Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gregoire releases 2011-13 budget

As a result of the economic climate and the voters' passage of I-1053 (2/3 requirement for tax increases) major changes are coming to the way the state spends money. This fact became crystal clear today at the Governor's budget press conference. Describing her 2011-13 budget proposal, Governor Gregoire said . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Governor proposes agency consolidation

Governor Gregoire announced this morning her proposals for agency consolidations as recommended by her Budget Transformation Committee. As a member of the committee I was asked to participate at her press conference and even had the opportunity to field a press question . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Weathering the pension-debt storm

A pension-debt tsunami is threatening states across the country. According to the Pew Center, states are facing nearly $1 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities including retiree health-care costs. While our situation is not as bleak as it is in some states, Washington nevertheless faces significant pension pressures that must be addressed . . . READ MORE

Ending state's liquor monopoly still worth pursuing

The Senate Labor Committee will hold a work session today to discuss the way the state sells liquor. This will be the first legislative meeting on the state's liquor monopoly since voters rejected Initiatives 1100 and 1105. The question for lawmakers, was the voters' rejection of these measures an endorsement of the state's prohibition era liquor monopoly or instead a rejection of the specific privatization models proposed by the initiatives . . . READ MORE

Monday, December 6, 2010

Congress must provide states more Medicaid flexibility

Earlier this year Washington State officials debated the possibility of opting-out of the federal Medicaid program in order to preserve flexibility in providing health care services to needy families in Washington. As it currently stands, Washington faces a nearly a $6 billion projected budget shortfall. The alternative to opting-out of Medicaid is the potential elimination of all state-only health care programs such as the Basic Health Plan, prescription drug coverage, and the disability lifeline . . . READ MORE

Friday, December 3, 2010

Put Legislature back in charge of employee compensation decisions

Though it remains to be seen if the Legislature will take the action necessary to balance the budget in a special session, recent developments once again underscore the importance of restoring lawmakers' authority to make changes to state employee compensation. According to the Washington Federation of State Employees, the Governor and union agreed last night to change the health-care ratio for state employees from the current 88-12 split to 85-15. This is far below the 74-26 split the Governor had previously said was necessary . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Governor should force Legislature's hand on budget

Despite warnings from the Governor that immediate action is needed to balance the budget, Democratic leadership in the Legislature remains uncommitted to a special session when lawmakers are in Olympia next week. After nearly a year of warnings that the budget adopted last session was unsustainable, it appears some lawmakers still haven't found the will to make the necessary decisions. Only the Senate Republican leadership met the Governor's call for budget recommendations to be provided by yesterday to help lay the ground work for a special session . . . READ MORE

Monday, November 29, 2010

Moving to performance-based contracts

Governor Gregoire announced today she will issue an Executive Order requiring agencies to use performance-based contracts when contracting for state services. According to the Governor, the State Auditor's Office will work with agencies to identify best practices and how to design performance-based contracts. This is a great first step toward full contracting reform and could help facilitate additional proactive efforts to tap the experience of the private sector to deliver services . . . READ MORE

Friday, November 19, 2010

Are tax increases on the table?

Considering the overwhelming voter rejection of the tax measures on the ballot this year it seems strange that some still think the Legislature will raise taxes to address the state's budget deficit. Based on the bi-partisan statements of Rep. Ross Hunter (House Finance Chair) and Sen. Joe Zarelli (Ranking Senate Ways and Means member), however, tax increases are not going to be a serious option. Here is the TVW video of their comments on the likelihood of tax increases and what they think will happen on the budget . . . READ MORE

Governor asks unions to play ball

In the category of better late than never Governor Gregoire has finally ordered state union contracts for 2009-11 be reopened to respond to the state's budget deficit. Here is the proclamation she issued last night . . . READ MORE

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Revenue forecast fireworks - special session likely

Today's state revenue forecast was anything but dull. Not only is forecasted revenue for both the current and next budget expected to drop by $1.2 billion but the state's budget director voted against part of the revenue forecast questioning the numbers. With an eye towards the Governor's supplemental budget, which by law is based on the official revenue forecast, Marty Brown, Director of OFM, said the revenue projections for 2009-11 "defies logic." Brown called for the vote to adopt the forecast be split between the numbers for 2009-11 and 2011-13. Brown then was the lone vote against adopting the forecast for the current budget but joined with the rest of the committee in adopting the 2011-13 forecast . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Governor suspension of rulemaking a good first step

Today Governor Gregoire issued Executive Order 10-06, which suspends development and adoption of agency rules for the next 12 months. This is a good first step towards alleviating one of the major areas of concern for small businesses as they struggle to survive this economic recession: regulatory overreach. Regulatory reform has been, by-and-large, a little-discussed area of concern for the small business community. Though the small business community and groups like Washington Policy Center have been active in asking for regulatory reform, it gets little play on the public policy stage . . . READ MORE

Gregoire new chair of National Governors Association

When West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin won election to the U.S. Senate this month a vacancy was created at the head of the bi-partisan National Governors Association (NGA). Since the new Chair would also be a Democrat per NGA rules, I had a feeling Governor Gregoire would be in the running. Turns out I should have put some money down on that vibe. NGA announced today that Gregoire was chosen as the organization's new Chair. From NGA's press release . . . READ MORE

Monday, November 15, 2010

Committee considers constitutional pension reforms

The state's Select Committee on Pension Policy will hold a work session tomorrow morning to discuss various constitutional reforms to address the state's nearly $7 billion unfunded pension liability. Among the options to be discussed . . . READ MORE

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TVW previews budget options

I was a guest this week on TVW's Inside Olympia discussing what the election means for the state's budget outlook and the options for lawmakers to balance the budget. Joining me was Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute. Here is the video of our exchange . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Workers' Comp Rates to Increase 12 Percent in 2011

It didn't take very long for the Department of Labor and Industries to calculate 2011's workers' compensation rates. You may remember the imbroglio that ensued after L&I declined to issue its proposed 2011 rates due to the changes that Initiative 1082 may impose (calculating premiums based on employee payroll, as opposed to hours worked). But since I-1082 was defeated last week L&I wasted no time in issuing the verdict: a 12 percent average rate increase. This follows the 2010 rate increase of 7.6 percent . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gregoire considers budget reforms

Last Thursday Governor Gregoire's Committee on Transforming Washington's Budget met with her to discuss various reform options to help restructure state government. In light of voters overwhelming rejection of tax increases as a strategy to close the state's projected multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, the committee's suggestions now have added weight . . . READ MORE

Monday, November 1, 2010

Government liquor monopoly debate extends beyond Washington

Voters in Washington will decide tomorrow the fate of Initiatives 1100 and 1105 and whether to end the state's prohibition-era monopoly on liquor sales. The battle over government liquor monopolies will not end here, however. Active debates are also occurring in the control states of Pennsylvania and Virginia . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Washington's Business Tax Climate Ranking Slips, Could Get Far Worse with I-1098

Two new reports from the D.C.-based Tax Foundation should cause some concern in the ranks of economic development officials in this state. Washington fell out of the top ten for "Best Business Tax States." In FY 2010, Washington ranked 9th and for FY 2011 we slipped two places to 11th. It's not a huge drop-off compared to a few other poorly-performing states, but it does raise concerns as we head into a budget-writing legislative session with a projected $4.5 billion budget shortfall . . . READ MORE

Monday, October 25, 2010

Washington needs Medicaid flexibility

Facing a projected $4.5 billion budget shortfall, Washington State officials are debating the possibility of opting-out of Medicaid entirely to preserve flexibility in state health care spending. The alternative to opting-out of Medicaid is the potential elimination of state only health care programs such as the Basic Health Plan, prescription drug coverage, and the disability lifeline. Due to Medicaid Maintenance of Eligibility restrictions in the new federal health care law combined with the current budget climate, the option for policy makers is either fund state only programs or Medicaid match programs. The state can’t afford to do both. This debate is not unique to Washington. Already health officials in Nevada and Wyoming have drafted white papers discussing the impact of opting-out of Medicaid to provide more budget flexibility . . . READ MORE

Friday, October 22, 2010

OFM details potential 2011-13 budget reductions

Earlier this month the Office of Financial Management (OFM) provided details on how agencies planned to respond to the Governor's ordered across-the-board cuts for the current budget. OFM has now created a separate website detailing how agencies would implement 10% reductions in the 2011-13 budget. Here is a sampling of those proposed reductions . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cigarette tax revenue lost in smoke of smuggling

Back in April lawmakers increased Washington's cigarette tax by a $1 a pack bringing the total to $3 per pack. While this proposal was being debated we highlighted a Michigan study that warned this type of tax increase would not lead to increased revenue but instead to increased cigarette smuggling and a growth of the black market . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Attorney-client privilege public record exemption debated

One of the most contentious issues members of the state's Sunshine Committee have debated is what to do about the claim of attorney-client privilege used to deny release of public records. Though argued ferociously, some say this exemption from public disclosure was created by the State Supreme Court in its 5-4 Hangartner ruling in 2004 . . . READ MORE

Monday, October 18, 2010

I-1100 and I-1105: Ending the state's liquor monopoly

In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiatives 1100 and 1105. There are important differences between the two, but both measures would end the state’s prohibition-era monopoly on the sale of hard liquor. Washington Policy Center has long recommended ending the state’s liquor business and refocusing efforts on enforcement and public education. Washington is one of 18 states which operate an official monopoly over sales of hard liquor. Washingtonians last considered privatizing liquor sales in 1972, when they voted on Initiative 261. That measure was defeated . . . READ MORE

Friday, October 15, 2010

Report identifies need for more higher education transparency

In 2009 the legislature passed a bill (HB 2344) directing the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee (JLARC) to audit "Transparency in Higher Education Data." Based on the preliminary report, Washington's higher education system is in need of some serious sunshine. According to JLARC . . . READ MORE

Friday, October 8, 2010

An election system made for late night TV

If the race between Sen. Patty Murray and challenger Dino Rossi comes down to the wire and control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance, Secretary of State Sam Reed may become a mainstay on shows like The Tonight Show, Daily Show, and Colbert Report.  The silver lining for this type of critical national exposure highlighting Washington's odd post-marked-by-election-day strategy for mail voting may be just what is needed to help move Reed's long-stalled proposals for election reform forward . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Have voters' liquor attitudes changed since 1972?

Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 state officials created the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) to regulate and control the sale and distribution of alcohol in the state. State voters have been asked four times to change aspects of the state’s liquor control system via initiatives that qualified for the ballot since 1933. One of the initiatives sought to expand the powers of the WSLCB while the other three to loosen its restrictions.  Here is a brief summary of those initiatives and the results . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Private liquor sales is the national norm

There are currently 18 liquor monopoly states across the country including Washington. These are states that maintain some level of monopoly control over the sale of liquor. Washington is one of 12 states that employ a monopoly over both retail and wholesale liquor sales . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Does the state try to maximize liquor sales?

One of the arguments Initiatives 1100 and 1105 proponents make is that the state's current monopoly on liquor sales distracts the Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) from its other duties and incentivizes the state to try to maximize liquor sales to generate more revenue for government budgets. A 2009 liquor sale strategy by the WSLCB appears to confirm an effort to increase sales. Between November 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009, the state opened temporary liquor stores in four Western Washington shopping malls. According to the Liquor Board’s press release . . . READ MORE

OFM details agency budget cuts

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) has created a webpage detailing how agencies plan to respond to the Governor's ordered across-the-board cuts. The webpage will be updated as agency plans are received. Here is a sampling of the agency plans . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Legislators finally asking right budget question: "Why?"

This morning the House Audit Review & Oversight Committee held a work session to discuss performance monitoring and management in Washington and the next steps to improve government efficiency. Joining the committee members at the round-table styled meeting were a who's who of state performance experts including . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lawmakers hear higher education reform options

The Governor's Higher Education Funding Task Force briefed lawmakers today on the various reform options that are being discussed to reset the state's role in higher education. Gregoire created the task force this past July to focus on three tasks . . . READ MORE

Friday, September 24, 2010

I-1082: Reforming Workers' Compensation in Washington

In November, Washington voters will vote on whether to allow private-sector competition to provide an alternative to the state-run industrial insurance system (workers’ compensation). The state of Washington has had a government-run monopoly for industrial insurance since 1911, and today is one of only four states that do not allow private competition in this industry . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Senate Republicans launch "Reset Washington" website

Facing an immediate $520 million deficit and projected $4.5 billion shortfall in the next budget, state officials are calling on Washingtonians to offer recommendations on how to "reset" state spending. Earlier this year Governor Gregorie launched a website (Transforming Washington's Budget) where citizens could offer their budget solutions. Prior to closing the ability to make new entries, 1951 submissions were entered. To date the Governor has posted 5 videos responding to some of the recommendations. Today Senate Republicans launched their own website (Reset Washington) to gather citizen budget recommendations. From the website . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I-1098: Establishing a state income tax

In November the people of Washington will again vote on whether to impose a state income tax. The income tax proposal will appear on the ballot as Initiative 1098. Currently Washington is one of only nine states that do not impose a general income tax on citizens. The people of Washington first considered an income tax in 1932, when it was enacted by a large majority. In 1933 the measure was struck down by the state supreme court as a violation of the constitution’s uniformity clause. In the years since 1932 Washington voters have rejected a state income tax four times, and the supreme court has invalidated income tax bills passed by the legislature . . . READ MORE

Dept. of Labor and Industries wanders into political crossfire

Last week the Department of Labor and Industries announced that it will wait to release its preliminary rate change for 2011 until after the November 2nd general election because Initiative 1082 would fundamentally alter the way rates are calculated . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Other shoe drops: Revenue forecast down $1.4 billion

After today's shocking revenue forecast, budget reform is coming one way or another. While all indications pointed to bad news, few could have predicted that state revenue would be $1.4 billion less than what was forecasted just four short months ago . . . READ MORE

Justice Sanders wins part of public records case against Attorney General

Today the State Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Justice Richard Sanders versus the Attorney General's Office concerning a public records dispute. Justices Sanders, Jim Johnson and Tom Chambers did not participate in the ruling and were replaced by Pro Tem Justices William Baker, Mary Becker and J.Robert Leach. Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, Justice Debra Stephens wrote . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Governor makes Sunshine Committee appointments

Last month we highlighted the need for Governor Gregoire to make her appointments as required by law so the state's Sunshine Committee could operate at full strength . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

History of state's liquor initiatives

When voters pass judgment on Initiatives 1100 and 1105 it will be the sixth and seventh time they've been asked to weigh in on the state's liquor laws since 1932 (many more were filed but didn't qualify for the ballot). It was also be the first time since 1972 voters will have the opportunity to end the state's liquor monopoly . . . READ MORE

Monday, September 13, 2010

Governor orders budget cuts while lawmakers campaign

As Governor Gregoire was signing an Executive Order today to set in motion across-the-board budget cuts, legislators were busy on the campaign trail instead of dealing with the problem. By refusing to come back to Olympia to make rational reductions to balance the budget, legislative leaders have forced Gregoire to use the only tool at her disposal -- blunt and unforgiving across-the-board cuts. The extent of these cuts will be determined after Thursday's revenue forecast . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I-1107: Repealing tax increases on food and beverages

In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 1107. The measure would repeal four of the tax increases enacted earlier this year. If passed in November, Initiative 1107 would repeal the following taxes . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Generically missing drug savings

In an effort to save taxpayers money the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has adopted a policy to purchase generic drugs versus brand names. This cost savings policy makes sense up to the point it forces state officials to look the other way when some brand name drugs with their rebates may in fact be cheaper than generics. The generics at all cost stance has already cost the state millions of dollars as reported by KOMO News last night . . . READ MORE

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Legal Analysis by Former State Supreme Court Justice says I-1098 Income Tax is Unconstitutional

A new legal analysis written for Washington Policy Center by respected former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge finds that, if passed by voters this November, Initiative 1098 would likely be ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. Justice Talmadge was a state Supreme Court Justice from 1995-2001 and served as a Democratic member of the State Senate from 1979-1995, where he chaired the Judiciary and Health Care Committees. According to Justice Talmadge, “Initiative 1098 is clearly unconstitutional on the basis of existing case law. Its enactment will only guarantee protracted litigation to determine if the initiative meets constitutional muster . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Time to reset state union rules

Whether it be state unions fighting the legislature's furlough savings plan or digging lines in the sand over ways to reduce state health care costs, it is becoming clear that the budget isn't the only thing that needs transformation. It is also time to re-evaluate the so-called 2002 Civil Service Reform that put state unions in the driver's seat and policy makers in the back seat when it comes to certain budget decisions. The 2002 "reform" first took full effect during the 2005-07 biennium. Under the new rules state unions no longer had to have their priorities weighed equally with every other special interest during the legislative budget process. Instead they now negotiate directly with the Governor, while lawmakers only have the opportunity to say yes or no to the entire contract agreed to with the Governor. Lawmakers can't make any changes . . . READ MORE

Monday, August 23, 2010

I-1053: Restoring the Two-thirds Vote Requirement for Tax Increases

In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 1053. The measure would reinstate the state law requiring that tax increases be adopted with a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. Earlier this year state lawmakers repealed the two-thirds vote requirement until July 1, 2011. Here is our analysis of I-1053 . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Agencies respond to Governor's budget questions

To help address the state's projected $3 billion shortfall for the next budget the Governor has asked agencies to answer eight questions for every activity they do. Those questions are . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sunshine Committee needs Governor's attention

The state's Sunshine Committee (Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee) has survived legislative efforts the past few years to eliminate its existence. Now it appears the Committee is facing a new threat, gubernatorial neglect. Under the law, the Governor appoints six of the Committee's thirteen members including the Chair. To have a quorum at least seven of the members must be present at a meeting. As of today four of the Governor's six appointee slots are either vacant or expired, including former Chair Tom Carr . . . READ MORE

3,000 teacher layoffs and I-1098

One of the rallying cries for the recent $26 billion federal bailout bill was the need to avoid teacher layoffs. Washingtonians we're told that quick action by Congress would save 3,000 teacher jobs. Here is how prime sponsor of the education spending, Sen. Patty Murray, described her effort . . . READ MORE

Monday, August 16, 2010

Do Californians hate supermajority tax requirement?

Based on a draft con statement for the November voter's guide, it looks like the opponents of Initiative 1053 (Restoring I-960's supermajority requirement for tax increases) plan to focus on California as the reason why voters should reject the measure. According to the draft con statement . . . READ MORE

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Special session still needed

Governor Gregoire announced today that across-the-board cuts are guaranteed to occur in September despite the passage of half a billion in one-time federal bailout funds by Congress this week. This is due to continued weakness in state revenue collections. According to the Governor's press release . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

OFM publishes fiscal analysis of Initiatives

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) has released its fiscal analysis of the six initiatives and one referendum on the ballot this fall. The fiscal reviews are required by RCW 29A.72.025. According to the law . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Citizens engaged on need for budget reforms

According to the Governor's Office more than 1,550 Washingtonians attended four public hearings across the state last month to discuss ways to reform the state's budget. Of those, 400 signed up to testify while 161 were provided the time to do so. An additional 315 submitted comment cards or written material. In addition, nearly 1,900 suggestions have been posted on the Governor's Transforming Washington's Budget website. Users are able to vote for their favorite recommendations. Here are the top ten vote recipients to date . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

State may dodge short-term deficit bullet

State officials took a half a billion dollar gamble and may have won with the river card. Today the U.S. Senate voted to move forward with debate on a bill to provide Washington with more than $500 million in one-time federal bailout funds. Governor Gregoire was quick to respond to the news . . . READ MORE

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Governor to request new budget deficit tools

Next month Governor Gregoire will decide whether to call a special session or issue across-the-board cuts to deal with the state's current budget deficit. With the reluctance of lawmakers to agree to a special session (despite the request for one by Sen. Zarelli) the Governor will likely issue across-the-board cuts of between 3 and 5 percent. As we pointed our earlier this month, this option does not allow the Governor to leave a reserve meaning she could be forced to issue additional across-the-board cuts again in September and November depending on what happens with the state's revenue forecasts . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Senator calls for special session

With the prospect of Congress sending Washington another bailout all but dead the Senate's top Republican budget writer is calling on the Governor to call a special session to balance the budget. According to Senator Joe Zarelli a special session is the superior choice to issuing across-the-board cuts for the following reasons . . . READ MORE

Public records lead to big salary changes for officials in California city

In case you ever wondered the value of a robust public records law consider Bell, California as exhibit A. Using public records The L.A. Times discovered that several city officials in the city of Bell were taking home outrageous salaries . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

State Auditor weighs in on budget reforms

State Auditor Brian Sonntag has on op-ed in the Seattle Times today highlighting some of the long-term costs facing taxpayers as well as offering his ideas for budget reform. From the op-ed: "Our work at the Office of State Auditor uniquely positions us to understand the state's broad financial condition. For example, we know even in good economic times as well as bad, the state has not systematically funded all its long-term financial obligations . . . READ MORE

Monday, July 19, 2010

Governor wants your budget ideas

Governor Gregoire has launched a website where citizens can make their recommendations to reform the state's budget. According to her press release: Gov. Chris Gregoire today announced the launch of an interactive website that allows citizens to share, comment and vote on budget ideas. The most highly rated ideas by viewers will rise to the top of the list and be considered by budget writers . . . READ MORE

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Report on 2010 Tax Increases in Washington State

Washington Policy Center (WPC) has released a report detailing the tax increases passed during the 2010 Legislative Session. The Report on 2010 Tax Increases in Washington State provides a description of each tax increase and a breakdown of the ten-year burden each increase places on citizens. These tax increases will have a ten-year impact of more than $6.7 billion according to the state Office of Financial Management’s fiscal impact statements . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Jersey offers Washington budget roadmap

Next week the first of Governor Gregoire's budget reform hearings will be held in Tacoma (July 19) and Everett (July 21). These are to provide the public an opportunity to weigh in on the spending changes needed to help address the state's projected $3 billion budget shortfall. With the likely passage of Initiative 1053 and the reinstatement of the two-thirds vote requirement, real budget reform versus additional tax increases will be necessary. Thankfully it can be done as New Jersey has shown . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Special session is only option to secure budget reserve

Last week Governor Gregoire reiterated that if Congress doesn't provide the state with additional Medicaid funds (FMAP) by its August 9 recess she would be forced to call a special session or issue across-the-board cuts. This is because Washington assumed an additional $480 million in FMAP funds to help balance the budget this year. This is more than the $253 million ending fund balance meaning if the funds aren't approved the state's ending fund balance would be negative by more than $200 million . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Governor in D.C. to pitch Congress for more funds

Governor Gregoire is holding a press conference with several other governors today in Washington D.C. to ask Congress to provide states with additional Medicaid funds (FMAP). Along with about 30 other states, Washington assumed an additional $480 million in FMAP funds to help balance the budget this year. This is more than the $253 million ending fund balance meaning if the funds aren't approved the state's ending fund balance would be negative by more than $200 million. For the third time last week the U.S. Senate rejected a bill with the FMAP funds. Last month the House removed the FMAP funds from the bill sent to the Senate . . . READ MORE

Monday, June 28, 2010

Longview Daily News calls for more legislative transparency

The Longview Daily News has called on the Legislature to follow our recommendations to improve legislative transparency. From the editorial: "A report released this month by the Washington Policy Center (WPC) correctly takes the Legislature to task for violating the fundamental tenets of transparency. The report, authored by Jason Mercier, director of WPC's Center for Government Reform, lists a number of  'transparency abuses' . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Strike three for FMAP

Looks like it is time to dust off the state's budget reductions options. For a third time the U.S. Senate has failed to move the bill states are counting on for billions in FMAP (Medicaid) funds. The state assumed an additional $480 million in FMAP funds to help balance the budget this year. This is more than the $253 million ending fund balance meaning if the funds aren't approved the state's ending fund balance would be negative by more than $200 million. It is unclear if Senate leadership will bring the bill back up for a fourth vote . . . READ MORE

Governor creates Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Panel

Facing a projected $3 billion budget gap for 2011-13, Governor Gregoire announced today she is calling executive budget hearings over the summer to help guide the budget she proposes. The Governor has invited Washington Policy Center to join her fiscal responsibility and reform panel to assist this effort. The goal is to help the Governor answer these questions “about every program in state government . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lawmakers explore FMAP options

With Congressional approval of additional FMAP (Medicaid) funds still in question, the state House Ways and Means Committee met today to explore the options available to balance the budget if the funds aren't approved. The state assumed an additional $480 million in FMAP funds to help balance the budget this year. This is more than the $253 million ending fund balance meaning if the funds aren't approved the state's ending fund balance would be negative by more than $200 million. According to a staff presentation the options are . . . READ MORE

Friday, June 18, 2010

State's curious legal strategy on Canadian sales tax deduction

The Washington State Wire is reporting an odd legal strategy the Department of Revenue is considering to help northern Washington communities avoid giving Canadians a sales tax deduction. The strategy: We'll help you sue us. According to the article . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Now the real budget work begins

Today's state revenue forecast shows the state is even more at the mercy of Congress than before to approve a state budget bailout as well as facing at least a $3 billion budget gap for 2011-13. Though revenues are projected to increase in 2011-13, they are down $203 million for this biennium. This means the state's new ending fund balance of $253 million is less than the $480 million in one-time federal Medicaid funds assumed to help balance the budget . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

State budget bailout on the ropes

Despite intense lobbying from President Obama and Governor Gregoire, the U.S. Senate has rejected an effort to increase one-time federal Medicaid funds that states across the nation gambled would be approved. As reported by Open Congress . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Everett Herald calls for more legislative transparency

The Everett Herald today called on the Legislature to follow our recommendations to improve legislative transparency. From the editorial: " If it’s true, as state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown opined, that the Legislature now does its business more transparently than it used to, then we offer a corollary: When it comes to keeping secrets, lawmakers of the past had nothing on the CIA . . ." READ MORE

Monday, June 14, 2010

Seattle Times endorses WPC's legislative transparency reform recommendations

The Seattle Times today called on the Legislature to follow our recommendations to improve legislative transparency. From the editorial: "The Seattle-based Washington Policy Center has a common-sense proposal to prohibit several practices used by legislators to ram through bills in a hurry. These practices were much in evidence in the recent session . . ." READ MORE

Friday, June 11, 2010

Judge removes "job creation" from R-52 ballot title

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy issued a ruling today in the Association of Washington Business (AWB) challenge to R-52's (bonds bill) ballot title.  Opening the hearing Judge Murphy said, “This is a unique case even in the world of ballot titles.” Murphy was clearly skeptical of including the claim of job creation in the ballot title . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 10, 2010

All sides agree: Change R-52's ballot title

Tomorrow morning a ballot title challenge to R-52 ($505 million bonds bill) will be heard in Thurston County Superior Court. Based on the legal fillings, I put the chances of the judge changing the Legislature's proposed ballot title at 100%. What the change will be is a different story. First some background. Per HB 2561, the current ballot title reads . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

OFM asks agencies: Are your activities core services; can they be contracted?

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) released the state's 2011-13 budget instructions yesterday to help focus the information agencies are required to use for their budget requests. Included are details on the "new" budget process the Governor plans to unveil this summer. From OFM's cover memo . . . READ MORE

Olympian calls for more legislative transparency

The Olympian today called on the Legislature to follow our recommendations to improve legislative transparency. From the editorial: In the waning days of the regular legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown attempted to justify the indefensible. When questioned on Senate procedures that were squeezing the public out of the lawmaking process, Brown said, "I think our processes are much more transparent than when I entered the Legislature."  Brown is wrong and the proof comes in a recently released report by the Washington Policy Center . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Columbian endorses WPC's legislative transparency reform recommendations

The Columbian today called on the Legislature to follow our recommendations to improve legislative transparency. From the editorial: "Would you believe that the Legislature on many occasions this year actually was in too big a hurry? That might seem hard to believe, what with the lawmakers needing a long, drawn-out special session to finish their business. But according to a recent news release from the Washington Policy Center, the Democrat-controlled Legislature on numerous occasions this year rushed through decisions that — perhaps intentionally — worked against the principles of a fully informed and participating public . . " READ MORE

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This Bud's (now) for the state

Remember the Budweiser commercials with the frogs croaking the slogan: Bud-Weis-Er? As of yesterday they are croaking a new tune in Washington: Tax-You-More. To help remind their customers that the Legislature raised taxes on beer this year and they were running out of time to purchase at pre-tax increases prices, Budweiser ran a full page color ad in the Seattle Times on Friday (back page of the Sports section). The ad read . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

2010 Session marked by secrecy

Lawmakers faced many critical decisions during the 2010 Legislative Session. None were more important than how to close a $2.8 billion budget deficit and the majority’s decision to raise nearly $800 million in taxes. Decisions of this magnitude should have been made in the light of day and with full public involvement. Instead the 2010 Legislative Session was plagued with numerous transparency transgressions which hindered citizens’ ability to participate . . . READ MORE

Friday, May 28, 2010

States go bust in blackjack budgeting

The collective gasp being heard in capitols across the country is a result of Congress dealing gambling state officials a bust card in their game of blackjack budgeting. Earlier this month we highlighted how Washington was putting its faith in Congress to deliver $480 million in one-time federal Medicaid funds to help balance the budget. By leaving only $452 million in reserves, should Congress not come through with the assumed $480 million, the Governor said she will be forced to issue across-the-board cuts as required by law or call a special session.  It looks like that is becoming more of a possibility with each passing day . . . READ MORE

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lawmakers passed 14% of tax or fee bills introduced in 2010

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) has published its I-960 Bill Analysis Statistics for the 2010 Session. According to OFM . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Serve on your own dime

Earlier this year the Legislature passed HB 2617 eliminating 45 boards and commissions. Among the provisions of the bill was the prohibition of reimbursement for travel or expenses for those serving on certain boards. Yesterday the Director of the Office of Financial Management released a memo to executive branch agencies with details on how to implement this new policy . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book 'em Danno (but don't release the photos in Washington)

Hawaii Five-O fans will remember most episodes ending with the phrase "Book 'em Danno." In Hawaii, police booking photos (or mug shots) are subject to public disclosure. They aren't in Washington. The state's Sunshine Committee met today and had a very spirited discussion about this practice and whether police booking photos should be subject to public disclosure.  A bill was introduced last year (HB 2115) to make these photos available to the public but it was not voted on. A recommendation offered today by Sunshine Committee member Rowland Thompson would not only require booking photos to be posted publicly on an agency website but also . . . READ MORE

Friday, May 14, 2010

UW set up for touchdown with new stadium funding plan

After several false starts, the University of Washington has positioned itself to score a touchdown with its new funding plan to renovate Husky Stadium. As reported by the Seattle Times . . . READ MORE

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Governor puts universities on notice

Those attending this morning's GMAP session on education performance saw the Governor repeatedly voice displeasure with the performance of the state's four-year universities. Saying that the performance agreements with the universities have resulted in zero change, Governor Gregoire served notice that she expects better results and wants to see them provide incentives to students to graduate in four years.  The Governor used a personal example of how she was able to encourage her daughters to graduate in four years. She said she told them that after four years they had to pay their own way. Here is the audio of the Governor's agitated comments . . . READ MORE

Monday, May 10, 2010

R-52 subject of ballot title challenge

The Association of Washington Business (AWB) filed a ballot title challenge today to R-52, the green jobs bond bill. From AWB's press release . . . READ MORE

Is your favorite candy a taxable candy?

To help the state's shop owners decipher whether the candy sitting on their shelves will be subject to the state's sales tax starting June 1, the Department of Revenue (DOR) has created a list of which candies failed the tax exempt lottery. The good news, around 260 candies are still exempt from the sales tax. The bad news, more than 3,000 aren't. So what qualifies as taxable candy . . . READ MORE

Friday, May 7, 2010

Race to the top in union pay

Earlier this week the state Department of Personnel (DOP) released the results of its salary survey to help determine how state worker pay stacks up against market rates . . . READ MORE

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is an income tax the only alternative to the dreaded B&O tax?

This November voters will likely have the opportunity to vote for the tenth time on an attempt to create an income tax in Washington. As evident by the lack of an income tax in the state, past attempts have not been successful at the polls (with the exception being in 1932 though the tax was ruled unconstitutional). What is interesting about the new income tax proposal being discussed is the attempt to sell it as small business relief from the state's unique and onerous Business and Occupation (B&O) tax. There is, however, a better way. Last year Governor Gregoire said, "If you want to come forward with an alternative to the B&O tax system in the state of Washington, the welcome mat is out from me." The Washington Policy Center decided to take her up on her offer and modeled the impacts of various replacement taxes . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2010 new laws

By signing the budget yesterday Governor Gregoire wrapped up (hopefully) the 2010 actions of the Legislature. The House Office of Program Research has put together a good summary of the more than 300 bills passed by the Legislature this year. From the report . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Washington's budget motto: "In Congress we trust"

Today Governor Gregoire signed the 2010 supplemental budget. In doing so she put her faith and trust in Congress that additional federal funds will be approved to help her avoid making across-the-board cuts. By making 60 vetoes to SB 6444, Gregoire reduced the state's reserves to $452 million (just over one percent) for the 2009-11 biennium. Unfortunately, to temporarily balance the budget, lawmakers rely on an extension of $480 million in one-time federal Medicaid funds that have yet to pass Congress. According to, assuming these new federal funds is no longer the sure thing it was once thought to be . . . READ MORE

Monday, May 3, 2010

State Supreme Court hit with audit finding

When thinking of the various grievances one could have with the state Supreme Court, financial mismanagement doesn't usually come to mind. According to an audit released today, however, it looks like even the state's highest court is in need of a watchful eye. From the audit . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 30, 2010

Washington's congressional delegation should join transparency caucus

Yesterday 27 Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House officially launched a Transparency Caucus. Noticeably absent from the caucus are any members from Washington state. As a national leader on open government issues it is disappointing to not see our state represented. Hopefully Washington's Representatives will soon join this effort and Senators Murray and Cantwell will work to form a Senate Transparency Caucus . . . READ MORE

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's time to televise U.S. Supreme Court hearings

Though C-SPAN may never boast the highest ratings on television, it is likely there would have been a spike in Washington state viewers if yesterday's Supreme Court arguments on the state's public records law were televised. A bill being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee may help to encourage reluctant Supreme Court Justices to allow their proceedings to be televised. According to The Hill . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

State's public records law on trial

Today was a big day for Attorney General Rob McKenna, Secretary of State Sam Reed, and supporters of the state's public records law. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Doe v. Reed. The controversy focuses on whether the signature petitions to overturn R-71 are public records and can be disclosed. Here are details from McKenna's press release . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This is not the time for a new welfare program

With the state once again projected to face a multi-billion dollar budget deficit in 2011-13, this is not the time to start a new welfare program. Unfortunately this is the path the 2010 supplemental budget sets the state on. That is of course, unless the Governor uses her veto pen . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 26, 2010

Legislative tax error shows value of transparency

The Legislature's well documented lack of transparency this past session was not only an affront to citizens that demand open and accountable government but also lead to an easily avoidable error in the final tax package that could cost even more Washington jobs.  By failing to slow down long enough to hold a single public hearing on the final tax proposal or allow enough time for lawmakers to read and understand the tax changes being made, lawmakers failed to provide the relief they thought they were granting to the in-state soda industry when raising the pop tax . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Details on when tax increases take effect

The Department of Revenue has created a website with details on all the tax increases that passed this year. Here is DOR's press release . . . READ MORE

Government reform commission in budget

Not possessing the speed reading skills of our lawmakers who managed to read and digest the 344 page budget within hours before voting, I am slowly making progress reading each line of the budget bill. There are many interesting things we'll highlight in the coming weeks but one that warrants special attention is the creation of a government reform commission. Check out Section 717 of SB 6444 . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 19, 2010

Budget snapshot

Now that lawmakers have finally adopted a 2010 supplemental budget, is state spending going up or down? Yes. Near General Fund spending is decreasing while total spending is increasing. Here are details on Near General Fund spending, total spending, and Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) employees . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is outsourcing "anti-government?"

Many lawmakers have started blogs to keep their constituents informed on the issues of the day. One of the more policy focused blogs is Rep. Reuven Carlyle's (D-36). Rep. Carlyle has taken heat from his party's traditional allies for using his experience as a small business owner to advocate for usually taboo policies such as competitive contracting and privatization . . . READ MORE

State Workers' Comp Supplemental Pension Fund Bailed Out

The Department of Labor and Industries this month announced that one of the funds that comprise our state's workers' comp system required a short-term loan in order to mete out its statutorily-required benefits to pensioners. L&I needs to borrow $15 million from the $3.2 billion Pension Fund. The Department says it will fully repay the loan within 45 days and with interest . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Deficit déjà vu

At her press conference yesterday Governor Gregoire was asked about the projected deficit for the 2011-13 budget. The Governor said they don't know yet what impact the budget and taxes adopted by the Legislature this weekend will have on the next budget but that another deficit is likely. Here is her exchange with reporters on this topic . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

State Auditor writes letter supporting our work

State Auditor Brian Sonntag has long been a friend of the Washington Policy Center and supporters of accountable, effective and transparent government. It looks like the State Auditor is also a fan of our work. Here are details from a recent letter he sent . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 12, 2010

Do the words permanent tax confuse you?

It appears some Senators may have a problem with truth in advertising. This evening the Senate is poised to adopt HB 2561 which makes the temporary sales tax increase on bottled water from SB 6143 permanent to pay for "green" building bonds. Never mind the fact the bill seeks to amend a law not yet enacted. Another interesting tidbit is the objection to changing the proposed ballot title for the measure . . . READ MORE

1 p.m. vote scheduled for 344 page budget bill?

The grapevine is a buzz with House plans to vote on the 344 page budget (just made public moments ago) at 1 p.m. today. I didn't realize Olympia was home to so many proficient speed readers. Our lawmakers wouldn't vote on billions in spending without first reading the details, would they? Here is the budget bill in all its glory.

Did we say "temporary" tax?

A world record may have been broken yesterday - the shortest time in recorded history for lawmakers to decide a "temporary" tax should be permanent. On Saturday the long awaited details of the Democrats nearly $800 million in tax increases was made public and then hastily voted on by the House. Among the taxes being increased is charging sales tax on bottled water. That tax was supposed to expire on June 30, 2013. At a Senate Ways and Means hearing yesterday, however, a substitute proposal for HB 2561 was made public for the first time and adopted by the committee which would make that tax permanent to help pay for $505 million in "green" building bonds . . . READ MORE

Saturday, April 10, 2010

So much for 24 hours to review the tax plan

Rumor has it House Republicans will allow House Democrats to waive the required 24 hour waiting period before votes are taken on the tax increase plan announced at 1:30 today.  This means the 112 page tax bill could be voted on this evening. Regardless of how one plans to vote, it is very disappointing that state representatives not only believe they don't need at least a day to study the details of a massive tax increase, but that their constituents don't deserve this common sense courtesy either.  It is time for constitutional transparency protections for citizens.  In the meantime, happy speed reading for those with nothing better to do today.

112 page, $794 million tax increase deal finally made public

At long last the details of the Democrats' tax increase plan is available for public and lawmaker consumption. Here is the 112 page, $794 million tax increase bill. Because the House last night finally agreed to the Senate's March 25 request for a conference committee, the 112 page bill will not be subject to amendment and must sit on the bar for 24 hours before action is taken. This means that lawmakers can only vote yes or no on the various taxes proposed and not offer changes . . . READ MORE

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Property tax increase proposed for community colleges

What will they think of next? Today Representative Hasegawa introduced HB 3220: Providing a permanent and stable source of funding for the state community colleges. According to the bill . . . READ MORE

State Supreme Court: "Must" means may

This morning the state Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of SEIU vs. Gregoire. At issue was the Governor's failure to included specific funding in her budget proposal as required by law. In a 5-4 ruling the court essentially said the Governor has total discretion to do what she wants and the word "must" means may. In a strongly worded dissent, Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen wrote . . . READ MORE

Tax deal reached?

It appears Senate and House Democrats have come to an agreement on a $801 million tax increase, or at least their leadership has. The Everett Herald has posted what is being called the "Go Home Proposal." Here are the details (not all taxes listed) . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

About those across-the-board cuts

Two weeks ago Governor Gregoire warned that if the Legislature doesn't adopt a budget by April 13 she would be forced to execute state law which requires across-the-board cuts. According to RCW 43.88.110 (7) . . .  READ MORE

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Taxpayer choice act" introduced

With Senate and House Democrats struggling over the details of their $800 million plan to tax Washingtonians more during a recession, one lawmaker has introduced a voluntary revenue proposal. Sen. Benton today introduced SB 6891: Creating the taxpayer choice act. From the bill . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 5, 2010

Will House blink on sales tax increase?

Senate Democrats announced on their blog today they sent a new tax increase proposal to House Democrats. The proposal still includes a sales tax increase but at a lower level. In exchange a beer, candy and gum tax are added to the mix: From their blog . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 2, 2010

Legislature adopts 911 tax increase

For those worried the Legislature hasn't done anything this week, you can now rest easy. Yesterday the Senate adopted SB 6846 by a vote of 29-12. Today the House gave its approval with a 56-34 vote. The bill increases taxes to pay for an enhanced 911 system. We've previously written about the proposal here and here. According to the Office of Financial Management the tax increase is expected to collect nearly $79 million over the next ten years.  Surprisingly, on March 19 the House rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Bailey to the capital budget that would have re-prioritized capital projects to free up $25 million for enhanced 911 projects. The vote against the amendment was 60-35. Here is the video of the brief floor debate on that amendment . . . READ MORE

Sen. Murray: Sales tax increase still in play

With the special session running dangerously close to going the full 30-days, it appeared yesterday that a tax compromise between House and Senate Democrats was about to be announced. The basis for this belief was the apparent willingness of the Senate to drop its demand for a sales tax increase. According to Sen. Murray, however, the sales tax increase is still very much in play . . . READ MORE

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Public records requesters no longer equal in Washington

I wish this was an April Fools' joke but sadly it's true - Washingtonians are no longer equal under the law when it comes to accessing public records. Prior to yesterday, the state's public records act prohibited government officials from distinguishing between citizens seeking information . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Governor schools lawmakers on sausage making

It's been said that watching a bill make its way through the legislative process is akin to watching sausage being made. Unfortunately for the sausage makers in Olympia, the Governor doesn't have to eat what they make and can cut out any section of a bill she doesn't like. As with any good chef who would take offense at such a partial rejection of their masterpiece, lawmakers attempted to leave the Governor with a take it or leave it option on HB 2893: Changing school levy provisions . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 26, 2010

U.S. House members launch transparency caucus

Rarely does a good idea come first from Washington D.C. versus the state laboratories of reform but here is one exception. Yesterday Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House formed a congressional transparency caucus to help promote open government initiatives . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 25, 2010

WPC letter to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown

Earlier this week Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said I was wrong about the Legislature not being transparent this session. When pressed by reporters about various shady practices, she said that she wasn't aware of what they were talking about. To help provide Senator Brown with the details we sent her this letter today.

Budget logjam? State law to the rescue

As the 2010 Special Session enters its eleventh day, with no end in sight, the Governor has decided to dust off state law to help bring about a resolution.  According to The Olympian . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Senate Majority Leader defends transparency record

Yesterday at her media availability, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown was asked about the Legislature's use of title only bills and the lack of adequate public notice on committee agendas. Repeating her previous statement that the Legislature is much more transparent today than when she first took office, Brown defended the Legislature's use of title only bills and said she was unaware of the transparency problems described by reporters. In fact, Brown said that I was wrong for indicating there was a problem. Here is the video of her exchange with reporters . . . READ MORE

Sunshine Committee discusses constitutional transparency amendment

The state's Sunshine Committee met this morning and had a spirited discussion on numerous issues. One of the agenda items was a proposed constitutional amendment. Here is the text of that proposal . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tax increases built on "faith" and "hope"

As the special session enters day 8, agreement on how to raise $800 million in taxes for their budget plan remains elusive for majority Democrats. Despite calls to refocus on spending reforms instead to balance the budget discussion has focused almost exclusively on tax increases since the special session began. One tax increase already on its way to approval by the Legislature is a bed tax on hospitals. Here is one interesting floor speech on HB 2956 (bed tax) from last Friday that described the tax increase as one built on faith and hope . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 19, 2010

Public need not attend

Keeping an eye on the Legislature has become increasingly difficult this session as legislative transparency has fallen way down on some lawmakers' priority list.  Here is just the latest example.  Around 6 p.m. last night the Senate Ways and Means Committee announced it would hold executive session today on at least five bills. The short notice of the hearing wasn't the only problem with this announcement. No time or location was provided; instead the notice said TBA. As of 11 a.m. this morning the web agenda still say TBA on time and location of the executive session. Thanks to a tip though I know the meeting will take place in the Senate Rules room. In fact, I am currently sitting in the room watching Senate Ways and Means staff set the room up for the meeting . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 18, 2010

911 tax introduced for voice over internet lines

Today Representative Morris introduced HB 3216: Concerning enhanced 911 emergency communications services. According to the bill: "A state enhanced 911 excise tax is imposed on all interconnected voice over internet protocol service lines in the state. The amount of tax may not exceed twenty-five cents per month for each interconnected voice over internet protocol service line whose place of primary use is located in the state . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Senate committee defends adoption of title only bill

Today the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a work session on SB 6853. This bill was introduced on February 9 as title only and has the distinction of being introduced, heard in public hearing, and adopted by the committee all on the same day despite no details being available. Generally when a work session is held a committee will invite stakeholders to make presentations about the policy being discussed. Unlike a public hearing, however, the general public is not allowed to comment. Not only was no public testimony taken, but the entire work session consisted of the members talking amongst themselves. In particular, the discussion focused on a defense of why the committee heard and adopted a title only bill. Here is video of the work session . . . READ MORE

Car insurance increase proposal back on House agenda

The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold an executive session tomorrow on HB 2365. This bill first showed up on the House agenda on March 10 as a title only bill. Once the hearing started a striker amendment was introduced which would insert the text from SB 6871 which the Senate rejected on March 8. If the striker is adopted the bill would add a surcharge to car insurance policies to fight auto theft . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Session's most notorious "ghost bill" on Wednesday's agenda

At 11:42 this morning (Tuesday) the Senate Ways and Means Committee announced it would hold a public hearing tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:30 p.m. The agenda for the hearing was blank until 7:28 this evening. Along with planning a public hearing on 7 bills and an executive session on at least 5 bills, the committee will also hold a work session on SB 6853. This bill was introduced on February 9 as title only and has the distinction of being introduced, heard in public hearing, and adopted by the committee all on the same day despite no details being available . . . READ MORE

U.S. House to adopt health care bill without voting on it?

Throughout the year we've highlighted the challenges state lawmakers have had with embracing a transparent legislative process. Not to be out done, the U.S. House may be poised to show it can play even bigger games than state lawmakers. Struggling to secure the votes needed to pass health care legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has identified a new strategy: adopting the bill without having members vote for it. The Washington Post has the details . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 15, 2010

Senate adopts rule change to speed up votes

Minutes after convening for special session this afternoon the Senate adopted SR 8719. The resolution makes the following amendment to Senate Rule 45: "All reports of standing committees must be on the secretary's desk one hour prior to convening of the session in order to be read at said session. During any special session of the legislature, this rule may be suspended by a majority vote." The impact of this change is a bill that is adopted by a committee can be voted on by the full Senate on the same day instead of having to wait until the next day . . . READ MORE

Sunshine Week shines light on lack of legislative transparency

Since this is national Sunshine Week, you will see lots of stories about open government and the importance of providing citizens with meaningful access to the activities of their government. Here is a sampling from the editorials across the state highlighting the need for legislative transparency reforms . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 12, 2010

Will Treasurer be forced to use short term borrowing to pay bills?

Governor Gregoire has officially called a special session to start next Monday. One of the bills to be considered will be the state's supplemental budget. Based on language currently in the House version of the budget, the state Treasurer may be forced to use short term borrowing to pay the state's bills, even if a "balanced" budget is adopted. Consider Section 904 of the House budget . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Jersey Governor targets size of state government

With a special session all but assured for what the Seattle Times calls increased spending, it is interesting to hear what New Jersey's new Governor is doing to solve their budget deficit . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Senators: No per diem for special session

Several Senators introduced a bill today to prohibit lawmakers from receiving per diem if called into a special session. According to SB 6883 - Restricting the payment of legislators' expenses: "During any special session of the legislature convened within thirty days following a regular session of the legislature under Article II, section 12 of the state Constitution, no member of the legislature shall receive any allowances for per diem expenses under Title 44 RCW." As we previously discussed, if a special session is called it should be done by the Legislature and not the Governor to ensure that it is limited to only the budget.

House ghost bill is failed Senate car insurance increase

Riddle me this. The Senate fails to adopt SB 6871 (car insurance increase) on March 8 by a vote of 20-26. The House Ways and Means Committee holds a public hearing and schedules for executive session HB 2365 (a title only bill) for today. A striker amendment is introduced to HB 2365 for the Committee to consider. The striker is the text of SB 6871 which failed the Senate. The punch line is?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is a special session necessary?

Running against a constitutional clock to adjourn in a few days some lawmakers are openly discussing the need for a special session to balance the budget and raise taxes on recession strained Washingtonians . . . READ MORE

Legislature proposes $130 million of fee increases

Long has there been arguments over what constitutes a "fee" increase versus a "tax" increase. It seems each year the legislature fights over the definition, even if the minds are made up about increasing whatever it is they end up calling it. Senate Bill 6444, the supplemental operating budget, includes $130 million in fee increases over the next ten years . . . READ MORE

Life Sciences and Research Targeted with 33% Tax Increase

If you were up late last night (technically this morning I guess) you could have seen the House pass its tax package on a 52-45 vote. There is much to discuss about the 162 page bill that can be read here, but interesting enough amongst the menu of tax increases is a tax on the very life science industry the Governor has been pushing for several years. The language in the bill states that the 0.5 percent increase, increasing from 1.5 percent to 2 percent (a 33% tax increase) in the B&O tax applies to . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 8, 2010

Idaho Governor to taxpayers: We'll love you if your state won't

Tax policy is one of the ways states compete with each other for businesses. It looks like Idaho Governor Butch Otter is taking this to heart. Today Otter released a "love letter" to businesses in Washington and Oregon. Here is Otter's letter in full . . . READ MORE

Most transparent Legislature ever?

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown was asked by reporters last Friday if the public has been given enough opportunity to participate in the discussion on the various tax proposals now being adopted. According to the Capitol Record Brown responded . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 5, 2010

Senate holds sham "public" hearing on income tax

It looks like the public weren't the only ones kept in the dark yesterday on the Senate Majority's income tax plan. Ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Joe Zarelli, believes yesterday's hearing was in violation of Senate rules and asked for the hearing to be postponed. Here is the video exchange between Zarelli and the Committee Chair, Sen. Margarita Prentice . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 4, 2010

$9.6 million annual car insurance increase moves forward

The Senate Ways and Means Committee took executive action yesterday on SB 6871. Along with increasing court filing fees the proposal would also add a surcharge to car insurance policies to fight auto theft. According to the I-960 fiscal impact statement, the new charge is expected to collect $9.6 million annually from auto policyholders . . . READ MORE

Friday, February 26, 2010

Voter-approved taxpayer protections repealed, again

The 2010 Legislative Session is scheduled to come to a close on March 11. Rumors of a special session, however, are starting to be heard in the halls of the capitol. Facilitating the consideration of numerous tax proposals now being debated is the decision to repeal for 2-years most of Initiative 960.  On three separate occasions (1993, 1998 and 2007) voters have adopted an initiative or referendum to require a 2/3 vote of lawmakers to raise taxes. On three separate occasions (2002, 2005 and 2010) the Legislature and Governor have signed a law to “temporarily” repeal this requirement to facilitate tax increases . . . READ MORE

State Auditor releases performance audit work plan

While lawmakers debate ways to balance the state budget, State Auditor Brian Sonntag released today his performance audit work plan to help identify savings and efficiencies. According to the plan . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Ghost bill" fleshed out

A title only bill introduced, subject to a public hearing and adopted by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, all on the same day, for the first time has actual text. Here is the description of the effect of the amendment to SB 6853 . . . READ MORE

Laws enacted by voters need more protections

Yesterday Governor Gregoire enacted a 2-year repeal of many of Initiative 960's provisions. While this is not the first time a voter approved initiative has been changed, it represents the third time this particular voter enacted policy (2/3 vote for tax increases) has been set aside. One of the ironies of this latest action is that a 2/3 vote requirement can be repealed by a simple majority vote. Although initiatives adopted by the people are statutory law just like bills passed by the Legislature, it is a much higher hurdle for citizens to get their laws enacted. As such there should be a high threshold to change or repeal their laws or they should at least have a say . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Governor signs I-960 bill without vetoing advisory vote repeal

Governor Gregoire signed SB 6130 as adopted by the Legislature. There was some question as to whether the Governor would veto the 2-year repeal of the non-binding advisory votes. She said that she delayed the bill signing today to consider the requests to veto that section of the bill. As a result of today's action the Washington Policy Center will be publishing an I-960 voter's pamphlet.

Comparison of House and Senate budgets

 The following information is courtesy of the state's budget transparency website ( The House budget decreases near general fund spending by $322 million while increasing total spending by $1.5 billion. The Senate budget decreases near general fund spending by $141 million while increasing total spending by $1.8 billion . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Senate tax bills available

 Here are the tax bills mentioned at today's Senate budget press conference . . . READ MORE

Senate targets business tax exemptions and sales tax increase

The Senate Democrats released their budget blueprint this morning. We'll have additional analysis on the specifics after we've had time to read the proposal but in the meantime here are details on the tax increases being proposed . . . READ MORE

Monday, February 22, 2010

Constitutional Sunshine

With National Sunshine Week (March 14-20) less than a month away, it's not too early to think about the reforms needed to make the legislative process more transparent. Whether it's the failure to implement a reasonable budget review period, holding hearings on "ghost bills," or carving out a special legislative exemption from the state's public records act, it is clear that constitutional transparency protections are needed for citizens. The Catch-22 of course, any constitutional reform must originate in the Legislature. Despite this obstacle, here are some suggested constitutional transparency protections to help make Washington the legislative sunshine state . . . READ MORE

Friday, February 19, 2010

Senators propose car insurance surcharge

Senators Hargrove and Regala introduced today SB 6871 - Supporting judicial branch and criminal justice funding. The bill would increase fees on car insurance by $1 every six months per vehicle to fight auto theft. According to the bill . . . READ MORE

Washington Policy Center to Publish Initiative 960 Voters’ Pamphlet

In the wake of a bill on its way to Governor Gregoire implementing a two-year repeal of Initiative 960, Washington Policy Center today announced it will publish the public disclosure information that would have appeared in the voters pamphlet if Initiative 960 had remained in place . . . READ MORE

OFM projects sales tax increase would last through 2015

The Office of Financial Management released today the required I-960 fiscal impact statement for the proposed sales tax increase in HB 3183. HB 3183 would increase the state's sales tax rate from 6.5% to 7.5%, a 15.4% increase. The rate would drop back to 6.5% once the state's unemployment rate hit 5% for four consecutive months. The state's current unemployment rate is 9.5% According to OFM the sales tax increase is projected to be in effect through 2015.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bill introduced to eliminate state printer

SB 6867 - Eliminating the state printer was introduced this morning by Senator Tom. According to the bill: "The legislature finds that technological changes have decreased the need for a central state printer. Information to citizens is increasingly being provided in electronic formats, which is both cost-effective and saves natural resources. Additionally, as printing technologies have changed, they have become within the reach of most agencies to conduct their own printing. The legislature also finds that printing is not a core state service and would be better handled within the private sector. To that end, the legislature is eliminating the state printer." The bill has been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Will Governor veto tax transparency suspension?

Late this evening the House adopted its version of SB 6130, repealing for 2-years the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases and some of the transparency provisions of Initiative 960 enacted by the voters in 2007. The vote in the House was 51-47. Since the House made changes to the bill (added back email notification of tax increases) it now goes back to the Senate for approval and then to the Governor for signature. The repeal of the 2/3 vote requirement will clear the way for tax increases. Today the Governor proposed $605 million in tax increases. Though the Governor plans to sign the 2-year repeal of the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases she has not indicated whether she supports the Legislature's plan for a 2-year repeal of non-binding advisory votes for tax increases enacted with a referendum denying emergency clause . . . READ MORE

Friday, February 12, 2010

100 percent increase in state death tax proposed

The legislative tax floodgates have opened. Today Representatives Chase, Williams, Hunt, Dickerson, Flannigan, and Moeller introduced a bill that would increase the state's death tax by 100%. HB 3184 would raise the top state death tax rate from 19% to 38%. The tax rate in the lower brackets would also be increased by 100% Last year WPC's Carl Gipson (Small Business Center Director) highlighted how repeal of the state's death tax would help grow the economy and lead to job creation.

Budget deficit grows to $2.8 billion

The state's budget outlook worsened today with news that the revenue forecast is being downgraded by $118 million. Combined with a $96 million increase in caseloads, the state's new budget deficit is projected to be $2.8 billion. Despite a forecasted 12% increase in revenue for the next budget (2011-13), a multi-billion dollar deficit is projected for the next biennium. This is illustrated by the state's 4-year budget outlook (yet to be updated). Consumer confidence is the key to economic recovery. Should consumer confidence fail to improve the state is at risk of a double dip recession. According to the forecast . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sales tax increase introduced

With the Senate approving a 2-year repeal of I-960 (Taxpayer Protection Act) the House is gearing up for tax increase votes. Today Representatives Flannigan, Ericks, Pettigrew, Ormsby, Eddy, Chase, Appleton, Quall, Hunt, Sells, Nelson, Dickerson, Pedersen, Clibborn, Moeller introduced a bill to increase the state's sales tax by 1% . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Senate votes for full suspension of I-960

At 11:10 this evening the Senate voted to suspend all of I-960's taxpayer protections, not just the 2/3 vote requirement suspension adopted just yesterday. The vote for full suspension of I-960 was 26 to 22. This evening's vote occurred because Senate Democrats said the bill adopted yesterday to only suspend the 2/3 vote requirement was done in error . . . READ MORE

Democrats concerned about the "Spirit of I-960"

A spokesperson for the Senate Democrat caucus made an interesting comment today on why the Democrats are seeking suspension of the requirement for non-binding advisory votes for tax increases not first approved by voters . . . READ MORE

Legislative transparency takes a beating

The Legislature's commitment to transparency is taking a serious beating. Consider the handling of these bills . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Senate votes to retain tax advisory votes

The Senate has voted to "temporarily" suspend the 2/3 vote requirements for tax increases enacted multiple times by voters. The vote was 26 to 23. Instead of approving the bill as referred by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, the full Senate adopted an amendment that limited its changes to only the 2/3 vote restriction. This means the current requirement for non-binding advisory votes for tax increases not sent first to the voters for approval would remain in effect. Based on the number of tax increase proposals being considered by the Legislature, it could be a long ballot for voters in November. Next up for the proposal is debate in the House.