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Inslee to golfer: Don’t trash talk Chambers Bay

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee leaped to the defense of Chambers Bay Golf Course today, with a sarcastic jab at pro golfer Ian Poulter's comment that playing the U.S. Open there will be a "farce."

"This slander will not stand," Inslee declared, tongue in cheek.

The comments were so out of bounds, Inslee said, he was assessing a two-stroke penalty to "someone who wears purple-check pants who's never played the course."

Chambers Bay, which is outside of Tacoma overlooking the Puget Sound, will be the site of the U.S. Open next month. Another pro, Ryan Palmer, played the course this week and criticized it in USA Today. Poulter had previously tweeted the farce comment.

Poulter has his name on a line of golf clothing which does, in fact, include purple check — or perhaps more accurately purple plaid — pants. We're guessing Inslee doesn't want any as a Father's Day gift.

WaLeg Spec Sess D-minus-2: Budget talks start

OLYMPIA – After about 40 minutes of budget discussions with Gov. Jay Inslee and his budget chief Monday, legislative leaders emerged to declare they had made unspecified progress toward a two-year spending plan.

“A useful meeting,” said House Appropriations Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina.

“A good discussion,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond.

It was, however, only a starting point, they said, for discussions that will continue into the special legislative session that starts Wednesday. 

A spokesman for Inslee said the governor also was optimistic about a “climate for compromise” after the meeting.

“The governor did not set any demands for this,” spokesman David Postman said. “That's not productive.”

In a meeting with legislative leaders about two weeks ago, Inslee listed several things he wanted in any budget he would sign, such as $1.3 billion to meet court orders to adequately pay for public education, cost of living increases for teachers and raises in negotiated contracts with state employees.  There was no similar set of requirements given legislators this time, Postman said.

The Legislature concluded its regular session last Friday without an agreement between the Democratic House and the predominantly Republican majority in the Senate on an operating budget of about $38 billion for the 2015-17 fiscal period. They also have not agreed on a capital construction budget, spending plans for current transportation taxes and fees, as well as a new package of transportation projects and reforms that would be tied to an 11.7 cent hike in the gasoline tax. 

By law the special session can last 30 days. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Monday in a prepared statement the operating budget should be settled by May 15 so school districts have adequate notice of the amount they will be receiving in the 2015-16 school year and set their budgets accordingly before classes start late this summer.

WaLeg Day 102: Special session, here we come

OLYMPIA – The Legislature will need to go into overtime to handle key issues, including an agreement on the $38 billion budget needed to keep the state running for two years starting July 1.

Legislators will wrap up their regular session, which could have gone until midnight Sunday, sometime this afternoon. Gov. Jay Inslee will call them back into special session starting Wednesday for as many as 30 days.

“It’s time to compromise,” Inslee said at a morning press conference. “I understand I won’t be getting everything I proposed… The House is going to have to find a way to reduce spending and the Senate is going to have to find a way to raise revenue.”

Inslee said he was giving legislators a few days off to be “respectful of legislators wanting to see their families for a couple days.” But he’s asking budget leaders to return Monday to try to restart negotiations on the 2015-17 operating budget, which broke down last week. The predominantly Republican Senate majority said they wanted House Democrats to put the tax increases needed for their budget to a vote before considering it; otherwise, they argued, the House spending plan was way out of balance.

House Democrats countered that Senate Republicans had already said they wouldn’t consider a vote on those taxes if they came over from the House, so why bother; they wanted to go through the two budgets section by section to find agreements and possible compromises.

The operating budget is the one thing legislators must pass before going home for good. Without it, the state doesn’t have the authority to spend money on many programs and salaries after June 30, which could prompt a partial government shutdown. The budget must also try to satisfy a state Supreme Court order that the Legislature provide more support for basic education expenses in public schools. There are also court orders to improve treatment and facilities for some mental health patients, possible expansion of other social service programs, pending union contracts with raises for state workers and statutory raises for teachers that are tied up in that budget.

Legislators can tackle any issue  they want in a special session, just as they can during a regular session, and they are likely to continue negotiations over a a transportation package that would raise the gasoline tax by 11.7 cents over three years to pay for a long list of new road and bridge projects and do maintenance on others. They will also have to resolve differences on the capital construction budget and the ongoing transportation budget, which allocates the money coming in from current transportation taxes and fees.

 Inslee said he would also like them to complete work on a compromise of different oil transportation safety proposals that have passed each chamber, and enact some legislation on reducing carbon pollution, a topic he’s championed but hasn’t gained much traction in either house.

In 2011 and 2013, the Legislature needed two special sessions to reach an agreement on an operating budget. Legislative leaders from both parties have said they would like to reach a budget deal by mid May so school districts will know how much money the state will be sending them as the districts plan their budgets for the upcoming school year.

WaLeg Day 102: Eyman asks Inslee to save us from Senate Republicans

OLYMPIA — In what may be the most unusual alignment of political bedfellows of the session, anti-tax initiative maven Tim Eyman told supporters they may need Gov. Jay Inslee to save the state from a massive tax increase proposed by Senate Republicans.

Since April Fool's Day was 22 days ago, this might need some 'splaining.

Eyman is joining the chorus of critics of a plan from members of the predominantly Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus to change the way property taxes are collected and distributed for some school costs, like teacher salaries. They are proposing what is generally short-handed as a "levy swap" in which the state levy on property taxes would go up while the school district on property taxes would go down, and the extra money coming into the state coffers would go back out to the schools to pay salaries, which the state Supreme Court has said is a cost of basic education and thus a constitutional responsibility of the state.

Yeah, that's pretty dense and your eyes are starting to glaze over. But stay with us here and we'll get to the politically interesting part.

 Senate Republicans unveiled their plan last week describing it as "revenue neutral", which is legislative speak for it doesn't cost more money. But there's a caveat. It's net neutral statewide. Taxes in some districts would go up, in some districts they'd go down. Senate Democrats, who have a different plan to handle this court mandate, crunched some numbers and said about 60 percent of residents would pay more in this swap, so for them, it's a tax increase.

Definitely a tax increase, Eyman declared sent in a fund-raising missive to "our thousands of supporters" that also doubles as a fund-raiser. He also pointed out that when Inslee was running for governor in 2012, he was definitely opposed to such a levy swap, which was being proposed by his Republican opponent, then-Attorney General Rob McKenna.

"Will Governor Inslee come riding to the rescue when it comes to the Senate Republicans' bill, which does exactly what he ridiculed?" Eyman asked "Inslee despised it as a candidate, will he stop it as governor? Can we count on him to protect us from this massive property tax?"

Apparently yes, although maybe without a trusty steed to carry him to the damsel in distress.

At a press conference today, Inslee called it a "very significant tax increase" in some parts of the state. And in those districts, he said, pulling out his best trump card: "It would raise taxes on widows and World War II veterans because you want to protect millionaires." He prefers the Senate Democrats' plan for a capital gains tax of investment earnings above $250,000, but was quick to say that wasn't out of jealousy of millionaires, who "ought to be hailed as heroes", but because it was more fair.

Eyman, not surprisingly, does not go along with Inslee on that score. He's against any tax increase, which he thinks Democrats will try to foist on the state by other means. Which, he says making the pivot, is why the state needs a constitutional amendment to require two-thirds super majorities in the Legislature for any tax increase. Raising money for his latest plan to enact such a restriction was the closing appeal of the e-mail.

WaLeg Day 100: More signs a special session is coming

OLYMPIA — No official word yet on if — or should we say — when a special session will be called, but Gov. Jay Inslee said he agreed with one legislator who said all the work won't be done by Sunday, the last day of the 105-day session.

"I believe his assessment is correct," Inslee said when told Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said legislators won't finish on time. Considering Hunter is the House's head budget writer as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, most people would say he has a pretty good idea. "We'll have to talk with leadership."

But he wants legislators to get "as much as humanly possible" done before they go into a special session.

Whether he would call the session to start at the beginning of next week, or give legislators a "cooling off period" hasn't been decided, Inslee said. 

Republican leaders from both chambers said that if they need a special session (which is almost  like saying "if the sun is going to rise in the East tomorrow" but officially,it's not conceded) they would prefer to start right up on Monday.

"If there's a special session, we should get into it right away," House Assistant Republican Leader Joel Kretz, of Wauconda, said. 

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, wasn't ready to agree one would be needed, and used his favorite metaphor for the session: "I've always said the glass is half full, and I want to be the last one to give up that glimmer of hope." 

Another harbinger of a special session: Former Gov. John Spellman stopped by the office for a visit. Spellman was no stranger to special sessions during his term from 1981 - 85, although he was at the Capitol to honor longtime journalist John Hughes.


Sunday Spin: Forcing the state auditor out would be tough

OLYMPIA – The chorus for Troy Kelley to resign as state auditor after he was indicted on federal charges Thursday grew louder as last week drew to a close, but any effort to force him out faces significant problems.

The biggest seems to be that there’s no clear road map on how to push a state elected official out of the position he or she holds. The state constitution has a section for impeachment, which can be started with a majority vote in the House but only culminates with removal if two-thirds of the Senate agrees.

It requires a high bar of high crimes, misdemeanors or malfeasance. The first two would require a conviction on the federal charges; the last applies only to actions while in office, and the indictment is basically pre-election.

A statewide elected official in Washington has never been impeached.

A recall petition has been filed with the Secretary of State, although the signature-gathering threshold to put that on the November ballot is steep, and by then it may all be moot.

Not surprisingly, high-ranking Democrats would prefer Kelley just step down and go away to fight his battle with federal prosecutors away from the state spotlight. Gov. Jay Inslee called for his immediate resignation within minutes of the federal prosecutor’s release of the charging papers. An Inslee spokesman said Kelley called the governor before the indictment was announced, to say it was coming. Inslee reportedly told Kelley at that point he should resign; the auditor said he was taking a leave of absence instead.

Within a couple hours, State Treasurer Jim McIntire, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson and the state Democratic Party all had said “Go.” Secretary of State Kim Wyman, the lone Republican in statewide elected office, waited a day before joining the chorus.

On Friday, Inslee reiterated his point in writing – not some tweet or text, but an honest-to-God printed-on-paper letter, hand-delivered to Kelley’s unoccupied office. Considering that Inslee’s office in the Capitol Building is just across the street from Kelley’s office in the Insurance Building, this was accomplished much faster that putting a stamp on it and dropping it in the mail. Five minutes, tops, even if the messenger stopped for coffee in the Capitol cafeteria.

Considering the circumstances, some of the formal wording of the letter seems perfectly aligned with Emily Post or Miss Manners, but could have average folks scratching their heads. It’s addressed to “The Honorable Troy Kelley”, although Inslee is suggesting the auditor needs to resign because he is anything but. And it ends with “Very Truly Yours”.

If Kelley does step down

Inslee would choose a replacement, but the timing is important. If the position becomes open before May 11, the first day that candidates can file for office in this year’s general elections, Inslee would appoint someone but the office would be on the August primary ballot and the November general. If he steps down on or after May 11, the appointee would serve until 2016, when that office, like all other state executive positions, are up.

The appointee need not be a Democrat, although Inslee said he was sure there are an ample supply of Democrats who could do the job.

Former Auditor Brian Sonntag told a Seattle radio host he’d be willing to take the position in a care-taker role. An appointment from Inslee seems iffy. Sonntag was, after all, the most prominent Democrat supporting Inslee’s 2012 Republican opponent Rob McKenna.

A possible candidate for the election in 2015 or 2016 could be state Sen. Mark Miloscia, who is now a Republican but ran for the office as a Democrat in 2012 but didn’t get through the primary.

The possibilities may not be endless, but they are plentiful

If he doesn’t

Inslee’s office isn’t sure what happens when a state elected official takes an extended leave of absence under these conditions. Does pay – about $117,000 a year for this position – continue? And what about benefits like health coverage? An Inslee spokesman told the Associated Press it should not, but there’s apparently no law or rule to cover it.

Inslee letter to Kelley: Resign now

OLYMPIA — In case Troy Kelley didn't get the message, Gov. Jay Inslee had a letter hand delivered to the state auditor's office this morning, repeating his call that Kelley resign.

Inslee's letter says Kelley's plan for a leave of absence is "insufficient because the ongoing federal criminal investigation will continue to clude your office's image, reputation and ability to properly function."

After being indicted by a federal grand jury on 10 counts Thursday, Kelley said he would take a leave of absence starting May 1 but would not leave the post. Many of Kelley's fellow Democrats want him to resign.H

Hand-delivery sounds pretty formal, but in practical terms it would only take slightly longer than sending an e-mail, and definitely quicker than standard mail. Inslee's office is in the Legislative Building, which is often called "the Capitol." Kelley's office is across the street in the Insurance Building. So delivery wouldn't take more than about 5 minutes, even if the messenger stopped for coffee in the Capitol basement cafeteria. 

WaLeg Day 94: Senate Democrats and Republicans unveil teacher pay plans

OLYMPIA – With the end of the legislative session on the horizon, Democrats and Republicans unveiled different plans Wednesday to pump more state money into public schools, something the state Supreme Court has said they must do.

Senate Democrats proposed a capital gains tax on the state's wealthiest residents, those who earn more than $250,000 per year on their investments. It would raise an estimated $1.3 billion and provide the money for the state to take over a responsibility it has been shirking for years, paying the basic salaries of teachers and other school personnel.

“We’re trying to put something on the table,” Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said. “This is a doable plan.”

Senate Republicans unveiled a different bill with a similar goal in mind. They want to rearrange the property tax levy system, lowering the amount local school districts collect and raising the amount the state charges for its levy. The average property tax payer wouldn’t see much difference in the annual bill, but the extra money the state collects would go back to the districts for basic teacher pay as part of a larger plan to equalize those salaries across the state.

That would reverse a trend that goes back decades in which the state covered less of school salaries and local districts picked up the difference, and pay disparities grew between districts, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said. “The state has made the easy decision of having everybody else pay our bills.”

Last year the court found the state in contempt of its order to come up with a plan that satisfies a constitutional requirement that education is the state’s “paramount duty”. It didn’t impose a penalty at that time and gave the Legislature this session to develop that plan.

Both plans are scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee todaycqThursday, but face significant challenges beyond the need to be approved by two chambers controlled by opposing parties in the 10 days left in the regular session.

The Democrats' plan consists of three interconnected bills, with a six-year phase-in of a new system for school salaries, which would be adjusted every four years, as well as a phase-in for more teachers and smaller class sizes required by an initiative voters approved last year. Local school levies would be reduced by the amount the districts get from the state, so more than 98 percent of residents would get a tax break, Hargrove said.

It also requires a new tax, which is never popular with voters. But sponsor Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said it would fall on only about 7,500 people, and the lower limit for investment gains would be set through a constitutional amendment.

“It will never come down without a vote of the people,” said Ranker, and the money would go into a special trust fund that could only be used for basic education expenses. He produced a letter with 100 people who would pay the tax and support it.

Such an amendment requires two-thirds majorities in both houses, and a simple majority of voters in November.

The Republicans' plan would eliminate a law voters approved through initiative, the annual cost-of-living adjustments for teachers and some other school staff. The Legislature would set base salaries and adjust them annually through a different inflation adjustment measurement. Collective bargaining between local school districts and their unions would be limited to working conditions and supplemental pay.

It also involves changes to the state’s complicated levy laws, the levies of its 295 school districts, and the restrictions on the amount a levy can be raised. This plan, too, would phase-in a reduction in local property tax levies as the state property tax levy rises and the state would use the money it collects for teacher salaries.

This would meet a requirement by the Supreme Court that the state reduce its reliance on local levies, Dammeier said. Because the money is already being collected, most taxpayers wouldn’t see an increase in their total bill.

Senate Democrats are basing their plans for paying teachers on a new capital gains tax, which is different from capital gains tax proposals by Gov. Jay Inslee and House Democrats. Dammeier said he doubted there were votes in the Legislature to pass such a tax through both chambers.

Inslee said Wednesday he had not yet studied the plans, but said he remained optimistic the Legislature would produce a bipartisan budget that satisfies the court’s mandate on schools. To do that, he’s told budget negotiators he still believes the state will need some type of tax increase.

“We can’t do this with gimmicks and hopes,” Inslee said.

Inslee wants answers from state auditor

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is using his constitutional authority to demand answers from State Auditor Troy Kelley about the federal investigation involving the auditor's office.

In a letter to Kelley on Tuesday evening, which Inslee released after a press conference Wednesday, the governor asked what specific changes Kelley has made in office operations since becoming aware of the investigation, whether that probe is affecting work the office is performing and whether there are any conflicts or interests that might affect the office. He also asked for extensive data about Jason Jerue, a former business associate of Kelley before he became auditor, who was hired part-time by the office after Kelley's election in 2012.

The letter asks for answers by April 6. The questions are separate from any investigation by federal officials or the Legislature. Earlier Wednesday, the Senate Accountability and Reform Committee held a session on the Auditor's Office and invited Kelley to attend; two of  his top deputies came instead, and the committee got a briefing on legislative subpoena powers.

Inslee said he has encouraged Kelley "to be open with the public about anything he could be open about" during the investigation. The two talked about a week ago, when Kelley called to say he would be returning from vacation after the federal investigation became public.

"We haven't had chit chats," Inslee said.

WaLeg Day 80: Inslee signs WSU med school bill

OLYMPIA – Surrounded by legislators and university officials, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that allows Washington State University to start the second state-sponsored medical school.

But a few minutes later he hedged in answering on how much money the state should set aside for medical schools over the next two years, saying the right amount will have to be negotiated between two very different plans in competing House and Senate operating budgets.

With some 300,000 more people covered by health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and a growing population, the state needs more doctors and other medical professionals, Inslee said. Supporters applauded as he signed the bill, and at one point broke into a few lines of the WSU fight song.

University President Elson Floyd and top administrators from the WSU-Spokane campus joined a large contingent of legislators as Inslee signed a bill that he described as “ending prohibition” on a second medical school. In 1917, as part of an effort to stop an expensive turf war between the presidents of University of Washington and what was then Washington State College, the Legislature divided up many areas of study and said only UW could operate a medical school.  

The bill passed overwhelmingly in both houses, but it has no money attached to it.

Inslee had no money for a new medical school in his budget proposal released late last year. A state operating budget released by Senate Republicans Tuesday would give WSU $2.5 million to seek accreditation and $2.5 million to UW for a branch of its multi-state training program known as WWAMI located in Spokane. House Democrats’ latest budget, amended late Tuesday in the Appropriations Committee, would give WSU $2.5 million for accreditation and another $4.25 million “to provide medical education for students located in Spokane.” UW would get $9.4 million “The correct amount will be the amount we get in the final budget,” Inslee said to a question about which budget alternative he preferred. “I am relatively confident we will reach a consensus.”

Inslee described the overall Senate Republicans' budget, released Tuesday, as “a good starting point for discussions” but said he believes it falls short on providing enough money for raises for public school employees and state workers, early childhood education and state parks. He also discounted the Republicans' insistence that the state write an operating budget without new taxes, noting they have proposed an 11.7 cent increase in the gasoline tax for transportation projects in a separate spending plan.

“That bridge has already been crossed," he said. Inslee and House Democrats have proposed slightly different plans for a capital gains tax on investment profits for some investors, and the governor is proposing a new carbon tax that he says would be better than a hike in the gas tax. 

Inslee condemns vandalism against Hindu temples

OLYMPIA — Recent vandalism against Hindu temples in the metropolitan Puget Sound  was condemned today by Gov. Jay Inslee as "acts of intolerance, intimidation and violence." 

Inslee, who was joined by Hindu and Muslim community leaders at his weekly press conference, said the vandalism against the temples in Bothell and Kent, plus some anti-Muslim graffiti sprayed on a Bothell junior high, was disturbing.

"Who you pray to, and whether you pray, doesn't determine whether you're an American," Inslee said. "Hindus and Muslims are clearly part and parcel of the state of Washington."

A swastika and the words "Get Out" were sprayed on a Hindu temple in Bothell last month, and "Muslims get out" was sprayed on a nearby junior high school. Broken windows and graffiti was found at a Hindu temple in Kent last weekend.


Obligatory Super Bowl bet story

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is putting up clam chowder on the Super Bowl, while his New England counterparts are offering cupcakes and bacon.

It's not really a bet on the outcome, because they stuff goes to food pantries, win or lose. Inslee will send 1,000 cups of Ivar's Chowder to food pantries in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will donate Boston cream pie cupcakes and  and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan will donate bacon from her state to a Washington food pantry. 

Because there's no contingency on the outcome, a Seattle television station couldn't resist asking Inslee for a prediction of the outcome at the governor's weekly press conference today. "27-20, 'Hawks," said Inslee, who also proclaimed "moments of loudness" at noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday for fans to go outside and cheer. He'll do it on the Capitol steps tomorrow, and heads to Phoenix Saturday.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen has a more conventional arrangement with Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. If the Seahawks lose, he sends a magnum of wine from a Snohomis winery, an assortment of Northwesty things like smoked salmon, tuna, herbal tea and wooden carvings from the Quinault tribe, and a box of Washington apples. If they win, Polito owes an assortment of craft beer and a box of cannoli from Worchester.

Seahawks-Packers bet, take 2

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is betting Washington beer, apples and oysters on the Seahawks, and expects to be collecting Wisconsin beer and cheese that state's Gov. Scott Walker after Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

Inslee closed his opening comments at this morning's weekly press conference with a somewhat confident statement he expects to be drinking the beer from Walker and eating the cheese after first munching on Cougar Gold from Washington State University.

In other press conference news:

Inslee said he's heard concerns from some legislators about people in the House and Senate galleries carrying guns. Under state law, people can openly carry firearms in many public places, including the Capitol, even though the building rules don't allow protesters to bring in signs on sticks. On Thursday, gun-rights activists carried their rifles, shotguns and handguns into the building and some spent time in the House gallery. Some Democrats in that chamber are discussing a rule restricting firearms from the gallery.

"We want the public not to feel intimidated," Inslee said. "But it's largely a legislative decision" to change the rules.

The governor will support a "gun ownership safety law" proposal that would require owners to keep their weapons secure from children in their homes.

Inslee said he was encouraged that his carbon emissions proposals, which include a new tax on carbon polluters, was introduced in both chambers with multiple co-sponsors. The Senate changed its rules Monday to require a two-thirds super-majority to bring any new tax to the floor. That would be tough to achieve on the carbon tax, or any new tax, but Inslee noted that if budget negotiators agree to a spending plan with new taxes, it would have to have simple majority support. And the two-thirds majority requirement could be changed by a simple majority, just as it was approved by a simple majority.

The governor insisted using his proposed carbon tax to pay for transportation projects was better than raising the gasoline tax. Although the gasoline tax, as an existing tax system would only need a simple majority to be raised, he's proposed raising that tax to pay for road projects for the last two years, and the Senate hasn't mustered even a simple majority for any plan tied to higher gas taxes.


Inslee to hold internet town hall on education

 OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee will take his plans for public schools to the public, in Rogers High School and three other locations, via Skype tonight.

With large screens set in the schools to carry the online video-phone connection, Inslee will unveil his proposals for the state to meet court orders to improve public schools, along with other education and public college initiatives for he will will include in his upcoming 2015-17 state budget. He will then take questions from audiences in four locations. 

He'll be live at Newport High School in Bellevue for one hour, starting at 6 p.m., and carried via Skype to the Rogers Commons, the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center in Moses Lake and the Jason Lee Middle School Auditorium in Tacoma. . .

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

Inslee budget to propose $1 billion in tax hikes

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee's budget proposal for the next two years will include a request for $1 billion or more in higher taxes along with some program cuts, a delay of some new school spending approved by voters and raises for state employees.

Inslee will unveil the details of his budget plans for the second half of his term over four days next week. But in a discussion Tuesday with reporters, State Budget Director David Schumacher said without some new taxes the cuts to state programs would be “horrible.”

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

Marr, Foster leaving Liquor Board

OLYMPIA – Two of the three members of the state board that oversees Washington’s liquor and marijuana laws will step down early next year.

Chairwoman Sharon Foster has informed Gov. Jay Inslee that she will not accept a reappointment to the Liquor Control Board when her term expires in January, and former state Sen. Chris Marr said he is leaving that month to take a position as a lobbyist. . .


State won’t extend Hanford deadline a third time

OLYMPIA — Washington state will not give the federal government a third extension of the deadline for coming up with a way to resolve the dispute over cleaning up waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. 

Unless the U.S. Department of Energy comes up with a plan in the  next 30 days, the state and the feds likely are headed to court over the cleanup. Again.

The department is under a court order to clean up Hanford, which has tanks holding decades of waste from the construction of the nation's nuclear arsenal. Some of those tanks are leaking, but the process to pump out the waste and either treat it or put it in more secure tanks that would have to be built will take years. The court set up a timeline for all that to happen 

In 2011 the department started telling the state it wasn't going to meet some of the deadlines. This spring, the state and the department each submitted new timelines, but neither agreed to the other's plan. They've negotiated, and the state has agreed to extend the deadline for an agreement twice. Friday Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the department they wouldn't agree to another extension, which means the state could go to court on Oct. 5 and file a "petition for relief", essentially asking a judge to resolve the dispute.


Inslee approves group to protect WA military bases

Rich Hadley talks with Gov. Jay Inslee at the announcement of the reformation of the Washington Military Alliance.

OLYMPIA – Protecting the jobs and economic stimulus from the many military installations in Washington is “a no-brainer”, Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday as he resurrected a coalition of groups from around the state to prepare for any cutbacks in the nation’s defense budget.

The Washington Military Alliance – which will have members from economic development offices, chambers of commerce and military installations – will help the protect defense jobs, contracts and infrastructure in the state. A 2012 study estimated about 136,000 jobs and some $15.7 billion in economic activity are tied to military bases around the state and billions more are tied to contracts the Defense Department has with businesses throughout Washington. . . 

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


Inslee to Yakima: Don’t appeal Voting Rights ruling

OLYMPIA — The city of Yakima should not appeal a federal judge's order that invalidates the way city officials are elected because is unfair to Latinos , Gov. Jay Inslee said today.

In a letter to the Yakima City Council, Inslee said it should"show leadership" and focus on a plan that will improve its system. 

U.S. District Thomas Rice recently found Yakima in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and invalidated the way city council members are elected. Under the current system, four council members run in districts for the primary but citywide in the general; three others are elected citywide. That system "routinely suffocates the voting preferences of the Latino minority," Rice said and set an Oct. 3 hearing for redistricting plans.

Many jurisdictions in the state suffer from a lack of diversity in political leadership and representation, Inslee wrote in a letter to the council. "This is an opportunity for a show of civic leadership that I believe would be admired throughout Washington," he wrote.

Grain loading deal reached

Dock workers and a major grain company in Vancouver have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, clearing the way for smooth shipments of grain as the wheat harvest gets underway and removing a bone of contention between some legislative Republicans and Gov. Jay Inslee.

The AP report on the agreement can be found inside the blog. A bit of back story: In the midst of the labor dispute, United Grain imposed a lockout in February 2013 after saying a union worker had sabotaged company equipment. The longshoremen set up picket lines. Federal and state grain inspectors, who must check the wheat before it was shipped, were hesitant to cross the line. 

Last October, the Washington State Patrol began escorting inspectors into the facility, saying he hoped this would lead to a settlement. Last month Inslee said he was cancelling the escorts because no progress had been made, and he hoped the change would bring both sides back to the bargaining table and lead to an agreement.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, filed an ethics complaint in last July against Inslee with the Executive Ethics Board, contending the governor was failing to protect public employees and "using his office to unfairly benefit his political allies." The board dropped the complaint last week, saying the governor's actions didn't appear to violate the state Ethics in Public Service Act and the board didn't have jurisdiction over the matter.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, welcomed the agreement, saying in a prepared statement he was "glad cooler heads prevailed and these two parties were able to reach an agreement."

Inslee released a statement calling the agreement "outstanding news" and notified United Grain Company that state grain inspectors will resume inspections immediately. 

Inslee, other govs oppose oil drilling off coast

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee joined counterparts from Oregon and California today in asking the federal government to ban any new oil and gas drilling off their coasts.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the three governors said they were strongly opposed to any new gas and oil lease sales, fearing the "devastating impact" a spill could have on commerce, tourism, recreation and local economies. The three states have also joined with British Columbia in an effort to fight climate change and promote clean energy, Inslee, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said.

The governors are providing formal comment to the Interior Department's proposal for oil and gas leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf from 2017 through 2022.

Eastern WA burn ban extended

OLYMPIA — The ban on most outdoor and agricultural burning in 20 Eastern Washington counties was extended for another week.

The ban, ordered last week by Gov. Jay Inslee, was set to expire at noon today. But with wildfires still burning east of the Cascades, Inslee extended it through Aug. 1.

"While fire crews  have made significant progress over the past week in bringing the fires under control, weather conditions are still a concern and we need to continue erring on the side of safety," Inslee said in a press release announcing the extension.

The ban includes, but isn't limited to:

Yard debris or trash burning, land clearing, weed abatement
Agricultural burning

Obama signs emergency declaration for fires

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration this morning that offers federal aid to Central Washington areas hard hit by wildfires.

It authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts in Chelan and Okanogan counties and on the Colville Reservation. Obama had promised action Tuesday in Seattle after receiving a briefing on the fires from Gov. Jay Inslee. 

Full text of the White House announcement can be found inside the blog.


Inslee to brief Obama on fires

Gov. Jay Inslee will brief President Obama on the fires in Central Washington as the two drive into Seattle this afternoon.

Obama, Air Force One and the traveling White House press corps are due in to Boeing Field at mid-afternoon, and the president will motorcade into Seattle for a fund-raiser. Inslee will ride in the car with Obama to brief him on the progress of fighting the wildfires, which have torched a record amount of area east of the Cascades.

The president is due to leave Seattle right after the fund-raiser to fly to San Francisco. Seattle drivers are being warned to expect traffic days for Obama's coming and going. 

Inslee, who has made several trips to the east side of the state to check on firefighting efforts, plans to stop at the Camp Murray Emergency Operations Center to thank workers on his way up to Boeing Field, his staff said.

Ex-Im Bank: How vital is it?

Govs. Jay Inslee and Butch Otter signed on to a letter Tuesday urging Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, but the owner of a Palouse company sometimes listed as a local beneficiary of the institution says the United States should let it go out of business . .  .

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

Inslee talking up WA in UK

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is returning from the Farnborough Air Show in Great Britain, but it would seem none of the British reserve rubbed off on him during his short stay there.

Asked during a telephonic press conference this morning how the air show was going Inslee offered this observation:

"It's hard being humble when you win the Super Bowl and have the best airplanes in the world."

Asked what he was doing for fun, Inslee produced an all-business answer: "The pleasure was watching our airplanes fly."

Clearly, the governor needs to get out more.

He also put in a plug for Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, currently the subject of some debate within the House GOP majority. He said he doesn't see any need for big reforms, which Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers recently said are needed before she'd sign on to re-upping the Ex-Im, but he'd be open to some changes as long as the bank can keep helping the state's exporters.

The fight is along ideological lines, he said, but shouldn't be. "This is a meat and potatoes issue."

Inslee offers up clean water plan

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee proposed new standards for cleaning up Washington’s lakes, rivers and the Puget Sound, immediately drawing criticism from some business and labor groups that they will be too expensive and from some environmentalists that they are too lax.

The plan announced Wednesday, which is still in an early draft stage, would require stricter standards for 70 percent of the chemicals regulated by law and “no backsliding” on the others, Inslee said: “If we do this, we will make our waters cleaner and safer and we will in fact reduce Washingtonians’ risk of having cancer.”

The new standards will be packaged with legislation Inslee will seek next year give more authority to the Department of Ecology and exceptions known as variances for some businesses that try to meet the new standards but can’t until technology improves or they find new materials that won’t bring toxic chemicals into their manufacturing processes.

Under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency, Washington has been trying for several years to upgrade its water quality standards that date to the 1970s.

The stricter limits proposed for toxic chemicals are set by a formula that includes a controversial “fish consumption standard” . . . 

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

New proposal on water standards coming today

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee is set to release a proposal to change the state's water quality standards at noon today, and already both sides of the debate are warning that it could be bad, if not downright terrible.

The environmental group Earthjustice is saying the devil may be in the detail, with confusing numbers that make things look stricter but really aren't.

Mark Schoesler, the Senate Republican leader, is saying the new standards must balance cleaner water with family budgets and jobs.

At the heart of the new rules will be the "fish consumption standards", which estimate how much fish, shellfish and other river-lake-seafood people eat. The current rules are set with a daily consumption rate of 6.5 grams, a little less than a quarter ounce or about what you'd find on one fancy canape if the chef isn't skimping too much on the good stuff. Put another way, that's about 7 ounces a month, or about the size of that pricey Copper River salmon fillet that cost you an arm and a leg at the restaurant last month.

Obviously, some people eat way more fish than that. But it also matters what kind of fish, and where it comes from. . . 

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

Union leaders worry about new fish consumption standards

OLYMPIA – Washington state is rushing toward water quality standards that will be too strict and cost jobs without being backed up by good science, leaders of unions with workers in aerospace, timber and paper industries claimed Monday.

But a spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee said the union leaders are jumping the gun because no decision has been made. What many call the fish consumption standards are still under review, he said. . . 

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


Coaches top state salary list

OLYMPIA – The official report of state employee salaries for 2013 is out and as usual the highest paid people on the list are athletic coaches at the major universities.

Former University of Washington football head coach Steve Sarkisian topped the list for the fourth straight year, pulling down 2.6 million in 2013 before leaving in December to return to the University of Southern California.

Second on the list is Washington State University football head coach Mike Leach at $2.3 million, followed by UW head basketball coach Lorenzo Romar at $1.9 million, WSU head basket coach Ken Bone at $870,143 and UW assistant football coach Justin Wilcox at $799,259.

Athletic salaries are paid from ticket sales and other income, not from the state's general fund.  But the state reports salaries for all state employees, regardless of the source of money.

David Woodward, UW associate vice president, is at $692,323 and WSU Elson Floyd is at $662,560.

The two universities dominate the first 100 or so names with other administrators and professors who do research and get much of their total pay through grants and other stipends. The only non-university employee in the first 50 names is Gary Bruebaker, the chief investment officer for the State Investment Board, at $452,085.

To check out a searchable database of employee salaries and agency payrolls designed by The Spokesman-Review, click here. 

According to the salary data released Monday, the state had about 6,750 employees last year who earn $100,000 or more. The highest-paid elected officials are the nine members of the state Supreme Court, who each receive $165,316 and are tied for 1,280th on the list. As for the state's chief executive officer, Jay Inslee, he has 2,370 names ahead of him and his salary of $157,646. 

The salary data includes annual pay to more than 329,500 people who have worked full- or part-time for some state agency or public college or university since 2010. A searchable database on The Spokesman-Review’s website lists the salary totals for agencies or colleges and allows readers to search for salaries for individual employees by name.