Thursday, January 28, 2010

Is it time to restructure higher education?

The legislature is currently considering numerous proposals to grant higher education institutions expanded tuition authority. The proposals have received mixed support from the state's 4-year institutions. In light of the state's long-term budget outlook, serious consideration must be given to reforming the way the state finances higher education. The Washington Policy Center believes the state's four-year universities need to be empowered to have more control over their budget and finances and be less dependent on taxpayer subsidies. One potential model is to allow the state's universities to transition to business enterprise status. In 2004, Colorado and Japan moved in this direction . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Should lawmakers count on sin taxes for budget relief?

In an effort to increase revenue, some lawmakers are proposing an increase in so-called “sin” taxes in hopes of killing two birds with one stone. They want to discourage people from engaging in certain behaviors, like smoking, drinking, even overeating, by making it more expensive to purchase products related to these behaviors. At the same time, they want to alleviate state budgetary pressures with the additional money they hope to collect from higher sin taxes . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Senators propose government restructuring commission

A bipartisan group of Senators (Kastama, Swecker, Eide, Delvin, Hobbs, King, Murray, Hatfield, Berkey) has introduced SB 6786: Creating a commission to restructure state government. According to the bill . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 22, 2010

Restriction on new tax preferences introduced

Senator Rodney Tom (D-48) has introduced a bill to restrict the creation of new tax preferences. SB 6736: Modifying state expenditure limitations would mandate that new tax preferences must be offset with reductions in existing tax preferences. The bill would change the state's expenditure limit to . . . READ MORE

Senate votes for temporary employee compensation savings

The Senate today adopted SB 6503: Closing state agencies on specified dates. The bill passed 27 to 17. According to the bill report . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gregoire: No guarantee of federal bailout money

Governor Chris Gregoire was the keynote speaker at today's Association of Washington Business Lobby lunch. The Governor spoke about the budget, green-jobs bond bill, government reform, education reform and tax exemptions. Here are some of the highlights . . . READ MORE

Budget transparency bill scheduled for hearing

It looks like the state budget may receive a little more sunlight. The bipartisan 72 hour budget timeout bill is scheduled for a public hearing next Monday and may receive executive action later in the week. Here are additional details . . . READ MORE

Will sun set on Sunshine Committee?

The House Committee on State Government & Tribal Affairs heard public testimony this morning on HB 2617: Eliminating certain boards and commissions. Among the boards targeted for elimination is the Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee (a.k.a. Sunshine Committee). This is not the first time the Sunshine Committee has been in the legislature's crosshairs . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 18, 2010

Senator wants changes to 17th amendment

Senator Val Stevens (R-39) has introduced a resolution calling on Congress to initiate a constitutional amendment that would restore the selection of U.S. Senators by state legislatures instead of by direct elections. Here are details from SJM 8020 - Requesting that Congress amend the 17th amendment of the United States Constitution . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 15, 2010

Details from liquor privatization hearing

Yesterday the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee heard public testimony on SB 6204 - Privatizing the sale of liquor. Prime sponsor Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-35) said this was the first time one of his proposals to break up the state's liquor monopoly has received a public hearing. Here is the audio of Sen. Sheldon's testimony . . . READ MORE

State government closures proposed

The Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-11), has introduced a bill to close state government for 16 days over the next two years. Here are details from SB 6503 - Closing state agencies on specified dates: "From the effective date of this section until June 30, 2011, state agencies of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches shall be closed on the following dates . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bipartisan 72-hour budget review bill introduced

Past efforts to improve the transparency of the state's budget process are gaining bipartisan support. Today Representatives Gary Alexander (R-20), Larry Seaquist (D-26), Barbara Bailey (R-10), Mark Ericks (D-1), Bruce Dammeier (R-25), and Joe Schmick (R-9) introduced HB 2872: Establishing a period of public and legislative review of appropriations legislation . . . READ MORE

Bill drops to privatize state's workers' comp system

For years the business community, representing both large and small businesses, has asked that the state-run workers' compensation system either be privatized or that the system should be amended to allow for private sector industrial insurance companies to compete with the state-run system. Washington is only one of four states that do not allow for competition in this area. And given the 7.6% 2010 average rate increase, businesses are looking for some relief.  HB 2879 introduced today, looks to do just that. It aims to . . . READ MORE

Bills propose advertising on school buses and commercial business at rest stops

It looks like lawmakers are starting to get serious about exploring opportunities to partner with the private sector to increase state revenues. Here are details on two bipartisan bills introduced today . . . READ MORE

Study: Cigarette smuggling will grow with tax increase

The Michigan-based Mackinac Center issued a warning yesterday that a $1.00 increase in Washington's cigarette tax would "ensure that half of all cigarettes smoked in Washington are smuggled in from other states." From Mackinac's blog: "In December 2008 we published a study "Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling: A Statistical Analysis and Historical Review." The study reviewed the efforts of states trying to fight the growth of smuggling, documented the history of cigarette taxes in Michigan, New Jersey and California, and modeled the level of illicit tobacco use in states due to cigarette tax rates. We recently updated the model to include changes to the Federal Excise Tax, as well. The 2008 study already found that Washington has the fourth highest smuggling rate. In applying the model to the proposed tax increases, we found that a $1.00 per pack increase in taxes would jump the state's smuggling rates from 39.3 percent to 51.5 percent . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Should government compete with the private sector?

The Governor said yesterday in the State of State that "Jobs are the way out of this recession." Based on a bill introduced today, some lawmakers believe that one way to increase private sector jobs is to stop government from providing commercial type activities. Here are some of the details from HB 2808 - Regarding commercial activities by state government . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Public records reform introduced

The recommendations of State Auditor Brian Sonntag's and Attorney General Rob McKenna's Open Government Task Force have taken bill form. HB 2736 and SB 6383 (Establishing the office of open records) was introduced this afternoon. According to the bills, a requester seeking relief from a records dispute may either use the new office of open records or the current legal remedies available. The major change, however, is that a requester would not be entitled to penalties for a records violation unless they first sought relief from the office of open records . . . READ MORE

Republican response to Gregoire's State of the State

Here's the full text of the official Republican response to Gov. Chris Gregoire's State of the State speech today (hat tip Tri-City Herald) . . . READ MORE

Governor Gregoire's 2010 Washington State of the State Address

The Governor's 2010 State of the State Address in now available on her website . . . READ MORE

Liquor privatization bill to have hearing

There will be a public hearing on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. to consider SB 6204 - Privatizing the sale of liquor. This reform has surfaced since the end of prohibition but is receiving added attention in light of the state's budget deficit and a favorable report by the State Auditor's Office highlighting the potential savings from ending the state's liquor monopoly. State Auditor Brian Sonntag was recently interviewed by KING 5 News and said, "Is it a core function of the state to be selling alcohol? I don't think so." The state's liquor monopoly was also the subject of this editorial today in the Longview Daily News: Don't ignore long-term benefits of privatizing liquor sales . . . READ MORE

Lawmaker wants Legislature to meet every other year

Do you think the Legislature meets too often? At least one state lawmaker thinks so. Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-13) has introduced a bill to end the annual sessions of the Legislature. HB 2656 would set up regular sessions of the Legislature only in odd numbered years. The bill is accompanied by a constitutional amendment HJR 4217 to implement the provisions. The proposal makes no changes to procedures for special sessions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tax increases will cost even more Washingtonians their jobs

A new study by the Washington Research Council shows that tax increases will cost thousands of Washingtonians their jobs. According to the study, increasing the state Business and Occupation tax (B&O) by $1 billion would eliminate up to 15,072 jobs. A $2.6 billion B&O tax increase would cost 38,968 Washingtonian’s their jobs. A $1 billion sales tax increase would eliminate 14,759 jobs. A $2.6 billion sales tax increase would eliminate 38,024 jobs. The study shows jobs losses by 2013. Today the Washington Policy Center is running a full-page ad in The Olympian warning lawmakers about the impact of tax increases. The ad focuses on the job loss findings from the study . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 8, 2010

Budget solutions will require tough decisions and real reforms

Some leaders in Olympia are telling Washingtonians to shoulder a higher tax burden or the most vulnerable people in our state will suffer. This threat is built on the assumption that everything we're paying for today should be continued indefinitely, and vital government services must be delivered exactly the same way today as they were in the last century. Focusing on new taxes as the solution, however, demonstrates an unwillingness to re-evaluate which programs are in fact core functions of government and which are low-priority spending that we've grown accustomed to but can no longer afford. Complicating the debate is a failure to address the full budget problem. Though the current $2.6 billion deficit is capturing the headlines, the state is facing at a minimum a three-year budget problem . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Washington's credit rating outlook: "Negative"

One of the state's credit raters has downgraded Washington's credit outlook from stable to negative. In its December 31, 2009 report, Moody's Investors Service said . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Washington State Open Government Conference - January 16

Learn your rights to open government and get practical tips on exercising them at the federal, state, and local levels. Hear the latest on court battles, issues expected at the 2010 state legislative session, and the Obama administration’s open government initiatives. Network with other community leaders, and meet the most knowledgeable experts in the field, all at the Washington State Open Government Conference (co-sponsored by WPC), in spectacular surroundings on the University of Washington campus. The January 16 conference begins with a keynote speech by Hon. Rob McKenna, Attorney General for the State of Washington, a leader in the effort to heed and strengthen open government laws. The luncheon speaker is Heather Brooke, an award-winning journalist and author, and graduate of the University of Washington, whose pioneering use of open records laws exposed widespread misuse of public funds by members of the British Parliament and will soon be featured in a BBC TV satirical drama, "Bringing Down the House" . . . READ MORE

Workers' Comp audit released

The State Auditor is required by law to conduct annual audits of the financial statements and actuarial assessments of the Workers' Compensation Fund. The latest audit shows that the Workers' Comp funds may be heading towards insolvency within as little as two years. The workers' compensation system is made up of three components: the Medical Aid Fund, which pays for medical care for claimant; the Accident Fund, which pays non-medical claim costs such as wage replacement benefits, most vocational rehab, and disability and survivor benefits; and the Pension Reserve Fund, which pays benefits to all permanently disable pensioners. Both employers and employees pay L&I premiums. It is no surprise that the contingency reserves for the Workers' Comp trust fund dipped substantially during the time in question (July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009) given what happened with the stock market and the economy in general, as the audit points out . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 4, 2010

Income tax bills introduced

No session would be complete without the obligatory income tax proposal. Senators Rosa Franklin (D-29) and Joe McDermott (D-34) have introduced SB 6250 and SJR 8219 to fulfill this annual session prerequisite. Here is the intent section for SB 6250: "It is the intent of the legislature in adopting this title to provide the necessary revenues for the support of vital state services on a more stable and equitable basis." It will be interesting to hear how this income tax proposal will be able to fulfill this intent and succeed where other income taxes have failed. I'm sure other income tax states such as California will be eager to learn how to make income tax revenue recession proof.