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OLYMPIA — The state attorney general's office will weigh in on a potential fight between the Legislature and the Executive branch over the meaning of three little words: "within available funds."
Those three words appear twice in a 2005 statute that requires state agencies to develop "quality management systems" to help figure out ways to do their jobs better. Most agencies have never done such assessments because the deadlines were delayed and then the recession hit and budgets tightened.
This year, the governor's office asked for another delay. The Legislature said no, but it also didn't set aside any extra money for the assessments. Last month, Marty Brown, director of the Office of Financial Management, told agency leaders not to perform the quality management assessments because after billions of dollars of budget cuts, the funds aren't available.
"The intent was, if you had the money you would do this; if you didn't, you wouldn't," Brown said Thursday.
In the statute's three paragraphs that call for the development of quality management systems, the first two contain the words "within available funds." The third paragrah does not add that caveat.
Two legislative Democrats, Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way and Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup, who are running respectively for state auditor and secretary of state, are challenging the order to drop the quality assessments. They sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire, objecting to Brown's directive to the agencies, and a separate letter to the attorney general's office, asking for an opinion on whether the assessments have to be done.
"They're getting rid of accountability," Miloscia said in an interview Thursday.
Not so, says Brown. The state has other programs to improve performance, such as the Lean system that private businesses use to look for waste and the Government Management Accountability Project.
But those look at different things, Miloscia said. If a governor can ignore this law that requires state agencies to do something, he or she could ignore other laws requiring other actions. He drafted the legislation in 2005 and contends it says "within available funds" because the Legislature never intended to give the agencies extra money for the assessments. They'd have to find ways to pay for it within the budgets they had.
In the past, the Legislature approved delays requested by Gregoire. This year, it dropped the requested delay from the final budget deal that passed on the last day of the special session. But it didn't come up with any extra money, and it didn't repeal the words "within available funds" from the existing law.
Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even said he would research the question and come up with an informal opinion about the legal meaning of those words. That analysis typically takes about two months, he said, so it should be available by mid August.
OLYMPIA – It’s apparently all in, or all out, for Washington state’s involvement in the liquor business.
After studying two proposals to take over the state’s liquor distribution system, the Office of Financial Management is calling for a pass on both. Voters could still order that system sold, and remove the state’s involvement in wholesale and retail liquor sales, by passing Initiative 1183.
If that measure fails, the system stays as is, at least for a while.
In a letter Wednesday to the Liquor Control Board, OFM Director Marty Brown said the two proposals from private companies to take over the liquor warehousing system "do not represent ‘net positive benefit’ to the state or local governments." Because of that, OFM officials say, state law doesn’t allow the board to accept either proposal….
OLYMPIA — After studying two proposals for taking over the state's liquor distribution system, the state Office of Financial Management is calling for a pass on both.
In a letter to the Liquor Control Board, OFM Director Marty Brown says the proposal's "do not represent 'net positive benefit' to the state or local governments."
Selling the state's liquor warehouse has been a popular proposal in the Legislature, where many members believe the state has no business in the liquor business. Some budget proposals in the last session counted on revenue from the sale of the warehouse to help close the gap between expected revenues and scheduled expenses, but critics questioned whether the revenue estimates were realistic.
Opposition to state control of liquor has generated three ballot initiatives in the last two years, the most recent being Initiative 1183 on the Nov. 8 ballot and would get the state out of the wholesale and retail end of liquor sales
Before I-1183 was filed, the Legislature passed a law requiring a study of the possible financial benefits of selling or leasing the state's warehouse and distribution system, while maintaining its retail stores. Companies were invited to submit bids, and OFM was directed to examine them and make a recommendation to the Liquor Control Board, which has ultimate authority over the state's booze business.
Only two companies bid. . .
OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire is asking state employees' unions to reopen their contracts and agree to higher health insurance costs.
In a letter to the unions, Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown cites the projected imbalance of $1.4 billion between projected state revenues and scheduled state expenses in General Fund programs.
"Due to the continuing decline in revenue, the state is requesting that the coalition of unions agree to reooeb the 2011-13 health care benefits agreement in order to negotiate a reduction in the employer premium contribution," Brown says in the letter.
He acknowledges that unions have made concessions in their current contract, which was approved by the Legislature earlier this year. "However, because of the seemingly unrelenting pressure that the Great Recession has had on revenues and increased caseloads, state employees may be called upon yet again to sacrifice."
OLYMPIA – Washington officials are trying to come up with a way to decide whether it makes good economic sense to let someone else run wholesale liquor operations in the state.
About the time they’re ready to make that decision, the voters might take it out of their hands, and turn all liquor operations – wholesale, distribution and retail sales – over to private businesses.
But if voters reject Initiative 1183 in November, the state could still turn its warehousing and distribution system over to the highest bidder next year. Then the question becomes, how do state officials decide the best deal for the state?
A special committee formed by the Legislature wrestled with a way to answer that question Tuesday ….
OLYMPIA – State agencies will prepare plans to cut their budgets by as much as 10 percent as Washington braces for the prospect that the next state economic forecast could be worse than the last one.
Orders were sent Monday to agencies that rely on the state’s general fund to identify what they would cut if their budget was reduced by 5 percent, and what they would cut if it was dropped another 5 percent beyond that.
Marty Brown, director of the Office of Financial Management, said the instructions are indirectly related to the ongoing federal debate over raising the debt ceiling. But the fact they came on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 600 points was a coincidence, he added.
“I wish we were that well-prepared,” Brown said when asked about a link to the stock market plunge…
NOTE: This is an updated version of an earlier post that had incomplete information. — Jonathan
Gov. Chris Gregoire missed Spokane’s public forum on the state budget on Thusday to speak at a forum on global health public policy, her office said Friday.
Gregoire spoke in Seattle at the forum, which was sponsored by the Center for Strategic and Interactive Studies, said Gregoire spokeswoman Karina Shagren.
At last night’s state budget hearing in Spokane, Gregoire apologized for not being in attendence, saying she “had a long standing commitment that has kept me away.”
Shagren said the commitment she was referring to was her speech that included information about life science companies in Washington.
Later in the evening Gregoire was scheduled to have a campaign fundraiser at a Seattle restaurant, according to Seattlepi.com. That event was advertised on invitations as “an intimate dinner and discussion” with donors who were asked to pay $1,000 a plate, seattlepi.com reported.
OLYMPIA — The state’s top “numbers guy,” Office of Financial Management Director Victor Moore, will be leaving that job to take over as top operator at the State Investment Board.
Moore has served as head of OFM for five years, since Gov. Chris Gregoire first took office in January 2005. He’s been a state official for 30 years, first as a budget officer with Evergreen State College in 1980, a budget analyst for Senate Ways and Means in 1983, and first worked for OFM in 1986 on transportation and capital construction. He served as staff coordinator for the House Appropriations Committee from 1991 through 2004.
Although not a well-known face outside of Olympia, he’s highly regarded by members of both parties in the Capitol. Seldom in front of the cameras, he’s usually close at hand during gubernatorial press conferences and briefings. At those times, when a detail question or a technical aspect of a budget or policy bill comes up, Gregoire will frequently look up and say “Victor.” and have him give the answer.
He will become the job of chief operating officer of the State Investment Board after the session is over. Although this year and last have been particularly difficult budgets, with major cuts last year and an attempt to both cut and raise taxes this year, Moore said that wasn’t a factor in his decision. Good years or bad, he said, the budget is always difficult.
Replacing Moore at OFM will be Gregoire’s legislative director, Marty Brown, who was OFM director from 1999 through 2005.