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Sunday Spin: When public notice isn’t much help to the public

Transparency in government is a great ideal, but like so many things it can be somewhat less than ideal in practice.

Take, for example, the edict of Initiative 960 that the Office of Financial Management let the public know the cost of legislation that could tap the state treasury. Excellent idea, because one never knows what the Legislature will dream up when all that brainpower is assembled in Olympia. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Where there’s a will, there’s sometimes a won’t

OLYMPIA – Three weeks of debate over suspending Initiative 960, can be boiled down to this: If you change an initiative, you are crushing the will of the people. Not if it’s something that really needs doing, in which case you are exercising the leadership the people elected you to show.
No it’s not. Yes it is. No. Enough already, let’s vote because we all know this sucker’s going to pass, and the people can express their will in the fall elections. Yeah, just you wait. No you wait.
In the wake of all the “will of the people” talk, the Secretary of State’s office last week released a list of initiatives passed since 1952, when the current rules for amending initiatives were reset by constitutional amendment. It suggests the will of the people, as expressed at the ballot box on initiatives, is not so sacrosanct that one should never, ever change it.
Of the 45 that have passed in those 57 years, at least 29 have been changed, many more than once. And that was before the recent tweaking or evisceration of I-960.

To continue reading this post, go inside the blog…

WA Lege Day 48: Senate passes budget

OLYMPIA – With the bare minimum votes needed and debate over taxes yet to come, Senate Democrats passed a general fund budget Saturday designed to close the state’s $2.8 billion budget gap.
Even without a firm decision on which taxes to add or alter to raise more than $900 million in extra revenue, the combination of programs cut, reserves tapped and federal funds gave almost everyone in the chamber something to dislike.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, called it an ugly budget for an ugly time. And as the chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, it’s her budget.
Senate Republicans swung between complaints that the proposal doesn’t cut enough in tough economic times, and cut programs that do valuable work that they support.
Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who is one of the staunchest opponents of any tax increase and among the most vociferous against Democrats’ decision to suspend the super-majorities needed to enact such hikes – said the proposal was wrong to cut the Frances Haddon Morgan Center in Bremerton for children and adults with autism, whom he said were among the most vulnerable in society.
“Some of these cuts in this budget are just too severe and too painful to people in the community,” Benton said.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, called the more than $800 million in budget cuts “token savings”. The initial proposal didn’t cut enough, and money for individual members’ projects got added back during committee hearings at the rate of “a million here, a million there.”
“We are fiddling while Rome burns,” he complained.
No, said Senate Majority Leader, Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: “On the contrary, senator, we are passing a budget. We are moving the process forward.”
To read the rest of this story, click here to go inside the blog

Wa Lege Day 43: Senate takes up I-960

OLYMPIA — The state Senate is taking up the suspension of various provisions of Initiative 960 again this evening.

The House has sent the suspension back, and it means a straight up or down vote.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said the House did one good thing, which was adding back the notification provisions of the tax impacts of any proposals.

But the rest of it is still bad, he said. It still should have the requirements that every legislators record on tax votes be printed in the voters pamphlet, and the advisory vote in November of any tax that’s increased.

“Every legislator should welcome the advice of the people,” said Benton, who recently announced his campaign for U.S. Senate.

Republicans can’t amend the bill. So debate has begun.

House votes to suspend I-960

OLYMPIA – Debate over the need for supermajorities to raise taxes stretched into its second night Wednesday in the House of Representatives and invoked everything from the Gospel to the law of the jungle.

There were warnings about taking away the voice of the people, who passed the initiative by a 51 percent majority in 2007, and warnings about gutting programs that people need to educate their children or build their roads.

There were quotations from great minds, like Thomas Jefferson, who warned about big governments, the evangelist Mark, who started his Gospel with the admonition to repent, and Isoruku Yamamoto, the Japanese admiral who bemoaned waking the sleeping giant of the American people after bombing Pearl Harbor.

There was a dispute on whether it was easier to raise taxes and not do the hard work of reforming state government, or easier to cut the budget to avoid facing voters and explain the need for taxes.

In the end, the House voted 51-47 to do what everyone expected: suspend the two-thirds majority required to increase taxes through mid-2011, allowing majority Democrats to raise taxes to help fill a projected $2.8 billion budget gap. The Senate voted to suspend the initiative last week, but because the House changed some of the provisions, the bill must go back for a new vote in the other chamber..

Democrats in the House and the Senate have yet to release budget plans, but Gov. Chris Gregoire released her newest budget package Wednesday, and it has more than $600 million in tax increases, coupled with some $1 billion in cuts.

Most Republicans who took the floor Wednesday night to denounce the bill used up every second of their allotted 10 minutes for speeches. They talked repeatedly of the will of the people, who, Rep. Dan Roach said, “want it to be hard to raise taxes.”

But Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, said cutting state programs will further divide the “haves” from the “have nots” and harm the state as a whole.

“It’s not the rule of the jungle where the big dogs eat the little dogs,” Hasegawa said.

For a look at how they voted, go inside the blog

WA Lege Day 37: House to go late on I-960 bill

OLYMPIA — The state House of Representatives is settling in for a late night on their version of the bill to suspend tax-raising restrictions in Initiative 960.

House Democrats have made some changes to ESSB 6130, which means if it passes in its present form it will come back to the Senate for another vote.

One can expect a rerun of arguments for and against that were made last week. For those hanging on every word, check out the live broadcast on TVW.

WA Lege: A goof or an evil plot?

OLYMPIA – Is it better to be incompetent or duplicitous?
That’s the choice being set up for Senate Democrats by initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman after last week’s double vote on suspending portions of a ballot measure requiring supermajorities for tax increases.
The proposed suspension wasn’t a surprise. Making some change to the voter-approved law restricting tax increases has been on the Democrats to-do list since the session began. There were questions of how and when they would try to change it, but never if.

WA Lege: Deja vu. Senate Democrats suspend I-960

OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats were forced to hit the replay button Wednesday night and hold another debate on a bill to suspend voter imposed limits on tax increases.

That gave Republicans a chance to once again complain that they were thwarting the “will of the people” by setting aside requirements for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, place such increases on a November ballot for an advisory vote and issue financial projections on any bill that would affect state revenue.

It gave Democrats a chance to once again assert the state was in the worst financial times since the Great Depression and desperate times call for bold action.

In the end, the result was essentially the same. After more than about two hours of debate on various Republican amendments – all of them failed – and the suspension itself, the Senate voted 26-22 to suspend all of I-960 through the first half of next year. After that, all provisions for supermajority passage of tax increases, public advisory votes and fiscal notes would come back into law.

A Tuesday bill that merely suspended the supermajority provisions – although Democrats mistakenly thought it suspended the whole initiative – passed 26-23. The difference Wednesday: Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, was absent.

Between now and then, however, are this year’s session, which is mainly dedicated to fixing an estimated $2.6 billion gap between what the state is expected to collect in taxes and what it would need to pay out for the projects and services it now has.

Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a budget in December that would close that gap strictly by cutting state programs, jobs and services, but she has since said she wants to “buy back” some of those cuts with a combination of new federal money and tax increases.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Democrats will not bring an “all cuts” budget to the Senate floor because it would devastate too many programs for children, the sick and the elderly.

But that means tax increases, which Republicans generally oppose. Even if all Democrats were to vote on a tax increase their leaders proposed, they’d still be one vote shy of the two-thirds majority, and even within their ranks some members are unlikely to support some proposals.

They probably do have, however, a simple majority available for most increases currently being discussed.

For a breakdown of how the Senate voted, go inside the blog

WA Lege Day 31: Debate on I-960 changes begins anew

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats were able to bring their proposed fix to the suspension of Initaitve 960 to the floor at about 9:40 p.m., which is more than two hours earlier than expected.

Debate began with amendments by Republicans to put things back into law that the Democratic measure seeks to strip out of the bill: voter notification, advisory votes in November for any tax increase the Legislature imposes in the spring.

The first two went down with Republicans and a few Democrats including Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, voting yes but the majority of Democrats voting no.

Final vote could still be sometime after midnight. The debate is supposed to be the same, albeit somewhat more strident, than Tuesday’s. The result is expected to be the same, also.

The Spokesman-Review’s press deadline is much earlier, however, so Spin Control will close down and update in the morning.

WA Lege Day 31: I-960 change could hit ‘bump’

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats apparently have a bill to do suspend Initiative 960 the way they want. Now they need Senate Republicans to go along if they have any chance of doing it before midnight.

It all has to do with the “bump” as explained by Jeff Reading of Senate Democratic staff:

The Senate is now heading back onto the floor to …attempt to move the 960 bill from second to third reading so that it may be voted on for final passage.

Procedurally, it takes a two-thirds vote of members present to “bump” a bill from second to third reading in the same day. The Republicans have indicated they won’t give the bump.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, have been huddling off and on, apparently in an attempt to negotiate this one out. Without the bump, Democrats would have to wait until after midnight, so they wouldn’t be making the move in the same day…


WA Lege Day 31: Calling Oscar Rogers. Sen Dems bring up I-960 bill again to fix it

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats are due to return for an evening session to address the big “oops” moment so far this session.

They reportedly are working on a bill that will do what they said they intended to do Tuesday: Suspend all aspects of Initiative 960 through July 1, 2011. What they did, however, was suspend only the “supermajority needed for any tax increase” portion of I-960. That left in place such requirements as public advisory votes on any increase and financial statements on any bill that has a fiscal impact.

Apparently when the Democratic caucus decided to swap the bill that went through committee hearings for a “simplified” version, the staff thought simplified meant one thing and the senators thought it meant something else.

Strangely enough, the Republican senators seemed to understand exactly what they were voting on, and even commented on how the version that passed was not as bad as the version that went through the committee hearing.

At 7:50 p.m., Democrats were starting to come out of caucus…one can only hope they have a plan, and a bill…that they’ve read. And that they will, in the words of that great Saturday Night Live character Oscar Rogers: “Fix it. Fix. It. Fix it.”

Wrapup: I-960 suspension passes the Senate

OLYMPIA – The Legislature would be able to raise taxes this session and next with a simple majority vote under a bill approved Tuesday in the state Senate.

In the most contentious Senate debate this year – one that constantly invoked “the will of the people” and at one point became a showdown between grandmas in the chamber – Democrats suspended the need for a supermajority on tax increases imposed by voters in 2007.

Just hours after a 26-23 victory, however, they said they’d made a mistake and intended to suspend all the requirements of Initiative 960, including the need for statewide advisory votes on any tax they choose to raise. Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, the bill’s prime sponsor, said in an evening press release the majority party will bring up a new version to the Senate floor “as soon as possible … to suspend I-960 in full until July 2011.” (WEDS update: Senate Democrats expect to introduce a bill to “fix” that problem sometime today and suspend all of I-960 for that time period. No time table at this point but watch Spin Control for updates.)

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

WA Lege Day 30: Bill passes 26-23

OLYMPIA — The Senate approved changing state law to allow taxes to be raised this year and next with a simple majority.

After a lengthy debate and a time out for parliamentary measures, the Senate voted 26-23 to suspend the provisions of Initiative 960 that requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. The supermajority would return after July 1, 2011.

All Republicans voted against the bill, as did five Democrats, among them Sen. Chris Marr of Spokane. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, voted to pass the bill which is generally regarded as a step toward raising some taxes to help close the state’s projected budget gap..

It now goes to the House of Representatives.

WA Lege Day 30: A fix found, vote coming

OLYMPIA— A roll call vote on the bill is coming now that they’ve made a change in the title. Count in a few minutes

WA Lege Day 30: Fixing the title

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats apparently will have to resurrect a Republican title that they previously rejected to pass a bill that makes changes to the supermajority requirements for tax increases.

That means Democrats take an amendment that they don’t like, for a title written by Republicans to a bill they don’t like. Should anyone care? Only in the sense that the title of the bill, if it passes, can restrict any changes the House may try to make when it moves to the other chamber.

There’s a huddle at the podium by leaders of both parties, while the remainder of the senators are milling about.

WA Lege Day 30: Title problems

OLYMPIA — Debate a bill to suspend the supermajority to raise taxes has come to a halt on the floor of the Senate.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, raised a “point of order” that because of changes approved by Democrats, the bill’s title is no longer accurate.

After conferring with staff attorneys, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who is presiding, agreed. The title includes the term permanent, and nothing in the bill is permanent any longer. The bill needs an accurate title.

Democrats are trying to figure out a parliamentary way to change it.

WA Lege Day 30: Brown defends simple majority votes

OLYMPIA— Debate continues:

Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield: “I do think there is a difference between one initiative and another. People think a little bit about their pocket books, on both sides, than they do about policy. Let’s try to keep a leg up (on Oregon, where voters  It is our role to lift people up, but not necessarily take care of them.

Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: “I respect the constitution and the constitution lays out the balance of powers. The Legislature, it is vested in us, to create the budget and to balance the budget, which is the most important bill we pass. If you hold the budget to minority rule, some would say held hostage…then you are holding the policy of the people … also hostage to minority rule. We have the task and responsiblity, which we hold very, very seriously, to balance the budget. If I brought an all cuts budget to the floor, it would not get 25 votes, it would not get 10. It will not be an all-cuts budget this year. We cut much deeper last year than I wanted…we did it because we had to bring a balanced budget to the floor. (This year’s budget) will be fair and honest to the people. I uphold (my constituents) trust in me.”

Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said Republicans predicted budget deficits three years ago: “We have been saying there’s a crash coming, and nobody listened. Part of what we’re in today is global, but part of it is self-inflicted.”

WA Lege Day 30: More grandmas, and one not

OLYMPIA — Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, warns of severe cuts, even if there are tax increases.

“You talk about restructuring of government? There are going to be complete programs that are going to be eliminated. We give out billions of tax breaks every year and there’s virtually no accountability. We have tax breaks with no job requirements at all…no proof of benefits to the state at all…We need to look at all the options. This is not about tax increases this is about looking at all the options.”

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island: “I have 43 grandchildren. I believe it’s our moral responsiblity to take care of people. I’ve never voted for a general tax increase, but I will this year. We don’t spend tax money on transportation projects. We don’t put any art in it.”

Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake: “People have spoken loud and clear. The bill before us emasculates the initiative. Say it only suspends for two years, but I don’t know of a tax that lasts for two years. They last forever. Raising taxes is meant to be the last resort. You only need one of our members to (get two-thirds). Raising taxes in a recession will lead to job losses. This is not just about raising taxes, this is about listening to the public.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue: “First I want to make it clear that I am not a grandmother. We’ve cut already $4 billion. Just over 12 percent. The great Rossi budget, that was a 9.5% People in my district don’t look at corporate loopholes as tax increases; they want us to look at them. We are facing a very different environment than when the voters passed this. This is not an easy vote, but it is the right vote.”

WA Lege Day 30: Democrats defend the changes

OLYMPIA—Some of the problems with the original bill suspending the supermajority required for tax increases have been removed, Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean any Republicans will vote for it, he said.

Democrats defended the suspension.

“This is a significant issue. We do not take lightly, changing or even suspending the will of the people,” Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said. The first amendment to I-601 was suspended by Sen. Bob Morton, a Republican. Republican Sens. Jim West and Dino Rossi also suspended initiatives, some of them by bigger margins than I-960, Hargrove said.

“It’s disengeniuous to suggest that one side of the aisle always upholds the will of the people and the other side does not,” he said.

The drop in the budget is worse than the drop in the early 1980s, when the state extended the sales tax onto food purchases, he added, and “I don’t intend to do that.”

“In all our districts we see homes foreclosed and businesses closed. It wasn’t state government that got us there. It was waste, fraud and greed on the part of corporate America,” Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle said.

Republicans talk about the big majorities in their districts that voted in favor of I-960, but his district voted heavily against it, Murray said. The state has a republican form of government that sends legislators to do the work of the government.

WA Lege Day 30: Time to vote?

OLYMPIA — A Republican amendment described as an attempt to fix technical problems with the title is being discussed.

“Enough is enough,” Sen. Rodney Tom, a Democratic vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee argues. “It’s time to vote” on the bill itself.

Amendment fails 22-26, like the previous ones, with all Republicans and Democrats Tim Sheldon and Chris Marr voting yes.

WA Lege Day 30: Debate continues

OLYMPIA — Arguing against changes to the state’s supermajority for tax increases continues, and some senators are attempting to usie t to their best advantage

“The citizens voted their conscience. Now we’re throwing that away. We’re ignoring the will of the people,” Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who recently announced he was running for the U.S. Senate, said while looking straight into the television camera. “Shouldn’t we ask the people who put it in place if they feel the current situation warrants gutting the protections they put in place?”

Turns out the camera wasn’t on, but a candidate running for higher office needs all the practice they can get

WA Lege Day 30: Real debate starts

OLYMPIA —First up is a Republican amendment that limits the suspension for just this session.

Sen. Mike Carrell, R, warns that if Democrats repeal the provisions of Initiative 960, “there will be another referendum in November” on them.

Sen. Pam Roach, R: “There will probably be a new initative on the ballot, too.”

Sen. Val Stevens, R, quotes Abraham Lincoln in warning against “thwarting the will of the people. You are telling the people…we know better than you, we are a monarchy.”

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D, says initiatives are special because they can’t be vetoed by the governor, and are in the state constitution ahead of legislative powers.

Sen. Mike Carrell, R: “These are serious times. These are not times we should look at further burdening the people. Let’s just do it for one year, if you feel you must do it.”

Amendment fails 21-27, with Republicans, plus Sheldon and Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, voting yes.

WA Lege Day 30: Debate on changes to I-960 begins

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats are making a move to simplify changes to rules governing tax increases. Rather than a complicated array of changes to Initiative 960, they are suggesting an amendment that simply suspends it until July 1, 2011.

The original bill suspended the two-thirds majority for some tax votes until that time, but repealed other changes, such are removing tax loopholes, permanently.

At July 2, 2011, the entire initiative would go back in place, they said.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, has moved to suspend the three-minute rule on debate.

There will be a fair amount of parliamentary wrangling for the next few minutes..

WA Lege Day 30: And they’re back

OLYMPIA— The Senate has returned from caucus and will take up SB 6843, the bill to suspend supermajority votes for tax increases

WA Lege Day 30: A break in the ‘action’

OLYMPIA — The Senate is “at ease”, going into caucus to discuss something.

While they don’t have to announce, it’s likely for the upcoming vote on the bill to suspend Initiative 960 rules on supermajorities for tax increases.

Stay tuned.

WA Lege Day 30: Senate floor debate on tax votes coming

OLYMPIA —The state Senate has reconvened for floor debate on several major bills.

First up, after confirming several gubernatorial appointments and introducing guests in the gallery, will be the debate over a bill covering flooding in the Green River Valley,

That will be followed by a bill suspending bonuses for many state employees, then a range of bills  that cover everything from the disposition of human remains to transferring emergency food assistance programs to the state Ag Department to the placement of minors during child welfare cases.

At the end of the list is SB 6843, which allows for changes to Initiative 960, the law passed by voters in 2007 that requires a two-thirds majority to approve any tax increases.

Stay tuned. Spin Control will offer updates as warranted.

WA Lege Day 30: Senate floor action

OLYMPIA — The state Senate will vote soon on whether to suspend the supermajority provisions of I-960 for tax increases.

Republican members have been ready for a while, walking about the floor making “drink the Kool-Aid” references. Democrats are just coming out of their caucus where they discussed the upcoming votes.

In the gallery are more than 100 white-coated pharmacy students, so if anyone really does take poison, they could come in handy…

Before voting on Senate Bill 6843, they’ll be voting on propsals to freeze pay and hold back on bonuses for state workers.

I-960 changes out of committee

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats pushed changes to voter-approved tax-raising restrictions out of committee today, moving one of the more contentious issues of the legislative session toward a floor debate.

Democrats on the Senate Ways and Means Committee rejected several amendments proposed by Republicans that would have reduced the amount of time the supermajority required in Initiative 960 was suspended and made some other changes to SB 6843.

As written, the proposal suspends the two-thirds majority needed for any tax increase through June 30, 2011, which means taxes could be raised for the supplemental budget for this biennium and the main budget for the next biennium with a simple majority vote.

Sen. Joseph Zarelli, ranking Republican on the committee, said an amendment to limit the suspension to this session only was “a middle ground.” If the economy is still bad next year, the Legislature could take up extending the change at that time.

But Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said there would be more economic forecasts after the Legislature adjourns this year but before it returns next January. “We need the flexibility this would provide.

The amendment failed 8-13, on a party line vote.

To read more on this topic, click here to go inside the blog:

I-960 hearing: Pretty short notice

OLYMPIA — A critic of a proposal to suspend some aspects of Initiative 960 complained at the speed at which the bill got a hearing.

Jim Copeland of Spanaway, who said he lost his business, noted the bill was announced at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and in a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

“Pretty short notice, huh?” Copeland said.

Williams: Exhaust all options first

OLYMPIA — Bob Williams of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, urged legislators not to “gut” Initative 960.

The Legislature couldn’t balance its budget when it was taking in record amounts of revenue, he said. “Your total spending is up $13 billion.”

Every budget that Gov. Gregoire has submitted spent more than the revenue forecast. Then the Legislature used “accounting gimmicks” to spend more, Willams, the head of the conservative fiscal think tank said.

Moody’s Rating agency is already warning about the state’s tendency to use one-time spending sources, he said.

“If you raise taxes in the recession….you will find that you get less revenue and more unemployment,” Willams said. “Use the (priorities of government) process to cut spending.”