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Sunday spin: 3rd District’s string of women in Lege comes to an end

OLYMPIA – When the Legislature opens in January, for the first time in 60 years there won’t be at least one woman from the city of Spokane sitting at a desk on one of the carpeted floors of the House or Senate.

The 3rd District will have an all-guy delegation.

It’s part of the de-feminization of Washington state and Spokane politics which has happened slowly over the last two years. . . 

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

Brown packs up for WSU-Spokane

Sen. Lisa Brown pauses while packing her office to take a phone call.

OLYMPIA – As she packed up the memorabilia from 20 years in the Legislature, Lisa Brown was preparing Thursday to take charge of a dream for Spokane that was even older.

In January, Brown will trade her role as Senate majority leader for the job of chancellor of the Washington State UniversitySpokane campus.

WSU President Elson Floyd informed some of Eastern Washington’s top political leaders Thursday afternoon that Brown, 56, was his choice to run the Riverpoint campus and its fledgling medical school – a school that she helped midwife by pushing key appropriations through the Legislature for projects like the Biomedical and Health Science Building now under construction.

“It’s going to be as challenging as being the leader of the Senate Democrats,” she said, although possibly with fewer cats to herd.

She’ll replace Brian Pitcher, who has served as WSU-Spokane chancellor since 2005. Pitcher, 63, will remain at WSU-Spokane in a “leadership role” and advise the university on its other urban campuses in the Tri-Cities and Vancouver, Floyd said.

Brown’s next job has been a subject of great speculation around the Capitol . . . 

To read the rest of this item, go inside the blog.

Brown to be WSU-Spokane chancellor

Sen. Lisa Brown will move from the leading Senate Democrats to leading the WSU-Spokane campus.

Brown was named chancellor of WSU-Spokane this afternoon by President Elson Floyd.

The Spokane Democrat did not seek re-election this year and retires in December after 20 years in the Legislature. During that time she worked to find state funding for the Riverpoint campus  just east of downtown Spokane, where WSU and Eastern Washington University share facilities with the community colleges, and Gonzaga and Whitworth universities also offer programs. 

The new anchor of the campus is a new medical school a collaboration between the Riverpoint institutions, the University of Washington and the program that trains physicians for Idaho, Alaska, Montana and Wyoming as well as Washington.

Today’s fun video: Brown, Cantwell try comedy

 

Washington Democrats got together recently to give out awards, and the prize for “Rising Star” went to former legislative and congressional aide Marcus Riccelli, a current candidate for the state House of Representatives.

One might think that Democrats might want to hold off on proclaiming stardom until Riccelli actually beat Republican Tim Benn for that seat — imagine something akin to the political equivalent of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx — but apparently they believe the 3rd Legislative District is blue enough that winning the primary makes him a sure bet in November.

To mark the occasion, two of his former bosses, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and state Sen. Lisa Brown, performed a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” style tribute to Riccelli. While it has a few good lines and cute bits — notice the big map behind them is a state map — it makes clear that Cantwell and Brown should not quit their day jobs.

But wait a minute. Brown actually did quit her day job as Senate Majority leader, and the dominoes that fell, with Rep. Andy Billig running for her seat created the opening that Riccelli is trying to fill. So cancel that. Let's just say that when Brown figures out her next career, it probably won't be in standup comedy.

Lisa Brown in Azerbaijan

Map courtesy of captainsjournal.com

Lisa Brown is able to do a bit of travelling these days because she doesn't have to worry about a re-election campaign. So does she go to Disneyland, Hawaii, Cabo, or even Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention?

No. She goes to Azerbaijan.

This week, Brown is in the west Asian country that borders on the Caspian Sea to speak and answer questions at a women's leadership conference sponsored by the United Nations Democracy Fund in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. It's part of a two-year project by two other groups, Bridge to the Future and Young Leaders, to increase the number of women in government and other civic organizations. 

The Senate majority leader from Spokane, who is retiring at the end of the year, is scheduled to talk about her experiences in the Legislature and important characteristics of women leaders in the United States and Azerbaijan, a press release from the sponsors said.

Brown is also being sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to visit three other cities, Gyandzha, Yevlakh and Kazhakh to speak and meet with young volunteers. Brad Kessler, a former Spokane resident now in the Peace Corps and helping to organize the trip with Bridge to the Future, said she'll be the first Embassy-sponsored visitor to the last two cities.

For those unfamiliar with Azerbaijan (which is to say, most of us) it's a former Soviet republic, slightly smaller than Maine, north of Iran, south of Russia,  and east of Georgia and Armenia. It has about 10 million people, most of them Muslim.

Marijuana initiative lists Spokane boosters

The campaign for Initiative 502, which would legalize some marijuana use, announced three “name” supporters Tuesday.

State Sen. Lisa Brown. Spokane Council President Ben Stuckart. The Rev. Happy Watkins.

Brown and Stuckart aren't big surprises, considering they've supported medical marijuana measures in the past. I-502 is a step beyond that, to decriminalizing small amounts of mairjuana for personal use, but it's not a big step. Brown said the taxes from legalized marijuana would help health care and drug prevention programs, and Stuckart said the city's policing resources could be better spent on more serious problems.

Watkins, however, is the campaign's “get.” In the announcement, he said he was looking at it from a community perspective. “When young adults are arrested and charged for marijuana possession, they are shamed, turned into second-class citizens and face long-term economic hardship,” he said in the press release announcing the endorsement.

A spokeswoman for the campaign said I-502 is lining up support in what she called “the faith community”, particularly among African-American ministers because the minority community may feel a bigger impact of the war on drugs. They announced support from three Seattle-area ministers last month.

Solons Perform ‘Vagina Monologues’

This June 18 file photo shows, from left, Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, playwright Eve Ensler and Sen. Rebecca Warren, D-Ann Arbor, posing for a group picture during an event including a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” by Brown and 10 other lawmakers on the Michigan Statehouse steps, in Lansing, Mich. Brown, who says she was barred from speaking in the Michigan House because Republicans objected to her saying “vagina” during debate over anti-abortion legislation, performed “The Vagina Monologues” with a hand from the author Eve Ensler. (AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young)

Question: Have you seen “The Vagina Monologues”?

What happens to Lisa Brown’s $156,000 campaign fund?

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Lisa Brown speaks at ‘campaign kickoff’

State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown perhaps was too prepared for her reelection bid.

She already had ordered her campaign signs when she made the surprise announcement last week that she would not to seek a new term.

“They’re going to have to get recycled,” Brown, a Democrat, said.

Although Brown had raised more for her campaign as of Wednesday than any other state legislative candidate who represents Spokane County, most of that money has already been spent or will have to be returned. Even so, there likely will be a sizable amount left that Brown can direct to Democratic Party campaign efforts.

Into endorsements

Washington candidates are scrambling to announce endorsements this week as filing week approaches.

The gubernatorial candidates are taking turns touting nods from “first responders.” Former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, the likely Democratic nominee, is in Spokane today to pick up the endorsement of Fire Fighters Local 29. They'll have a formal laying on of the hands at 2:15 p.m. at the union hall, 911 E. Baldwin.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, the all-but-certain Republican nominee, announced Monday that he'd been endorsed by the Washington State Troopers Association.

The State Labor Council weighed in over the weekend with its endorsements, which were, depending on one's point of view, strongly pro-Democrat or anti-Republican. The council is backing Rich Cowan against U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the 5th Congressional District, and picked a D in eight of the other nine districts. For District 3 in Southwest Washington, they didn't have a good Democratic option, so they came out opposed to Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

In Spokane Legislative races, the labor council showed an ability to shift quickly to the winds of Sen. Lisa Brown's surprise retirement last week. endorsing Andy Billig for the now open Senate seat and Marcus Riccelli for Billig's former House seat. One problem with the quick turnaround: They misspelled Riccelli's name. Also on their list: Amy Biviano in the 4th District and Dennis Dellwo in the 6th.

Speaking of that potentially crowded 3rd District House race, Democratic leaders seem eager to jump in line behind Riccelli. Brown endorsed her former aide this morning, as did former state Sen. Chris Marr, former Reps. Alex Wood, Jeff Gombosky, John Driscoll and Don Barlow, and most recent past county party chairpersons.

That's a pretty quick closing of the ranks, considering the seat became open less than a week ago, and at least two other candidates — Spokane businessman John Waite and Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder — have expressed interest in filing.

Filing week, by the way, begins Monday morning.

Snyder hints at possible run against Riccelli for state House

Late this afternoon Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder tweeted: 

“Dear friends: Tomorrow I will be making an announcement regarding Andy Billig's vacated 3rd District House seat. Stay tuned.”

He hasn't returned calls seeking comment, which means he's either running for Billig's seat, or playing a trick on folks like me and will announce that he's endorsing Marcus Riccelli, Lisa Brown's senior policy analyst who sent out a news release Thursday announcing that he is running for the seat.

In an political environment like the one created by Brown's surprise announcement this morning, there likely will be many rumors to chase down in the next couple weeks as folks scramble to put together support for a campaign before the May 18 filing deadline.

Spokane likely to lose influence with Brown’s departure

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Gregoire praises Brown

Even before Lisa Brown became state Senate majority leader, Spokane enjoyed influence in the state Legislature with Jim West, who served as majority leader until becoming Spokane's mayor in 2004.

Asked today if Spokane will lose power without Brown leading the Senate, Gov. Chris Gregoire was frank:

“I’d like to tell you no, but that would not be honest with you,” she said. “Lisa as majority leader has to fight for the entire state, but at no time did she ever fail to advocate not just her own district but all of Spokane — the greater Spokane. To her credit, she has brought home things that are exceedingly important.”

Gregoire called Brown's departure “a huge loss to Spokane.”

To hear more about Gregoire's thoughts about Brown, listen to the interview posted above.

Brown’s bombshell shakes up Democratic politics

State Rep. Andy Billig said this morning that he will be making an announcement today. Other sources are indicating that he will jump into the race for state Sen. Lisa Brown's seat.

Brown's decision, so close to the candidate filing deadline, has shocked many local Democrats.

Billig has been a rising star in local Democratic circles and was the only 3rd Legislative District legislator who hadn't attracted Republican competition. If he runs for the Senate, that opens new possibilities for his House seat.

Former state Sen. Chris Marr said today that a leading possibility for the seat is Marcus Riccelli. He had been pursuing a possible run in the 6th District until the boundaries changed and he ended up in the Third. Another possible candidate is former Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple, who unsuccessfully challenged Billig in 2010 and said recently he was pondering a run for Spokane County Commission.

Photo caption: Andy Billig, center, and his daughter Isabella, 10, right, celebrate early returns that show him leading in a 3rd state legislative race on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010 at Lincoln Center in Spokane, Wash. At left is Lisa Brown, the Democrat leader in the state senate.

Special Session Day 30: Moving toward a deal

OLYMPIA – Legislators slogged through a series of votes Tuesday night that would give the state a balanced budget, pay for nearly $1 billion in government construction projects and implement a series of reforms that could save the state money in the future.
Both chambers were poised to vote on a more than a half-dozen bills, an interconnected package of spending cuts and reforms hammered out in negotiations with Gov. Chris Gregoire as the clock ticked toward a midnight deadline.
They made plans to go into a brief special session if necessary to complete votes on the package, which would change the state’s pension system, revise health insurance programs for public school employees and require budgets that balance over four years rather than two.
  

Special Session: Deal on budget ‘close’

OLYMPIA — A deal to break the budget stalemate is reportedly close, but the real question could be whether there's enough time left in the special session to pass it, should negotiators reach agreement.

Budget negotiators were down to the nitty gritty in the operating budget, known as provisos, in the afternoon while legislative leaders were preparing for yet another meeting with Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“We're getting close,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said after running the gauntlet of television cameras outside the governor's office.

A few minutes earlier in the Senate wings, Brown said Democrats and Republicans seemed close to a “tentative deal” explaining “It's a good sing we're writing budget provisos.”

Provisos are special instructions in a budget that direct spending on particular projects or programs.

But Brown acknowledged that the real problem is the clock. The special session will end at midnight tonight, and there is a question whether there is enough time to write, print and vote on the bills in both houses.

It would require agreement on all sides to waive certain rules that require waits for legislators to examine and propose amendments to bills, and wouldn't allow much time for debate.

Special Session: Do they have an agreement?

OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders resumed their negotiations with the governor, apparently close to a possible agreement on the budget and surrounding issues.

“We're coming back to see if we've actually got an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said as leaders of both parties in the two chambers, as well as the top budget writers gathered in the waiting room outside the governor's office.

Words like framework, tentative agreement and possible agreement were all mentioned. “It's all just semantics,” Brown said. After leaving discussions with Gov. Chris Gregoire about 7 p.m., leaders outlined the proposals for a budget and several reforms to their members, testing the waters for support.

If they have enough support among the parties on both chambers, legislators will play “beat the clock” late Monday and throughout Tuesday as they race to beat adjournment of the special session, which must happen by midnight.

They will have to agree on language for bills, which must still be drafted and reviewed, then passed in the exact same form in both chambers. Legislative staff could work through the night, but only if that framework for an agreement turns into solid agreements on key pieces of legislation.

Legislators reportedly have been close on the operating budget itself, leaders said. The real holdups, as has been the case for weeks, are changes to state programs or policies, which some call reforms, that would reduce state expenses in future years. The main reforms involve revising state budget practices so projections for expenses and revenue balance for four years into the future, rather than two; making medical insurance plans for public school employees more like the health care plans for state employees; and revising the state pension systems so new employees will have a less generous system for early retirement. 

Special Session: Lunchtime drama in Senate

OLYMPIA — A bit of drama this afternoon before the Senate broke for lunch, with plans by Democrats to go “at ease” in the afternoon while the Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing on the budget and reform bills connected to it…and possibly come back for votes in the evening or Saturday.

After the motion to go at ease, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, made a motion to recess until Monday. The difference: under the latter, no votes could be taken through the weekend.

Several Republicans had already headed home for the holiday weekend, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is recovering from surgery. Some Republicans were concerned about orders to return to the Senate on Saturday or Sunday to vote on the budget, and with Hewitt missing, even if they all made it back they could face a 24-24 vote, with Democrats holding most of their members but the three breakaway Ds from an early budget vote casting their lot again with the Republicans.

In case of a 24-24 tie, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, would cast the deciding vote.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown argued passionately against recess. The bills that Republicans had been pushing for could get through the committee and be available for a vote Friday or Saturday, she said. If the Legislature has a chance of getting done by Tuesday, they'll need to move that legislation to the House as quickly as possible.

“This is not about the illness of one member. This is about getting the business of the state done,” Brown, D-Spokane, said. “If necessary, I will personally take Sen. Hewitt's vote on that bill.”

There's no problem with holding the hearing, Schoesler said. But the threat of being called back on Saturday or Sunday is a problem with some members already home with their families.

“The threat of a call of the house with a holy holiday coming is a very serious issue,” he said.

Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said her 94-year-old mother was being baptized as a Catholic on Saturday in Yakima, and “I hope to heck we get to go tomorrow.”  Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said one of her relatives was also being baptized on Saturday. (Note: Catholics traditionally baptize new adult members during their Easter Vigil service.)

Not to be out religious-ed, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said the Democrats two Jewish members had agreed to stay as late as necessary Friday night, which is the beginning of Passover, “willing to forego their very holy day in order to get the business of the state done.”

In the end, Owen ruled that the motion to go in recess came first, took precedence, and called for a vote on that. It passed. Unknown yet whether there will be votes late into the evening Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

McLaughlin ad pulled off TV

The campaign to extend two taxes to pay for the expansion of the Spokane Convention Center and Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena has pulled a TV ad featuring Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin.

Citizens for Jobs Now has developed a series of commercials each featuring two people who often represent competing interests, including messages with a Democrat and Republican and another with a union member and a business owner. In each ad each spokesperson says that despite their usual differences they support Measure 1, the Spokane Public Facilities District tax plan that pays for the Convention Center and arena expansions.

McLaughlin will challenge Brown

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin confirmed this evening that she will run against state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown.

She plans to make her official announcement at a press conference on Tuesday.

McLaughlin has been on the record as considering a run against Brown for months.

“I just had to make sure that I felt like there was enough suport becasue we know it's not going to be an easy run,” McLaughlin said during a break at tonight's City Council meeting at the East Central Community Center.

McLaughlin has said for more than a year that she is interested in running for the Legislature. She is a Republican in Eastern Washington's only Democratic-leaning legislative district. But she won a second term on City Council in 2009 in a landslide, winning even her counicl district's most Democratic districts.

Brown running, McLaughlin may jump in Tuesday

OLYMPIA – Lisa Brown, the top-ranking Democrat in the Senate, will seek another four years in central Spokane’s 3rd District.

Brown, who was widely expected to seek re-election to another term, was first elected to the Legislature in 1992 and now serves as Senate Majority Leader. She said she wants to continue work on protecting education and expanding jobs and opportunity in Spokane.

“I’ve led legislative efforts to restore the Fox Theater, redevelop the YMCA/YWCA community centers and build our Riverpoint medical campus,” she said in the press release formally announcing the campaign.

The 55-year-old Brown is a single mother with a son in college who teaches economics at Gonzaga University when the Legislature is not in session.

While she has had relatively easy campaigns against novice candidates in recent years, 2012 could prove to be a tougher race. Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a Republican, has talked about running against Brown and has press conference Tuesday morning for a campaign announcement.

New GOP budget: ‘Game changer’ or ‘waste of time’?

OLYMPIA – For the first three days of the special session, everything involving the state’s troubled budget was done behind the closed doors. That went by the wayside Thursday.
Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies released a new budget proposal at a morning press conference that they said moved closer to Democratic plans to spend more on public schools and higher education. They used terms like fabulous, honest and “game-changer” to describe their new plan.
 But they hadn’t produced it in closed-door negotiations among budget writers just an hour before, and Gov. Chris Gregoire accused them of “wasting time” by unveiling a new budget proposal that has little chance of making it through the Legislature.
“This will not get us out of town,” a clearly angry Gregoire said. “The antics of today do not advance the ball.”
  

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

New state budget pushed into the fray

OLYMPIA — In an effort to break a budget logjam, Senate Republicans and their three Democratic allies unveiled a new  spending plan Thursday morning that would spend more on public schools and state colleges.

It also offers more money for child care for working families and has no new taxes. But it does skip a $140 million payment to state pension systems in exchange for other changes to pension plans that would save money in the long run. 

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called it a “compromise approach” to the differences between the budget passed in a parliamentary takeover two weeks ago in the Senate and a significantly different plan passed by House Democrats on the last day of the regular session.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said it was a better plan than the one he joined with Republicans to pass. “It's a budget that can bring the special session to a close.”

Senate Democratic leaders, who only saw the proposal at the same time Republicans released it at a morning news conference, said it has “some very good movement,” because it restores money for public schools and higher education that Republicans proposed cutting two weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she was still concerned that the proposal cuts money for the Disability Lifeline, but “I feel great about the moves that were made on the spending side.”

The public release of a new budget proposal, signaled movement over talks which have essentially been at a stalemate for two weeks. But potential roadblocks quickly surfaced.

Democrats said they still have concerns about skipping the $140 million pension payment, because the cost of that grows over time. Republicans acknowledge the long-term cost of that is about $400 million over 25 years, but they estimate the savings from ending early retirements for new state employees would be $2 billion over that period, and that money could be used to shore up the pension funds.

The Legislature has skipped or delayed pension payments in six times since 2001, in budgets written by Democrats and Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire had asked legislative leaders to come  up with a budget that doesn't skip the pension payment, which Republicans favor but Democrats oppose, and also doesn't delay a $330 million payment to schools by shifting it from the end of this biennium to the first day of the next. Democrats favor that approach but Republicans call it unsustainable budgeting.

The new budget proposal doesn't do that. It also calls for the state to spend $780,000 to set up 10 charter schools, while cutting $1.5 million Democrats proposed for “collaborative schools”.  Charter schools, which can be set up by a public school and parents to try new methods and avoid some state requirements, would need new legislation to be passed along with the budget. Collaborative schools, a plan to pair the Education Departments of the state's colleges with troubled schools, has already passed.

Sen. Rodney Tom, another of the three Democrats who voted with Republicans on their Senate budget, is a strong supporter of charter schools. The budget would pay for 10 next year, in “persistently failing schools.” But Gregoire and other Democrats regard charter schools as taking money from the existing schools; the governor proposed the collaborative school program as a way to bring innovation into classrooms without setting up charter schools.

Special Session Day 2: No budget deal in sight

OLYMPIA — With most legislators still at home, their leaders continued meeting Tuesday with Gov. Chris Gregoire in search of a solution to the state's budget problems

They reached no agreements on a key sticking point. Gregoire told them to set those disagreements aside and come up with at least $200 million that members of both parties, in both houses, might accept.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said the goal before the next meeting — as yet unscheduled — is to find that money through some source of revenue, “something that's not spending cuts.”

The hangup right now is what the two parties want to say is an available resource in the General Fund budget to spend on state programs.  Democrats want to delay a payment of some $330 million to the state's school districts by a few days, shifting it from the end of June to the beginning of July 2013 which means it happens in the state's next fiscal biennium. Because the schools would get it in their same fiscal year — the calendars are different — they argue it's merely an accounting shift with no real consequence.

Republicans, however, say that's bad budgeting, and even worse accounting that shifts the debt into the next biennium. They want to skip a payment to some state pension plans, then make several reforms to the way pensions are structured. They admit skipping a pension payment isn't a good practice, but contend the long-term savings are worth the $150 million that would leave in the budget.

Democrats say that plan isn't actuarially sound, and the savings might not be all that Republicans estimate them to be.

Once they decide on the amount to spend, budget writers will start working on how to divide that among programs. A budget written by Senate Republicans differs from one passed by House Democrats on a wide range of education, college and social programs and those will still have to be negotiated.

“It could potentially result in more cuts,” Brown said. “That's what moving to the middle's all about.”

A dam good bill with some teeth in it

OLYMPIA — Beavers making a nuisance of themselves in Western Washington could be relocated to Eastern Washington areas that need their help in damming streams, but the furry critters from Eastern Washington couldn't be shipped west under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate.

Seems there's already too many of the tree-chomping mammals west of the Cascades.

The proposal, described by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, as a “cute, furry little bill,” allows the Department of Fish and Wildlife to set up a system in which a landowner who wants to improve groundwater or downstream flows can request beavers being captured elsewhere and removed from land where they are creating a nuisance. It also provided several legislators some much-needed work on their joke delivery.

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

WA Lege Day 46: Will they finish on time

OLYMPIA — With two weeks left in the 2012 session, and the Senate's budget proposal still about four days away from being released, some legislators are expressing doubt that they will leave town on time.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Thursday, however, she thought finishing work without the need of a special session was doable. . “That's the plan. . .

House Democrats and House Republicans have each released budgets, which have no visible support from members of the opposing parties.

Sen. Ed Murray of Seattle, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has been working with Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the ranking Republican on that panel, on a different operating budget that might garner bipartisan support.

“I can't speak to the number of (Republican) votes,” Brown, a Spokane Democrat, said.

The Senate operating budget will be released Tuesday, leaving just 10 days to wrap up everything.

Along with the changes to the beleaguered operating budget, the Legislature must also pass a Capital construction budget (sometimes known as the Jobs package), and a revised transportation budget. There's legislation on medical insurance exchanges to meet federal health care reforms which Gov. Chris Gregoire wants but Republicans insist aren't necessary. 

There are some proposals for government reforms, a proposal for a constitutional amendment on balanced budgets.  And there's a question of a tax increase. Gregoire proposed a temporary sales tax increase, which Republicans in both chambers oppose. The House Democrats' budget doesn't have a state tax increase in it, but offers plenty of chances for local taxes to go up, though. The Senate budget will balance without a tax increase, but there may be a proposal to ask voters to approve some sort of increase.

“We have not completely ruled that out,” Brown said.

So with all that on the table, can the Legislature really finish on time? Yes it could, Brown said: “There will still be controversies before we're done. Everybody's talking. When you need to get worried is when they're not talking.”

Fund ed first, House Republicans say

OLYMPIA – House Republicans, who say they are fed up with the slow pace of budgeting process in a session where that was supposed to be the main thing the Legislature tackled, argued Thursday for a new approach.

The state should set aside what it wants to spend on K-12 education first, then figure out what’s left for other state programs. They call it “Fund Education First” and say it’s in line with both the state Constitution’s declaration that education in the state's public schools is the state’s “paramount duty” and a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature must do more to meet that duty.

“This is not a gimmick. It’s a workable solution,” said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would make that change in budgeting.

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

Oil barrel fee not likely, key Democrats say

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to place a $1.50 per barrel fee on oil refined in Washington state appears close to dead. Two key Senate Democrats said as much today in separate settings.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee which would decide how to spend the money the proposed fee would raise, told a breakfast gathering of the state Good Roads and Transportation Association she believes, like most Republicans, that it's really a tax, not a fee. The difference is more than just semantics. A fee can be passed by the Legislature on a majority vote, which Democrats have in both  houses; a tax needs a two-thirds majority, which they don't have.

The final decision on fee v. tax would rest with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate, but Haugen said she thinks he'd rule it a tax, too.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said this afternoon the proposal is “not getting any momentum” in the Senate Democratic Caucus. Translation: don't bother putting a mirror under its nostrils, this idea isn't breathing.

Med School tied to “Jobs” package

OLYMPIA – Some $35 million to finish the Riverpoint medical school building may flow into Spokane as the top priority for the area’s business community finds itself on a list of projects to address one of the Legislature’s top priorities.
Jobs.
Or the project may find itself in the middle of a debate over the role of government in creating jobs. . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
  

Brown on MLK march: How far we have to go

OLYMPIA — For the first time in two decades, Sen. Lisa Brown said she won't be in the Capitol Monday on Martin Luther King Day.
Although it's a state holiday, the Legislature is always in session and traditionally works on that day. Next Monday, however, Brown said she'll be in Spokane to march with others in the community one year after the attempted bombing of that annual event.
Last year's parade was rerouted by police after a bomb was found in a suspicious backpack along the route by three temporary workers. Kevin Harpham, who espoused white supremacist views, later pleaded guilty to planting the bomb.
But that march continued last year and will be repeated Monday, Brown said, “sending a strong message that violence has no place in our community or any community.”
In a speech on the Senate floor explaining why she won't be present on Monday, Brown quoted King who once said that people who march “must make the pledge that we always march ahead. We cannot turn back”
 In her office of Senate majority leader, she has a painting by a Spokane artist which features the street layout of Washington, D.C., from the Lincoln Memorial, where King made his “I Have a Dream” speech to the White House.
The title “16,582 Days to a Symphony of Brotherhood,” commemorates the number of days between the speech and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president. Brown urged people to stop by her office to see painting to contemplate how far the nation has come. And on the one-year anniversary of the attempted bombing they might want to contemplate something else, she said.
“How far we still have to go… to where our differences our settled through dialogue and debate, and not with violence.”
  

Senate Democrats coalescing on reforms

OLYMPIA — Senate Democratic leaders think they've narrowed a stack of possible reforms that some member wants to a smaller list they may be able to pass.

The reforms would save at least $50 million in this budget cycle, and as much as $300 million over the next three years as they slowly take hold in government. That's not enough to fill a projected gap of more than $1 billion in the state's General Fund budget over the next 18 months, Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.

But without tangible reforms, voters are going to be “extremely skeptical” support any request for a tax increase, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said.

Some of the ideas are on lists offered by Republicans, such as streamlined permitting for businesses and restructuring state government to make it cheaper and more efficient., although it won't be possible to tell if the details are compatible until the bills are introduced.

Some have come close to passing in previous sessions, such as cracking down on Medicaid fraud and abuse, only to founder on disputes over details.

They expect to introduce reform bills in the next week or so. Budget hearings will also begin in the Ways and Means Committee, with the idea of having a budget “ready or almost ready” when the next state revenue forecast is released in mid February. Plans are to pass a budget by early March and not go into overtime with a special session.

“This does not get any easier by hanging around,” Brown said.

3rd Lege District “town hall” call on Wednesday

Residents of Spokane's 3rd Legislative District might be getting a call around 6 p.m. Wednesday inviting them to participate in a tele-town hall.

A what? you might say.

It's like a town hall meeting, only on the telephone.

Sen. Lisa Brown and Reps. Timm Ormsby and Andy Billig will all be on the other end. Or more accurately, another ends. In a tele-town hall, there are lots of ends because hundreds of people can be on the line.

Participants can ask their questions, and listen to the questions of others and the answers from the three Democratic legislators. If you want to participate but don't get a call, you can dial toll-free at 1-877-229-8493. You'll have to enter an ID code when requested, of 18646.

A spokeswoman said the three legislators decided to do a town hall meeting by phone because scheduling a session in Spokane early the session can be difficult. They may do one in person later.

For 6th District residents, however, can ask their state senator questions the old fashioned, face-to-face way on Saturday. Sen. Mike Baumgartner is holding two standard town hall meetings.

The first will be at 8 a.m. at the Multipurpose Room, PUB 101, on EWU Cheney campus. (It's hosted by the Associated Students of Eastern Washington University, who apparently don't plan to party late into the night Friday to be up bright and early for the town hall meeting…or maybe they just won't go to bed until after the meeting is over.)

Another meeitng is at 10:30 a.m. at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Browne's Addition, 2316 West 1st Ave.