Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No minimum wage increase in 2010 for Washington

The state's Department of Labor and Industries announced yesterday that there will be no minimum wage increase for 2010. The minimum wage for workers in this state will remain at $8.55 per hour. This is the first time since Initiative 688, the initiative that coupled the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index passed in 1998, that the wage has remained static. For several years, Washington had the highest minimum wage in the nation, this move may knock us down a spot or two . . . READ MORE

Colorado economics professor defends I-1033

With the Initiative 1033 debate focusing on the impact of a similar law in Colorado, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), one of TABOR's biggest supporters is coming to the defense of I-1033. Dr. Barry Poulson, Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote an article for the Bellingham Herald this week countering the attacks opponents of I-1033 have made against TABOR. According to Dr. Poulson: Opponents of Washington's Initiative 1033 are woefully uninformed about the Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed by voters in 1992. Critics of Washington's ballot measure say I-1033 is similar to our TABOR, which they claim is a disaster for our state. Nothing could be further from the truth  . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Federal transparency bill moves step closer to floor vote

Earlier this year Washington Congressman Brian Baird (D) introduced a resolution calling for a 72-hour review period on legislation before a vote could be taken. Baird's House Resolution 554 is co-sponsored by Rep. John Culberson of Texas (R). Since House leadership has not scheduled the bill for a vote, Baird has joined with other Representatives to try to force floor action on the transparency proposal. According to The Hill: "Democratic Rep. Brian Baird (Wash) has signed on to a discharge petition intended to force a floor vote on transparency legislation backed by Republicans. If the petition wins 218 signatures, it would pave the way for a vote on legislation that would change House rules to require that bills are posted online for 72 hours before the House votes on them. It is rare for a lawmaker to sign on to a discharge petition intended to force the leaders of his party to hold a floor vote. It is also considered to be a slap in the face of leaders . . . READ MORE 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Workers' compensation premiums increase 7.6%

The Department of Labor and Industries has increased state workers' compensation premiums for 2010 an average of 7.6%, the largest increase since 2004. Preliminary rate increase speculation from the Department earlier this summer hinted towards a possible 15-20% rate increase. State law requires employers to carry industrial insurance and only a small portion of the state’s thousands of employers are allowed to self-insure. All others are required to use the state’s system. Currently the state program covers over 2.5 million workers and over 170,000 employers and collects over $1.6 billion in annual premiums. The dollar figure associated with the increase is approximately $117 million to both businesses and employees (since employees also pay into the system) . . . READ MORE

DOR releases annual property tax report

The Department of Revenue (DOR) today released its annual property tax report. DOR's "Property Tax Statistics 2009" provides details on property tax collections, assessments, legislation, history of significant changes and tax levies. According to DOR's press release: Property tax revenue increased 5.4 percent to $8.6 billion in 2009, with nearly 70 percent of the increase stemming from new construction added to the tax rolls and higher voter-approved levies, the Washington State Department of Revenue reported today. About 1.6 percent -- $128 million of the $439 million in additional taxes over 2008 -- was due to regular tax increases on existing properties. The rest resulted from taxes on new construction and voter-approved tax increases for schools and other taxing districts . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Governor calls for spending cuts in response to revenue forecast

Washington's budget outlook worsened by an additional $238 million today according to the state's Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. In response to this news, Governor Gregoire said in a press release: “Although we believe the recession has bottomed out, it will take some time for revenues to recover. I am preparing a supplemental budget request that accounts for the revenue shortfall we have experience since May . . . The budget I signed in May was built on tough decisions that I made together with the Legislature. The shortfalls in the last two forecasts necessitate more spending cuts, as do the lawsuits that have restricted our ability to implement reductions.” The focus on spending reductions versus tax increases is commendable. Earlier this year when the Legislature was considering tax increases, state and national economists warned that such action would further damage Washington’s economy and hamper economic recovery . . . READ MORE

WPC review of Initiative 1033

In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 1033. The measure is sponsored by Tim Eyman and would create a new revenue limit for the state, counties and cities with the goal of annually reducing property taxes. Eyman calls Initiative 1033 the “Lower Property Tax Act of 2009.” Initiative 1033 is the latest in a series of initiatives considered by voters which seek to control the growth of state government, though it is the first to include local governments under its requirements, and it is the first to focus primarily on providing ongoing tax rebates to property owners. According to the state’s Office of Financial Management, passage of Initiative 1033 would result in approximately $5.9 billion in state property tax rebates and $2.8 billion in local property tax rebates going to citizens by 2015. At the same time state and local revenue available for spending increases would grow each year by an amount based on population growth plus inflation. Eyman argues that Initiative 1033 attempts to close loopholes created by the legislature to an earlier voter approved initiative, Initiative 601. Enacted by voters in 1993, Initiative 601 sought to improve on the shortcomings of Initiative 62 adopted in 1979. Here is WPC's brief review of the previous state revenue and spending limits, a similar law in Colorado, and of Initiative 1033: Citizens’ Guide to Initiative 1033

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Governor looks to streamline natural resource agencies

Governor Gregoire's Natural Resource Subcabinet has released more than twenty “ideas” that they hope will provide “a starting point for further discussion” as they seek ways to consolidate services, improve efficiency and reduce costs within the state's natural resource agencies. Additional information and analysis of the “ideas” presented by the Natural resource Subcabinet can be found here: Ideas to Improve Management of Washington’s Natural Resources. The Subcabinet is also looking for feedback from citizens. To provide feedback on the Subcabinet’s ideas, as well as provide your own ideas, you can use the Electronic Feedback Survey or send an email to Comments will be accepted until October 28, 2009.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Appeals Court rules against GA contracting rules

The state Appeals Court Division II ruled this morning to invalidate three of the Department of General Administration's (GA) rules for implementing the competitive contracting provisions of the 2002 Civil Service Reform. The ruling affirms a May 23, 2008, decision by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham. The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) sued to have the rules thrown out. At issue are WAC 236-51-006, 236-51-010(11) and 236-51-225. The controversy focuses on what it means to be a "displaced employee" due to an agency competitively contracting work. The state noted in its legal brief . . . READ MORE

Monday, September 14, 2009

Protestors target government spending priorities

Protests were held across the country this past Saturday by citizens frustrated with the spending decisions being made in Washington D.C. Among the local protests were rallies at the state capitol in Olympia and in Yakima. Here are some photos of the Olympia rally. When asked by The Yakima Herald why he was at the Yakima rally, sixty-nine year old Jack Weston replied: “Bank bailouts should never have happened. Taking over the car companies should never have happened,” he said. He ultimately came away encouraged. “I’m doing a small part in protecting this county.” The largest of the spending protest occurred in Washington D.C. with an estimated tens of thousands converging on the Capitol. The New York Times reports the number of protesters took authorities by surprise . . . READ MORE

Friday, September 11, 2009

Judge rules for OFM in dispute with Eyman

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks has rejected Tim Eyman's legal challenge of I-1033's fiscal impact statement prepared by the Office of Financial Management (OFM). This means OFM's I-1033 analysis will be included without alteration in the voters' pamphlet. According to OFM, passage of Initiative 1033 would result in approximately $5.9 billion in state property tax rebates and $2.8 billion in local property tax rebates going to citizens by 2015. At the same time state and local revenue available for spending increases would grow each year by an amount based on population growth plus inflation. These tables (click link) show the year-by-year revenue growth, I-1033 fiscal growth factor and forecasted property tax rebates projected by OFM. Yesterday the Washington Research Council released its analysis of I-1033. Here is the Council's conclusion . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 10, 2009

OFM responds to Eyman's I-1033 fiscal note challenge

Earlier this week I mentioned Tim Eyman's lawsuit against the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to change the details in the fiscal note the agency created for the voters' pamphlet for Initiative 1033. Here is a copy of OFM's response to Eyman's lawsuit. Of note from OFM's brief . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Eyman sues OFM over I-1033 fiscal note

As reported by The Olympian, Tim Eyman is suing the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to change the details in the fiscal note the agency created for the voters' pamphlet for Initiative 1033. I-1033 would create a new revenue limit for the state and several local governments with the goal of annually reducing property taxes. As required by law, OFM conducted the fiscal impact statement on I-1033. According to Eyman's lawsuit . . . READ MORE

Friday, September 4, 2009

Indiana Governor warns colleagues on spending

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels wrote a must read opinion editorial for the Wall Street Journal on the new realities of budgeting for states. Daniels notes: "Most governors I've talked to are so busy bailing that they haven't checked the long-range forecast. What the radar tells me is that we ain't seen nothin' yet. What we are being hit by isn't a tropical storm that will come and go, with sunshine soon to follow. It's much more likely that we're facing a near permanent reduction in state tax revenues that will require us to reduce the size and scope of our state governments. And the time to prepare for this new reality is already at hand. The coming state government reset will be particularly wrenching after the happy binge that preceded this recession. During the last decade, states increased their spending by an average of 6% per year, gusting to 8% during 2007-08. Much of the government institutions built up in those years will now have to be dismantled" . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Senator challenges press on public records exemption

Yesterday the state Sunshine Committee voted 8-1 to recommend the Legislature repeal its exemption to the public records act for legislative records. State legislators are currently the only officials in the state with this exemption. The lone no vote was Sen. Adam Kline, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Reporting on the vote Crosscut notes: In this state, the 2007 Legislature passed a law that shields journalists from having to reveal their sources in court. Kline was prime sponsor of that shield-law Senate bill. Representative Lynn Kessler, another Sunshine Committee member, was prime sponsor of the identical House version, which became law . . . READ MORE