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