Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas comes early for reformers

After watching the Legislature play the "Grinch that Stole the Balanced Budget" earlier this week it was encouraging to open an early Christmas present offered by the Governor today. At a press conference this morning in Olympia Governor Gregoire unveiled several reform initiatives. Among them . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Legislature sets stage for 2012 Special Session(s)

Unless state lawmakers know something we don't about an economic revival on the verge of sweeping Europe, today's quick exit from Olympia without actually balancing the state's budget sets the stage for the legislative budget can-kicking to continue deep into 2012 . . . READ MORE

Monday, December 12, 2011

Response to concerns about enhanced budget cutting authority for Governor

With the Legislature consistently showing itself willing to wait to the last moment to bring the state's budget into balance, Washington Policy Center has proposed changing the Governor's current across-the-board authority to respond to a deficit to discretionary authority to make surgical reductions to enact timely savings . . . READ MORE

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Governor should force Legislature to act on budget

We’ve seen this song and dance before. It looks like the Legislature is going to do the same thing it did last year – partial cuts and then likely wait till the last moment to balance the budget (perhaps requiring another special session next year). This despite the Governor giving lawmakers months of advance notice and a list of possible budget solutions. The Governor should raise the stakes to ensure the budget is actually balanced in early January . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Legislative foot-dragging on budget makes case for giving governor enhanced budget tools

It's true that it takes time to make thoughtful decisions on reducing a $32 billion state budget. It's also true that lawmakers have known since this summer that the Governor would be calling a special session to balance the budget. Yet despite knowing what is required, the sense of urgency on display in Olympia right now is wanting, to say the least. The Governor could have helped provide extra incentive for lawmakers to act by also ordering date certain across-the-board cuts that would take effect unless the Legislature balanced the budget itself or provided the Governor the tools to do so . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Voters may be asked to increase sales tax by half a billion dollars

Thanks to Washingtonians' approval of I-1053's 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases in 2010, voters will have the final say on any potential tax increases in 2012. When announcing her budget yesterday, Governor Gregoire said she wants voters to weigh in on her plan to raise the sales tax by $500 million for the current budget. Involving the voters in this decision would not be occurring if not for the four-time voter approval of the state's 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases (currently under legal challenge) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Budget writers keep eye on Europe

If you see your lawmakers monitoring news in Europe, chances are it's not for vacation planning but instead state budget planning. According to the state's economist Dr. Arun Raha, economic turmoil in Europe could play a huge role in our state budget debate. From today's state revenue forecast . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Governor Gregoire detailing Small Business Recommendations

While the focus of lawmakers during the upcoming special session will be on the budget, one of our best opportunities to combat the economic recession lies with Washington's small businesses. In light of this, Washington Policy Center sent Governor Gregoire a letter outlining small business owners’ top policy recommendations selected at our Small Business Conference in September. We hope that these recommendations from the business community can guide lawmakers as they seek to balance the budget and reinvigorate Washington’s economy . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

State's liquor monopoly repealed

It may have taken nearly 80 years but Washington's liquor monopoly has finally been repealed by voters. By a somewhat surprising margin, voters across the state are approving I-1183 60-40%. Ending the state's liquor monopoly has been a long time goal of the Washington Policy Center. It is exciting to see voters embrace the idea of focusing government efforts on strict enforcement of the public health, safety and drinking-age laws related to liquor sales, while leaving the business of distributing, pricing and selling liquor products to the competitive marketplace. Washingtonians are also approving SJR 8206 to enhance the state's rainy-day savings account. The measure is passing by a margin of 67-33% . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Happy Election Week

As voters across America head to the polls today, Washingtonians instead will be busy getting their ballots postmarked for the state's vote by mail election. While some results will trickle in tonight, it is likely that several races won't be finalized until later this week (or month) as ballots dropped in the mail this evening make their way through the postal system. Unlike our neighbors to the south in Oregon, who also vote exclusively by mail, our ballots aren't due today but instead need only be postmarked. In the vast majority of states mail-in ballots must either be received by Election Day or must be dropped off before the polls close. Washington, however, only requires that a ballot be postmarked by Election Day. This policy unnecessarily complicates the tabulation of votes and can leave the results of close races a mystery for weeks . . . READ MORE

Friday, November 4, 2011

TVW takes a look at budget options

This week's edition of Inside Olympia takes a look at the state's budget outlook. Here is the teaser: "How to bridge the state's $2-billion budget gap? Are new taxes an option? What should state lawmakers do to create jobs and boost the economy? Host Austin Jenkins hears from business and labor, plus liberal and conservative think tanks."Interviewed for the show were Jeff Johnson (Washington State Labor Council), Don Brunell (Association of Washington Business), Remy Trupin (Washington State Budget and Policy Center), and myself . . . READ MORE

Thursday, November 3, 2011

2/3 vote requirement for tax increases goes on trial January 14, 2013

It looks like lawmakers better get used to abiding by the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases - at least until 2013. Earlier this year several House Democrats joined the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the League of Education Voters to file a lawsuit to overturn the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

DES seeking public comment on draft procurement rules/OFM rejects liquor warehouse proposals

The new Department of Enterprise Services is seeking public comments on its proposed draft procurement rules and the Office of Financial Management has recommended that neither of the proposals received to lease the state's liquor warehouse be accepted . . . READ MORE

Colorado voters reject education tax increases

Election day came a week early in Colorado and based on the results, proponents of tax increases may want to focus on plan B. Granted this was a Colorado election but voters there last night crushed a proposal to raise taxes for education spending. Here are the details courtesy of KWGN in Colorado . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Should tribal gaming revenue sharing be on the table?

While lawmakers consider the Governor's proposed budget reductions, discussions of ways to generate new revenues are growing louder. The perennial favorite is to close business tax exemptions. WPC's Vice President for Research, Paul Guppy, addressed that topic in an op-ed today published by Publicola (in-part) . . . READ MORE

Boeing helps state with Lean management reforms

When announcing her proposed budget reduction strategy, Governor Gregoire also highlighted one way the state hopes to improve service delivery even as changes are made to program funding levels: Lean management. Gregoire noted at her budget press conference: "One example is we have partnered with Boeing to launch lean-management tools across our agencies, and we already are seeing early successes." What exactly are Lean-management tools . . . READ MORE

Friday, October 28, 2011

Unions formally rebuff Governor's request for health benefit changes

Illustrating once again the need for the Legislature to have the authority to make budget decisions concerning state employee compensation, state employee unions have rejected the Governor's request to make changes to the portion taxpayers pay for their health care. On Wednesday the Governor's budget director Marty Brown sent a letter to state unions informing them that the Governor was re-opening the 2011-13 health care benefits agreement "in order to negotiate a reduction in the employer premium contribution." Here is a copy of the OFM letter . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Governor provides lawmakers with budget recommendations

Although the state's economy is beginning to show some signs of improvement as taxpayers are currently projected to provide approximately $2 billion more in revenue for the current budget than the last, state officials are still faced with the need to close a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. Governor Gregoire today presented the Legislature with a list of options of how to balance the budget during a special session set to begin on November 28. The Governor's budget reduction suggestions are available here . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Governor asks unions to re-negotiate health care benefits

Tomorrow Governor Gregoire will be holding a press conference outlining her recommendations to address the state's budget deficit. Today her budget director Marty Brown sent a letter to state unions informing them that the Governor was re-opening the 2011-13 health care benefits agreement "in order to negotiate a reduction in the employer premium contribution." Here is a copy of the OFM letter . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sonntag tackles business regulations

Though he may be retiring at the end of his term next year, State Auditor Brian Sonntag is not scaling back his efforts to improve the performance of state government. This includes how government interacts with the economic engine necessary to provide the revenues to fund vital core functions: private enterprise. This is why Sonntag and his team are in the process of an important review of the state's regulatory environment. As noted by a March 2011 report . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I-1183 liquor ads go under the microscope

With proponents and opponents of I-1183 (to end the state liquor monopoly) shattering state campaign contribution records for a ballot measure, the airwaves are about to see a binge of ads for and against the proposal. Hopefully future ads will fare better in truthfulness than some of those run to date. The Seattle Times has done a good job of separating fact and fiction from the current ads. Here is a sampling of their findings . . . READ MORE

Monday, October 17, 2011

ALEC Adopts Principles of Legislative Transparency

Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have formally adopted "Principles of Legislative Transparency" to help guide how lawmakers conduct public business. ALEC is the nation's largest nonpartisan, individual membership organization of state legislators, with more than 2,400 legislator members from all 50 states, and 86 former members serving in the U.S. Congress. The ALEC Principles of Legislative Transparency were modeled after language drafted by the Washington Policy Center (WPC) to address various transparency abuses by the Washington State Legislature . . . READ MORE

Friday, September 23, 2011

Citizens' Guide to Senate Joint Resolution 8206 To Enhance the State's Constitutional Savings Account

This November, Washingtonians will vote on Senate Joint Resolution 8206, a proposal to enhance the state’s existing constitutionally protected savings account for the state budget. The proposed constitutional amendment would build on a previous constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2007 that created a constitutionally protected rainy-day savings account for the state budget, replacing the state’s statutory emergency reserve. The 2007 proposal passed with 68 percent of the vote. To build on the success of the 2007 reform, in January Washington Policy Center recommended that state leaders take additional steps to ensure that once the economy begins to improve, the state secures adequate reserves to help smooth out the ups and downs of revenue collections . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Governor calls special session to begin November 28

Governor Gregoire announced this morning she is calling a special session to start November 28 to address the state's $1 billion plus budget deficit. Here are my notes from her press conference . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

State employee compensation now available in a searchable format

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) and the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program Committee (LEAP) have worked together to make the state's 2011 Personnel Detail available on the state's budget transparency website ( in a searchable way. This has been one of our top priorities since was launched in 2008. Many thanks to OFM and LEAP for their efforts to make this happen and their commitment to provide future year's data in the same searchable format . . . READ MORE

Monday, September 19, 2011

Citizens’ Guide to Initiative 1183 To End Washington’s Liquor Store Monopoly

In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 1183, which if passed would end the state’s 78-year-old monopoly on the sale of liquor in Washington. Initiative 1183 is similar to last year’s Initiative 1100, which was rejected by voters, but there are also important differences. These differences are discussed in detail here. Washington Policy Center has long recommended getting the state out of the liquor business and allowing the competitive private sale of liquor under regulation by the state. This change would allow state officials to shift their efforts from managing retail sales to exclusively enforcing the state’s liquor, public health and public safety laws. Here are our Key Findings . . . READ MORE

Friday, September 16, 2011

Small Business Owners Offer Solutions for Recovery at Statewide Conference

Small business owners and policymakers from around the state gathered at Bellevue College yesterday to discuss the state’s business climate at Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) 2011 Statewide Small Business Conference. During several interactive issue breakout sessions, business owners suggested and discussed solutions to improve the climate for small businesses in Washington.  This was the fifth statewide small business conference hosted by WPC since 2003. The result is a list of priority solutions, selected by small business owners, for solving the major problems with the state’s business climate and moving towards economic recovery . . . READ MORE

Budget writers discuss options

The Chair and ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee were interviewed by TVW's Austin Jenkins yesterday on what the options are for lawmakers to address the estimated $1 billion plus budget deficit. Among the questions Jenkins asked Sen. Murray and Sen. Zarelli were their thoughts on our proposal to provide the Governor with discretionary budget cutting authority . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Provide Governor with discretionary budget cutting authority

Believe it or not, state revenues are still projected to increase by $2.1 billion for the 2011-13 biennium over the 2009-11 biennium. Unfortunately for lawmakers this increase is $1.4 billion less than what was estimated at the June Revenue Forecast meaning a budget deficit exceeding $1 billion now exists . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sen. Honeyford wins open government award

The Washington Coalition for Open Government presented Sen. Jim Honeyford with its Key Award today for his efforts to improve legislative transparency this past session. I had the privilege of providing Sen. Honeyford with the Key Award on behalf of the Coalition on the floor of the state Senate this morning. Here is a copy of my prepared remarks . . . READ MORE

Monday, September 12, 2011

State Auditor Brian Sonntag to retire

In a surprise announcement, State Auditor Brian Sonntag has decided to retire at the end of his term in 2012. From his email: "In the past week, I made a difficult decision not to seek re-election as Washington State Auditor in 2012. It was a tough call, but it is the right decision. At the end of my current term, I will have served 20 years in this Office and 40 years in public service - 35 in elected office. Based on what we has accomplished and what we will continue to do in behalf of citizens, the 2012 election is the right time for the Office to transition to new leadership . . ." READ MORE

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WA Supreme Court grants motion to hear tribal gas tax case

The Washington State Supreme Court granted the motion to hear the tribal gas tax case, Automotive United Trades Organization (AUTO) v. State of Washington. You might recall, WPC and others filed Amicus Briefs encouraging the Court to accept direct review.  In 2006, Governor Christine Gregoire negotiated an agreement with Washington State Indian tribes that exempts tribally owned fuel stations from paying 75% of state gas taxes. This year the state will give Indian tribes approximately $22 million in state fuel tax revenue. And the amount will certainly grow as tribes continue to add more fuel stations. Taxpayers will pay approximately $621 million to tribes over the next 17 years . . . READ MORE

If tax referendum is put on ballot voters should also be sent constitutional 2/3 vote restriction

There is universal expectation that after next Thursday's state revenue forecast lawmakers will need to make substantial reductions to the 2011-13 budget adopted earlier this year. The Speaker of the House and the Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee have already stated their desire to consider tax increases next year . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Comparison of liquor retail store density for Western states

In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 1183. Initiative 1183 would end the state’s 78-year old prohibition-era monopoly on the sale of liquor in Washington. Though there are similarities to last year’s Initiative 1100, which was rejected by voters, there are also important differences. We will be releasing a full analysis discussing these differences next week. There are currently 18 liquor monopoly states in the U.S., including Washington.  These states maintain some level of monopoly control over the sale of liquor.  Washington is one of 12 states that impose a government-only monopoly on both the retail and wholesale liquor sales . . . READ MORE

Citizens' Guide to Initiative 1125

In November, voters will have a chance to consider Initiative 1125. I-1125 is known as the “Protect Gas Taxes and Toll Revenues Act – Protect the 18th Amendment to Washington’s Constitution.” I-1125 contains eight provisions that would affect how Washington officials collect and spend revenue from highway tolls. Washington motorists have a lot of experience with tolls, which have been used to fund 14 bridges, including those across the Tacoma Narrows, the State Route (SR) 520 floating bridge and the Interstate 90 floating bridge . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 1, 2011

State Supreme Court issues conflicting opinions on authority of Attorney General

The Attorney General in Washington State is independently elected by the people. Of that there is no controversy. Based on two separate rulings by the State Supreme Court today, however, whether the Attorney General is truly independent is now in question. In one ruling concerning the City of Seattle's attempt to get the Attorney General to withdrawal from the multi-state challenge of the federal health care law the Court ruled . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

State responds to WEA/House Democrats 2/3 tax lawsuit

Last month several House Democrats joined the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the League of Education Voters to file a lawsuit to overturn the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases. On Monday the state responded. From the state's brief (in-part) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, August 11, 2011

September revenue forecast could be ugly

Earlier this week Governor Gregoire asked agency budget directors to prepare for budget cuts of up to 10 percent ($1.7 billion). Today the state's Economic and Revenue Forecast Council released the revenue totals for August underscoring the prudence of the Governor's actions. Based on the numbers, the September 15 revenue forecast could put the state budget in the red. From the Council's press release . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fiscal impact statements for initiatives published

The Office of Financial Management has published its fiscal impact statement for the three initiatives that have qualified for the 2011 election. Here are OFM's estimates (in-part) . . . READ MORE

OFM releases state employee salary details

The Office of Financial Management has released the 2011 Personnel Detail Report. According to OFM: "This edition of the Personnel Detail Report includes total calendar year earnings for employees on the state payroll at any time between Jan. 1 2010 and Dec. 31 2010. The report is compiled by the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) from information provided by the state's payroll systems. The information OFM receives from the payroll systems is entered and maintained at the individual agencies . . ." READ MORE

Monday, August 8, 2011

Governor asks agencies to prepare for budget reductions

Today the Office of Financial Management (OFM) sent agency budget directors a memo requesting that they prepare for budget reductions of up to $1.7 billion (10%) in a 2012 supplemental budget. From the OFM memo . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

State view of federal debt debate

With the August 2 deadline less than a week away before the federal government reaches its debt limit, state budget officials across the country are preparing for the potential impact on state budgets depending on what Congress and the President agree (or don't agree) to. According to at least one state budget director, there will be "no happy endings" for states regardless of what occurs. Washington's budget director, Marty Brown, however, is a little more optimistic . . . READ MORE

Monday, July 25, 2011

WEA/House Democrats sue voters over 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases

In the waning hours of the "budget focused" special session Democrats in the House and Senate both attempted to cue up votes on a tax bill not assumed in the budget that no one expected to pass. The strategy was to try to gain legal standing to sue the voters to overturn the 18 year old 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases. Today this legislative charade has come to fruition as several House Democrats have joined the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the League of Education Voters to file a lawsuit to overturn the four-time voter approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases. Here is a copy of today's legal filing . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Graphical review of state's 2011-13 budget

Though it took a special session to finish its work on the 2011-13 budget, the legislature took positive steps this year to put the state on a more sustainable budget path. Despite progress, however, an inadequate reserve fund coupled with ongoing economic uncertainty and projected future spending pressure leaves the state’s budget outlook on tenuous ground highlighting the need for additional structural reforms and spending restraint . . . READ MORE

Friday, July 15, 2011

WA lawmakers to hold public work session in Portland, OR

Next Thursday Washington lawmakers from the House and Senate will hold a joint work session in Portland, OR. While it may seem strange for state lawmakers to hold a public meeting in a different state, technically they aren't. At least according to state definitions of out-of-state travel. While there is no danger of Washington attempting to annex parts of Oregon, Idaho, or British Columbia, according to the Senate . . . READ MORE

Thursday, July 14, 2011

JLARC releases 2011 tax preference report

 One of the hot topics from the 2011 Legislative Session sure to resurface next year is what to do about the state's various tax preferences. To assist the Legislature in answering this question, in 2006, lawmakers adopted HB 1069 which set up the Citizen Commission for Performance Measurement of Tax Preferences administered by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC). WPC's Vice President for Research Paul Guppy serves on the commission. Today JLARC released the commission's 2011 tax preference report. Of the 25 tax preferences reviewed, JLARC recommends the Legislature . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Washington's credit rating: "Stable"

Washington State is faring better than Washington D.C. when it comes to governmental credit rating. While national credit rating firms have put the U.S. on their "watch" list for possible downgrade, Washington State has been given a "stable" rating for its response to balancing the state's budget. That said, clouds remain on the horizon that could impact our future credit rating. Here are the July 2011 reports for the state from Moody's and Standard and Poor's . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

State Auditor releases review of performance-based contracting

At the request of Governor Gregoire, State Auditor Brian Sonntag released a report last week detailing the state's current use of performance-based contracting and identifying opportunities for improvements. The report stems from an Executive Order issued by the Governor last November. From the report . . . READ MORE

Friday, July 1, 2011

Inslee on income tax and 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases

Last night Congressman Jay Inslee did an interview with TVW's Austin Jenkins discussing his positions as a candidate for Governor. Among the policies discussed were Inslee's position on tax increases and whether the voter-approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases is constitutional. Here is the video of that interview queued up to the conversation on those issues . . . READ MORE

Department of Revenue Recommends Tax Simplification to Help Small Businesses

A new report from the Washington state Department of Revenue (DOR) makes a positive suggestion, one that is well overdue but welcome nonetheless: simplify the administration of the state and local Business & Occupation (B&O) tax system. Several months ago DOR reached out to the small business community and what they found from over 1,100 comments was that the greatest tax complexity problems faced by Washington small businesses related to . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More signs for a statewide transportation tax measure in 2012

There are more signals that point to a statewide transportation tax package in 2012. Here is an RFP from the WSDOT on funding a poll. According to the scope, the poll will test . . . READ MORE

Friday, June 24, 2011

Washington leaders driving national agenda

Prior to closing down, the motto for Olympia Beer was "It's the water." Based on recent news from the Attorney General's Office, there is definitely something in the water in Washington that leads to our leaders being recognized nationally. Yesterday a press release was issued announcing that Attorney General Rob McKenna has been selected by his peers to be President of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Breaking down state employee compensation as a percentage of spending

One of the major points of contention this past year in the Legislature was the impact state employee compensation has as a cost driver of state spending and whether changes should be made to help rein in costs. Based on the razor thin margin the June revenue forecast has left for the state's budget balance sheet, it is likely this conversation will continue in the future. So how exactly does state employee compensation impact state spending? There are a couple of ways to look at this question . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June revenue forecast explained

Remember all the "fun" last week as reporters and budget junkies tried to make heads or tails out of the June revenue forecast? The revenue forecast showed a negative $12 million difference between the March and June forecasts for the two budgets yet the impact on the ending fund balance for 2011-13 showed a reduction of $575 million. So how exactly does that math work? Quite well when you account for the fact the Legislature didn't assume any future revenue loss as a result of booking the tax amnesty funds in its budget balance sheet and then making adjustments for economic and non-economic activity since the March revenue forecast . . . READ MORE

Monday, June 20, 2011

Governor signs agency consolidation/contracting reform

Last week Governor Gregoire signed a proposal to consolidate several administrative agencies and create a review process to help identify opportunities for some competitive contracting. Sponsored by Senators Baumgartner and Zarelli, SB 5931 creates a new Department of Enterprise Services and Department of Consolidated Technology Services by consolidating several administrative agencies and activities . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 16, 2011

2009-11 budget balanced for a day

That didn't take long. The 2009-11 supplemental budget (rolled into the 2011-13 budget) Governor Gregoire signed yesterday is already projected to end in an $84 million deficit thanks to today's revenue forecast. According to the state's budget director Marty Brown, the ending fund balance for 2009-11 is projected to be minus $84 million and plus $163 million for 11-13. That $163 million reserve for 11-13 is nearly $600 million less than was assumed yesterday when the Governor signed the budgets . . . READ MORE

Liquor "emergency" and performance audit fund raid stand

Over the past few weeks there was speculation as to whether Governor Gregoire would veto the emergency clause off of a liquor contract bill as well as veto the Legislature's raid of the voter-approved dedicated performance audit fund. The answer is no - both actions stand as approved by the Legislature. Here is video of the Governor explaining why she didn't veto the emergency clause off of SB 5942 . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

McKenna on tax increases, 2/3 vote requirement and competitive contracting

Last week Attorney General Rob McKenna did an interview with TVW's Austin Jenkins discussing his positions as a candidate for Governor. Among the policies discussed were McKenna's position on tax increases, whether the voter-approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases is constitutional and if the state is fully taking advantage of opportunities for competitive contracting. Here is the video of that interview queued up to the conversation on those three issues . . . READ MORE

Monday, June 13, 2011

Governor to decide if liquor contract is state emergency

This Wednesday Governor Gregoire will take action on the remaining bills from the special session including a proposal to request a contract for running the state's liquor distribution monopoly. Despite this proposal (SB 5942) not being assumed for the budget, an emergency clause was added to the bill meaning a referendum could not be run on the bill and the contract review process would take effect immediately. The emergency clause has worried supporters of a new initiative to end the state's prohibition era liquor monopoly. They believe SB 5942 could short circuit voters' opportunity to consider their new liquor reform proposal . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sonntag requests veto of performance audit fund raid

State Auditor Brian Sonntag sent Governor Gregoire a letter last week asking her to veto an $8 million raid of the voter approved dedicated performance audit account. From Sonntag's letter requesting the veto: "Diverting performance audit funding to support unrelated, specific activities at other agencies is wrong. It sets a precedent for future use of this money that is not in keeping with provisions of Initiative 900 . . ." READ MORE

Friday, June 3, 2011

Former Governor Locke still preaching Priorities of Government

While awaiting Senate confirmation of his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to China, outgoing U.S. Commerce Secretary and former Washington Governor Gary Locke is still pushing Priorities of Government (POG) budgeting . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Did Senate mess up potential tax lawsuit script?

Yesterday we highlighted Governor Gregoire's comments where she hoped that the State Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the state's 18 year old 2/3 vote restriction for tax increases. Today Tacoma News Tribune Columnist Peter Callaghan dedicates his column to teasing out the legal strategy of House Democrats in trying to gain legal standing to overturn the law through the courts versus through legislation. Callaghan quotes the attorney that last argued before the Supreme Court that the 2/3 vote requirement is unconstitutional as saying that the Democrats may have had a stronger case if the Senate had tried the same vote maneuver . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gregoire wants Court to rule on 18 year old tax restriction

It appears the new motto in Olympia is "If we can't beat voters, sue em." Governor Gregoire has now joined with Democrats in the House and Senate calling on the Courts to throw out the nearly 20 year old requirement that tax increases require a 2/3 vote claiming the restriction is unconstitutional . . . READ MORE

Thursday, May 26, 2011

House Democrats set the stage to sue voters

While the main focus of the just concluded special session was to finally finish work on the state budget and other necessary government reforms, the House Democrats also found time to lay the groundwork to in effect sue the voters over their passage of I-1053. Last November 64% of voters adopted I-1053 and for the fourth time (1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010) ratified a requirement that tax increases require a 2/3 vote. Many legislative opponents of the 2/3 vote requirement believe the restriction to be an unconstitutional obstacle to their ability to raise taxes with a simple majority vote. This is why late Tuesday night (the second to last day of the special session) and before taking action on small things like the capital budget, statutory debt limit and state government consolidation (SB 5931), the House spent 40 minutes to debate a tax increase bill (HB 2078) . . . READ MORE

Monday, May 23, 2011

Compromise on Workers' Comp; Accomplishes Half the Savings of Voluntary Settlement Agreements

Late Sunday evening the Governor, flanked by the four caucus heads, unveiled the outline of a new compromise on workers' compensation. I say outline because no actual bill has been released as of Monday morning (this is somewhat problematic in its own way, since a rushed process has resulted in drafting errors in past sessions), although the state has a placeholder for the bill on its site . . . READ MORE

Friday, May 20, 2011

State passes bill to toll I-405, and protects the revenue for highway purposes

The Governor recently signed HB 1382 into law. The bill would toll two lanes on I-405 in the north end, between I-5 and Bellevue. The original bill was amended and contains some significant changes. The most notable is keeping the toll revenue in the Motor Vehicle Fund, which triggers the protection of the 18th Amendment. This is good news for drivers because the tolls collected on I-405 can only be used for highway purposes and not raided by lawmakers . . . READ MORE

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Senate rejects extension of "temporary" stadium taxes

The Senate was on the verge today of re-writing the Legislative definition of a "temporary tax." The current definition of a "temporary tax" is a tax that expires as promised at the scheduled time. Had the Senate adopted SB 5958 (extending the "temporary" stadium taxes enacted in 1995) as originally proposed this would have become the new definition of "temporary tax:" "A temporary tax is a tax that is promised to expire to pacify voters in order to move special interest legislation but will ultimately be extended to pacify vocal special interests at the expense of legislative integrity to the voters . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Senate moves forward with small competitive contracting reform

By a vote of 29-18 the Senate today adopted a proposal to consolidate several administrative agencies and create a review process to help identify opportunities for some competitive contracting. Sponsored by Senators Baumgartner and Zarelli, SB 5931 creates a new Department of Enterprise Services and Department of Consolidated Technology Services by consolidating several administrative agencies and activities. According to the bill report, SB 5931 also requires . . . READ MORE

Voters' thoughts on tax exemptions circa 1972

While researching a totally unrelated topic I came across a very interesting vote from 1972 that directly impacts the current tax debate occurring in Olympia. On the same ballot where voters authorized the state's landmark public records law (I-276) they also rejected by a vote of 45%-55% a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically sunset all tax exemptions unless reauthorized . . . READ MORE

Government shutdown looms

The battle lines are becoming so entrenched in Olympia that the prospect of a government shutdown are starting to be discussed. Here is how the AP describes the situation: "Top officials in Washington state started preparing Monday for a potential government shutdown in July as lawmakers stalled in their bid to reach a budget compromise. Gov. Chris Gregoire said she has started holding talks with Cabinet and financial-management leaders about what would happen if there were no spending plan by the time a new budget cycle begins in July. She's seen little progress in budget negotiations in the Legislature and can't recall a time that things have been so bogged down. 'I'm a little discouraged,' Gregoire said. She's asked lawmakers for an agreement-in-principle by the end of this week . . . READ MORE

Friday, May 13, 2011

No budget by June 1 --- lawmakers guilty of misdemeanor?

As we come closer to the end of the 1st Special Session (May 25) and the prospects of a 2nd Special Session growing, what is the drop dead deadline for the 2011-13 budget to be adopted? According to the state's Budget and Accounting Act (RCW 43.88) that would be around June 1 . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stage set for tax fight in House

The House Ways and Means committee took the first steps this afternoon to setting up a tax fight on the floor of the House during the "budget focused" special session. In a 15-11 vote, the committee members approved an amended version of HB 2078. The proposal would raise taxes on bank mortgage activity. Because the proposal is not a referendum it would require a 2/3 vote on the floor of the House making its prospects highly unlikely. Instead it appears the potential floor fight is more geared toward scoring political points since the outcome is all but certain to end in defeat of the proposed tax increase . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Battle of the initiatives

Yesterday the House passed two bills suspending Initiative 728 and Initiative 732. These two "free" education measures adopted by the voters in 2000 have been repeatedly suspended in tight fiscal times leading some to say the Legislature pays selective attention to the will of the people. Supporters of I-728 and I-732 complain that rather than suspend these voter approved laws, lawmakers should instead suspend/repeal/alter I-1053 that requires a 2/3 vote of lawmakers to raise taxes . . . READ MORE

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Is it a tax or a fee?

Whether a government charge is a tax or a fee is of great importance under the state's requirement that tax increases receive a 2/3 vote for approval. Often the line between the two can be blurred, however, which is why it is good to have a bright line test to help clearly define if a proposed revenue increase is a tax or a fee. A recent ruling by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides a good cheat sheet to use. In a ruling yesterday declaring California's E-Waste Recycling Fee is in fact a tax and not a fee, GAO found . . . READ MORE

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tax increases on special session hearing agenda

Proposed tax increases will take center stage Wednesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee despite the promise from legislative leadership and the Governor that the special session would be focused on only those bills necessary for finishing the budget . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 25, 2011

State Auditor: Use competition for state printing jobs

State Auditor Brian Sonntag released a performance audit this morning of the State Printer and various agency print shops. According to the audit: "With state government facing significant financial challenges, questions have again been raised on what the state should do and can afford to do. These questions led our Office to look at several various programs and functions, including the Department of Printing. We concluded that a state-owned print shop is not a core function compared with educating children and providing for the health and safety of Washington citizens. But printing is a necessary support service to help state agencies prepare and distribute public information . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 22, 2011

Governor: Special session to start Tuesday at 9 a.m.

With the Legislature failing to finish its work on the 2011-13 budget during the 103 day session (lawmakers are adjourning today two days early), Governor Gregoire announced today she will be calling a special session to convene at 9 a.m. this coming Tuesday. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has already scheduled a 2:30 p.m. public hearing on several bills for Tuesday. The Governor said at a press conference today that legislative leadership has committed to limit the scope of bills considered to those agreed upon in the proclamation she plans to issue once they adjourn. Here is a copy of that proclamation . . . READ MORE

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Washington's Constitution undemocratic?

The 2011 budget debate has been framed by voters' approval of the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases with their 64% approval of I-1053 statewide. Voters have enacted or re-affirmed the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases four times: 1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010. Opponents of the supermajority requirement, however, continue to argue that supermajority requirements are undemocratic and lawmakers should be able to make tax decisions based on a simple majority vote. Though the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases is a statutory requirement, if supermajority restrictions are undemocratic wouldn't that also be true of constitutional restrictions . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How many NTIB bills are there?

If the Legislature were to call itself into a special session restricted to finishing work on the budget and those bills necessary to implement the budget (NTIB), how many bills would be in play? That's a question I've been trying to resolve but the answer is not as clear cut as I had hoped. According to staff for the House and Senate Ways and Means committees, a NTIB bill is generally a bill referenced in the budget that requires making a statutory change to achieve savings . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Special Session: Budget overtime or 30-day free-for-all?

Apparently 105 days won't be enough for the Legislature to finish the budget this year. Now that it is clear a special session will occur the only thing left in doubt is whether the Governor will call a special session or if lawmakers will call themselves back to Olympia to finish the job. The distinction between these two options is the difference between a limited special session focused only on adopting the budget and those bills necessary to implement the budget (NTIB) and the potential for a 30-day free-for-all where all the old bills that failed to move and any new bills introduced can be considered . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 15, 2011

House refuses to allow vote on bi-partisan workers' comp reform bill

Yesterday, the House refused to allow a vote on SB 5566, the Senate's bi-partisan bill that would allow for voluntary settlement agreements (VSA) in the state's workers' compensation system. This is a mechanism that 44 other states utilize to help keep system costs down. Enacting SB 5566 would save the Department of Labor and Industries about $1.2 billion over the next biennium and a quarter of a billion each year after that . . . READ MORE

Odd definition of legislative "transparency"

Usually when I see a bill that claims to increase legislative transparency I get excited that maybe the message is getting through. That is of course, unless it is on a 176 page striker to a title only bill, acted on at a 8 a.m. hearing, with the details not being made available until 9 p.m. the night before. Here is part of the intent section for the new text of HB 2020 . . . READ MORE

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Revenue (tax) bills continue to emerge in Legislature's last weeks

Legislators introduced Senate Bill 5945 today, which proposes a referendum to the voters to raise taxes on a variety of specific industries that some policymakers believe are benefiting from "tax preferences that lack such a statement or purpose, or were enacted under very different economic conditions than the conditions that prevail in 2011." Among the industries that would see their tax rate jump are . . . READ MORE

Did voters really mean 2/3 vote for ALL tax increases?

While April 15 is not in danger of losing its place as Tax Day on the calendar, Senate Democrats have chosen April 14 as the day they will introduce numerous tax increase bills. One of the bills is a proposed referendum to ask voters if they really meant that ALL tax increases should require a 2/3 vote of the Legislature . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Comparison of budget balance sheets

Around 7 p.m. last night the Senate's top budget writers released their proposal for the 2011-13 budget. The public hearing for the bill is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today. In a rare display of budget bipartisanship, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee gave a joint press conference to announce the details. Here is the video of the Senate budget roll-out . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Liquor reform bill introduced

With just a few weeks left of the 2011 Legislative Session, liquor reforms are taking front and center in the budget debate. The House budget assumes $300 million in new revenue by entering into a public-private partnership for the running of the state's liquor warehouse. Here are some of the still evolving details on that proposal. Today Senators Tom, Sheldon, Hobbs, Ericksen and Litzow introduced SB 5933 to privatize the state's prohibition era liquor monopoly . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 11, 2011

House Democrats Take Aim at Mortgage Interest Deduction and Out-of-State Shoppers

 Late in the game during this 2011 Legislative Session, the House Democrats (48 of them anyway) introduced HB 2078 which "significantly narrow[s] a tax deduction for banks and other financial institutions, and repeal[s] a sales tax exemption for nonresidents." This comes after last week's prolonged budget protests, some of whom were asking legislators to repeal most, if not all, tax breaks for businesses as an attempt to avoid further cuts to education and/or social programs . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 8, 2011

House's turn for "title only" bills

Last month we highlighted the introduction of 22 "title only" bills in the Senate. A title only bill is just that - the text is blank except for the title of the bill. Today was the House's turn for a burst of title only bills. Rep. Hunter is set to release 10 title only bills . . . READ MORE

Budget Language on Salmon Echoes WPC's Environmental Priorities Act

For the past two years, the Washington Policy Center has included the Environmental Priorities Act in our annual environmental recommendations to the legislature. In this year's "Fresh Start on the Environment" agenda, we again proposed the legislation that would use sound science and economics to prioritize those efforts providing the greatest environmental benefit for the available funding . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

House GOP proposes alternate budget

The House Republicans' top budget writers introduced an alternative budget proposal this morning for consideration at today's Ways and Means meeting. According to staff, it is the first time in recent memory (at least going back to 1995) that the minority party has proposed a complete budget. According to House Minority Leader DeBolt, however, this should not be seen as what the Republicans would propose if starting entirely from scratch. Instead he says it is what was possible operating within the box the majority party has framed the debate in (including the time-lines for action and review) . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Budget snap judgments

Notwithstanding the ill-advised decision to hold a public hearing only three hours after releasing the 472 page 2011-13 budget, Rep. Hunter deserves credit for producing a serious budget proposal. Though I am still slogging through line-by-line, none of the "felony gimmicks" the Treasurer or Governor warned against are present though there are a few "misdemeanors" that are cause for concern . . . READ MORE

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chopp waives 5-day notice requirement for budget hearing

At long last the House will propose its 2011-13 budget. If you are lucky you may even have time to read it before the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to take executive action on it and any pending amendments on April 6. You definitely won't have time to read it before the public hearing scheduled this Monday (April 4) at 3:30 unless you are the most accomplished of speed readers . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time to put all cards on the table

Tribal businesses in the state of Washington enjoy a competitive advantage over non-tribal private businesses.  Whether in the form of exemptions from unemployment insurance, business and occupation taxes, or workers’ compensation taxes, many tribal businesses are able to take advantage of a reduced regulatory environment. Nowhere is this exemplified more than in the gaming industry. In Washington, non-tribal card rooms and mini-casinos are subject to the full array of state and local taxes and are limited to the types of games they may offer . . . READ MORE

25 days left to avoid (un)special session

Lawmakers have only 25 days left to produce and adopt a balanced budget to avoid a special session. Unfortunately those "felony gimmicks" the State Treasurer and Governor continue to warn against have not been sworn off by all lawmakers . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Washington lawmakers consider permanent extension of temporary stadium taxes

Lawmakers in Washington are about to prove the old adage that there is no such thing as a temporary tax. They are on the verge of reauthorizing several taxes that, if left alone, would expire next year. Rep. Tina Orwall introduced HB 1997 to remove the expiration date on several temporary taxes imposed by the Legislature in 1995 to build the Seattle Mariner’s baseball stadium. The Legislature approved these taxes despite voter rejection of a ballot measure to provide public funding for the stadium. They also used an emergency clause on the tax proposal to deny the voters an opportunity to reject the taxes --- again. At the time lawmakers promised the public these taxes would be temporary. . . READ MORE

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trial balloons and budget rumors

Though we may still see legislative budget proposals this week, it is starting to look like lawmakers are freezing up under the pressure of writing a balanced budget. According to The Olympian: "It's too early to say cryonics is at play. But House budget writers are slipping from their schedule for releasing a two-year budget at the state Capitol in Olympia. And signs of movement are getting slower and slower . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 24, 2011

NCSL: Most states don't allow "title only" bills

This morning the Associated Press highlighted Sen. Murray's introduction of 22 title only bills. According to the article: "As state lawmakers push forward into tough budget negotiations, they are proposing a stack of 'title only' bills relating to a wide range of budget issues. Sen. Ed Murray, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, introduced 22 such bills, which contain only a brief - and often vague - description of what they would do. The measures proposed by the Seattle Democrat cover a broad scope of budget provisions, relating to everything from 'fiscal matters' and 'state government' to 'criminal justice' and 'higher education.' Lawmakers say title-only bills provide flexibility while helping them to avoid missing deadlines." A title only bill is just that - the text is blank except for the title of the bill . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

ESB 5566 would save L&I $1.2 billion next biennium

The revised fiscal note for ESB 5566 is in and is worth a review because it could save the state and businesses some serious money. First some background. Earlier this year Governor Gregoire kicked off the Session announcing various reforms to both the Unemployment Insurance system and Workers' Compensation. Her efforts were largely applauded by the business community, and mostly opposed by the labor community. Eventually, both sides agreed on some substantial unemployment tax relief and benefit extensions . . . READ MORE

Avalanche of "title only" bills introduced

In the blink of an eye the number of "title only" bills dropped during the 2011 Session went from 1 to 23. Sen. Murray today introduced 22 title only bills, including 4 that may be vehicles to increase taxes. On March 16, Rep. Dunshee introduced HB 2020 (Relating to funding capital projects) as a title only bill. A title only bill is just that - the text is blank except for the title of the bill . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 18, 2011

WI judge halts union law on transparency concerns

As we wrap up National Sunshine Week, a Wisconsin judge has issued a temporary restraining order against a controversial union reform law on grounds its adoption may have violated the state's open meetings law . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Revenue Forecast: $780 million hit

Citing "Geopolitical Uncertainties," the state's top economist projects a $780 million drop in Washington's forecast revenue. According to Dr. Arun Raha: "Recent geopolitical developments have cast yet another shadow over the economic recovery. The uncertainties around oil prices and the tragedy in Japan are combining with the slow housing market to hold us back . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Will the Legislature adopt a balanced budget?

As lawmakers prepare for the consensus bad news awaiting at tomorrow's revenue forecast, a number of troubling potential budget gimmicks have begun to surface to "balance" the budget. First was the trial balloon of borrowing to help close the gap. Then the possibility of creating a 25th budget month to kick the bills due further down the road. Now comes the proposal of simply not balancing the budget. Under state law the Governor is required to PROPOSE a balanced budget. The Legislature is under no obligation to ADOPT a balanced budget . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sunshine Week: “Legislative Transparency Act”

In honor of National Sunshine Week, below is model language to help put the people back in the legislative process. The draft language is a combination of our proposed legislative transparency constitutional amendment endorsed by the State Auditor and Attorney General and the changes we suggested for SB 5419. Even if our lawmakers don't feel the need to consider it, hopefully more accommodating elected officials in other states will see the benefit of providing their citizens adequate public notice of legislative activity . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Governor reaffirms: "No new taxes - I intend to abide by the will of the voters"

It is widely expected that next week's state revenue forecast will result in another drop in the state's budget outlook. Some are speculating the state's budget shortfall could be exacerbated by another eye-popping $2 billion. According to The Olympian: "The guessing is under way at the Capitol ahead of next week's quarterly revenue forecast: How low can it go? It's a game that gets played this time of year . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bill rejects Governor's union agreements

Though the Legislature hasn't shown much appetite (yet) to take back control of the budget concerning state employee compensation, based on a bill introduced today some Senators are ready to use the one tool they have left by rejecting the Governor's collective bargaining agreements with state unions . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Will House Abide by Senate's Workers' Comp Compromise?

This past weekend legislators in the Senate passed a workers' compensation reform bill that actually had some teeth to it. For years policymakers on both sides of the aisle have talked about reforming the state-run industrial insurance system in order to curtail the spiraling cost, which is passed onto both businesses and employees in the form of higher insurance premiums. But for years it seems nothing was getting done -- outside of a few studies that recommended task forces that recommended more studies . . . READ MORE

No public input needed for fast-tracked union bill

The House demonstrated last night how efficiently it could move priority legislation when the public is cut out of the process. HB 2011, introduced just this past Saturday, was the last bill acted on by the House last night and passed by a vote of 59-36. As we highlighted yesterday, HB 2011 would change the collective bargaining rules for employees of the Department of Corrections and was a priority of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE). No public hearing or committee review occurred on the bill before last night's floor action . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 7, 2011

Senate to local governments: "Transparency for thee but not for me"

The Senate just passed SB 5553 (48-1) requiring local governments to post details about their agendas online at least 72 hours before holding a public meeting. While this is a great development, especially with national Sunshine Week starting March 13, the vote is rife with irony in light of the Senate's refusal to take action on SB 5419 requiring increased transparency for legislative public hearings on certain bills. The message from the Legislature to local governments concerning open and transparent government continues to be "do what we say and not what we do . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 4, 2011

Beware the stray decimal point when crafting tax increases

What's the difference between a proposed tax increase in the millions versus billions? A misplaced decimal point. At least I hope that's the problem with HB 2006 introduced yesterday. Since my colleague Brandon Houskeeper has written extensively about drug take back programs such as those proposed by HB 2006, I was curious about his thoughts on the bill. I was quite surprised when he asked if the sponsors were trying to balance the budget on the backs of drug producers . . . READ MORE

Friday, February 25, 2011

Senators send Majority Leader letter about transparency abuses

This has not been the Senate's best week when it comes to legislative transparency. First the Senate Government Operations Committee chose not to act on SB 5419 (legislative transparency) by the first cutoff despite the support of the State Auditor and Attorney General. Then even lawmakers were kept in the dark about the bills being heard at public hearings. As we highlighted earlier this week Sen. Honeyford (ranking member of the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee) ultimately walked out of Monday's hearing after his complaints were ignored that the Committee was moving on substitutes and holding a public hearing without adequate notice for either the public or members . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Legislative transparency bill not dead yet

Straight out of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the legislative grim reaper is making the rounds this morning calling for committees to bring out their dead bills. Yesterday marked the first legislative cutoff for bills. Fortunately, however, not all bills are dead yet. Although the Senate Government Operations Committee chose not to act on SB 5419, if at least 25 Senators believe this important legislative transparency reform is worth additional consideration they can relieve the Committee of the bill and put it on the Senate floor . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

States need Medicaid flexibility

As states across the country struggle to balance their budgets perhaps no single issue is hampering their options more than the federal restrictions of the Medicaid program. This is why we teamed up with Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Vice Chair of the Republican Conference) to write this op-ed in today's Seattle Times on the need for Congress to provide states Medicaid flexibility . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hearing on legislative transparency bill

The Senate Government Operations Committee heard public testimony this morning on SB 5419 to improve legislative transparency. The State Auditor and the Attorney General's Office were among those signing in support of the proposal. Due to the length of the testimony on a different bill, public comment was limited to one minute on SB 5419. Here is the brief video of the three individuals that testified (myself included) . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Examples of legislative transparency good and bad

We've been a frequent critic of how the legislature conducts itself when it comes to being transparent so when good news develops it is something we look forward to reporting. This past week the legislature decide to change its process for providing notice of public hearings on draft and substitute bills . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How about public hearings for the public?

One of the great things about our democracy and legislative process is the ability for citizens to testify before their lawmakers and offer their thoughts about policies that may soon impact their lives. Of course, providing for public hearings to facilitate this exchange is only as meaningful as the details provided to the public beforehand . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 31, 2011

Structural reforms for a sustainable state budget

A combination of past spending increases and a historic economic downturn has left lawmakers in Olympia facing difficult choices to reset state government. Though tax revenues dropped substantially for the 2009-11 budget, they are projected to increase by $4.5 billion for the 2011-13 budget. While this should be cause for relief, lawmakers for years have been spending more than taxpayers provided, creating a structural budget gap that now threatens important public programs. This past overspending was unsustainable on its own, but was exacerbated by the “great recession" . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 28, 2011

House adopts budget timeout rule

The House has taken a small step towards more transparency with the passage of its rules this morning. According to HR 4610: "Rule 12. (A) BUDGET BILLS. No final passage vote may be taken on an operating budget, transportation budget, or capital budget bill until twenty-four (24) hours after the bill is placed on the third reading calendar. The twenty-four (24) hour requirement does not apply to conference reports, which are governed by Joint Rule 24, or to bills placed on the third reading calendar by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the members present . . . READ MORE

"Dedicated" tax and user-fees need real protections

During her 2011 State of the State Address Governor Gregoire said, "Let's adopt a user pays policy so that when only a few benefit from the service, they pay for it." This market-based government funding policy received a lot of attention at the Governor's Budget Transformation Committee meetings which I participated in. Here is idea number 34 from the Committee's non-consensus report . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Senator proposes elimination of OSPI as elected office

Earlier this month Governor Gregoire proposed major reorganization of the state's education system, including changes to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). One of the biggest questions under her proposal is should OSPI remain an elected office or instead be appointed by the Governor. Under bills introduced by Senator Tom, OSPI would become an appointed office. SJR 8212 and SB 5522 would implement the restructuring of OSPI as a cabinet agency . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lawmakers address need to improve legislative transparency

Based on a bill introduced in the Senate yesterday, it appears the Attorney General's and State Auditor's call for improved legislative transparency is not falling on deaf ears. Earlier this month Attorney General Rob McKenna and State Auditor Brian Sonntag wrote a letter to legislators encouraging them to adopt our proposal for a constitutional amendment to improve legislative transparency . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Collective bargaining/competitive contracting reforms proposed

It looks like the 2002 law granting state employee unions the authority to collectively bargain solely with the Governor is being targeted for review under several bills proposed in the Senate. Under the 2002 Civil Service Reform Act, state unions no longer 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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Enhanced constitutional savings account proposed

While it may seem strange to talk about enhancing the state’s rainy-day account in the current economic climate, steps should be taken to ensure that once the economy begins to improve the state makes adequate savings to help smooth out the ups and downs of revenue collections. Similar constitutional amendments proposed by Senators Zarelli, Brown and Pridemore and Representative Bailey would do just this . . . READ MORE

HJR 4200: Protecting the people’s right of referendum

The House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee held a public hearing this morning on a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 4200) to require a supermajority vote of the legislature to enact an "emergency clause" on a bill. Bills enacted with an emergency clause take effect immediately and deny the people their right of referendum on those proposals. Striking an appropriate balance, appropriation bills (operating, capital and transportation) would be exempt from the supermajority requirement proposed by HJR 4200 allowing budget bills to take effect immediately and not be subject to referendum. Along with the prime sponsor, Representative Bailey, I was the only one to testify on the proposal. Here is the short video of her testimony and my request that the committee adopt HJR 4200 to protect the people's right of referendum . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Constitutional supermajority requirement for tax increases proposed

 If Representatives Haler and Klippert are successful in securing passage of HJR 4208, Washingtonians may finally be able to rest assured that tax increases will require a supermajority vote of the legislature. According to the proposed constitutional amendment . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 17, 2011

State Auditor issues "Call to Action"

State Auditor Brian Sonntag has created a website detailing his 2011 State Government Performance Review that "offers ideas to make Washington state government work better, faster, and cost less." The performance review website provides recommendations in four areas . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 14, 2011

Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers working on Medicaid block grant reform

Last 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 $5 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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Liquor privatization referendum introduced

It looks like the failure of Initiatives 1100 and 1105 will not be the last word on liquor privatization in Washington. Senators Sheldon, Rockefeller and King have introduced a bill that would send voters a referendum to close the state run liquor monopoly and replace it with privately run franchise stores. Here are some of the details from SB 5111 . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

McKenna and Sonntag call for legislative transparency reforms

Attorney General Rob McKenna and State Auditor Brian Sonntag, two of the state’s strongest advocates for transparent and accountable government, have written a letter to legislators encouraging them to adopt the Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) proposal for a constitutional amendment to improve legislative transparency. Their letter reads . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 10, 2011

Budget Snapshot

Today marks the beginning of what will hopefully be less than 105 days of the Legislature being in session. The first, second and third topic on the agenda will be the state budget. A combination of past spending decisions and a historic economic downturn has left lawmakers in Olympia facing many difficult choices to reset state spending. Though tax revenues dropped substantially for the 2009-11 budget, they are projected to increase by $4.5 billion for the 2011-13 budget. While this should be cause for celebration, lawmakers for years have been spending more than taxpayers were providing, creating a structural budget gap that now threatens popular programs . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 7, 2011

Who decides if there is an emergency?

To provide a check on the legislature, the state constitution grants the people the power to veto unwanted legislation through the use of a referendum. Despite this protection, a simple majority of lawmakers can push through controversial legislation while denying the people their right of referendum by simply saying there is an emergency . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Time to reduce number of statewide elected offices

By proposing major reorganization of the state's education system yesterday, Governor Gregoire has provided the opportunity to discuss the broader issue of the rationale for the state's nine separately elected statewide officials (not counting the Supreme Court). Responding to the Governor's education reform plan, Randy Dorn (Head of OSPI) had this reaction (in-part) . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Governor Proposes $1 billion of Savings in Unemployment Ins. and Workers' Comp.

Governor Gregoire today announced some changes to both the state's Unemployment Insurance and Workers' Compensation systems in order to pass up to $1 billion in savings on to the business and employee community. This announcement comes in the wake of the Department of Labor and Industries (which runs workers' compensation) and the Employment Security Department (runs unemployment insurance) announcing substantial tax increases for 2011 . . . READ MORE

U.S. House poised to adopt transparency reforms

 When the 112th Congress convenes tomorrow the members will adopt their governing rules to help guide the legislative process. Among the changes being considered in the House are multiple transparency reforms to help put the public back in the legislative debate. According to the new Republican House majority, under the rules Committees must . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 3, 2011

WSDOT sells ad space on public website

According to federal rules, government agencies cannot sell advertising space on their websites. However, WSDOT officials have found a way around the feds and will now sell ads on some of the state ferry's websites. What is the loophole . . . READ MORE