Latest from The Spokesman-Review
OLYMPIA — The Senate could vote as early as Friday on a bill to require most state workers to take a day off a month without pay, Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.
Plans to cut costs or raise taxes will come out in phases, Brown said. Right now, Senate Democrats appear to have support for a plan to require most state employees to take one-day furloughs for 13 months. The days are generally on Fridays or Mondays, which would create a series of three-day weekends in which most state offices are closed.
The exceptions would be state agencies that deal with public safety and health, she said.
The support from the unions that represent the state’s workers is uncertain, but the alternatives will be cuts in services and layoffs, Brown said.
That plan also has salary freezes,and limits on bonuses. It could save the state as much as $120 million, but considering the state’s budget gap is an estimated $2.6 million “we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Democrats will release the next phase of their plans for budget revisions, which they are calling the Jobs and Economic Development Agenda, next Tuesday, Brown said. The final budget bill won’t be released until after the next revenue projection comes out in mid February.
In a discussion with reporters, Brown said it doesn’t appear a proposed ban on guns that are often referred to as assault weapons has enough votes to pass the Senate. Some Democrats also think bill that would restrict bail for some suspects who are facing life sentences — a concept Gov. Chris Gregoire said she supports — goes too far, but “it’s too early for me to know” if it has support to pass the Senate.
She also suggested a plan to privatize state liquor stores may be on the rocks. Some people support it because they believe the state shouldn’t be in the business, but it doesn’t really provide any money to help with the state’s budget problems, she said. And the budget is the main focus.
“I doubt if a proposal like that moves forward this session,” Brown said.
OLYMPIA—Washington Republicans wasted little time trying to draw connections between a Democratic Senate loss in Massachusetts and election prospects in the Evergreen State.
Washington Democrats conceded that the loss of a supermajority in the U.S. Senate complicates plans in the Legislature. They can’t expect Congress to adopt health care reform or a stimulus package before they have to patch a $2.6 billion budget hole and leave town.
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OLYMPIA – A Spokane-area delegation on its annual pilgrimage to the state capital got a consistently downbeat message this week: Don’t expect money for new programs or projects.
“The message is being reinforced: There is no money,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said. It’s a message that comes as no surprise, but may good for some people to hear it repeated, she said..
With Washington state’s well-publicized budget woes, the message was expected, said Rich Hadley, president of the Greater Spokane Inc. which organized the trip.
“We’re trying to protect (what we have), to prevent damage from being done,” Hadley said during a break between presentations from leaders of both parties and both legislative houses.
OLYMPIA — There is a tradition, before the Legislature starts, to gather the leaders of the two parties and the two houses and give the news media a preview of the upcoming session.
During that session, there is also a tradition, for a member of the assembled media, to ask the assembled Lege leaders: If this session were a song, what would it be? (Hey, I don’t make traditions, I just report on them.)
At today’s preview, the obligatory song question was asked, and the four leaders — some with more gusto or forethought than others — named their tune. To wit:
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane: “The Fixer,” by Pearl Jam. It should be noted that last year she picked Bob Dylan’s “Everything’s Broke.”
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla:”Should’ve Said No,” by Taylor Swift. (Hewitt rattled off four rejects before giving his pick, including “Take This Job and Shove It,” and “Leavin On a Jet Plane.”)
House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam: “With a Little Help fron Our Friends.”
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis: “The Uprising” by Muse.
Democratic leaders told the Greater Spokane Inc. Legislative Forum the budget, which state law requires the governor to produce before the session starts in January, said they don’t agree with all the cuts being proposed. The spending plan largely eliminates the Basic Health Plan for low income residents, health care for children, and changes school funding formulas.
“She’s laid out a blue print, not exactly a map,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.
the assessment Thursday Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist, gave the
as well as all other House and Senate committees, are gathering in
What they’ll face is a budget that’s more than $1.2 billion out of balance, even after eating up about $570 million the legislators thought they’d left last spring as an “ending fund balance.” That’s billion with a “b”, or as Ways and Means Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, put it: “Pretty soon you’re talking real money, right?”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, in a separate interview, said she’s warned her caucus to expect another tough session with the budget – tougher than last year, because there probably won’t be several billion from the federal government in stimulus money.
“Sens. Lisa Brown, Joe McDermott, Adam Kline, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and other member of the Senate Democratic Caucus with hold a press conference today at 12:15 p.m. in the majority caucus room about the need for a continued dialogue with the public about our unfair tax system and how a high-earners income tax could benefit an overwhelming majority of taxpayers in our state.”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has been issuing a Harper’s-like index of statistics over the past few days. Today’s looks at taxes. Here’s an excerpt — and the last line is the key one:
-Number of states where households pay more in state and local property taxes than in Washington: 24
-Number of states where businesses pay more in total business taxes than in Washington: 38
-Total state revenues accounted for by the sales tax: 56 percent
-National average: 24.6 percent
-Number of states whose state and local sales taxes are lower than in Washington: 40
-Percentage that households earning less than $20,000 per year pay in state and local taxes relative to their income: 17.5
-Percentage that households earning up to $143,000 per year pay in state and local taxes relative to their income: 7.4
-Percentage that households earning over $992,000 per year pay in state and local taxes relative to their income: 3.1
-Number of states with a more unfair tax system for lower and middle class taxpayers: 0.
The state Supreme Court has just ruled against state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who filed suit last year to try to overturn a requirement that tax increases be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
That voter-approved law is nowhere to be found in the state constitution, and Brown argued that the ballot measure was, in essence, an attempt to change the constitution without actually going through the difficult process of doing so.
The Supreme Court said unanimously today that the dispute at the heart of Brown’s case (a ruling by Senate President Brad Owen) is a legislative matter, not something the court intends to wade into. Writing for the court, Justice Mary Fairhurst said:
Intervention of this court into an intrahouse dispute over a parliamentary ruling to compel the president of the senate to perform a discretionary duty would be a grave violation of separation
of powers. We dismiss the action.
Doing away with the two-thirds rule would have made it easier for lawmakers to increase taxes in the fact of a massive budget shortfall over the next two years.
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation has posted a link to the ruling here.
Whoops — forgot to post this earlier. From the print paper:
With state child care subsidies well below the actual cost of caring for enrolled kids, some Spokane-area workers and lawmakers say it’s time to give the industry more clout.
How? By unionizing the child care workers and letting them collectively bargain with Olympia for higher rates, paid training and other improvements.
“In this environment, you have to be able to provide some leverage for us to act on a priority,” said state Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. He said the normal state budget process, which is essentially a tug of war among lawmakers and interest groups, has let child care rates lag well behind costs.
“We’ve let that model work for a long time,” Marr said. “The fact is that it doesn’t work.”
“It’s basically to give us a voice,” said Marci McLaughlin, owner of a Spokane Valley child care center.
The union structure would be unusual, McLaughlin said, with both workers and child care owners teaming up to bargain with the state. Under the plan, the state would deduct a yet-to-be-determined “representation fee” from payments to child care centers and pay it directly to the union.
Other lawmakers and child care centers say the simplest fix is just to increase the rates.
“If we really want to get money to child care centers, let’s get it to them,” says state Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. He’s backing a bill, SB 5506, that would boost rates to 75 percent of actual cost.
That simpler plan “bypasses a very expensive and unnecessary middleman,” said Tom Emery, a Puyallup child care center owner. He’s the spokesman for the Washington Child Care Alliance, which includes dozens of centers opposed to the collective bargaining plan.
The state Senate and House this morning each approved spending cuts this morning, in the first of what will be several whacks at state spending.
“For those that say you want to cut more, just sit in your seats,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. “You’ll have a chance.”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, clearly responding to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s criticism of lawmakers’ budget-cutting pace earlier in the week, said that no Washington legislature has ever approved budget reductions this early in a legislative session.
Brown also said lawmakers were proud to preserve a state plan to allow families living on up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($63,600 for a family of 4) to buy into the state’s health insurance plan for kids.
“The sacred cow here is kids’ health,” she said in a press release. “We are keeping a commitment.”
In the House, Rep. Gary Alexander said that the bill there is a first step in state belt-tightening. But he warned that “we’re going to have to go many, many, many notches further.”
Pushing the metaphor further, Alexander suggested that lawmakers might, in fact, have to “take our pants off and go back and purchase a pair that are about three sizes smaller.”
This one’s of interest mainly to readers in Spokane. From tomorrow’s paper:
OLYMPIA _ A controversial proposal to merge the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture with its Western Washington counterpart appears to be dead.
One of the state’s most powerful lawmakers said Thursday that the Senate will not be approving the plan, which was proposed in December as a cost-cutting move by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
“The bill is on my desk. It’s not going to be introduced in the Senate,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
So it’s dead on arrival, a reporter asked.
“It is,” responded Brown.
The bad news: torpedoing the merger won’t necessarily shield the museum and its operations from state budget cuts. Gov. Chris Gregoire in December proposed cutting the MAC budget by $524,000 over the next two years, which is about a 13 percent cut. And the state’s budget picture is now believed to be much bleaker.
Stopping the merger, however, would keep the MAC as a distinct organization, separate from the Tacoma-based Washington State Historical Society.
Brown’s comments came on the same day that MAC officials were in Olympia, urging skeptical House lawmakers not to allow the merger or deep budget cuts.
“Simply saying that it’s going to be hard or that it would be impossible is falling on our deaf ears,” state Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, warned CEO Dennis Hession and development officer Lorna Walsh Thursday. “…We’re looking at just the most dire of budget circumstances.”
When Gregoire called for the $524,000 cut, state budget writers thought they faced a shortfall of
Lisa Brown: Amid pressure to cut the budget quicker, Brown says wait for next week’s federal and state figures…
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, writing on her blog, says that the federal stimulus bill “is not a state bailout bill.”
The money it includes for state “is just not big enough to make up for the deep dive our state revenues have taken” she writes. And the Senate version had less than originally proposed for both state budgets and building/renovating schools. Writes Brown:
The tax cuts in the bill are popular and everyone could use a little extra cash, but from an economic stimulus perspective, direct infrastructure investment would create more jobs and more flexible allocations to states would save more jobs.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and Brown’s Republican colleagues have both said that they’re frustrated by Democratic legislative leaders’ slow pace enacting cuts. Brown has said that she didn’t want to cut people off of health care or aid, for example, only to find out later that federal help or changing economic news rendered those cuts unecessary.
Two key numbers will come next week, Brown writes. On Monday, President Obama’s slated to sign the final version of the stimulus bill. And on Thursday (Brown says Tuesday in the blog post), the state’s economic weather forecasters will deliver an unusual early “preliminary forecast” of state revenues.
Brown’s clearly not expecting good news, writing that those two numbers will give lawmakers critical information “about how much larger our budget-writing challenge is than the one facing the governor just two months ago.” She writes:
“That’s when our conversation with the public about a positive direction forward will begin in earnest.”
What’s that mean? Turning to the public and asking for support of at least some additional taxes in order to support critical programs. Unlike Gregoire, who pledged — and delivered — a no-new-taxes budget proposal, Brown has for months been hinting that the solution the state’s deep budget woes is likely to include some tax increases. That, after all, is what’s happened in Olympia in every other economic downturn for the past 40 years.
And Brown is convinced that voters, if shown the need, will support paying more. In late 2002, for example, Washingtonians supported a 9-cent gas tax increase and vehicle sales tax hike in order to raise billions of dollars for transportation projects across the state. They voted to make it easier for schools to raise property taxes. Locally, voters in Spokane have increased their own taxes to pay for mental health treatment, and in Central Puget Sound, as recently as December, they’ve done the same thing for rail and transportation projects.
Brown is largely sticking to a course of action she laid out more than two months ago at a legislative forum hosted by Greater Spokane Inc., a local business group. In this clip, watch how she responds to budget criticism from Rep. Bill Hinkle, a Republican from Cle Elum.
(Tech note: This works in Internet Explorer and Safari; I haven’t gotten it to work in Firefox. Also, to replay this clip, hit refresh on your browser first.)
With unemployment levels nationwide at the highest rates since 1992, Washington’s House of Representatives on Friday voted to temporarily boost benefits for jobless workers by $45 a week.
“An extra 45 bucks can mean a meal’s on the table for the kids,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.
The House overwhelmingly approved the plan, 91 to 2. All local lawmakers voted for it, except Rep. John Driscoll, one of four House members excused from the Friday session.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she expects the Senate to approve the same plan next week. Gov. Gregoire is expected to quickly sign it into law.
“Our understanding is that if we’re able to get this to the governor’s desk by Feb. 16th, that the benefit increase could start in May for unemployed workers,” Brown said. It would last through Jan. 3, 2010.
National unemployment stands at 7.6 percent, up nearly half a percent from last month. Washington’s jobless rate last month was 7.1 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Spokane, it was 7.4 percent.
“Behind all these numbers are real people, and they need help,” Chopp, D-Seattle, told reporters Friday at the capitol.
Current unemployment insurance benefits in Washington range from $129 a week to $541. The state pays those benefits for up to 26 weeks; federal emergency aid can extend payments for up
Back on Tuesday, more than 150 advocates for saving adult day health programs fanned out around the capitol campus to make the case for preserving the centers. These are places where elderly or otherwise frail adults can go to take part in activities, meet people, and often get some counseling or health screenings. They also provide families and other caregivers with a break for a few hours.
In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed cutting the programs — which serve about 1,900 elderly or developmentally-disabled people — in order to save a little over $20 million over the next two years. (The federal government also contributes about $20 million.)
The state is wrestling with a $6 billion budget shortfall, although it’s looking more and more like Gregoire will be the bad budget cop to the Legislature’s good budget cop. Unless the recession gets much worse or lasts a long time, it looks like whatever budget lawmakers ultimately agree on won’t be as bad as the deep cuts proposed in Gregoire’s no-new-taxes plan. That’s because Gregoire counted on abotu $1 billion in federal help when she wrote her budget last fall; it now looks like it will be substantially more than that.
Adult day health also has some powerful defenders in Olympia, including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. It may be trimmed, she said in a recent meeting with reporters at the capitol, but lawmakers hope to find a way to avoid cutting it entirely. House Speaker Frank Chopp — who’s clearly been hearing from Brown on the topic — also seems to be leaning that way.
People involved with the program are looking at ways to make it more efficient, Brown said, particularly with transporting the people to the centers. But overall, she said:
“Many legislators believe that is not a program that should be eliminated, and I don’t see it being eliminated. It fits within the whole continuum of care for long-term and deverlopmentally disabled people that it just doesn’t make sense to us to cut it out.
“You could be essentially putting people into emergency rooms and nursing homes and more costly settings. That (cut) is one that we disagree with.”
From the print paper this morning:
A few years ago, a homeless woman named Lee Ann Winters was nearly run over by a car while walking across a downtown Spokane intersection. She yelled at the driver, saying she was in a crosswalk and had a green light.
“What does it matter?” she recalls the driver yelling back. “You’re homeless!”
Now 52 and living in her own apartment, Winters is worried that the homeless will be dismissed the same way by state lawmakers looking to cut spending.
A program called General Assistance for the Unemployable that once provided Winters a critical lifeline – health care and $339 a month – is among budget cuts that state officials are considering.
GA-U now benefits about 21,000 people statewide, including about 1,400 in Spokane County, who are deemed too physically or mentally disabled to hold a job. The program is intended to provide short-term help for people transitioning to long-term and largely federally funded assistance programs.
In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested that state lawmakers eliminate the program, which would cost taxpayers $411 million over the next two years, saying the state must solve its budget mess without raising taxes…
…As the Legislature tries to write a budget for the next two years, GA-U has two key allies in Olympia: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp, the two most powerful lawmakers in the state, both with roots as anti-poverty activists.
“We’re going to make it a high priority to preserve that funding,” said Chopp, D-Seattle. “It is a matter of life and death in many cases.”
Brown, D-Spokane, says it would be foolish to throw people off the program only to see them on the streets and turning up for expensive last-resort care in emergency rooms, shelters and jails. There may be reductions, she said, but “we’ll try to moderate it.” She’s floated the idea of saving money by changing the way the health coverage is administered.
The big question, however, is whether the state’s budget problems will override legislative leaders’ hopes to keep the program going. November’s state revenue forecast stunned lawmakers, slashing nearly $2 billion from what was expected. Similar forecasts are scheduled for March, July and September.
Click on the link above for the complete story.
Charging stations on the freeway, car insurance by-the-mile, and lots and lots of weatherstripping and insulation: Senate D’s propose energy/jobs plan…
Echoing similar plans in the other Washington, Senate Democrats in Olympia Tuesday detailed their plans to combine “green jobs” with a renewed push for conservation and alternative sources of power.
“We now have a partner in the federal government in a way that we haven’t had a partner in the past,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. The Obama administration wants to spend $150 billion and create 5 million new jobs over the next decade with clean-energy efforts.
In Olympia, some of the proposals touted Tuesday were low-tech, like boosting efforts to weatherize drafty homes.
Others look further into the future. With some help from tax breaks, for example, Sen. Fred Jarrett said, he envisions electrical charging stations dotting Interstate 5 “from Vancouver to Tijuana.” When the parking lots full of charged cars aren’t driving, he said, they can be tapped as a massive battery to feed electricity back into the power grid at peak times.
Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, wants to reduce driving by encouraging auto insurers to offer some insurance plans linked to miles driven.
Among the skeptics: Todd Myers, who works for a conservative think tank called the Washington Policy Center. Lawmakers are gambling millions of dollar clutching at the latest “eco-fads,” he said, when they should be encouraging the private sector for better fixes.
“They were wrong on electric cars, biofuels and green buildings,” he said. “Now they want to create charging stations. But a few years back they were talking about the hydrogen highway.”
Myers thinks a better solution would be to charge people for their carbon emissions – encouraging them to limit the pollution – and spend the money on tax breaks to encourage innovation.
“These decisions are not best made in Olympia, Myers said. “They’re best made in Redmond, Seattle and the rest of the state.”
From my weekly column:
OLYMPIA _ The last person to make the jump from Eastern Washington to the governor’s mansion was a Democrat who, in tough times, argued for public spending to help stabilize the economy.
That was Clarence Martin, seven decades ago. But Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown may be hoping that history repeats itself.
Brown, a Democrat from Spokane, recently told the Seattle Times that although she hadn’t made a decision yet, she’s considering running for governor in 2012.
A spokesman for Brown subsequently said she wouldn’t elaborate on the comment. And Gov. Chris Gregoire, just starting her second term, has given no public indication of her plans.
If Brown does run, though, it wouldn’t be a big surprise. She’s been in the statehouse for more than 16 years, rising from local activist to become the Senate’s chief budget writer and Majority Leader.
Eastern Washington candidates have to work harder to win over Puget Sound voters, certainly. But fellow Democrat Peter Goldmark in November proved it’s not impossible. Goldmark blended his rancher roots with an alliance of Puget Sound environmentalists and political donors to oust Republican Doug Sutherland as the state’s commissioner of public lands.
Brown’s also built some Puget Sound credibility, particularly on high-profile things like transportation.
“Now I can debate the merits of viaduct proposals, 520 alignments, Sound Transit and RTID merits and demerits from a West Seattle, Belltown or Bellevue perspective,” she said in a recent post on her Senate blog.
“She’s smart, she has academic credentials, political experience – and she’s a woman,” said Sen. Bob McCaslin, ticking off Brown’s strengths in Washington’s political climate. Among Democrats, he said, “she’s got as good a chance as anyone.”
Brown would be a strong candidate and formidable fundraiser, said state GOP chairman and former Senate colleague Luke Esser. But he said he thinks Brown is too liberal to win.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to name me one major issue where she’s right of center by even one degree,” said Esser. While her record plays well in Brown’s central Spokane legislative district, he said, “I’m not sure it plays very well statewide.”
From the print paper:
OLYMPIA – Trying to spark job growth, Democrats in Washington’s state Senate on Tuesday proposed a “middle-class jobs package” focused on retraining, environmental jobs and building infrastructure such as statewide high-speed Internet access.
“We believe our first job is about jobs,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
She said the proposal could spawn 25,000 new jobs in Washington over the next two years. It’s designed to work in conjunction with a similar federal stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.
Republicans are skeptical of the plan, saying it doesn’t offer Main Street employers much help.
“It’s a lot easier to preserve jobs than to create them,” said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, “and Senate Republicans would have emphasized that point had we been invited to help develop this package.”
The Senate plan is the first of at least three economic stimulus proposals from Olympia in the next month. Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to unveil her plan Thursday. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives say they’ll offer their own plan within a few weeks.
Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said the goal of the Senate plan is to foster a climate in which workers are well-trained and businesses can thrive. Innovation and job-creating breakthroughs typically comes from small, entrepreneurial companies, he said.
The plan includes:
•A new state entity to help high-speed Internet service reach rural areas. Broadband access will prove as important to rural areas’ growth as the interstate highway system has been for the state as a whole, Kastama predicts.
•Offering help to homeowners and businesses in increasing their buildings’ energy efficiency and boosting weatherization work to cover 20,000 more homes per year.
•A Business and Occupation tax credit for small companies with 10 to 15 employees that hire new workers.
“This is a time when we think a targeted small business tax credit would really be worth the money,” Brown said. The amount of the tax break has yet to be determined.
•Expanding tax-increment financing programs that use future tax dollars to pay for public works projects such as the roads, sewers, and water lines needed for growth.
•A sales tax exemption for the purchase of high-efficiency green construction materials used to retrofit buildings and homes.
•Streamlining the permit and regulatory process so that ready-to-go construction projects can get under way.
•Using the state’s unemployment insurance fund to revamp job training to focus on preparing workers for high-demand fields such as health care. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said the state has 12,000 vacancies in nursing and other jobs now.
Proponents had few specifics on cost, although Brown said most of the changes would cost relatively little. Lawmakers said they are waiting to see how much federal stimulus money the state will get before providing more specifics.
Zarelli said the plan falls short. He and other Republicans, he said, would rather see more tax credits “to give employers hope that Washington’s business climate will change for the better.”
From the print paper:
Each January, by tradition, Washington’s top lawmakers choose theme songs for the upcoming session. Most are lighthearted.
Speaking to reporters last week, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown read from a Bob Dylan song.
“Broken hands on broken plows, broken treaties, broken vows,” she read. “Broken pipes, broken tools, people bending broken rules.
“Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking, everything is broken.”
Welcome to Olympia, on the eve of a $6 billion state budget shortfall. Brown and the state’s other 148 lawmakers on Monday will begin a high-stakes battle over what to cut, what to save, and whether they can persuade a recession-saddled public to support tax increases. The state’s budget woes are fixable, Brown says, but it won’t be easy.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” said state Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.
The $6 billion gap is unprecedented, although as a percentage, the state’s faced worse.
“It’s not even remotely close to what the 1933 and 1935 legislatures faced,” said historian Don Brazier. Still, he said, “this is the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve been here 42 years.”
Lots of meetings, apparently. Sixteen times a day.
Here’s the daily to-do list for Jan. 21st, posted by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown on her blog:
9:00 a.m. Meet with Sen. Jim Kastama and Rep. Hans Dunshee to discuss their scholarship bill
9:30 a.m. Meet with Sen. Mike Hewitt to discuss bond bills and homeless bill
10:00 a.m. Meet with Public School Employees from the 3rd District
10:15 a.m. Meet with Tony Lee, Pam Crone and Kim Justice to discuss the removal of asset limits in public benefit programs
10:45 a.m. Meet with the Washington Student Lobby
11:00 a.m. Meet with Marilyn Watkins of the Family Leave Coalition
11:15 a.m. Meet with the Planned Parenthood Teen Lobby
11:45 a.m. MLK Day Summit and March on Capitol
12:00 p.m. SEIU lobby day lunch
1:00 p.m. Meet with Cathy Mann of Voices and members from Spokane to discuss affordable housing, children and family services issues
1:45 p.m. Meet with Joe Dear and Liz Medizabal of the state Investment Board about legislation to recruit and retain state investment officers
2:00 p.m. Meet with Local 1199 members from the 3rd District
2:15 p.m. Meet with Local 925 members from the 3rd District
2:30 p.m. Meet with staff to discuss next week’s schedule
3:00 p.m. Washington Education Association weekly meeting
3:30 p.m. Meet with Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest
4:30 p.m. Meet with Gov. Gregoire
5:00 p.m. Storm Event Work Group meeting to review budget and policy proposals relations to storm damage response, recovery and restoration
As my son rejoices at the closure of school for the day, I am thinking about the people in the homeless shelters and using food banks, and the families who created the longest line ever for the Christmas Bureau sponsored annually by the Spokesman-Review.
So begins a recent blog post by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who’s clearly worried about what the $5.7 billion (or more) budget shortfall will mean to struggling people and families.
Brown was muted in her criticism yesterday of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s all-cuts budget proposal for the next two years. Among those cuts: eliminating adult day health programs that help senior citizens and disabled adults remain in their homes, doing away with $339-a-month checks and health coverage of thousands of people deemed “unemployable” due to mental or physical problems, and a 42 percent cut in state-subsidized health coverage for the working poor.
But the former Senate budget writer also implies that a budget written by the Senate will look a lot different. Brown writes:
I respect the principle behind the Governor’s admonition to the legislature (prompted by press inquiries about alternatives to an all-cuts budget) that “we’ve got to live within our means”. But something sticks in my throat when I think about the contrast between the high-flying corporate executives and the mentally and physically challenged people living one step up from the streets on GA-U. How do they live within their means if we completely eliminate them?
In Friday morning’s paper:
Before unveiling her budget plan Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire glanced around the crowded room.
“Before we begin,” she said, “I’d like to ask all of you to remove your shoes and take them outside. Particularly boots.”
That was the first and last joke of the somber 45-minute presentation, as Gregoire laid out a no-new-taxes proposal for deep state budget cuts to close an unprecedented $5.7 billion budget shortfall over the next two years.
“I hate it,” Gregoire said of her budget plan. “Nothing went untouched.”
Among the proposed cuts:
-halting nearly $700 million in planned cost-of-living raises for state workers and teachers for two years,
-cutting the Basic Health Plan, a state health insurance program for the working poor, by 42 percent,
-laying off more than 2,400 state workers,
-at least a 12 percent across-the-board budget cut at the state’s four-year colleges,
-a 6 percent cut for community colleges,
-cutting community mental health and chemical dependency services by $53 million,
-doing away with health care and small monthly checks for more than 20,000 people deemed unemployable, often due to mental health problems. At least 2,000 of those people are in Spokane.
-and cutting money for new affordable housing in half.
The depth of the cuts stunned social service advocates, labor leaders and others.
“Some of these programs really are the most extreme form of safety net,” said Nick Federici, a lobbyist for human services groups. “To us, this really is the nightmare before Christmas.”
In the hubbub around Gov. Gregoire’s budget proposal today, one of the dissenters was from a lawmaker close to Gregoire: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown.
Brown was unhappy that Gregoire’s budget assumes about $1 billion from the feds, calling the assumption a “glaring flaw” that the budget juggling look easier than it actually will be.
Brown said that while she, too, is hopeful that Congress and the Obama administration will help states, she doesn’t feel comfortable building that hope into a budget.
Gregoire said the assumption is based on her conversations with Obama, and that some additional federal money has already started coming to the state. If anything, Gregoire said, the $1 billion is probably underestimating the federal help.
Brown is especially focused on trying to preserve the social safety net. In a blog post recently, she talked about meeting with Spokane-area children’s advocates over breakfast recently. Among them: foster parents, social workers, nurses and teachers.
“Their concerns about the budget gap underscore a central truth about state government,” Brown wrote. “No matter how you add it up, state programs that serve children make up significantly more than half the state budget.”
Protecting those kids, she said, isn’t just an economic or political problem, it’s a moral one.