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