fails to take off or land that we get news.
Today’s an exception, however, because Boeing’s newest plane design, the 787 Dreamliner, took off and landed for the first time. Sure, it was two years late, but at least they didn’t lose anyone’s luggage.
Various Washington politicos marked the event with official statements of best wishes, which can be found inside the blog. One thing you might notice is the emphasis on Washington workers doing a great job in building the plane…as opposed to say, South Carolina workers which Boeing is going to be using for its second assembly line.
But hey, after Washington workers figure out how to get it flying, South Carolina workers can just follow their instructions, right?
Comments from notables inside:
Democratic leaders told the Greater Spokane Inc. Legislative Forum the budget, which state law requires the governor to produce before the session starts in January, said they don’t agree with all the cuts being proposed. The spending plan largely eliminates the Basic Health Plan for low income residents, health care for children, and changes school funding formulas.
“She’s laid out a blue print, not exactly a map,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.
Ted Sturdevant was named this morning the new director of the state Department of Ecology.
Gov. Chris Gregoire announced the appointment to replace Jay Manning, who moved from head of DoE to be her chief of staff.
Sturdevant has been with DoE for 7 years as director of external affairs, and before that worked for Gov. Gary Locke.
He starts today, at an annual salary of $141,549.
Boeing Co.’s announcement that it will build jetliners in South Carolina was not particularly well received in Washington, as most readers can well imagine.
Some Democrats were disappointed. Some Republicans were disappointed but more in a “we warned you” mind set.
For a compilation of comments, go inside the blog…
Washington state lowered flags to half staff today in honor of Pvt. Aaron Fairbairn, a 21-year-old soldier from Aberdeen who was killed in Action in Afghanistan on July 4.
Gov. Chris Gregoire issued the order early Thursday morning. The flags will stay at half staff on state buildings through sunset today, or until Friday morning if the flags stay outside round the clock.
Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered flags on state buildings lowered to half staff Wednesday in honor of 1st Lt. Brian Bradshaw of Steilacoom.
Bradshaw, 24, died June 25 in Kheyl, Afghanistan, from injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device was detonated.
Word came last week from Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office that she is now on Twitter.
In truth, she’s been tweeting for a few weeks. But with the revolution in Iran apparently running on social networking media, her office wanted to make sure the governor is recognized as being whatever this week’s term for au courant might be.
She is so into it that she can even joke about it, in her own way. To wit: There once was a time, she says in the press release, when to “tweet’ was to chirp.
(Note to governor’s press staff: Do not let the boss quit her day job to do standup.)
Gregoire is also on Facebook, which unfortunately doesn’t make her at all cutting edge, considering that everybody is on Facebook, including the newspaper. And we all know that newspapers are as 21st Century as the wooly mammoth.
The differences between Washington state and South Carolina:
One is in the Northwest, the other is in the Southeast.
One has mountain ranges that still have snow at the top, the other doesn’t.
When Gov. Chris Gregoire disappears from sight for a few days, she goes to Iraq to visit the Guard.
When Gov. Mark Sanford disappears from sight for a few days, he goes to Argentina to kanoodle with his e-mail love interest.