Latest from The Spokesman-Review
During the special session, both chambers approved a Joint Resolution asking Congress to pass the Main Street Fairness Act, which would require Internet retailers to collect sales tax from their customers, just like brick-and-mortar stores do, and remit those taxes to the appropriate states.
Could be worth hundreds of millions a year for Washington, so it’s nothing to scoff at. But isn’t there something odd about a Legislature, itself divided on taxes, asking a paralyzed Congress to do something about them?
Although the Legislature is on break, new legislation continues to pop up. Among ideas is a proposed constitutional amendment from Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester and other Republicans like Mark Schoesler of Ritzville and Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla.
It requires any initiative that starts a new program or expands an existing one to identify a way to pay for it.
In the past, voters have approved initiatives to give public school teachers regular raises or shrink classroom sizes or, just last month, require more training for home care providers. But the initiatives didn’t come up with new sources of money to cover those changes. Legislators often suspend those directives in tough budget times.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said last week she hadn’t read the proposal, but might support it. The Legislature has to identify a money source when it comes up with a new program, she said. When voters pass legislation at the ballot box, maybe they should, too.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla hug and other senators applaud as the gavel comes down to adjourn the special session.
OLYMPIA — Unable to find $2 billion in savings over 30 days, the Legislature agreed to about a fourth of that — $480 million — in 17 days, and called it quits for now.
The Senate approved a $480 million budget adjustment this afternoon that uses a combination of budget transfers, accounting maneuvers and cuts to state programs or departments. The rest of the savings, and possibly more if the state's economic outlook doesn't improve, will have to wait for a 60-day regular session.
That starts in less than three weeks.
Like the House on Tuesday, the Senate gave overwhelming and bipartisan support to the changes to the General Fund budget, known by some as the "Early Action Package" and by others as a partial downpayment. Those who are disappointed because the savings aren't greater right now can blame him, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.It's not particularly helpful to cast blame, he said. "But I'm willing to take that responsibility. Then, let's move on."
Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the top Republican on the Senate budget panel, called it "a good start on a huge problem." While Gov. Chris Gregoire was able to name $2 billion worth of cuts in the two months after a bad revenue forecast in September, she only had to get one vote for those choices, he said. Hers.
In the Legislature, "you've got to move these things back and forth," Zarelli said. "I'm happy that we're getting something done."
One of the things in the budget fix is a nine-month delay of payments to school districts for school bus maintenance and depreciation. That saves the state about $50 million, at least on paper, but could leave schools strapped for cash if their buses break down. Murray said the Legislature will set up a contingency fund for hardship cases when it returns in January.
Among those voting no were Republican Sens. Mike Baumgartner of Spokane and Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley.
Baumgartner called the budget "the lowest common denominator" of what budget negotiators could agree to. "I think a lot more could've been done. It's still Wednesday, Dec. 14. There's no reason we couldn't work through this process some more."
Padden said the budget fix relies on too many gimmicks, like the bus depreciation. "That's not real savings," he said. "It's not some of the real reforms we should've been looking at."
OLYMPIA — Newly elected Sen. Mike Padden of the Spokane Valley received his traditional hazing by colleagues today as the Senate wound down toward adjournment of the special session.
After passing a $480 million partial fix to the budget and some bills necessary to make that work, Padden received a "point of personal privilege" ostensably to thank other senators for a resolution early this year honoring predecessor Bob McCaslin, someone who was "a delight to be around — most of teh time," he noted.
McCaslin and Padden were both first elected to the Legislature in 1980. Some other members who served with Padden in the House chided him that things have changed a bit since he left the other chamber in the mid '90s to become a judge. Padden is like the movie character Austin Powers who was frozen in time, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville said: "We have to help Mike adjust to this century."
Things have changed politically, too, Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane said. When he was first elected, he was among the Legislature's most conservative members. "Now you're a moderate for the 4th District," she said. "Although you still vote No a lot."
Padden was one of just six Senate votes against the supplemental budget.
OLYMPIA — The Senate is beginning debate on the "early action budget" which closes about $480 million of the state's budget gap.
It's the same budget approved Tuesday evening in the House.
Senate Ways and Means Commitee Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said some people call it a "disappointing" budget. But it's time to adopt it as a down payment and move on in the upcoming general session.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, ranking Republican on the budget committee, called it a good start: "I'm happy that we're getting something done."
Leaders of both parties indicate the Senate has the bills to pass the budget.
OLYMPIA — The House has passed two bills requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire meant to shore up the state’s aerospace competitiveness.
One bill establishes three grant programs: one for high schools to prepare students for jobs as entry-level aerospace assemblers, another for skills centers to have enhanced manufacturing skills programs, and another for high schools to create specialized courses in science, technology, engineering, and math.
That measure passed on a 77-18 vote today.
Another measure requires the Professional Educator Standards Board to revise certification and certificate renewal standards for elementary teachers and secondary science and math teachers to include knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, and math.
That bill passed on a 93-2 vote. Both measures now head to the Senate for consideration.
OLYMPIA — Some strong signs that this could be the last day of the Legislature's emergency session on the budget:
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, in the Senate wings before the morning session started: "Looks like a good day for sine die." '
The Senate should have the votes to pass the same budget approved by the House Tuesday evening, she said. There are a few more bills that could come to a vote, including some of the governor's requested aid to aerospace training and a bill that would help military spouses who relocate to Washington get easier certification for certain jobs.
Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, said Republicans have been told to prepare for a long day, but the last day.
Most telling sign, however, is that most legislators and staff are smiling like they know this is the last hump to get over.
OLYMPIA — Despite misgivings that it was too meager, the House Ways and Means Committee gave overwhelming support to a $480 million change in the state's financially strapped budget.
Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, called it a downpayment.
Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the Republican budget leader, said it was a disappointing "partial downpayment. Yet Alexander and all other Republican members of the panel except one voted with Democrats to move the cuts to the floor with only minor amendments to cover technical problems and funding for a new aviation education program.
Among other amendments voted down was a proposal by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, to end a program reward state employees for reducing commuter miles by carpooling and other means. He called it the commute trip reduction system a bonus with a state employees the state can no longer afford.
When Republicans said they hoped the plan would be considered for elimination in January, when the Legislature tackles the more difficult cuts, Hunter replied: "I can safely say everything is under consideration.
OLYMPIA — Legislative budget negotiators have twin proposals to reduce the state's fiscally challenged General Fund budget by about $480 million.
The "Early Action Supplemental Budget" — which consists of matching bills in the House and the Senate — involve a series of administrative cuts, fund transfers and savings being achieved around in different state agencies. They do not involve any of the controversial eliminations of programs that Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.
The plans are scheduled for public hearings this afternoon, about four hours after they were released. Legislators are describing them as a "down payment," something they can pass in the coming days during this emergency session, then return in January for the regular session for more budget work.
The projected gap between currently approved spending and projected revenues is $1.4 billion, and Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed cuts totalling about $2 billion to provide for a cushion if tax collections continule to fall. These plans amount to less than a fourth of that amount.
House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the legislative proposals focus on administrative cuts and noncontroversial things to which both parties can agree: "We're going to wind up doing this stuff anyway, let's do it now."
Some of that reductions are achieved through accounting maneuvers. For example, the state would delay a payment to schools to help cover bus depreciation for nine months, which saves about $49 million. It would make some changes in the way schools report enrollment, which saves money in some places, costs a little more in others. But there's no change to the levy equalization program or the number of school days, which are key elements of Gregoire's budget proposal. Overall, public schools would lose a total of about $54 million, not some $300 million in the governor's plan.
"We don't have consensus on cutting four days out of the school year," Hunter said.
Also missing is any plan to eliminate the Disability Lifeline program or Basic Health Plan, which accounted for about $125 million in cuts in Gregoire's budget. The Senate and House proposals would cut $1.5 million from the State Health Care Authority, in part through keeping vacant positions vacant.
"This is not easy stuff, this is easier," Hunter said.
The bills, plus summaries, are available on the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program web site.
OLYMPIA – Washington Republicans are exorcised over a wrinkle in state election laws that restricts some candidates, but not others, from raising money during a legislative session. Their concern is logical, although not necessarily consistent. It goes like this:
No state elected official can raise money for a state office while the Legislature is in session. That means Rob McKenna, the state attorney general who would like to be governor, can’t hold fundraisers or dial for dollars while, or shortly before, the legislators are ensconced in Olympia.
Given the bleak prospects for legislators settling the budget problems any time soon, Republican McKenna is at a disadvantage with Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, who is not a state official and is under no such restriction.
States have limited ability to tell members of Congress how they can or can’t raise money – it’s a federalism vs. state’s rights thing – but an argument can be made at some point this gets seriously out of whack in the money-grabbing department. Maybe if the Legislature goes from its current special session into a regular session a few weeks later, then needs another special session to finish work (as it has the last two years), McKenna should be allowed some sort of catch-up period in which he’d be allowed two fundraisers for every one of Inslee.
Restrictions on money-raising during a session were approved to keep some people from donating to a candidate not because they think he or she is the best person to hold the office being sought, but to influence legislation in the session at hand. It’s a good, if imperfect, law.
But Republicans might want to think before protesting too loudly, because if one were to expand it logically, it also would bar legislators who are running for Congressional office from raising money during the session. That’s currently allowed, and a good argument can be made that it’s closer to the public goal of separating campaign contributions from current job performance.
There’s a fair number of legislators running for Congress in 2012, including state Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane. This kind of rule would put him at an even greater disadvantage in his fledgling race against U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Strangely enough, a bill introduced by several Republican legislators to address the McKenna-Inslee situation doesn’t get around to the Baumgartner-Cantwell situation. There may be federal court fights in the wings for either change, but if they were really serious about the good government aspect of this, seems they’d cast a wider net.
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 — Gov. Chris Gregoire acknowledged legislators are unlikely to pass the $2 billion in budget cuts she proposed in this special session and sees no chance they'll ask voters to approve a temporary half-cent sales tax increase in March.
In a conversation with reporters after a Senate hearing, Gregoire said she now believes whatever budget changes legislators can pass in the special session, it won't be "a full meal deal."
Instead, she said she would consider "a significant down payment" acceptable, but declined to describe a level of cuts that she would regard as a success for the emergency session, which began last Monday.
But the special session will be valuable, she said, because it will give legislators a head-start on budget discussions which will continue when the regular session begins on Jan. 9. She predicted it will allow the Legislature to pass the earliest supplemental budget in history.
Last year, the Legislature was able to agree on some cuts to the budget during a one-day session in December. "The problem with this budget is, it's a whole new budget. It's not 'We're going to plug a small hole,'" Gregoire said.
Since the special session began, some Republicans have called for government reform in conjunction with cuts, and before any new taxes. Some Democrats have called for a better balance between program cuts and new taxes.
"Everybody's got their slogan," she said. "At some point we need to get past the rhetoric and get to work."
Gregoire called legislators into a special session on Nov. 28 after giving them a plan some 11 days earlier to cut about $2 billion in programs and salaries in the face of a looming gap in the budget. She also asked them to ask voters to "buy back" about $500 million of those cuts, through a statewide vote on a three-year sales tax increase.
More than a third of the way into the special session, visible progress on the budget is hard to find. Many legislators who are not in leadership or members of the budget-writing Ways and Means committees have returned to their homes, and the two chambers hold "pro forma" sessions most days.
House and Senate leaders, and the chairmen of the budget committees, have been involved in closed-door discussions among themselves and with Gregoire. The budget committees, meanwhile, have held a series of hearings in which people who rely on state programs for health care, education or social services have described the possible effects of those programs being eliminated. In the early days of the special session, protesters marched through the Capitol with chants and signs, sat down in the Rotunda until being forcibly removed by state troopers and interrupted some budget hearings with demands the Legislature raise taxes rather than cut services.
This week, however, the protesters are absent, as if they, too, are saving their energy for the regular session.
Until legislators settle on an "all cuts" budget and sees the effect those cuts have on state programs, Gregoire said, they won't be ready to ask voters to approve a tax increase like the one she's proposing, a three-year, half-cent increase in the sales tax, with money dedicated to certain public school, college, health care and public safety programs that will be cut from the budget if that tax isn't approved.
That won't happen by the end of the special session, which means the state will miss the Dec. 31 deadline for proposing a ballot measure for a special election in March. Delaying the chances for a vote on a sales tax increase means it would delay bringing revenue into the state if it passes.
"Every month that goes by that they don't have a budget, we have a bigger hole," she said.
OLYMPIA — There have been some complaints about the activity, or lack of it, so far in the special session.
But while the Senate has yet to vote on anything of substance, and the House has managed only a vote on an emergency bailout of the Wenatchee arena, legislators aren't completely idle.
For example, three senators today filed a bill to add a special license plate for drivers, that would honor the state flower. It would add another specialty plate to the state's list of specialty plates, which currently stands at about two dozen.
We have plates to honor all the branches of the armed services, the various state universities, endangered wildlife, volunteer firefighters, professional firefighters and the Law Enforcement Memorial. There are plates that urge motorists to keep kids safe and help them speak, to share the road with bicyclists. Others take note of lighthouses, state parks, Gonzaga alums, pets, national parks in the state, state parks in the state, state wildlife, baseball stadiums, musicians and square dancers.
There's also a moratorium on new plate designs. But SB 5990 would make an exception to that section of the law, the way the Legislature did earlier this year for volunteer firefighters.
Quick: What is the state flower, anyway? Answer inside the blog
OLYMPIA — The Legislature continues its "special but we're in no real hurry" session with a series of committee hearings today and no votes on either floor.
No word on when, if at all, Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget cuts will get out of either chamber's Ways and Means Committee and head for the floor.
Senate Ways and Means isn't even talking about the budget today. They have a joint meeting with the Senate Economic Development Committee on Project Pegasus. That started out as an effort to keep Boeing's 737 MAX assembly line in Washington state. Now that Boeing announced it will build the plane in Renton — more a result of a deal with the company's unions — Pegasus may be a project looking for a new goal.
Some other committees will meet throughout the day in work sessions, but others have cancelled hearings.
OLYMPIA – School officials from across the state urged legislators to reject plans to cut four days out of the school year or reduce payments designed to help poor districts keep pace with richer ones.
The Legislature should consider other ways to cut education costs, they said, like state spending per student or teacher bonuses, or eliminating things the state requires, but doesn’t pay for.
A key player in the ongoing budget debate floated an idea to stave off the cuts proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire by increasing the state’s property tax levy and spreading it among districts throughout Washington. But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, acknowledged his plan was in its early stages, and represents a shift in the way tax rates are currently calculated…
To read the rest of this post, go inside the blog
OLYMPIA — The House passed a bill that would loan a troubled public facilities district $42 million to avoid default, but only after limiting the way cities and counties involved can raise taxes.
On a 56-33 bipartisan vote, the House passed HB 2145, which would help the Wenatchee Public Facilities District repay investors after it defaulted on short-term bonds on Dec. 1. The money would be paid back to the state over 10 years, starting in 2013, and the cities and counties involved could raise local sales taxes by as much as two-tenths of a percent to cover the loan payments to the state.
But a change just before the bill came to a vote did not sit well with Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, one of the bill's original sponsors. The original bill said taxes could be raised by a vote of the local legislative body or the voters. The amendment allows a tax increase onlly if voters approve it.
"This takes us down the slope to total bond default," Armstrong said, and voted no.
The bill's two other sponsors, however, Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, and Ross Hunter, D-Medina, voted yes.
Officials at the Spokane Public Facilities District say they are watching progress of the Wenatchee PFD bailout closely, because Spokane is scheduled to sell bonds on Dec. 13 in an effort to cut costs by refinancing at a lower interest rate.
The Spokane-area delegation's vote can be found inside the blog.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans are said to be divided over a bailout to the PFD.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's administration is beginning to show a certain frustration with the slow pace of the Legislature in its 30-day special session.
Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown today sent all 147 legislators an e-mail saying the state is burning through $41 million a day with the current level of programs, policies and salaries in the 2011-13 budget. That's Gregoire's reason for bringing legislators back to Olympia early in an effort to pass a revised budget that would cut about $2 billion from those projected expenses.
Failing to pass a budget in the special session, and waiting until the regular session that begins Jan. 9, puts the state farther behind, and would require more cuts in more programs, Brown said.
The e-mail follows a week in which the legislative progress might have to be measured with a magnifying glass. An emergency bill to bail out the Wenatchee Public Facilities District and avoid default to that district's investors needed to pass by Dec. 1; that deadline passed with no action on the first proposal, and House Ways and Means managed to approve a revised bailout package late Friday.
One Republican House member openly doubted the Legislature would even vote on the governor's budget proposal in the special session. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said in a TVW interview that they were looking at changing legislative rules so that bills that pass only one house in the special session don't have to go back to that chamber and start all over again when the regular session begins in January.
Thanks to pro-forma floor sessions and a lack of committee hearings, most senators took a four-day weekend. Budget leaders remained behind in Olympia, but there's no sign yet of any progress they might have made.
To read Brown's e-mail to legislators, click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – It may be pointless to offer advice that hasn’t been requested, but should some leader of the “Occupy” movement ask I’d be happy to give it.
This assumes, of course, that this is a movement and has a leader, the first of which is debatable and the second often denied. Still, minor problems like that never keep a reporter from sticking his nose into something…
OLYMPIA — A Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee expressed serious doubts Friday the Legislature would pass a new budget before time ran out on the special session. And the chairman of the committee did nothing to contradict him.
At the start of a hearing on various programs that would be eliminated under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed cuts of some $2 billion, Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, wondered if anyone in the room thought the Legislature "would vote the governor's budget out by the end of special session."
"I don't think it's going to happen," Hinkle said. "Are we really going to do that?"
Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, replied that was a question "the chair is unable to answer."
Hinkle asked for a show of hands for those who thought it would happen, but Hunter didn't allow that vote to proceed, and began taking testimony on a bill to reduce the state's payments to rural hospitals.
OLYMPIA — Legislative action will be at a minimum today.
The Senate has only a pro forma session at noon. Pro forma is Latin for "we aren't really doing anything." None of its committees are meeeting, either. Senators who want to go home can beat the evening traffic on I-5 and make it over Snoqualmie Pass when temperatures are above freezing.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, had planned a press conference over the lunch hour to blast Attorney General Rob McKenna for proposing new state programs without explaining how he'd pay for them. But that event was cancelled earlier this morning "due to a last-minute scheduling conflict". Not sure what the scheduling conflict is. Murray is the chairman of Senate Ways and Means, but it's not a public hearing for Senate W&M.
The House also has a pro forma session in the morning. But its members have a full day of committee hearings, closing with a House Ways and Means hearing at 3:30 p.m. Ways & Means is the committee in charge of the budget — you know, the thing that's about $1.4 billion short of what it needs to pay for all the stuff the Legislature approved earlier this year? the thing that brought the honorables back to Olympia more than a month early to get fixed as fast as possible, to maximize savings?
The hearing isn't about the budget per se, but about several bills that would cut or delay certan programs. They might also talk about a possible solution for the Wenatchee Public Facilities District's financial problems, although the drop dead date for the PFD was originally supposed to be Thursday.
There is activity in and around the Capitol, however. Protests continue, and today's theme is kids. The Childrens Alliance will hold a noon rally on the Capitol steps, with adult and youth speakers asking legislators not to cut programs for children, and spend the rest of the day looking for members of their local delegations to deliver a proclamation and lobby. As one pundit said recently, at least the protesters are using the Capitol, since the legislators don't seem to be interested in doing so.
On a more seasonal note, there will be a holiday wreath laying at the Law Enforcement Memorial north of the Temple of Justice, and the holiday tree will be formally lit this evening.
OLYMPIA — State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, is doubling down on Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to raise the state sales tax by a half-cent for three years to help rescue state programs from the chopping block.
Shin introduced a bill to raise the sales tax by 1 percent, or one penny on each dollar spent, from June 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015. That would raise an estimated $1 billion to be applied to the gap between scheduled state spending and projected state revenues currently estimated at $1.4 billion. He has two other Democrats in the Senate as co-sponsors.
Also on the tax front, a group of Republican senators have a joint resolution that would make all new tax increases expire after five years.
OLYMPIA — Legislators have until Dec. 28 to find ways to close the projected $1.4 billion budget gap, and maybe ask voters to raise the state sales tax to save some programs.
Some legislators of both parties have expressed doubt that they can do it in the time allotted, and the fact the regular 2012 session follows the special session by about two weeks has them suggesting some things may just have to wait.
This kind of talk does not sit well with Gov. Chris Gregoire, who called them back for this emergency session with the idea of getting the messy budget stuff out of the way as soon as possible, so savings can start accruing. If the Legislature doesn't agree by the end of the month to put a half-cent sales tax before voters, it can't go on the March ballot.
"I've heard a lot of skepticism from legislators on whether they can get the job done. I'm not willing to accept that," she said Thursday. "Is there job tough? Absolutely. It's the reality we face today."
She also took shots at some proposals to increase state revenue without raising the sales tax, as she has suggested, or other taxes. One of them is to expand casino gambling off the reservations. "Voters said, not all that long ago, 'No,'" she said.
Another one, particularly popular with protesters who continue to march in and around the Capitol, is an end to a tax exemption banks have on first mortgages. That might raise $18 million, which doesn't close much of the budget gap, she said. Closing any tax loophole will take a two-thirds majority in the Legislature and "that just isn't going to happen," she said.
OLYMPIA — The new rates for unemployment insurance and workers compensation taxes will be announced this morning in a press conference by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The gov has been touting reforms earlier this year to both systems as proof that her administration and the Legislature are serious about government reform. The proof in this case may be in how much, or whether, the rates change.
In the Legislature, both the House and Senate Ways and Means committees have budget hearings this afternoon. So do both chambers' Transportation committees.
Floor action? Likely none in the Senate, which is scheduled only for a pro forma session at noon. Possibility of something in the House, which convened at 10 a.m. and went into caucus. Prospects for a proposed bailout of the Wenatchee Public Facilities District, however, have to be rated as dismal to non-existant at the start of the day. Today is the deadline, and neither chamber has moved a bill.
OLYMPIA — School administrators, teachers, middle school pupils and college students pleaded with a Senate panel to spare many of the programs on the chopping block in a budget fix proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Some broke down in tears when they described state programs that kept them in school or returned them so they could graduate. One group of technical college students played a YouTube video in an effort to convince legislators that budget cuts now would darken the future for years to come.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn criticized Gregoire's plan to save $99 million in the General Fund by cutting four days from the school year in 2012-13 and another $152 million by rearranging the levy equalization system so that poor school districts get less and more affluent districts could get none at all.
"Cutting four school days is simply not going to help students," Dorn said. "Kids deserve an opportunity to reach their maximum potential."
Students from Renton Technical College played a video they produced called "Don't Cut the Solution" (above) which features those in welding, computer aided design, medical assistants, auto technology and culinary arts holding up signs that said they had been unemployed but can expect to be working, and paying taxes, when they graduate.
The committee's opening hearing on the budget was interrupted for about a half-hour Tuesday by protesters who demanded the committee abandon its rules and abide by their rules for a "general assembly." Several of those protesters were escorted or carried out of the committee room before that hearing could continue.
There were no such interruptions Wednesday. The committee, which has primary budget-writing authority in the Senate, will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon on proposed cuts to state Social Service programs, Health and Long-term Care programs on Monday afternoon, natural resources and general government programs Tuesday afternoon.
Maintenance worker checks the Capitol dome for leaks Wednesday morning.
OLYMPIA — Senate budget hearings resume this afternoon, with the Ways and Means Committee scheduled to concentrate on proposed cuts to public schools and state universities.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to come into session at 10 a.m., but then break fairly quickly for caucuses. The House put off any debate Tuesday on a plan to help save the Wenatchee Public Facilities District from default, and would have to do something today to have any hope of meeting a deadline on Thursday. But that proposal is in trouble, with little movement in the Senate after a fairly skeptical reception in committee Tuesday, and things don't look good for what some legislators see as a precedent-setting bailout.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has a lunchtime telephonic press conference on medical marijuana. It's a joint event — sorry, couldn't resist — with Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Meanwhile, the state is checking the Capitol dome for any leaks or other maintenance problems that need attending. It contracted with a Seattle architectural firm for someone to rappel down the dome and check out the condition of the roof.
(Editor's note: An earlier version of the post said a Seattle television station sent a news helicopter to check out the person on the dome because of recent protests. But a spokesman for the state Department of Enterprise Services, which is in charge of state buildings, said tne news chopper came down for an aerial view for a story on the planned maintenance to the dome.)
Chris Clark of Deer Park ties a list of concerns about budget cuts to the string of a helium balloon outside the Capitol.
OLYMPIA — About 20 people from the Spokane area joined protesters in the state Capitol urging legislators to close a budget gap with a combination of taxes and cuts.
The group drove across the state on Monday, but arrived in Olympia after the building was closed to the public by state officials. Unlike some demonstrators, they didn't try to rush the building to force their way in.
Tuesday they lobbied Spokane area legislators to consider closing tax exemptions, particularly for large national banks. They're not wild about the half-cent increase in the state sales tax that Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed, but would support it to save programs.
The sales tax is regressive, Shar Lichty said. "But cuts are more regressive than a sales tax increase."
Members of the group had hoped to tie a list of their requests to the string of helium balloons that they would let loose in the Capitol. The balloons would rise to the dome, then slowly descend as the helium ran out, and bring the messages down.
But building officials wouldn't let the balloons into the building. The balloons were tied into the shape of a Christmas tree and tied to a weight on the north steps of the Capitol.
OLYMPIA – Fasten your seatbelts, to paraphrase Bette Davis. It’s going to be a bumpy month.
Amid chants in the hallways and rallies on the Capitol steps, the Legislature began its 30-day emergency session to close a $1.4 billion gap in its operating budget.
Social service agencies and teachers journeyed to Olympia to ask legislators to close some of the gap with new taxes rather than cuts. State aid recipients offered touching and sometimes tearful testimony about how program cuts would affect them.
Four protesters were arrested and booked into jail for refusing to leave the Capitol Monday evening, and 30 were cited for trespass and released. They face arrest and jail if they return to the Capitol Campus anytime over the next 30 days, authorities said. Four were shocked with Tasers when they tried to force their way into the building after it was closed to the public around 5:30 pm.
After repeated warnings from the Washington State Patrol, demonstrators who linked arms around or near the Christmas tree in the Rotunda were carried one at a time down marble steps by four or five troopers and cited for trespass.
“We respect your right to free speech and protest. We ask you to do it within the building’s hours,” Lt. Mark Arras, the acting captain of the Capitol Campus unit, told them before troopers moved in.
“This is not a protest, this is an occupation,” one demonstrator shouted back.
Asked if he was prepared to have troopers clear the building every evening during the session, Patrol Chief John Batiste replied: “If we have to, yes.”
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 — Members of the "occupy" movement are interrupting the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on a plan to help the struggling Wenatchee Public Facilities District by demanding a "citizens arrest" of the Legislature.
Chairman Ross Hunter has tried several times to get a staff briefing on a proposal for bonds, only to have protesters shout over the top of staff.
Among their chants, which they punctuate with rounds of self-applause: "We need to work together. We need to tax the rich. Fund our schools."
They don't seem to understand that as long as they keep shouting, no one will work together on anything.
The meeting adjourned for about a half hour, then resumed with an explanation of HB 2126, a bill to keept Wenatchee PFD from defaulting on bonds.
OLYMPIA — If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make a noise?
If the Occupy movement occupies the Senate gallery, and no senators are there, does it make its point?
When some 200 "occupiers" crowded into the Senate gallery Monday, they chanted for about a half-hour to a mostly empty chamber.
Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, was present for some of it, and Sens. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, and Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, sat through bits and pieces. But for much of the demonstration, the Senate floor was empty except for some security officials and a few journalists.