Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Budget priorities - compensation increases?

In my post earlier today I broke down Governor Gregoire's proposed tax increases. In her document explaining her Book 1 Budget (no tax increases), she said she proposed these tax increases because not doing so would result in . . . READ MORE

Gregoire's lame duck tax increase proposal

Taxes took center stage today in Olympia. Out-going Governor Gregoire released her last budget proposal along with her suggested tax increases. With Governor-elect Inslee's promise to veto tax increases and the new Senate "Coalition Caucus" saying it plans to help implement Inslee's no-new-taxes agenda, the life span of Gregoire's tax plan may be shorter than previous lame duck proposals. Gregoire's tax increase proposal would . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Potential Democrat sponsors for supermajority for taxes constitutional amendment

With almost all of the legislative Republicans on the record in support of providing the voters an opportunity to consider a supermajority for taxes constitutional amendment, are there any Democrats that believe the voters should have this chance? Based on the results of our legislative survey we know that at least Rep. Hurst (D-31), Sen. Sheldon (D-35) and the new Senate "Coalition Caucus" leader Sen. Tom (D-48) think that after the voters' fifth approval for this policy a constitutional amendment should be sent to the voters. Judging solely from the legislative district breakdown for the vote on I-1185, here are the other potential Democrat sponsors, assuming of course they support the position of their constituents . . . READ MORE

Monday, December 10, 2012

Comparing late ballots in OR and WA

In response to our recommendation that lawmakers act on retiring Secretary of State Sam Reed's proposal to change Washington's postmark ballot deadline to Oregon's 8 p.m. election day deadline (with exceptions for military and overseas voters), some have expressed concern that doing so would reduce voter participation and disenfranchise voters . . . READ MORE

Friday, December 7, 2012

Michigan shows need for Washington legislative transparency reforms

When I saw this headline today out of Michigan I didn't think the article would become the poster child for legislative transparency reforms, but that's exactly what the story demonstrates: Right-to-work bills pass in Lansing. According to the article, the Michigan House and Senate adopted a bill to make the state the nation's 24th Right to Work. While this is an important development and a debate worth having, the terms of that "debate" are what caught my attention . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Voters' mandate on tax increases

What constitutes a clear mandate from the voters? Let's consider the electoral history of the state's supermajority for taxes requirement. Is it going five for five at the ballot box? Check (passed in 1993, 1998, 2007, 2010 and 2012). Is it nearly 20 years of consistent support? Check. Is it receiving the highest % support of any other statewide measure or office? Check (64%). Is it receiving the most total number of votes of any other statewide measure or office? Check (1,892,969). Is it passing in every county in the state? Check. Is it passing in 44 of the state's 49 Legislative Districts (90%)? Check . . . READ MORE

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Average Washington State Pension Benefits

According to the State Actuary’s 2011 valuation report of Washington’s pension system, the average annual state pension for all plans is $21,493 (weighted by headcount). Here is a summary of the average annual pensions for the state’s major plans . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Budget outlook released for 2013-15

When the Legislature adopted the state's first balanced budget requirement last session (SB 6636) it also required a standardized 4 year budget outlook to be published. Today's revenue forecast saw the release of the first official 4 year budget outlook required under SB 6636 . . . READ MORE

58 lawmakers support letting voters decide supermajority tax issue

If the election results hold (still 178,863 ballots left to count) there will be at least 58 lawmakers in Olympia next January that answered yes to this question: "If Initiative 1185 is adopted, would you vote to allow the people of Washington to have the opportunity to vote on a state constitution amendment to require a supermajority vote in the legislature to raise taxes?" READ MORE

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Olympia: Can you hear taxpayers now?

Not only did voters for the fifth time in the past twenty years approve a supermajority for taxes requirement but they also are recommending that lawmakers repeal the two tax increases they adopted last session. Just in case a translation for these votes is really needed, lawmakers should focus their attention on balancing the 2013-15 without tax increases . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Newspapers call for election reform

As Americans head to the polls today, Washingtonians who haven't voted yet should drop their ballot off at designated drop sites. Although our ballots only need to be postmarked by today's deadline, election officials advise instead to drop off your ballots versus take the chance on the mail today to ensure they are eligible for counting. Our neighbors in Oregon also are voting exclusively by mail. Unlike Washington, however, Oregon's ballots need to be received by 8 p.m. tonight versus postmarked . . . READ MORE

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sam Reed forecasts what to expect on Election Night

Retiring Secretary of State Sam Reed was a guest on TVW's Inside Olympia last night discussing what to expect on Election Night next week. According to Reed . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lawmakers schedule LEAN work session

Whether it is at the forefront of the race for Governor or the focus of a recent 2-day state conference led by Governor Gregoire, LEAN is taking Washington by storm. Now it looks like the Legislature is getting in the mix. The House General Government Appropriations & Oversight Committee will hold a work session on state LEAN activities on November 29 . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Moving away from "Bureaucratic Centered Health Care"

At her press conference this morning announcing state efforts to "breakdown the silos" between the state's dual eligible population for Medicaid and Medicare, Governor Gregoire said we need to move away from "Bureaucratic Centered Health Care" and instead focus our efforts on "Patient Centered Health Care." We couldn't agree more. In fact, that is the focus of a book written by WPC's Health Care Analyst Dr. Roger Stark titled "The Patient-Centered Solution: Our Health Care Crisis, How It Happened, and How We Can Fix It" . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Polls point to weeks of waiting for election results

Thankfully for the sanity of Americans across the country, Washington isn't a battle ground state for the Presidency that could determine the outcome of the Electoral College. One can only imagine the conspiracy theories and wall to wall coverage of TV talking heads exploding as vote results from Washington trickled in little by little, first days and then weeks after Election Day as the country anxiously waits to learn who the next President would be . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gregoire kicks off state LEAN conference

Governor Gregoire this morning opened a 2-day state conference on LEAN and the impact this tool is having in Washington. The Governor spoke to an overflow crowd of state employees (I was among those standing in the back) imploring them to help Washington cement LEAN in state practice . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 18, 2012

2/3 for taxes more popular than Obama in Washington

Based on the results of a KCTS 9 Washington Poll, there is a force in Washington state more popular than the President is - a supermajority vote requirement for tax increases. According to the Poll . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gregoire on tax increases circa 2008

It is very likely that the subject of tax increases will come up at tonight's gubernatorial debate. Both candidates have strongly stated they do not support tax increases though they've come down on opposite sides of the state's 20 year old law requiring a supermajority vote for tax increases.
Not surprisingly the state's 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases was a topic of the last election for Governor in 2008. Here is an exchange from 2008 between radio host Dori Monson and Governor Gregoire on that issue . . . READ MORE

Time to truly settle debate on supermajority for taxes

In a few days, Washingtonians will start to vote by mail on Initiative 1185. The measure would reaffirm the nearly 20-year-old state law requiring that tax increases pass with a two-thirds vote in the Legislature or else receive direct voter approval . . . READ MORE

Monday, October 8, 2012

Updated legislative tax survey results

Last month the Washington Policy Center published the results of our legislative tax survey that asked legislators and candidates (including gubernatorial) the following question: "If Initiative 1185 is adopted, would you vote to allow the people of Washington to have the opportunity to vote on a state constitution amendment to require a supermajority vote in the legislature to raise taxes?" After the results were published we received requests from some that missed the deadline to be included in the totals. Also responding "Yes" after the deadline were five additional Republicans and three Democrats . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Did Colorado voters run away from tax restriction requirement?

Perhaps by virtue of its inclusion in the 2012 Voters' Guide the following claim is making the rounds to argue against Initiative 1185: "Measures like 1185 may sound like a way to protect taxpayers, but Colorado passed a similar measure with disastrous results. It cut off funding for schools, roads, and immunizations for kids, and caused so many problems that Colorado’s Republican Governor proposed a measure to suspend it, which voters passed." So did Colorado's Republican Governor propose and voters adopt a suspension of the tax restriction? No . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bellevue Chamber of Commerce endorses I-1185

The endorsements for Initiative 1185 continue to roll in with the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce adding its voice in support. According to Lincoln Vander Veen, Public Affairs Manager for the Chamber, “The Bellevue Chamber voted last week to support I-1185 and has supported the two-thirds majority requirement since I-601 in 1993.” I had the opportunity to address the Chamber's policy committee on why it should support I-1185 . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Does the Governor have a right to secrecy?

Based on state law the answer is no but the State Supreme Court was asked today to decide if the Governor has a constitutional right to secrecy via an executive privilege (a.k.a Richard Nixon's claim) to deny access to public records. The case being considered was brought against the Governor by the Freedom Foundation . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Supermajority for Taxes Legislative Survey Results

At least 101 legislators and candidates for the Legislature would support putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide if taxes increases should require a supermajority vote for approval, according to a survey conducted by Washington Policy Center (WPC) . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Will voters support tax increase for public-employee compensation improvements?

With news that state employee unions are on the verge of approving their 2013-15 contracts with Governor Gregoire, an interesting questions comes to mind: Will voters support increasing taxes to pay for public-employee compensation improvements? While these numbers will change based on caseloads and the remaining revenue forecasts for the year (one is tomorrow), the most recent Office of Financial Management (OFM) 4-yr budget outlook projects a $1.043 billion budget shortfall for 2013-15 (despite projected revenue growth of $1.5 billion). The same outlook also projects $1.033 billion in compensation related issues for public employees. Here are the projected compensation details for 2013-15 . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Supermajority Vote Requirements Are a Basic Part of Washington's Democracy

Is Washington’s state constitution undemocratic? Some opponents of supermajority vote requirements seem to think so. Voters have enacted or re-affirmed the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases four times: 1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010. They are being asked do so for the fifth time this year with Initiative 1185. 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 . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Time to end the debate once and for all on Washington’s supermajority for taxes requirement

The Tacoma News Tribune ran my op-ed this morning calling for the Legislature to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment to require a supermajority vote to raise taxes. From the op-ed . . . READ MORE

Monday, September 10, 2012

Recommendations of Commission on State Debt and SJR 8221

Concerned about the growing share of the state operating budget going to pay debt service and therefore not available for other programs, lawmakers in 2011 created a Commission on State Debt by passing Senate Bill 5181. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 40-1 and the House by a vote of 79-14. As noted by the bill report and text of SB 5181 . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Estimated fiscal impact of SJR 8221 (Reducing Washington’s Constitutional Debt Limit)

This November voters will consider Senate Joint Resolution 8221 to reduce Washington’s constitutional debt limit over a twenty year period (2014-2034) from nine to eight percent while changing the calculation of revenue for purposes of determining the state debt limit. The proposed constitutional amendment would implement the recommendations of the Commission on State Debt. Servicing the state’s debt currently consumes nearly $2 billion of the $31 billion operating budget, or approximately 6% of spending . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Initiative 1185: To Affirm the Two-thirds Vote Requirement for Tax Increases

In November the people of Washington will vote on Initiative 1185. The measure would reaffirm the nearly 20-year-old state law requiring that tax increases pass with a two-thirds vote in the legislature or receive voter approval. Washington Policy Center has long recommended a two-thirds vote requirement protection for taxpayers and believes such a policy would serve the public interest by limiting the financial burden state government places on the people . . . READ MORE

Put Legislature back in charge of prioritizing state employee compensation

The Olympian this morning has an update on the status of the state's 2013-15 union negotiations that outgoing Governor Gregoire is finalizing (binding) for the next Governor . . . READ MORE

Thursday, August 30, 2012

State ramps up LEAN efforts

With only a few months left in her term as Governor, Gregoire is continuing full speed ahead with her efforts to cement LEAN management principles in state practice. Adding to her prior LEAN efforts the Governor will keynote the Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference on October 23/24 in Tacoma. Today the Department of Enterprise Services (DES) initiated a RFQ for LEAN Consultant Services . . . READ MORE

WA Supreme Court rules against tribes in gas tax case

The Washington State Supreme Court just issued their decision in the tribal gas tax tax, siding with the plaintiff and sending the case back to the trial court to proceed without the tribes as a party. 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. The compacts allow the tribes to spend the money on non-highway purposes, a clear violation of the 18th Amendment. A group called the Automotive United Trades Organization (AUTO) challenged the compacts and a lower court dismissed the case because the tribes had sovereign immunity. AUTO appealed to the Supreme Court . . .  READ MORE

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

State officials start process to lobby Pentagon on Washington State military spending

With the threat of national defense sequestrations looming, Washington State officials are starting efforts to lobby the Pentagon on the next potential shoe to drop: Base realignments and closure. Yesterday the Office of Financial Management released a Request For Proposals (RFP) to . . . READ MORE

Monday, August 27, 2012

Association of Washington Business files legal brief in support of supermajority vote for taxes law

Undeterred by four straight losses at the ballot box (2010, 2007, 1998 and 1993), opponents of Washington's nearly 20 year old supermajority vote requirement for tax increases are once again trying to have the voter-approved requirement declared unconstitutional. In response to this latest legal challenge the Association of Washington Business (AWB) has filed a legal brief defending the law. Among the points AWB makes . . . READ MORE

Friday, August 24, 2012

Initiative 1185 impact on road tolls

There has been some concern expressed that under Initiative 1185 (supermajority for tax increases), a highway or bridge toll increase would be subject to the same two-thirds vote requirement as tax increases. Nothing in the text of the measure supports this interpretation, however. Initiative 1185 does not change the relationship between fee and tax increases in current law. Lt. Governor Brad Owen, as President of the Senate, has already issued parliamentary rulings that road tolls are fees and not subject to the two-thirds vote requirement.The Office of Financial Management (OFM) also defines tolls as fees, not taxes . . . READ MORE

Private Operation Could Help Keep Washington’s State Parks Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency

Thanks to a budget proviso directing the Washington State Parks Commission to develop a report showing how the agency plans "to make the parks system self-supporting," the future of state parks has taken center stage in recent weeks. One of the many interesting details in the State Parks Commission's report was this section . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tax restrictions across the country

Initiative 1185 will provide Washingtonians this November the opportunity to vote for the fifth time in support of the requirement for tax increases to receive a supermajority vote in the Legislature. Including Washington, 18 states currently have some form of restriction on legislative tax increases. I recently contacted the budget office for every state to find out if there were any restrictions on tax increases. The following information was self-reported by the states . . . READ MORE

Voting on a shorter ballot

If you're one of those who likes to wait till the last possible moment to place your ballot in the mail your time is running out. Ballots need to be postmarked by 8 p.m. tonight. Once the "polls" close, we can begin the long wait for results to trickle in over the coming weeks. According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, however, the vast majority of states require mail-in ballots to actually be received by Election Day . . . READ MORE

Monday, August 6, 2012

OFM releases 4-year budget outlook

Judging from the initial budget numbers being projected for 2013-15, the first legislative session for the next Governor will look a lot like the past few legislative sessions: focused on realigning state spending within forecasted revenue. According to numbers released today by the Office of Financial Management (OFM), budget writers are anticipating $1.5 billion more in revenue to help write the 2013-15 budget. This expected revenue increase is based on the state's June Revenue forecast which was adopted with the caution that there is a 40% chance that this increase could be wiped-out depending on economic developments in Europe and actions (or lack thereof) in Congress . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Official descriptions for non-binding tax advisory votes

The Attorney General's Office has submitted the short descriptions for the two non-binding advisory votes that will appear on the November ballot as required by Initiative 960 for tax increases not first submitted to the voters for approval. Here are the short descriptions . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

AGO defines what "within available funds" means

Earlier this year State Auditor candidate Rep. Mark Miloscia (D) and Secretary of State candidate Sen. Jim Kastama (D) asked the Attorney General's Office to review the decision by the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to advise agencies to not comply with a state requirement to undergo a quality management assessment . . . READ MORE

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Voters should have opportunity to consider at least one tax increase advisory vote this fall

When adopting for the third time the state's supermajority requirement for tax increases in 2007 with the passage of Initiative 960, voters also approved the requirement for a non-binding advisory vote for any tax increase not first sent to the voters for ratification. This legal requirement means voters should have the opportunity to consider at least one tax increase advisory vote this fall . . . READ MORE

Friday, July 20, 2012

Voters will once again have chance to approve supermajority requirement for tax increases

The Secretary of State's Office has certified I-1185 for the November ballot. If approved by voters, I-1185 will mark the fifth time in the last 20 years that voters have adopted the requirement for tax increases to receive a supermajority vote or voter approval. Here is the track record for the state 2/3 vote requirement for taxes policy at the ballot . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Letter to Congress: Don't jump off fiscal cliff and take the rest of us down with you

Raise your hand if you thought one of the key strategies in Congress this fall would be the possibility of diving head first over the "fiscal cliff" the Congressional Budget Office warned about? Me neither. Yet that is exactly where we stand today as reported by the Seattle Times . . . READ MORE

Friday, July 13, 2012

Will state Medicaid expansion lead to tax increases?

While the debate continues over the scope of the tax increases in the federal health care law, a state level tax could be in store for Washingtonians if lawmakers decide to expand Medicaid under the new discretion granted by the recent Supreme Court ruling. A recent Urban Institute report commissioned by the Office of Financial Management estimated the "state share of spending" for Medicaid under the federal law (including the expansion) would grow from $2.66 billion in 2013 to $3.81 billion in 2019 - an increase of $1.15 billion or a 43% increase . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Medicaid expansion/block grants discussed at WPC health care conference

Though somewhat lost in the background of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the federal health care law, the Court's decision to give states discretion on whether to pursue the law's expansion of Medicaid could have the biggest impact on state budgets going forward. The Supreme Court ruled . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quotes from today's 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on the federal health care law

Don't have time to read the full 193 pages from today's 5-4 Supreme Court decision? Here are some pull quotes from the opinions . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Caseload forecast gives budget slightly more wiggle room

Lawmakers received some good news today with the state's caseload forecast adding approximately $56 million to the minuscule budget ending fund balance. Had the caseload forecast instead gone the other way and resulted in an increase of $56 million in costs, the balance sheet for only the general fund would have been a negative $33 million . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Judge: 'You're telling me a court in this state has no right to look into whether the Legislature followed the law?'

If the fact a Judge had to ask this question is troubling to you, the response by the state won't make you feel any better. As reported by the Tri-City Herald on yesterday's roll-your-own cigarette tax hearing . . . READ MORE

Monday, June 25, 2012

Are laws binding on the Legislature?

Based on a state brief in the roll-your-own cigarette "tax" lawsuit being heard today at 2 p.m. in Franklin County,  lawmakers may be able to ignore a law without first repealing it by passing a new law. It looks like this means that even if the Supreme Court were to eventually settle the constitutionality of the supermajority requirement for tax increases, if a future Legislature were to pass a tax increase in violation of that law without first repealing it, such action would appear to be deemed appropriate by the Attorney General's Office. This novel argument epitomizes the need for the people to be provided the opportunity to vote on constitutional supermajority vote requirements for tax increases . . . READ MORE

Friday, June 22, 2012

OFM considering sole-source contract for federal health care law communications strategy

Next week the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the fate of the controversial federal health care law. With the Court's ruling less than a week a way it was interesting to see the following sole-source contract notice posted yesterday by the Office of Financial Management (OFM) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 21, 2012

State Auditor and Secretary of State candidates unhappy with state budget office

State Auditor candidate Rep. Mark Miloscia (D) and Secretary of State candidate Sen. Jim Kastama (D) are unhappy with the decision by the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to advise agencies to not comply with a state requirement to undergo a quality management assessment. Rep. Miloscia and Sen. Kastama have asked the Attorney General's Office to review OFM's action and provide an official opinion on the legality of the decision . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Budget remains on life support through at least September

The economic outlook from today's state revenue forecast was virtually unchanged from the expectations in February providing taxpayers with good and bad news about the health of the state's budget. The "good" news is state economic activity only reduced expected revenues for 2011-13 by $16 million. The bad news is lawmakers left a minuscule budget ending fund balance and there remains a 40% possibility that forecasted revenue will come in $1.3 billion lower than expected before the biennium ends . . . READ MORE

Friday, June 15, 2012

One way or another Supreme Court will eventually rule on 2/3 for taxes

While everyone is focused on the House Democrats' lawsuit challenging the 18 year-old voter-approved supermajority requirement for tax increases, a new lawsuit filed today could be the one that actually forces the Supreme Court to finally rule on this issue. As reported by the Tacoma News Tribune . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

OFM sends agencies instructions for 2013-15 budget

Last week the Office of Financial Management (OFM) sent state agencies instructions for building Governor Gregoire's last budget proposal (assuming no special sessions or across-the-board budget cuts beforehand) due this December for the 2013-15 budget. OFM Director Marty Brown warned agencies . . . READ MORE

Monday, June 11, 2012

Editorial coverage of 2/3 for taxes ruling

Responding to the recent King County Superior Court ruling calling into question the 18 year-old voter-approved supermajority requirement for tax increases, Initiative 1185 sponsor Tim Eyman writes in this op-ed (in-part) . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Legislative use of emergency clause drops in 2012; constitutional protections still needed

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. According to the Secretary of State, “The referendum allows citizens, through the petition process, to refer acts of the legislature to the ballot before they become law.” This power applies to any bill adopted by the legislature except those that include an “emergency clause.” An emergency clause states that a bill is exempt from repeal by referendum because the bill is, “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, support of the state government and its existing public institutions.” The use of the emergency clause allows bills to take effect immediately once signed by the governor . . . READ MORE

Friday, June 1, 2012

State liquor monopoly ends

It may have taken nearly 80 years, 1,128,904 voters (59%) and 5 State Supreme Court Justices but Washington's prohibition-era government monopoly on the sale of liquor has finally ended . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Supreme Court will have another shot at the four-time voter-approved 2/3 requirement for tax increases

In a decision that guarantees the state's 18 year old voter-approved 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases will remain at the forefront of the public debate, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller ruled today the tax protection requirement is unconstitutional. This means the state Supreme Court one way or another will finally be forced to rule on the issue instead of punting as it has done in the past (most recently in 2007 and 2009). At the same time, Mr. Tim Eyman is gathering signatures on I-1185 to provide voters this fall with their fifth opportunity to approve the 2/3 vote requirement for tax increases . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Open letter from state Supreme Court Justices to voters: Were you confused by I-1183? (satire)

Dear Voters, Last November 59% of you voted to end the state's prohibition era monopoly on liquor sales while creating a 21st-century liquor regulatory system enforced by the government. Opponents of this change argued last June that the ballot title for I-1183 should use the word "taxes" instead of "fees" to talk about the revenues raised to pay for public safety. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy ruled, however, that . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Final budget stands only $46 million away from deficit

To paraphrase Dirty Harry: I know what you're thinking. "Did lawmakers truly balance the budget and build in enough flexibility to deal with economic turmoil in Europe and an uncertain U.S. economy, or are we one forecast away from another special session?" Seeing how this is a $31.1 billion budget, balanced using accounting changes and reversions while leaving only a $46 million unrestricted ending fund balance, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, taxpayer? . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

State union negotiations begin tomorrow on 2013-15 contracts

Governor Gregoire will begin negotiations with state employee unions tomorrow (May 2) to determine the terms of the 2013-15 state union contracts. These 2013-15 Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) are to be finalized by October 1 of this year - a month before the next Governor is chosen. Based on the 2002 law that granted state employee unions exclusive bargaining rights with the Governor, a CBA is to be submitted to the Office of Financial Management (OFM) by October 1. So what does this all mean for the next Governor? Short of the new contracts being declared financially unfeasible by OFM after the November revenue forecast, the only shot a Governor Inslee or McKenna will have at changing the terms of the 2013-15 CBA will be if the Legislature rejects them . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lawmakers assume agencies will spend $120 million less than authorized

When is a budget cut not a budget cut? When agencies still have the authority to spend money but lawmakers assume agencies won't spend all of it. This budget "reversion" philosophy isn't built entirely on blind faith, however, but on historical trends. Though the 2011-13 balance sheet shows total spending of $31.121 billion, the actual budgeted authority for agency spending is $31.241 billion. This is because the 2011-13 balance sheet assumes $120 million in reversions based on historical experience of actual agency spending, meaning the Legislature expects agencies will under spend their budgeted authority resulting in expected spending of $31.121 billion . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 20, 2012

Snapshot of state operating budget spending history

This table reflects the 2012 supplemental budget as adopted by the Legislature . . . READ MORE

Summary of K-12 health insurance bill

Showing it's never too late (or early) for lawmakers to come to agreement on bill language, during the early hours of the 2nd Special Session of 2012 a compromise was reached on SB 5940 (Regarding reforms to school employee benefits purchasing). The enacted version adopted 53-45 in the House and 25-20 in the Senate requires new reporting requirements for K-12 health insurance costs while providing a carrot and stick approach to reducing costs in the system . . . READ MORE

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gregoire will set terms of 2013-15 state union contracts

When it comes to determining the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) with state employee unions, there is no such thing as a lame duck Governor in Washington. Even though Governor Gregoire is not running for re-election and come January 2013 we'll have either Governor Inslee or McKenna at the helm, Gregoire will finalize the state's 2013-15 CBAs by October 1 of this year - a month before the next Governor is chosen. Based on the 2002 law that granted state employee unions exclusive bargaining rights with the Governor, a CBA is to be submitted to the Office of Financial Management (OFM) by October 1 . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Impact of pension reform deal

One of the most contentious proposals the Legislature considered this year was the plan to reform the state's pension system. The compromise bill ultimately agreed to (SB 6378) was adopted by a vote of 56-42 in the House and 27-22 in the Senate. Initial estimates show the reforms of SB 6378 will save approximately $1.3 billion over 25 years . . . READ MORE

GMAP fireworks

This morning's GMAP (Government Management Accountability and Performance) meeting was a good example of why I love this process. The hands-on executive management takes government off auto-pilot and forces agencies to be reflective and responsive to the performance expectations of the Governor. My hope is that the next Governor will continue GMAP and not let this management tool fall by the wayside . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From near last to almost first on state balanced budget requirement

Starting with the 2017-19 budget, Washington will have one of the toughest balanced budget requirements in the country, assuming lawmakers don't amend or repeal the statutory protections created by SB 6636 . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 16, 2012

Editorial wrap up of budget agreement

Here is a snap shot of how the state budget agreement is playing across the state . . . READ MORE

Friday, April 13, 2012

How a bill SHOULD become a law

Based on an email update from Washington Education Association (WEA) President Mary Lindquist, it looks like Washington school children will soon be learning a new version of "how a bill becomes a law." Here is what she told WEA members . . . READ MORE

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Things were thrown in the budget deal at the last moment...

Interesting compare and contrast between the Governor's last two press conference on the budget deal. The first clip is from her April 11 early morning statements about calling the 2nd Special Session and no one needing to worry about additional time to review the details in the budget because there weren't any "surprises:" . . . READ MORE

Evolution of the 2012 supplemental budget

Here is the evolution of the 2012 supplemental budget . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Budget balance sheet has lawmakers rooting for Spain and increased oil supply

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water I saw the balance sheet for the compromise budget . . . READ MORE

201 days later we have a budget and structural reforms

Though it took an early morning 2nd Special Session, lawmakers finally approved a revised 2011-13 budget but more importantly adopted several significant structural reforms. 201 days ago the Governor held a press conference calling on lawmakers to balance the state's budget. At midnight this morning she called the 3rd Special Session to achieve this goal and the 2nd Special Session of 2012. Rather than let lawmakers take a break, however, the Governor had lawmakers pull an all-nighter to work through the remaining compromise bills. Here are some of her comments about calling the early morning 2nd Special Session . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Without accounting change, House budget results in negative $168 million ending fund balance

Based on the details of the House budget released today hopes of a grand budget compromise being within reached are quickly evaporating. Here is a quick cheat sheet on the last two budget proposals . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

State balanced budget requirement proposed with exceptions

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there is no balanced budget requirement in Washington State. The Governor is required to propose a balanced budget (RCW 43.88.030) and if at any time a cash deficit is projected the Governor is required to immediately implement across the board cuts (RCW 43.88.110), but the Legislature is not required to adopt a balanced budget . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 30, 2012

If a High Minimum Wage can Kill a Sandwich, Imagine What it Does to Jobs

Washington Policy Center has long warned that a high minimum wage reduces job opportunities and increases the cost of living. The economics of it is simple. The minimum wage is a price control that requires employers to pay workers a higher hourly wage. That means they can afford to hire fewer workers, or they pay the inflated wages and pass the increased costs onto the customer, or a combination of both . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Losing $1 million a day without a budget?

That's what a visibly irritated Governor Gregoire said during a March 15 press conference. According to the Office of Financial Management, however, that figure was based on the Governor’s November budget being implemented as proposed. With changes in caseloads, the revenue forecast and actions taken in December the savings lost figure isn’t that high but there is a cost with each day’s delay without a budget . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Playing "Carnac the Magnificent" on the budget

Today marks day 188 since Governor Gregoire called on lawmakers to balance the budget. Based on this report from the Associated Press, surpassing 200 days without a balanced budget doesn't seem too far fetched: "The special session is now more than half over, and legislative action thus far has been 'pro forma,' meaning no floor votes or committee meetings have taken place, and most of the lawmakers are not at the Capitol." . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is proposed $238 million accounting change a budget deal breakthrough?

As we enter day 11 of the budget balancing special session a new proposal to end the logjam has emerged. According to the Tacoma News Tribune: "An accounting maneuver being considered at the state Capitol might allow Democrats and Republicans to cast aside the biggest point of contention in their ongoing budget negotiations . . .The proposal would keep the money in the general fund until the end of the month, transferring it into the other account just before it needs to be sent out to local governments. That would provide about $238 million more cash on the state’s balance sheet at the end of the month" . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Balanced budget clock: Day 181 and counting

It has been 181 days (and counting) since Governor Gregoire's September 22 press conference last year calling on lawmakers to balance the state's budget. Today marks day 10 of the 1st Special Session of 2012 to balance the budget (this is the fifth special session since 2009 for budget work). Already Governor Gregoire is hinting at the prospect of yet another special session as noted by the Spokesman Review . . READ MORE

Monday, March 19, 2012

McKenna hints at need for new open government initiative

Last week was National Sunshine Week, when open government defenders worked to highlight the need for government officials to be transparent and accountable to the citizens they serve. Among those writing about the need for more transparency reforms was State Attorney General Rob McKenna. McKenna's first piece was a blog post honoring State Auditor Brian Sonntag for his tireless work to improve government accountability . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pension reform wish list

The Legislature is currently considering major pension reform (SB 6378) to help bend the cost curve and improve the affordability of the state’s pension system. The following is from our 2010 Seattle Times op-ed discussing the need for pension reform . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Takeover in Senate Brings Religion to Legislature but Conversion to ‘Transparency’ Doesn’t Run Very Deep

Two weeks ago, when Republicans stood the Legislature on its end, picked up three Democratic votes for a budget in the Senate, and triggered 10 hours of some of the angriest debate ever witnessed in the statehouse, you might have gotten the idea that lawmakers had finally discovered religion. After years of complaint from conservative think-tanks, open-government advocates and Republicans, the majority Democrats appeared to embrace the daring concept that the Legislature ought to play by its own rules . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Let the bidding begin on Washington's liquor stores

Washington state opened a public auction online Thursday of its state-run liquor stores, beginning the process of privatizing a booze industry the state has tightly controlled since the end of Prohibition. Within hours, more than 30 bidders had entered the fray. Nearly a dozen offered to buy rights to all of the stores, though most bid on individual store locations. The minimum bid: $1,000 . . . READ MORE

House gets it (mostly) right on introduction of HB 2817

Lawmakers in the House this week helped put to doubt the claim that "title only" bills are indispensable to the legislative process. We've been told that lawmakers have to use "title only" bills (a.k.a. blank bills) due to the restriction in Article 2, Section 36 of the state Constitution on introduction of new bills with less than 10 days to go in session unless two-thirds of lawmakers vote to hear the bill. To circumvent this constitutional restriction, lawmakers resort to introducing "title only" bills before this cutoff date. A bill introduced on March 5, however, as a complete bill is now on the House floor for consideration showing that lawmakers can function without title only bills . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 5, 2012

House set to approve tax exemption sunset referendum

Lost in the excitement of Friday's Senate budget debate was a House Ways & Means hearing at 9 a.m. on Saturday (scheduled on Friday night). At that hearing the House Ways and Means committee adopted several bills including HB 2762 to require all tax exemptions to sunset. Among the amendments adopted in committee was adding a referendum clause to the bill. If the bill is adopted by the House and the Senate, it would not be the first time voters were asked to automatically repeal tax exemptions . . . READ MORE

Comparison of adopted House and Senate budgets

After a historic turn of events Friday night in the Senate, two budgets have now been adopted: A House Democrat budget (supported only by Democrats with three Democrats voting no) and a Senate Republican budget (supported by all GOP Senators and three Democrat Senators). Here is how the Seattle Times describes the events . . . READ MORE

Friday, March 2, 2012

Summary of Senate GOP budget proposal

With the assistance of three Democrat Senators (Sens. Jim Kastama, Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom) the GOP was able to take over the Senate floor this evening to advance its budget proposal. Here is a summary of the budget recommendation according to a GOP release (in-part) . . . READ MORE

Legislative transparency debate takes center stage in Senate

Today’s historic actions on the Senate floor would not be occurring if lawmakers had been living under the recommendations we’ve made to improve legislative transparency. They include . . . READ MORE

Legislators routinely set aside principles of open government

Listening to some legislators wax rhapsodically about transparency in government is a lot like listening to octo-husband Mickey Rooney extol the sanctity of marriage. The virtue of their message gets lost in the reality of their behavior.This year marks the return of two annual rituals in the Legislature: the majority party’s blatant refusal to promote public involvement in government, and Jason Mercier’s dogged crusade to expose the hypocrisy of it all . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wash. Legislature: As Pace Picks Up, Complaints About Lack Of Transparency

An insider’s game. That’s how open government advocates describe the Washington legislature as it heads into its final days. They complain of last minute public hearings, so-called “ghost bills” with only a title and no details, and quick votes on deals negotiated behind-the-scenes. These shortcuts save time. But critics say they effectively shut the public out of the process . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Title only bills dropped to circumvent spirit of state Constitution

Today is the last day under Article 2, Section 36 of the state Constitution for new bills to be introduced unless two-thirds of lawmakers vote to hear the bill. To circumvent this constitutional restriction on new bills being introduced with less than 10 days to go in session, several title only bills were dropped today including three that relate to increasing taxes . . . READ MORE

Senate Democrat budget does not resolve structural spending problems

All you need to know about today's Senate Democrat budget was the statement by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown acknowledging that the underlying structural problem in the budget is not addressed by their budget proposal. This means that if adopted, lawmakers and citizens will have the privilege of going through the budget deficit song and dance yet again for the foreseeable future. Here is a summary of what Senate Democrats propose . . . READ MORE

Monday, February 27, 2012

Legislature needs to put 'public' back into public hearings

DO lawmakers in Olympia really want to hear from citizens on the bills they are considering, or are they more interested in catering to the needs of lobbyists and special interests? Although Washington's lawmakers have adopted rules that appear to provide the public an opportunity to participate in the legislative debate, the casual way they routinely waive these rules shows they are often more responsive to lobbyists . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

House Democrat budget relies on $405 million gimmick

The prospects of avoiding a 2012 Special Session to balance the budget will likely hinge on the Senate's appetite for budget gimmicks or the House's willingness to back down from its proposal to kick $405 million of K-12 school payments down the road into the next budget. Unlike their Republican counterpart's budget proposal, House Democrats today released a plan that pencils out in the short-term because an "Accounting gimmick is biggest part of state House budget moves" as noted by the Seattle Times . . . READ MORE

Friday, February 17, 2012

House GOP releases budget proposal

Budget writers for the House Republicans released the first legislative budget proposal of the 2012 Session today (Day 40). Though a copy of the actual budget bill is not available yet here are some of the details according to a GOP release . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Odds of on-time session improve

For the first time since lawmakers adjourned the "budget balancing" special session last December without actually balancing the budget, there is a glimmer of hope that they'll be able to get the job done during the remaining 21 days of the 2012 Regular Session. This new found optimism is due to the news this week that the state caseload forecast is expected to drop costs by $340 million due to reforms enacted last year and today's news of a $96 million increase in the revenue forecast . . . READ MORE

Friday, February 10, 2012

Is the House considering "felony" budget gimmicks to balance the budget?

It's been 107 days since the Governor called last December's special session declaring "timely legislative action is needed to secure the State’s fiscal health and address the shortfall in the 2011-2013 operating budget." We are now in day 33 of the 60 day 2012 REGULAR Session without a budget plan being introduced let alone debated. Defending the lack of action on the budget to date lawmakers have said that they need to wait until after next week's revenue forecast to know what the parameters of the budget will be. Hopefully none of the options actually considered will include "felony" budget gimmicks such as borrowing to balance the budget. According to the Washington State Wire, however . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A tax simplification bill made confusing

Yesterday the Senate Way & Means Committee found out first-hand why it’s a bad idea to add a new a bill to the committee agenda on just two hours notice, and not make copies of the bill available until an hour before the meeting starts . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Six-year balanced budget and outlook requirements move to floor votes

The House and Senate Ways and Means Committee have advanced two bills to help policy makers focus on the long-term impact of budget decisions. The House Ways and Means Committee advanced HB 2607: Requiring a six-year budget outlook tied to existing revenues. The Committee adopted an amendment reflecting the recommendation from my testimony that the budget outlook should be updated quarterly after the adoption of the state's official revenue forecast . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

1 minute to testify on changes to the public records act

Does the Legislature really want to hear from citizens on changes to the landmark public records act voters adopted in 1972? Based on the treatment of SB 6576 (Allowing school districts to charge for the reasonable costs of responding to public records requests) one is left to wonder. Not only was SB 6576 directly referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, bypassing policy committees when it was introduced on February 1, but so the called public hearing on the bill was dubious at best . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 2, 2012

$1.50 Oil Barrel Tax probably dead

Is the Governor’s proposed oil barrel tax dead? Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee thinks it is. During her remarks this morning at the Washington State Good Roads and Transportation Association in Olympia, Sen. Haugen bucked most in her party who think the charge is a fee and said she believes it is actually a tax. She also said it will be challenged on the floor and based on Lt. Governor Brad Owen’s past rulings on tax vs. fee issues, he will likely also rule the $1.50 charge is a tax . . . READ MORE

Six-year budget outlook requirement heard in the House

The House Ways and Means Committee heard public testimony yesterday on HB 2607: Requiring a six-year budget outlook tied to existing revenues. Regularly publishing a multi-year budget outlook is one of the many recommendations in WPC's Policy Guide for Washington State. One of the most recognizable measurements of the state’s fiscal health is the multi-year budget outlooks. These updates, however, are not done on a regular basis. This is why the many bipartisan sponsors of HB 2607 hope to require regular six-year budget outlooks to be published . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Executive session taping bill receives public hearing

The Senate Committee on Government Operations heard public testimony today on SB 6109: Exempting video and audio recordings of closed executive session meetings from public inspection and copying. SB 6109 reflects a new strategy by the Attorney General and State Auditor to ensure that executive sessions aren't being misused in violations of the state's Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). I joined State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Tim Ford, Open Government Ombudsman for the Attorney General's Office, in testifying on SB 6109 . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 27, 2012

DOR requests 5 year sunsets for new tax preferences

The state Department of Revenue (DOR) is requesting legislation that would automatically sunset any new, extended, or amended tax preference after 5 years. DOR's request bill (HB 2530) is scheduled for a public hearing at 3:30 on Monday. According to DOR . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Remember the budget deficit?

As we conclude the 18th day of the 2012 REGULAR Session, the lack of legislative urgency to solve the state's billion dollar plus deficit grows more troubling with each passing day. It's been 92 days since the Governor called last December's special session declaring "timely legislative action is needed to secure the State’s fiscal health and address the shortfall in the 2011-2013 operating budget." Perhaps it is time to revisit the December 5, 2011 email Marty Brown, Director of the Office of Financial Management, sent all lawmakers under the subject line - "The urgency of budget action" . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State argues 18 year old 2/3 vote requirement for taxes is constitutional

Acting on behalf of the state the Attorney General's Office has once again argued the 1993 voter-approved requirement for a 2/3 vote to raise taxes is constitutional (policy has been subsequently re-approved by the voters and legislature on multiple occasions). Here are some pull quotes from the state's motion for summary judgment in the most recent legal challenge . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

State Auditor sheds light on local government finances

State Auditor Brian Sonntag launched a new website today that allows citizens to quickly find data on local government finances. Here is a summary of the new resource . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 16, 2012

House committee passes LEAN management bill

Neither ice nor snow could slow down efforts to improve agency efficiency today as the House State Government Committee adopted by a vote of 11-0 an amended version of HB 2173: Maximizing the use of lean strategies in state government. Here is a memo describing the changes from the original bill . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gregoire files legal brief in 2/3 vote for taxes lawsuit

Last 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. Today Governor Gregoire filed a legal brief urging the Court to rule on this issue. From her brief (in-part) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 12, 2012

WA Supreme Court hears oral arguments on tribal gas tax case

Today, the Washington State Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the tribal gas tax case. Washington Policy Center filed an Amicus Brief on this case encouraging the court to accept direct review (which they did). WPC also conducted a statewide study that found tribal gas stations use their unfair tax advantage to undercut the price of fuel at private gas stations. Washington drivers lose about $30 million per year in gas taxes to Indian tribes . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

History of tax ballot measures in WA since 1932

If history is any guide, lawmakers intent on going to the ballot with a tax increase proposal will face more problems than simply trying to fit their proposal on the election calendar. With the exception of targeted sin taxes in 2001, 1994 and a 911 tax in 1991, voters haven't been kind to tax increases proposals on the ballot. In fact, tax increases specifically earmarked for education went down in flames in 2010 (64% no), 2004 (60% no), 1989 (66% no), 1975 (67% no) and 1973 (77% no) . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Transportation tax increase? Not so fast...

In today’s State of the State address, the governor is expected to give more details on a possible transportation tax package. Washington Policy Center offers five recommendations for lawmakers to consider before preparing a statewide transportation tax increase in 2012 . . . READ MORE

State budget outlook: Not good

Yesterday marked the beginning of the 2012 Legislative Session. Greeting lawmakers was a presentation by the Office of Financial Management on the state's 6-yr budget outlook. Bottom line - we've some serious structural problems. Here is a presentation by Stan Marshburn (Deputy Director of OFM) discussing the projections that show multi-billion dollar deficits going forward . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Governor proposes B&O tax streamlining

Governor Gregoire today announced her proposal to streamline administration of state and local B&O taxes. This is one of WPC's long standing recommendations. As we noted in our recent B&O reform proposal . . . READ MORE

State's "checkbook" now online

The state's searchable budget transparency website (www.fiscal.wa.gov) has a new feature: Washington's "Vendor Checkbook." This is the equivalent of the state's checkbook. Here is how this new resource is described . . . READ MORE