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Wildfire in Goldendale

AP photo

OLYMPIA — Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn't the only governor that has to worry about wildfires. Washington state is battling a fire in the Goldendale area which drew both Gov. Chris Gregoire and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark for a look-see on Thursday.

The Monastery Complex fire has forced some evacuations, has some 500 firefighters on the ground and as of this morning was not yet contained.

Pyrotek will move those 20 jobs, from Mexico, into the Industrial Park

Pyrotek Inc., which announced four weeks ago it will relocate 20 good-paying jobs from Mexico to Spokane Valley, has signed a lease on the building those workers will use.

The Spokane Valley company will lease 40,000 square feet of manufacturing space in the Spokane Business & Industrial Park.

Those jobs will be focused on the manufacture of high-end ceramic filters, according to a company spokesman.

Jobs coming to Spokane Valley

It was announced yesterday that Pyrotek would be moving a manufacturing line from Mexico to Spokane Valley and hiring 20 skilled workers. That is good news in a time when most businesses are doing the opposite and moving their manufacturing plants to other countries for the cheap labor. Governor Chris Gregoire was so excited to hear the announcement that she issued a statement calling it  “great news for the Inland Northwest.” Reporter Tom Sowa has more details here, including how to apply for one of the openings.

Yes, companies do move jobs back from Mexico; Pyrotek relocates 20 skilled jobs

A Spokane Valley metal manufacturer is reversing the flow of skilled jobs, bringing back 20 jobs from a Mexican factory to start a production line here.

Metal manufacturer Pyrotek Inc. is using about $75,000 in state assistance money to hire and train 20 area workers. It will also use another $75,000 in state money to relocate production equipment from Pyrotek’s plant in Apodaca, Mexico.
 
The company makes high-end metal and composite products for customers around the globe. 
Company Finance Manager Michael Sekedat said the state support and the option of using the Valley site’s “technical and management expertise” helped in the decision.
 
The new production facility will make a large number of high-quality ceramic filters used by an industrial customer.
 
Once the equipment is installed and tested, production is expected to begin in August.
 
“We expect this to be a long-term project,” Sekedat said.
 
The 20 positions are considered skilled manufacturing jobs, said Robin Toth, vice president of business development of Greater Spokane Incorporated. The capital investment to open the new line will come to $1million in equipment and renovations, plus ongoing lease and utility costs.
 
While the state has kicked in cash for the relocation, Washington will eventually gain about $450,000 in tax revenue from the new project, according to data put together by GSI Greater Spokane.
 
A news release said the company considered Idaho, Pennsylvania and Tennessee before moving the work back to Spokane. Gov. Chris Gregoire also issued a release that credited the state Commerce Department and GSI Greater Spokane for helping Pyrotek move jobs back to Spokane Valley. Pyrotek has more than 60 facilities in 31 countries.
 
The production line will not be at the firm’s Spokane Valley headquarters, at 9503 E. Montgomery Ave. Company officials declined to say where that facility will be.
Hourly wages are expected to fall in the $18 to $25 range.
 
 
Job inquires should be directed to Brigitte Brazda, at Pyrotek's office on Montgomery in Spokane Valley.

Governor signs Discover Pass into law

STATE LANDS — Gov. Chris Gregoire today signed legislation authorizing the Discover Pass, a $30 annual vehicle permit ($10 daily) that soon will be required for access to Washington state parks and other state lands.

Starting July 1, the Discover Pass will be required for vehicle access to recreation lands and water-access sites managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

State recreation lands include state parks, boat launches, campgrounds, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, trails and trailheads.

Holders of certain types of fishing and hunting licenses, registered campers in state parks and other users are exempt from some Discover Pass requirements. For details, see the Discover Pass website

The pass will be available to purchase in mid-June.

Read on for details from today's signing.

Special Session Day 8: Tax amnesty pulls in $321 million

OLYMPIA — The state collected $321 million in delinquent taxes from nearly 9,000 businesses through an amnesty program that ended Saturday. The success of the program surprised state officials, who were expecting to pick up about $24 million when the program was proposed in December.
To read the rest of this item, click here to go inside the blog.

Gov. says she won’t sign medical pot bill

SEATTLE (AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire says she won't sign legislation to create licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state after the Justice Department warned it could result in a federal crackdown.

The two U.S. attorneys in the state told Gregoire in a letter Thursday that bills passed by the Washington House and Senate would permit large-scale marijuana growing and distribution systems in violation of federal law. They warned that growers, sellers, landlords and even state employees who license such operations could face prosecution.

Gregoire says there's no way she can sign a law that would open state employees to federal prosecution. But she says there are problems with the state's medical marijuana law that make it difficult for sick people to get the drug, and she'll cooperate with lawmakers to address those problems.

Past coverage:

April 7: Spokane medical marijuana dispenaries on federal notice

WA Lege Day 94: Gregoire cites problems in Senate budget

OLYMPIA — School districts around the state might have to “eat” a cut in teacher salaries proposed by Senate budget writers rather than lower pay, Gov. Chris Gregoire warned Wednesday afternoon.

She said some aspects of the Senate general operating budget proposal are improvements over the House spending plan released last week, but the Senate's plan to cut $251 million by cutting public school employee salaries by 3 percent won't work.

“Many of the school districts have already negotiated their contracts, so their salaries are already set,” Gregoire said. “The districts will simply have to eat” the reductions by cutting their budgets in other places.

The Senate also estimates almost $100 million can be saved by keeping better track of truancy in schools. It's a creative approach, but “if it doesn't work, they're going to eat another $100 million,” Gregoire said.

But the latest spending plan is free of gimmicks, the governor said. She's been skeptical of a House plan  to sell or lease the state's wholesale liquor distribution system as a way to raise some $300 million in revenue.

She wouldn't say that either the Senate public school provisions or the House liquor warehouse provisions were deal breakers.

“We're now in the negotiating stage. We're not in the vetoing stage,” she said.

WA Lege Day 94: Gregoire signs m/c profiling bill

Gov. Chris Gregoire offers the signing pen to Sen. Jim Hargrove after putting her signature on a bill to ban “motorcycle profiling.

OLYMPIA — Law enforcement in Washington state won't be able to stop motorcyclists simply because they are motorcyclists under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Law enforcement insists they don't do that, anyway, but motorcycle groups such as ABATE — for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments — have contended for years that it happens all the time.

After several tries, the Legislature passed a bill to make clear that profiling is not permissable and to require some training to make sure it doesn't happen. A few members of biker groups, most in full road regalia, attended the bill signing in Gregoire's conference room, along with sponsor Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who appeared in something slightly different than the standard coat-and-tie dress code enforced on the Senate floor.

Gregoire: Don’t bring me budget gimmicks

OLYMPIA — With the projected gap between income and expenses growing another $500 million to $5.1 billion, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the Legislature may be forced to eliminate popular programs they had  hoped to merely trim.

They aren't going to be able to raise taxes, and they shouldn't try some of the budget “gimmicks” being suggested by some Democrats, such as adding revenues from a “25th month” into the 2011-13 budget or borrowing money by selling more bonds. Asked if she would veto any such plans, Gregoire replied: “Don't bring it to me.”

She would consider increasing gambling options, and even a proposal to license and regulate medical marijuana, which supporters say would bring in more revenue to the state. Saving money in the Corrections Department by allowing early release of more felons is “the last place I'd go.”

She also discounted a suggestion by Republicans the Legislature should reject contracts her staff has negotiated with state employees' unions for the coming biennium and demand more cuts in wages and benefits. The contracts already have a 3 percent wage cut after several years without cost-of-living increases, furloughs and increases in health care costs, proof that “public employees have stepped up to the sacrifice,” she said.

Rejecting the contracts could mean the state pays the higher wages and benefits rates of the current contracts for the first year, and a guarantee of a better deal in the second year of the budget cycle is “a hard promise to keep,” she said.

In her budget proposal in December, Gregoire proposed eliminating a series of state programs not required by federal law, including the Basic Health Program and the Disability Lifeline. Legislators balked, saying they'd rather reduce the programs by reducing the income levels that make a person or family eligible, and that system worked for a supplemental budget that patched the shortfall for the rest of this budget. Asked whether they'd be able to do that for 2011-13, Gregoire was doubtful: “I don't know. I think it's tough.”

An hour before her press conference, the Capitol Rotunda and hallways outside her office were filled with protestors demanding that the state cut tax breaks for businesses, and raise more tax revenue, rather than cut programs. She offered no hope that would be a strategy she'd follow.

“It's much easier said than done. How am I going to get a two-thirds vote?” she said. Closing tax exemptions are considered a tax increase, which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses under an initiatives the voters passed in November.

WA Lege Day 2: Gregoire to state the state of state

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire will tell a joint session of the Legislature the “state of the state”, which chances are she'll say is struggling.

What? You thought she'd say everything was just peachy? You have not been paying attention. She'll likely list many of the things she thinks the state will have to end because it can't afford them any more, with a caveat that if the folks in the chamber have a better idea, she's all ears.

And she'll likely say that tough times are also times of opportunity, and lay out many of the changes she's  unveiled over the last few weeks, like consolidating some state offices and services beefing up education, going after more jobs.

Speech is at noon, and can be watched live on TVW if you have cable, or online right here.

After the speech, Republican leaders will have a press conference to offer their response.

Other than the speech/response, both chambers have a full schedule of hearings. House appropriations committees and the Ways and Means Committee will be getting briefed on Gregoire's proposals for cuts to the final six months of this biennium and for the 2011-13 biennium. Other committees will be looking at everything from pesticides to child product safety.

Gregoire blocks release of cop shooter

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire has blocked the release of an Iowa man convicted of nearly killing a Richland police officer 28 years ago, her office announced Friday.

The governor signed the order Thursday night canceling the parole release of Jerry Dean Lain (pictured in 1982 and in 2010). He had been scheduled for release Monday by order of Washington’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board.

 ”It is rare for a governor to exercise this power,” Gregoire said in a statement. “But I reviewed the case and concluded there is an unacceptable level of risk to public safety here that called for me to act.”

The governor has the authority to overrule the board, but it’s not known when it was last used.

“We don’t think it’s been used in at least 30 years, if ever,” said Gregoire spokeswoman Karina Shagren. 

Former Richland officer Mike Fitzpatrick had asked Gregoire to intervene. Fitzpatrick was stabbed seven times and shot in the face and abdomen in 1982 after he approached Lain, he was seen prowling cars.

Lain was convicted of assault and has been in prison ever since.

If he had been released, he was to go to Iowa, where he was wanted on violating parole for a stabbing in a bar fight. 

Rowlanda Cawthon, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said that Lain would have been released to a “work release center/halfway house” in Sioux City. 

In her order, Gregoire noted that Lain has had more than 20 infractions while in prison, including threatening staff.

While he hadn’t been cited for any problems since 2004, Gregoire wrote that she was concerned by a 2009 risk evaluation that found Lain was placed in a group “at a high risk of recidivism for both general and violent crimes in the range of medium to high risk.”

“I am particularly concerned that the potential for violence would be escalated in any future contact with law enforcement officers that could lead to revocation of his parole release,” she said.

Gregoire wrote that while Lain, 53, has made “creditable gains” during his time in prison, including educational courses, anger management classes and vocational experience, “I conclude that his rehabilitation is not complete and he is not a fit subject for release from prison.”

Early reaction to Wildlife merger plan

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The buzz is growing over Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget-cutting proposals that would, among other things, merge the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department to into a new mega agency and reduce the Fish and Wildlife Commission to an advisory role or eliminate it all together.

If the plan goes through, wildlife policy would be carried out by a governor-appointed director of a new Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“The voters gave the governor no choice in this budget crisis but to make big changes,” said George Orr, Fish and Wildlife commissioner from Spokane. “I think they’re likely to abolish the commissions and then cherry pick the good policy makers into some advisior committies that can give agency staff good advice without wasting a lot of time.”

More reaction follows….

Fish, Wildlife panel could be axed

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is on the chopping block in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Tuesday proposal announced to consolidate state agencies and eliminate boards and commissions to save nearly $30 million.

Among other mergers, a new Department of Conservation and Recreation would be formed by combining the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State
Parks and Recreation Commission, the Recreation and Conservation Office and the law enforcement unit of the Department of Natural Resources.

Traditionally, fish and wildlife management policy has been set by the commission, a panel of nine members appointed by the governor. The commission has had the power to hire and fire the Fish and Wildlife Department director.

Under the new system, the Conservation and Recreation director would be part of the Governor’s staff.

“It’s hard on my ego to say I don’t’ think we need smart guys like me to write policy,” said George Orr, Fish and Wildlife commissioner from Spokane. “But the governor’s trying to make ends meet in tough times. For now, it probably makes sense.”

Fish and Wildlife commissioners are volunteers. The commission budget is nearly $150,000 a year, he said.

“People say they want to keep political decisions out of fish and wildlife management,” he said. “But the reality is that politics enter into just about every decision we make.”

Happy Halloween from the Gov’s Mansion

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire is dressing as Morticia Addams this year for Halloween, and husband Mike is dressing as Gomez.

They’re hosting Halloween at the governor’s mansion, an annual event at the state capital. Kids get candy, and five will find they have tickets to the Holiday Tour of the Mansion later this year.

OK, that’s it from the capital for Oct. 31, 2010. Go ahead and make comments about the governor’s choice of costume.

Gregoire: We gotta budget differently

Gov. Chris Gregoire answers a question during a press conference Thursday. Staff photo by Jim Camden

OLYMPIA — Facing a shortfall of $3 billion in the next biennium, the state has to come up with a new way of writing budgets, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

She announced a plan to develop a new system that includes public hearings, a 32-member panel of advisers, and the prospect of privatizing major state services like the ferry system.

Gregoire insisted that no state agency will get a free pass in the new system, that will build on the old system known as “priorities of government” by asking eight questions, starting with “Is the activity an essential service?”

If it is, the next question would be whether the state has to perform the service, or can it be provided by someone else.

Various state officials have asked such questions for years, but with varying results. In the last  legislative session, for example…

Gregoire signs furlough bill (most of it, anyway)

Gregoire signs furlough bill with no entourage.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a bill that will order thousands of state workers to take 10 days off without pay through the middle of 2011.

The bill is one of the cost-cutting measures approved by the Legislature this year in the face of a $2.8 billion shorfall in the state’s general fund. The furloughs could cut some $50 million in wage and salary expenses from the general fund.

Nearly 12,500 state workers will be required to take days off without pay unless their management comes up with another way to match the savings from furloughs.

Gregoire vetoed one section of the bill, which required a set amount — $10 million — in savings from managers through the furloughs. Gregoire said that wasn’t equitable, and could have resulted in extra furlough days among managers to reach that specified amount.

“This is about equity,” she said, adding everyone should share the sacrifice.

But some departments are exempt from the furlough law, including the state patrol, prisons, child protective services, academic staff at state colleges and universities, state liquor stores and parks. (for a full list, go inside the blog.)

The first furlough day is July 12. (For the full list, go inside the blog.)

While most bill-signings are attended by sponsors and other people ready to celebrate a new law’s passage, no one showed up to take credit or applaud the enactment of the furlough bill. Gregoire signed it and had no one to accept the ceremonial signing pen.

Marty Brown, the director of the Office of Financial Management, said the state will find ways to notify the public what state offices are closed in advance of the furlough days, just as it does for holidays that are celebrated by the state by not local or federal government.

“We’ll have to start way earlier,” he added, because most furlough days don’t coincide with events most people will recognize as holidays.

Gregoire signs, defends tax hikes

Gregoire signs tax bill as crowd that includes Rep. Ross Hunter (right) looks on.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire signed two major tax increases Friday, insisting the state had no choice but to raise taxes on a wide range of businesses and consumer goods to protect key services.

She discounted any potential electoral backlash for Democrats from the tax increases in November, saying the budget isn’t a partisan issue.

“This is not about partisan politics. This is about tough times in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said.

When Washington was in a major economic downturn in the early 1980s, the governor was a Republican and both house of the Legislature were controlled by the GOP. They raised taxes, too, she said.

But voters gave the Legislature back to Democrats in the 1982 election, and defeated Gov. John Spellman in 1984.

“I’m not forgetting that,” Gregoire said. But she did consult with Spellman during the tax discussions, and he said the biggest mistake he made was extending the sales tax to food, a move which was overturned at the ballot box. “That’s why I’ve said let’s go for things that are discretionary.”

Between May 1 and July 1, taxes will go up on a wide range of goods and services.

Cigarettes will cost an extra $1 per pack. Candy, gum and bottled water will be subject to state and local sales taxes (they’re currently exempt as food). Soda pop will cost an extra 2 cents per 12 ounce can. Beer from major breweries will cost an extra 28 cents per six-pack, although microbrewed beer will be exempt from the new tax levy.

The service industry, which includes a wide range of businesses from lawyers and accountants to barbers and musicians, will pay an extra .3 percent on gross revenues. Out of state businesses will see new tax formulas, and companies that supply goods to in-state distributors will continue paying a tax that the state Supreme Court ruled last fall was improperly being levied against one major food supplier, DOT Foods.

Gregoire said Washington residents could avoid many of the consumption taxes by changing their habits — drinking tap water instead of bottled water, for example, or giving up smoking. Or they could continue buying those items and pay the increases, which would find everything from education programs to health care to senior programs: “I believe in the people of the state of Washington. I’m asking them to stand up.”

Republicans, who spent the 60-day regular session and the 30-day special session fighting any tax increases, called them job killers. Sen Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, dubbed it the 7-11 Kwik-E-Mart tax package because so  many of the items are the stables of convenience store sales.

“This package exempts things like expensive microbrews, but taxes those items that most impact working class and low-income Washingtonians like canned meat,” said Holmquist. “This is no way to balance a budget.”
Gregoire said Republicans who complained about taxes never proposed a budget that showed what services they would cut without raising taxes: “Everyone could easily say waht the didn’t like. It’s easy to sit in the minority and say ‘No.’”
Initiative promoter Tim Eyman has filed a series of initiatives to give voters the chance to repeal most of the taxes if his organization collects enough signatures. Another group has filed an initiative to remove some of the current taxes and replace it with an income tax on people making more than $200,000 or couples making more than $400,000.
Gregoire said she would sign the income tax initiative petition, welcome the debate over it if the proposal makes it to the ballot, and may support it after studying it further:”I have been opposed to an income tax. This is a different kind of income tax.”
That prompted swift criticism from state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser, who said Gregoire campaigned for re-election in 2008 by saying it wasn’t time to raise taxes and that she did not support a state income tax.
“Taxpayers should note that Gov. Gregoire never wahts to ‘have a good discussion’ and a ‘debate’ over lowering taxes or keeping them constant but is always open to discussing tax increases,” Esser said in a press release.


Gregoire, 6 other govs applaud Boeing tanker plan

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire led a group of seven governors Thursday patting The Boeing Co. on the back for joining the competition over the new Air Force tanker.

Not that there’s any surprise that Boeing would get into the competition. After all, it has been trying to get the Air Force to buy or lease new tankers from it since 2001, and basically drove a stake through the heart of the Air Force’s plan to give the bid to Northrop Grumman/EADS back in 2008 over changes in the bidding rules. Not cmpeting this time would have lots of people wondering what the heck was all the fuss about two years ago.

Boeing said it will propose a tanker version of its 767 design, which is the same airframe it has been talking about using since 2001.

Northrop Grumman/EADS (what some Northwest politicians like to call the Airbus group) has not yet announced it will enter the competition with the new specs that were released earlier this week.

Also Thursday, a group calling itself “Build Them Both” is asking governors around the country to write President Obama with a request that the Pentagon build both models as a create the jobs, help the economy measure. It released letters from governors in Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio and West Virginia suggesting just that. Curiously enough, none of those governors are among the ones that joined Gregoire in saying, essential “Go Boeing.”

OK, so it’s not THAT curious. Most of the Boeing-ers have that company’s operations or subs in their region.

So will Gregoire sign on to the Build Them Both campaign?

Answer inside the blog

Moore leaving OFM for Investment Board

OLYMPIA — The state’s top “numbers guy,” Office of Financial Management Director Victor Moore, will be leaving that job to take over as top operator at the State Investment Board.

Moore has served as head of OFM for five years, since Gov. Chris Gregoire first took office in January 2005. He’s been a state official for 30 years, first as a budget officer with Evergreen State College in 1980, a budget analyst for Senate Ways and Means in 1983, and first worked for OFM in 1986 on transportation and capital construction. He served as staff coordinator for the House Appropriations Committee from 1991 through 2004.

Although not a well-known face outside of Olympia, he’s highly regarded by members of both parties in the Capitol. Seldom in front of the cameras, he’s usually close at hand during gubernatorial press conferences and briefings. At those times, when a detail question or a technical aspect of a budget or policy bill comes up, Gregoire will frequently look up and say “Victor.” and have him give the answer.

He will become the job of chief operating officer of the State Investment Board after the session is over. Although this year and last have been particularly difficult budgets, with major cuts last year and an attempt to both cut and raise taxes this year, Moore said that wasn’t a factor in his decision. Good years or bad, he said, the budget is always difficult.

Replacing Moore at OFM will be Gregoire’s legislative director, Marty Brown, who was OFM director from 1999 through 2005.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregoire: Stay off beaches with tsunami advisory

OLYMPIA — Washington coastal beaches are under a tsunami advisory as a result of the earthquake in Chile, which means folks should stay away from them, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Saturday.

Here’s her full statement:

“Our hearts are with the people of Chile following last night’s earthquake.

“As a result of the earthquake a tsunami wave was generated and is now spreading across the Pacific Ocean. A tsunami advisory is in effect for the entire Washington coast. However, there is no tsunami watch or warning currently in effect for the Washington coast.

“We are closely monitoring the situation. It is strongly recommended that people stay away from beaches and coastal waters this afternoon and should be alert to strong currents in coastal harbors. Coastline communities will be notified should conditions change and should follow the advice of their local emergency management agencies.”

Gregoire signs I-960 suspension

OLYMPIA – There was no drama, but plenty of theatrics, as Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill Wednesday making it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes.
Gregoire signed a 16-month suspension of some provisions of Initiative 960 as its prime sponsor Tim Eyman looked on, sometimes with a disapproving frown on his face, at one point holding his nose and pointing one thumb down.
“Now, you must behave,” Gregoire told Eyman at one point.
“I am behaving. This is my self-control,” he replied.

To read the rest of this story, click to go inside the blog.

WA Lege: Tax this.

OLYMPIA – The Legislature is moving toward a fight over taxes that will ultimately come down to which ones to raise.
Although Republicans and some Democrats will say “none,” odds are the debate will be between bumping one big tax, like the sales tax, or a finding small increases or new taxes on a bunch of things.
Gov. Chris Gregoire sent legislators a “menu” of the latter last week, with new or bigger taxes on things like petroleum at the refinery, candy and bottled water. Each has a rationale: candy makes you fat; oil products drip out of cars, wash down the storm drain and into the water supply; and bottled water is a silly affectation that dumps a gazillion clear plastic bottles into landfills.
But if state officials are serious about taxing things we don’t like or shouldn’t do, it’s time to consider the suggestions inside the blog:

Gregoire floats tax plan

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed this afternoon a series of tax increases as part of what she calls a “balanced approach” to the worst economic times in more than 70 years.

She said the Legislature should pass a budget that makes about $1 billion in cuts, raises about $605 million in taxes, factors in expected increases in federal funds for medical programs, and uses about $677 million in budget reserves or fund transfers.

For that extra tax money, Gregoire wants the Legislature to:

— extend the sales tax to candy and gum;

—place an excise tax of 1 cent per ounce on bottled water;

—place an excise tax on soda that amounts to a nickel for a 12 ounce can;

—increase the hazardous substance tax from .7 percent to 2 percent, which amounts to an increase of 3 cents to 5 cents per gallon, depending on who’s making the estimate.sources in the oil industry said could raise the price of gasoline by about 4 cents per gallon;

—eliminate business and occupation tax exemptions for sales of gold bullion and syrup used in carbonated beverages, and require corporate directors to pay taxes on the fees they receive for their services.

It does not have a general increase in either the sales tax or the B&O tax. Some legislators have proposed a temporary increase in the sales tax of up to 1 percent, tied either to a time limit or a sign that the economy was improving.

Gregoire said she and her fiscal advisers studied a sales tax increase and rejected it as being regressive and possibly hurting the recovery. But she does extend the sales tax to candy, gum and bottled water, and hikes taxes on cigarettes, all of which she calls discretionary.

“I don’t think the economic recovery of the state of Washington relies on cigarettes, candy, gum and bottled water,” she said.

Gregire also wants the Legislature to make some other changes to the state’s tax code, including an exemption to the business and occupation tax for out-of-state companies that sell directly to consumers. A state Supreme Court case last year said the current exemption for door-to-door sellers like Avon and Mary Kay representatives also covers out-of-state wholesalers like Dot Foods; fixing that would bring in another $154 million in the current biennium.

Gregoire told leaders of both parties in both chambers of the Legislature that she still plans to close 10 state institutions as a way of saving $180.5 million. Among those institutions is Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, described the governor’s latest budget proposal as a measured approach, which is what majority Democrats in both houses say they are seeking.

“Everybody has a different view of what ‘measured’ means,” Tom said.

Senate Democrats are split between a budget that raises a menu of taxes, the way Gregoire is proposing, and a budget that gets most of its new money from something like a general sales tax increase. They expect to release a budget proposal early next week.

Although Tom indicated the final shape of the Senate budget is in doubt, he also said theyare waiting for the House to pass a bill to suspend the supermajority required to raise taxes before releasing a budget: “The longer we put that budget on the table…we’ve got 550 lobbyists that will come down on it like — you fill in the word.”

Republicans in both houses have said that except for changes to state law to correct the tax the Supreme Court lifted from out-of-state wholesalers, they oppose tax increases because of their effect on the economy.

Gregoire: Many questions about schools ruling

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire says there are too many questions about last week’s court ruling on the state’s definition of “basic education” to say whether she supports an appeal.

Billions of dollars of state school funding could be at risk in the decision by a King County Superior Court Judge Johne Ehrlick that the state isn’t living up to its consitutional responsibility to provide for basic education, Gregoire said at a press conference Monday.

But a final order has not yet been entered, and any decision on an appeal will wait until she talks with Attorney General Rob McKenna and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

“The attorney general has the ultimate decision-making authority here,” said Gregoire, herself a former attorney general.

One question they have to discuss is whether a King County trial judge’s decision should be taken to the state Supreme Court to be any order has statewide impact.

Some legislators  have signed a letter urging that the state not appeal the decision, but instead comply with Erlick’s order. Gregoire declined to say how that would sway her decision, other than to say: “Ask them if they’ve read the decision.”

For other comments from the press conference, go inside the blog:

Gregoire on Medicaid money: Book it

An update on story posted earlier

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire said she’s confident the federal government will come up with some $435 million in money for Medicaid reimbursements over the next 18 months, easing somewhat the cuts the state would have to make on health care spending to fill a projected hole in its budget
At a morning press conference to announce the number of jobs generated by federal stimulus money, Gregoire said she now expects both houses of Congress will extend the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages – commonly called FMAP – in a way that sends higher reimbursement for Medicaid patients to Washington. The state has traditionally has lower reimbursement rates than many other places.
Higher FMAP funding would reduce the amount of revenue the state would have to produce — through taxes or fees or federal grants — to “buy back” some state programs she proposed cutting in her December budget.
The FMAP proposal was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, and has yet to pass the Senate, but is in President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposal.
“I’m going to book it,” Gregoire said, noting that other states including California have already factored into their budgets.
To read more, Click Here to go inside the blog.

Taking the temperature

“They’re working at a fever pitch,” — Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, describing legislative activity last Monday.
OLYMPIA – When one is the new guy in town, it often behooves one to withhold judgment on things that seem different than the place where one used to be.
Thus, when the governor made the above observation about the Legislature early last week, it seemed appropriate to stifle a quizzical look, despite having just come from the House chamber where the honorables were hard at work extolling the virtues of Civics for a resolution on the values of teaching it.
The governor was explaining why she wouldn’t release a tax proposal she’s preparing if federal money for things like health care and schools doesn’t materialize. To do so would break an agreement with Democratic legislative leaders to wait until state revenue forecasts come out in mid February. Since she did not appear to be attempting sarcasm or irony, this must be the kind of fever that forces one to follow a regimen of lots of rest.

Gov to Congress: Health Care? Get ‘er done.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire and a phalanx of state officials who deal with health care tried to send a message to a Congress that may be wavering on the issue in the wake of last week’s U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts:

“Regardless of one election, national health care reform is essential,” Gregoire said at a mid-morning press conference. “Get it done.”

If Congress can’t pass a comprehensive reform package quickly, it should pass the funding changes that would send more federal money to Washington to cover Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and give the state a waiver that would help cover the costs of state health care programs for poor children.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said that under the current systems, Washington expects to have 1 million people without health insurance by the end of 2011, and currently has a fourth of its population that is “under insured.”

Asked how worried she is that Congress will not pass a health care funding package by the time the Legislature has to make decisions on the state’s budget problems, she replied: “Quite.”

She suggested they vote on fiscal health care issues first which take a simple majority to pass, then take up policy issues that might be more difficult with the Democrats’ loss of a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate. 

Some policy issues, such as banning insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions, have broad support, she said. They should determine the issues on which they have strong agreement, and work out the disagreements on the rest.

 To read more of this story, Click Here to go inside the blog.

 

Gregoire wants new preschool standards

OLYMPIA — Washington state should help low-income residents get their children into the preschool of their choice, but establish standards for facilities that help prepare 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.

It also must have a stronger system for K-12 schools to force improvements on failing facilities, in part to have a chance to qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in the federal Race to the Top program, she said.

Gregoire, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Bette Hyde, director of the state’s Early Learning Department, were among a group calling for changes in state education policies and programs in preschool and K-12 education.

For pre-schoolers, Gregoire proposes the “All Start” program, which she said would open up preschool to low-income families by providing subsidies for those with incomes below twice the poverty level. The youngsters would have to be enrolled in certified preschools, which means the state would have to establish standards and develop a certification process.

“We have no standards for preschools. Preschool teachers are not required to undergo background checks,” Gregoire said.