Latest from The Spokesman-Review
OLYMPIA — Republicans pushed back Thursday against Gov. Chris Gregoire's call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the upcoming legislative session.
But Gregoire made clear she would stick to her guns on the issue.
One of the main candidates to replace Gregoire said the Legislature shouldn't make the decision on its own. Instead, state Attorney General Rob McKenna said, it should send any proposal it passes to the ballot and give voters the final say.
At panel discussion for the top Democratic and Republican leaders sponsored by the Associated Press Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla argued that a short, 60-day session with a major budget hole is not the place for “social reform” that could roil the legislators: We should leave social issues off the agenda,” Hewitt said.
He also questioned whether one of the proponents of same-sex marriage legislation, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, will have time to devote to that bill while serving as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Murray, who is openly gay, is “vested in this personally”, Hewitt said. “I really don't want his attention taken away” from the budget.
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis questioned how Democrats could devote time to hearings on same-sex marriage legislation when they won't set aside time for hearings on GOP reform proposals: “Apparently we have time to hear certain bills but not other bills.”
Democratic leaders said it's an issue the Legislature should take up this session. “This is the right time to move forward with marriage equality,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.
In a separate session, Gregoire agreed that fixing the budget is “priority one.” But there's time to debate her proposal on same-sex marriage, too, she insisted: “What will history say when we say 'Sorry, but we had a budget to pass so we continued to discriminate.' In tough times, we stand up to the challenge.”
And legislators can find time to do more than just the budget, she added. “I multi-task; they multi-task. It can be discussed thoughtfully and deliberately.”
In a later interview, McKenna said that while same-sex marriage may be an important issue for some legislators and Gregoire, he didn't know if a short session with a deep budget problem is the best time to address it.
“This is an issue for the voters to decide. I hope if they do pass it, they send it to the voters,” McKenna said. Such a requirement might mean the legislative maneuvering and debate over such a contentious issue will take less time, because voters would have the final say, he added.
The proposed new boundaries for Spokane's 3rd Legislative District could be helpful for a potential bid by Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin.
The proposed district (map here) still would strongly favor Democrats, but it also would add some Republican-leaning precincts.
McLaughlin said last week that she will decide in the next few months if she will challenge Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. She said that she and her husband have ruled out a run for state House because she would have to focus too much on reelection efforts with only two-year terms.
Republicans have looked to McLaughlin to run for Legislature at least since 2009, when she won reelection resoundingly over neighborhood leader Karen Kearney. She captured 67 percent of the vote, in a district that voted for Barack Obama a year earlier. She also has become extremely interested in Legislative politics with her involvement in the Washington Association of Cities. (She is president of the group this year.)
McLaughlin has proven that she can win big in a council district that leans slightly Democratic. But can she win in a Legislative district that's the most Democratic in Eastern Washington?
OLYMPIA — Legislators will try to fill some of the looming budget gap next week, but won't come close to the $2 billion in cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she expects a budget proposal to be introduced Monday that will address a “substantial piece” of the projected shortfall. She declined to list a specific number, but hinted the amount could be between $100 million and $500 million.
It will be an amount that a majority of legislators in both chambers can agree on, she said. Further cuts and government reforms will come up in the regular session, due to start Jan. 9, she said: “We'll still have a long way to go.”
The Legislature won't vote on Gregoire's request for a temporary half-cent sales tax in the special session. The governor had asked for that by the end of the session to put the proposal before voters in March, and buy back some of the $2 billion in cuts she was asking legislators to approve in the emergency 30-day session.
“I thought that was an overly ambitious assignment from the start,” Brown said.
On Thursday, Gregoire also publically scaled back her expectations, saying she'd be happy with a “significant downpayment” on budget cuts and didn't expect passage of the sales tax proposal.
“I don't see any revenue measures in the special session,” Brown said. Legislators first want to consider reforms and set priorities on programs. Some of the governor's proposed cuts would save money initially by ending programs, but cost money in the long run. One such example is a proposal to make cuts to “critical access hospitals” in rural areas, which actually cost the hospitals double because the facilities would lose federal money as well as state money, she said.
Legislators are also not inclined to eliminate the Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline, Brown said, or to make cuts in Corrections Programs, as Gregoire has proposed.
OLYMPIA — Most Senate Democrats oppose a plan that closes the state's $1.4 billion budget gap solely with cuts, but there's no agreement at this point on where to find more tax revenue, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Monday.
“It's going to take a little while to figure this out,” Brown, D-Spokane, said meeting with her caucus. “Some level of reduction is inevitable.”
They haven't yet discussed Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to raise the state sales tax by one-half cent per $1 for three years.
Democratic leaders of different committees are meeting with Republican counterparts to try to find cuts to which both sides can agree, she said. Gregoire submitted one such spending plan, which calls for nearly $2 billion in cuts, with a separate bill to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase that would raise nearly $500 million that would be directed to restore some cuts to public schools, state colleges, long-term care and public safety programs.
Brown said she couldn't speculate on whether there would be agreement with the governor that her proposal would contain the proper amount, time or programs to be restored.
OLYMPIA — State Sen. Lisa Brown is dropping any plans to run for statewide office in 2012
Democrat Brown, the Senate majority leader from Spokane, has been rumored for two possible statewide posts on next year's ballot, lieutenant governor and state auditor.
The auditor's seat is open with long-time incumbent Brian Sonntag deciding last month he wouldn't seek re-election. The lieutenant governor's seat isn't, with incumbent Brad Owen showing no sign of giving up the job of presiding over the Senate and standing in when a governor leaves the state.
Brown said Monday she'll be concentrating on leading the Senate Democrats during the upcoming special session that starts Nov. 28, and the regular session that starts in January. Although that would still leave some time to put together a campaign in March or April, “I'm not planning on running for statewide office in 2012,” she said.
Her current term is up next year, so she'll have to seek re-election to the Senate in 2012. While that's a relatively safe seat right now, there's no telling what Spokane's legislative seats will look like after the Redistricting Commission gets finished with redrawing the lines.
OLYMPIA – About half of the 15 members of the Spokane-area legislative delegation have volunteered for the same level of pay cuts the imposed on state workers. That’s a level slightly better than legislators statewide.
Many who have done it, like Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, say it’s a personal decision.
“As a businessman, the buck starts and stops with me,” said Parker, who owns a chain of coffee shops. “It’s the same with us as legislators.”
Parker’s seatmate in Spokane’s 6th District, Republican John Ahern, said he doesn’t plan to ask for a pay cut, but he is donating 3 percent or more to charities, ranging from his church and the Boy Scouts to organizations that oppose abortion like Teen-Aid.
“This way I know exactly where the money is going,” Ahern said. If he took a pay cut, the money would stay in the state’s general fund, and go to state programs or agencies he doesn’t support….
OLYMPIA — State senators who left the Capitol for their offices or to grab a bite to eat during a break in floor action Thursday returned to find the building on a lockdown and closed to the public more than an hour after protesters were arrested outside the governor's office.
No one without a magnetic stripe key card that operates the automatic locks was immediately allowed in. That meant lobbyists, any legislator or staff member who'd left an ID card on a desk, and, of course the general public
That didn't sit well with Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane, who said she'd been at a meeting with the governor, General Administration and the State Patrol after the arrests and no one mentioned a lock down.Senate Democrats refused to resume floor action until the doors were unlocked.
Just because some people were disruptive doesn't mean everyone else interested in peacefully exercising their free speech rights should be locked out, Brown said.
The Legislature is heading into the final weeks of the session and Democrats would not be “conducting public business while the proceedings were closed to the public,” she said.
Friday morning Brown said she thinks the lines of communication between the Legislature and the governor's office were improved for anything that might be considered in response to today's protests.
OLYMPIA — Fans of Spokane's Museum of Arts and Culture who were cheered by news the House may tap a special fund to keep the MAC open should be warned: The Senate isn't wild about the idea.
As reported Thursday, the House has a new bill that would take money from a fund set up build a Heritage Center in Olympia to keep open the MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 8 a.m. next Thursday in the House State Government Committee.
But Senate Majority Lisa Brown, whose district includes the MAC, said Friday if the bill gets out of the House it could run into trouble in the Senate: “We want to come up with a source of funding. We don't want to go down that road.”
The Senate hopes to find money for the MAC and the Tacoma museum in the general operating fund budget, Brown said.
Left in the legislative ash heap last week was a bill to revise rules for initiative campaigns by charging as much as $500 to file a ballot measure and putting stricter rules on people paid to gather signatures.
Like previous attempts to change ballot measure rules, SB 5297 brought out Tim Eyman and other initiative entrepreneurs who understandably don’t want the Legislature messing with a system they’ve figured out. Certain progressive “good-government” groups, eager to clean up abuses they see, provided the opposing view and generated heartfelt if conflicting testimony at the hearings.
Eyman is always quotable, in an “Armageddon is the next stop if we get on this railroad” sort of way. The good government groups warned of dastardly deeds by signature collectors, and usually mentioned a case from Spokane involving the mother-daughter team of Theresa and Mercedes Dedeaux.
The Spokesman-Review detailed the case early last year, when it became a cause célèbre for another bill with another set of restrictions on paid signature gatherers which also ultimately died. This seems a good time for an update…
There's a break in the legislative action this weekend, so several Spokane-area legislators will be back in their home districts to hold town hall meetings.
The break is a result of the Legislature passing a major deadline for voting bills out of one chamber, and not yet reaching a key point in crafting the next biennium's budget, the state economic forecast which comes out March 17. Because of that, neither house is in session this weekend, so it's a good time for legislators to head home for a few days, and Saturday seems like a good day for town hall meetings.
Here's a list of what's scheduled for Saturday.
6th Legislative District
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, Reps. Kevin Parker and John Ahern
10:30 a.m. Northwood Middle School gymnasium, 13120 N. Pittsburg St.
2 p.m., Education themed town hall at Northwood Middle School library, 13120 N. Pittsburg St.
5 p.m. town hall at the MAC, 2316 W. 1st Ave.
OLYMPIA — A Senate proposal that would result in the Legislature rejecting contracts negotiated between the governor's office and state employees' unions will likely face opposition from Democratic leaders in that chamber.
“It does not make sense to me,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said of the proposal. “I think it's a distraction from the bigger problems we have.”
SB 5870, introduced this week, would essentially refuse to provide the funds needed for the contracts that have been negotiated and “encourage the parties … to reconven to reach an agreement that takes into account the Legislature's concerns and better recognizes the state's fiscal situation.” It was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said it is simply an attempt to get new contracts in light of the state's declining revenue picture.
“It's not Wisconsin. It doesn't eliminate collective bargaining,” he said, referring to the controversy in that Midwestern state over a bill recently passed by Republicans that did strip many bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees.
Brown said, however, state employees have already agreed to lower wages, furloughs and higher benefit costs, as well as staff reductions from the closure of state facilities. To arguments by some Republicans that state workers have better pay and benefits than their counterparts in private industry, Brown countered that the studies are mixed: “I don't know there's really clear evidence of that.”
But the bill could wind up costing the state more money, she said. It would force contract negotiations to resume, but there's no guarantee when an agreement would be reached. That could mean the existing contract, with higher pay and benefits, would remain in place for the first year of the biennium, she said.
Spokane-area legislative boundaries could change significantly by next year to make up for population shifts from the city’s urban core to the suburbs.
While much of the attention so far on the 2010 U.S. Census figures has centered on Washington gaining its tenth congressional district, the state’s Redistricting Commission may have even more work to do on redrawing legislative districts. The state isn’t adding to the 49 legislative districts it has had since 1933.
“Ten is easier than 49. There’s more areas to quibble over,” Dean Foster, a member of this year’s commission and the 2000 panel that redrew lines after the previous census…
OLYMPIA — The Legislature may find a way to keep the Museum of Arts and Culture and the state museum in Tacoma open, despite Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to close them because of budget problems.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today a coalition of Spokane and Tacoma legislators is working on a strategy to reduce state support over time, but provide a “bridge” of state money while the museums look for financial support elsewhere.
For the MAC, Brown said, a possible source of funding would be the region's tribes because the museum has an extensive collection of Native American artifacts.
The Washington State Historical Society operates the museum in Tacoma and the separate Eastern Washington State Historical Society operates the MAC. In 2008, Gregoire tried unsuccessfully to merge the two societies; the proposal wasn't introduced in the Senate.
Brown said Thursday she didn't see a merger as part of conditions for the Legislature keeping money in the budget.
The two societies serve different areas and seem to work better as separate entities, she said.
Washington state has to change its popular prepaid college tuition program or risk financial problems down the road, a legislative panel was told Wednesday.
The Guaranteed Educational Tuition Program, known to most parents simply as GET, could face insolvency in the long-run because the fund’s return on investments isn’t keeping pace with rising tuition costs.
“I don’t think we have a serious problem at this time,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said. “We are trying to avoid creating some kind of unfunded liability problem in the future.”
Since 1998, nearly 120,000 families have opened GET accounts, buying future tuition for Washington colleges at current prices. Under the program, participants buy a GET unit with a price calculated on the current cost of tuition, so that 100 units equals one year of tuition at the University of Washington. They can “cash” the units at some future date and the state guarantees they will be worth the comparable value at that point. In other words, the state guarantees that 100 units bought in 2011 for $11,700 will be worth a year’s tuition at UW in 2021 or 2041, regardless of how much tuition rises or what school the student attends.
Money used to purchase GET credits go into a fund managed by the state investment board, which averages a return of about 8 percent. But some years, college tuition has gone up faster than that.
A state actuarial report released earlier this year says that under the some scenarios, that fund could run short of money, and the state would be on the hook for the difference. . .
OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats had to delay a vote on a plan to save businesses from paying millions more in higher unemployment insurance taxes after Republicans said the plan didn't to help the workers who have been off the job so long they are running out of benefits.
Yes. You read that right. Democrats wanted to cut taxes for businesses and Republicans blocked it because it didn't do enough for benefits for unemployed. Although that seems like a Bizarro World scenario from DC Comics, it was really a bit of political maneuvering as the Legislature tries to “beat the clock” on changes to Unemployment Insurance.
The House recently passed a bill that cancels a scheduled increase businesses are facing this year for unemployment taxes and uses some new federal money to add $15 per week per dependent for jobless workers with families. Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for the Legislature to block the rate hike but wants the federal money to be used to expand training programs for unemployed workers, to move them into jobs that have a better chance of keeping them employed in the coming years.
But some social action groups and organized labor back the boost in payments for benefits, so Democrats are understandably verklempt and still debating that section. That creates a problem because the rate hike has to be cancelled by a law that is passed and signed by Feb. 8, or it goes into effect for the entire year.
This morning Senate Democrats tried to de-couple the two parts of the bill, with an amendment that cancelled the rate hike but took out the benefits provisions, leaving them to be handled later in the session. That meant a portion of the benefits section which extended unemployment insurance was also removed.
Before they could debate the amendment, however, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, used a parliamentary maneuver to try to block it. “Without this change in law, 70,000 workers will exhaust their unemployment benefits,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objected, saying there's time to extend the unemployment benefits but the rate hike needs to be stopped sooner: “The clock is ticking for thousands of businesses in Washington state. Their taxes will go up…We should not be playing politics with cutting unemployment insurance rates to business.”
After Schoesler's motion to block the amendment passed 26-21, a bit more parliamentary maneuvering ensued. Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, moved to defer further consideration. Schoesler moved to act immediately on the original bill. Eide moved to adjourn for the day. Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, D-Moses Lake, objected. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, presiding over the Senate, said there's no debating a motion to adjourn. Schoesler called for a roll call vote on Eide's motion to adjourn. (Motions to adjourn are usually done by voice vote with some of the senators on their way out of the chamber.)
Motion to adjourn passed 25-22. They'll be back tomorrow, when presumably they will try again.
OLYMPIA – There’s more cooperation between the two political parties than previous years, but not much chance that some of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s major reforms will make pass this legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Friday.
Speaking with reporters at the end of the first week of the 105-day session, the Spokane Democrat said members of both parties are consulting and working together more than they have in years. Republican leaders made a similar statement on Tuesday.
“That’s real. That was true even before the tragedy in Arizona, that in difficult times like now… the public expects us not to focus on partisan differences,” she said. One move to give minority Republicans more say on the budget happened on the first day of the session, when the Senate changed rules to end a requirement that amendments to the general operating budget have a supermajority.
Neither party is willing to support Gregoire’s call to end state-sponsored Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline that provides temporary payments to disabled residents. Gregoire told Senate Democrats Friday morning to come up with alternative cuts and “wished us well,” Brown said.
Asked how those programs are likely to survive, she replied: “It’s too soon to tell.”
While Democrats may agree to streamline and consolidate some natural resource agencies, they aren’t likely to support setting up a new system to govern and raise taxes for Puget Sound ferries, Brown said. And they’re skeptical of Gregoire’s plan to consolidate all state education programs from pre-school to graduate degrees into one massive Department of Education, although they don’t know the details.
“We haven’t got the bill yet. There is interest in the Senate in not having so many agencies involved in education,” she said. It’s not clear yet what major changes can be proposed, debated and passed in a session so focused on the budget, she added.
OLYMPIA – Amid the tension of a state budget some $4.6 billion out of whack and proposals to cut programs for some of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable, Gov. Chris Gregoire tried to sound upbeat Tuesday with a promise Washington would come out of the recession stronger if they can just “be bold.”
“We will rebound and we will provide a brighter future for our children,” Gregoire told the Legislature in her annual state of the state speech.
Republican response ranged from cautiously positive to slightly caustic. If Gregoire is serious about some of her reforms for state salaries, unemployment insurance and workers compensation, they're on board, Republican leaders said; if she’d made some of these changes years ago like they wanted, the state would be in better shape right now.
“The governor has switched parties,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.
OLYMPIA — There's no chance the Legislature will ask voters for a tax increase for anything — except maybe for highways and other transportation projects — legislative leaders said today.
Appearing at forum to preview the upcoming legislative session, the Democratic and Republican leaders of both chambers agreed the Legislature will have to cut billions from the state's general fund spending rather than trying to raise taxes to fill some of the gap between expected revenues and the cost of state programs and salaries.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there was a chance the Legislature could put a “transportation package” on the November ballot for major road and bridge projects. “Any details would obviously have to be worked out. I'd like to see the North-South Corricer as part of the projects.”
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, was doubtful: “The state doesn't have any money. It's going to be difficult to get anything past the voters.”
But Republican and Democratic leaders balked at Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to eliminate two major programs for the poor, state-funded Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline for people who are unable to work because they are disabled.
“I don't think it's in our best interest to eliminate this,” House Speaker Frank Chopp said.
Hewitt agreed, saying the programs might needs some revisions, a drop in benefit payments or tighter limits on eligibility, but were still needed to “catch the people at the bottom.” The state might consider making everyone reapply for the programs, as it did in 2003, which resulted in a 30 percent drop in participation because some recipients were no longer eligible.
“We're going to look for an alternative to completely eliminating them,” Brown said.
OLYMPIA — The winner of a disputed Senate election in Snohomish County should take his seat despite questions over how he won the primary, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt suggested Monday that Democrat Nick Harper not be seated until a court case over the primary is resolved, and offered not to vote as long as Harper was on the sidelines.
But that’s not fair to Harper, who wasn’t involved in the independent campaign fined by the state Public Disclosure Commission, or the voters of his district, Brown said. She wants the Legislature to consider changes to campaign financing laws that could head off such tactics in the future.
OLYMPIA — Despite legislative losses in last Tuesday’s election, Lisa Brown was re-elected majority leader by Democrats in the state Senate.
Brown, who represents central Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District, was re-elected Senate majority leader, a job she’s held since 2005. A press release from Senate Democrats said Brown ran unopposed and was re-elected unanimously by the caucus.
Brown faces the session with a smaller majority than last year, when Democrats held a 31-17 edge in the Senate. Although some races remain close, Democrats appear to have a 27-22 majority at this time. The current split is more common, she said recently, and could lead to more bipartisan cooperation.
First elected to the state House of Representatives in 1992, Brown was elected to the Senate in 1996, and served as minority leader from 2002 to 2004, when Democrats won a majority in the chamber.
Republican Dino Rossi’s latest television commercial repeats an objection to certain types of federal spending known as earmarks that has become a hallmark of his campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
That seems odd, state Sen. Lisa Brown, a Spokane Democrat, argued Thursday. When Rossi oversaw the state’s budget as a member and eventually chairman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee, it had the legislative equivalent of earmarks and he didn’t object.
“He’s attacking Sen. Murray for a process that’s very similar to what we do in Olympia,” Brown said.
But there’s a difference between federal earmarks and state spending, Rossi’s campaign countered Thursday…
OLYMPIA – A special legislative session to address the state’s budget problems will continue until one side or the other blinks on the sales tax.
On one side: A majority of Democrats who control the Senate want to increase the sales tax as part of their plan to raise about $800 million in taxes as a balanced plan to close a projected $2.8 billion budget gap.
On the other side: A majority of Democrats who control the House of Representatives, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, who want to raise that money with other taxes.
To read more tax talk, click here to go inside the blog
OLYMPIA – Despite warnings of wrath from voters in November, Senate Democrats moved a step closer to a vote on some $890 million in tax increases to fix the state’s budget hole.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved 12-10 a three-year increase in the sales tax and a series of changes to tax laws and loopholes designed to help fix a projected operating budget shortfall of $2.8 billion. They also are proposing cutting about $829 million in programs and using federal funds or transferring money out of other accounts to cover the rest.
The 21-part tax package would extend the sales tax to bottled water, cut exemptions for some equipment on wind and solar energy, raise the business and occupation tax on service businesses and raise taxes on out-of-state firms with representatives who sell directly to Washington customers.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the full Senate could debate the tax plan as early as today.
It does not include a recent proposal to ask voters in November if they want to cut back on the sales tax in favor of an income tax on people who make more than $200,000 a year. That could come up in a separate bill before the Legislature adjourns Thursday – if it can gather enough support, Brown said.
“There’s time (to pass the income tax bill) but there has to be willingness in both houses. On that, I’m not sure,” she said.
For almost every part of the 21-point tax package, Republicans offered amendments to strip or pare back a new tax or restore an exemption, then had separate amendments to put each tax change on the November ballot for an advisory vote.
“I think it is important to let people know who is doing what to whom,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said in asking for an advisory vote on changes to rules that establish when an out-of-state company is subject to Washington taxes.
At one point, the arguments became so repetitive that Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, merely said “Same speech, Madame Chair.” Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, ordered a vote, which got the same result, and the amendment failed.
OLYMPIA — Sports analogies in politics are often imprecise and overused, but they can be fun.
After “cut off” this week, when bills that don’t get out of their original house are for all intents and purposes dead, Senate Democratic staff compiled a spreadsheet of whose bills were still alive.
It’s pretty straight forward math, sort of like a batting average:divide bills introduced into bills passed to get the percentage.
It shows that some people introduce lots of bills, but only get a few passed. Others start with fewer but get a bigger pass percentage.
Sen. Lisa Brown, for example, only introduced two bills, but both of them passed. So she’s batting 1.000, which tells you two things: Brown, as majority leader, is judicious about the bills she sponsors; and members of her caucus are smart enough not to tick of their leader.
Sen. Chris Marr, another Spokane Democrat had the third highest batting average at cutoff, at 57.14 percent, with 12 of his 21 bills still alive.”And without steroids,” he noted.
Only Brown and Sen. Kevin Ranker of San Juan Island (6 for 10 or .600) were doing better at this point.
As any ball player will tell you, the Ws are what count in the end. But while the season is still being played — er, session is still underway — stats make interesting conversation.
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
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
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.)
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OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats formally proposed this afternoon a plan to suspend the super majority required to raise taxes through the middle of 2011 and make other permanent changes to the tax-limiting initiative voters approved two years ago
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, called Initiative 960 a “straightjacket on our state in a time of economic crisis” and a requirement that gives a minority the ability to obstruct the Legislature.
Senate Bill 6843 would suspend through June 2011 the requirement that all tax increases must pass with a two-thirds majority, and make a simple majority the permanent rule for any tax increase needed to carry out a policy approved by voters in an initiative that didn’t come with its own source of taxes.
The most obvious examples of the latter would be money needed for smaller classroom sizes and for pay raises for teachers, which were both passed in voter initiatives in 2000 but have been suspended in tight state budgets.
It also would allow the Legislature to “clarify legislative intent” on tax policy if the state Supreme Court were to interpret the law as not allowing a particular tax or tax exemption. That’s significant in light of a court decision last fall that ruled against a tax for Dot Foods, an out of state supplier. That ruling is estimated to drop state tax revenues by $137 million per year.
Sen. Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said the proposal was a prelude to raising taxes to bail out poor state budget decisions of the past. “It creates a climate of fear and apprehension that will only quash job creation and put more people out of work.”
Democrats have talked of their intentions to suspend the super majority since before the session began and Republicans have talked just as long that such a move would flaunt the will of the people.
Republicans have introduced a bill to “reaffirm” the two-thirds majority and initiative sponsor Tim Eyman has already begun gathering signatures on a ballot measure asking voters to reinstate the super majority in November. He and other co-sponsors filed the initiative on the first day of the legislative session.
The bill is one of two proposals being discussed by Democrats looking for a way around the two-thirds majority requirement imposed in I-960. The other would be to repeal it entirely, Brown said.
The bill has a title that some might regard as “high-faluting.” It is official called “Preserving essential public services by temporarily suspending the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and permanently modifying provisions of Initiative Measure No. 960 for improved efficiency and consistency with state budgeting.”
The bill will get a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Thursday afternoon, and likely come to the Senate floor sometime next week, Brown said.
OLYMPIA – Washington state will delay plans to close the Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women to see whether it can stay open as a facility shared by Spokane County and City.
State Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail announced Thursday the Medical Lake center is getting a temporary reprieve from a list of institutions the state wants to close because of its budget problems. Gov. Chris Gregoire put Pine Lodge on a list of 10 institutions earlier this month in her most recent budget proposal.
In a prepared statement, Vail said he’d received a letter from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner about a “joint use” of Pine Lodge. “We need adequate time to seriously consider what might be developed,” he said.
Knezovich said he and Verner suggested using the facility as part of joint county and city community corrections operation which would include programs for electronic home monitoring of certain inmates. Folding Pine Lodge into the county’s jail system could shave as much as $20 million off current expansion plans, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she’d had discussions with Gregoire and the corrections department about keeping Pine Lodge open.
“This is a good move if there’s a potential to use part of the facility for city and county needs,” she said.