Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gov. Inslee's 2015-17 budget: Where "extremely volatile" and "unpredictable" become "secure" and "stable"

Today Gov. Inslee released his 2015-17 budget and tax plan. After reviewing his balance sheet it has become clear that I need to update the dictionary I have been using to decipher budget terms. Earlier this week the Governor said . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

U.S. Sen. Murray/Rep. Ryan want Congress to reform the way the federal budget and policy are adopted

It's not often you see Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree on much let alone reforms to the way the federal budget and policy are adopted. This is what makes the bipartisan introduction of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington (D) and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (R) so exciting. Sen. Murray currently serves as Chairman of Committee on the Budget in the Senate and Rep. Ryan as Chairman of the Committee on the Budget in the House . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

From "financially feasible" to a billion dollar tax increase in just a few days?

What a difference a few days makes. Last Friday we highlighted the Office of Financial Management's (OFM) "financial feasibility" letter decision on the secretly negotiated state employee contract agreements. In that December 5 letter stating that it was financially feasible to give state employee compensation increases (including health care) approaching $600 million OFM said . . . READ MORE

Friday, December 5, 2014

Will Inslee propose tax increases to provide government pay raises?

Based on the announcement today by the Office of Financial Management that the secretly negotiated state employee contract agreements have been deemed financially feasible we can assume one of two things . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Senate should put voter-approved tax restrictions into its rules

Now that the 2014 election has been certified we know the official make up of the Legislature. Based on the responses to our supermajority for taxes legislative survey, we also know that the members of the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) in the Senate support allowing the voters to consider a constitutional amendment to put the five-time voter approved policy into the Constitution. While efforts continue to move a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voters to consider the MCC could re-affirm its support for this popular taxpayer protection by placing the requirement in its rules . . . READ MORE

Monday, November 24, 2014

Remote testimony option becomes reality

History was made last Friday when the Senate Law and Justice Committee meeting in Olympia allowed several individuals to provide live video remote testimony from Spokane. In what I hope was just the first of many opportunities for Washingtonians across the state, Friday's remote testimony test went better than I expected and put to rest any concerns that there would be a technological obstacle to opening the doors of Olympia via remote testimony . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Electing the state Supreme Court by districts

When the 2014 election is certified, only one of the nine justices on the state Supreme Court will be from Eastern Washington, Justice Debra Stephens. Had she not won her election, all of the state's Supreme Court justices would be from the Puget Sound region. When a vacancy recently came open on the court, several newspapers called on Governor Inslee to bring more regional balance to the court and select a justice from Eastern Washington.  Instead he appointed Justice Mary Yu from King County . . . READ MORE

Friday, November 7, 2014

Governor Inslee on McCleary and tax increases: 2012 versus 2014

At a post election press conference earlier this week Governor Inslee was asked about his 2012 campaign promise not to ask for tax increases and how that squares with his new calls for tax increases to address the McCleary K-12 funding ruling. When asked what changed since 2012 the Governor said on Wednesday . . . READ MORE

Monday, November 3, 2014

And the election winner is . . . To be determined

Voter turnout as of Saturday for the 2014 Election in Washington is a meager 24.4%. This means if we are to get anywhere close to the 62% forecast by the Secretary of State a flood of ballots will be hitting the mail in the next day. This likely means we'll be waiting several days to weeks to learn the winners of close races . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Will public employee pension costs cause your property taxes to increase?

The House Finance Committee held a work session yesterday focused on the fiscal health of Washington's cities and counties. Among the presentations lawmakers heard was a pitch from the Washington Association of Counties to provide local governments more flexibility on existing tax sources while providing new tax options. One recommendation in particular of note from the Counties . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Updated legislative tax survey results

Earlier this month we published the results of our legislative tax survey that asked legislators and candidates the following question . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

100 lawmakers and candidates respond to tax survey

Curious to know if those that hope to represent you in the Legislature next year believe you have the right to settle the twenty year debate about whether tax increases should receive a supermajority vote or voter approval? Washington Policy Center recently asked legislators and legislative candidates in 2014 about their support for allowing the people to vote on a constitutional amendment that would require a supermajority vote in the legislature to raise taxes . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Harris v. Quinn lives in Washington

It took a few months but we now know the U.S. Supreme Court's June 30 ruling in Harris v. Quinn will be implemented in Washington State. According to the tentative 2015-17 contract agreement between the state and SEIU 775 (Article 4) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, October 2, 2014

State Supreme Court gives green light to retroactive tax increases

It looks like the State Supreme Court is giving the Legislature a new tool to address its McCleary contempt order: retroactive tax increases. A unanimous Court ruling today said it was not unconstitutional when the Legislature approved a retroactive change to the state's death tax in 2013 . . . READ MORE

Friday, September 19, 2014

Will voters support tax increases for government pay raises?

First the good news, state revenue is currently projected to grow by $2.75 billion (8.2%) over 2013-15 for use in the 2015-17 budget. The bad news according to the Office of Financial Management (OFM): "OFM projects revenue growth for 2015–17 will fall far short of what will be needed to maintain current services, cover mandatory increases and provide an additional $1 billion to $2 billion to meet the state’s constitutional basic education obligations" . . . READ MORE

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Will the state Supreme Court Jump the Shark?

Responding to today's unanimous contempt order against the Legislature by the State Supreme Court Governor Inslee said: "This unprecedented action by the Supreme Court is a critical moment in our history."
Everything about this statement is true. Not only is the Court's contempt order against a co-equal branch of government unprecedented but what may come next could lead to a doomsday scenario against voters . . . READ MORE

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Governor Inslee opposed to new taxes on internet access

What seemed almost impossible a few months ago is becoming more probable with each passing day; taxes being charged for internet access. The return of taxes on internet access may occur due to the failure of Congress to either extend temporarily or permanently the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA). The current ban on internet access taxes expires on November 1 . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Does Harris v. Quinn apply to individual providers in Washington?

That was the question I was hoping to answer today but after reviewing the state's August 20th response to the Centeno v. Dept. of Social & Health Services lawsuit in federal court the elusive answer will have to wait. While requesting that case "be dismissed with prejudice" one section of the state's brief today said . . . READ MORE

Thursday, August 14, 2014

State dodges new pension bullet

A unanimous Supreme Court today gave budget writers much needed good news when Justices rejected two union initiated pension lawsuits that could have added an additional $1.3 billion in new costs for the 2015-17 budget (state and local). Writing perhaps the sweetest words lawmakers have heard recently from the Court, Justices said . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Attorney General declines Senator’s request for Harris v. Quinn impact opinion

Last week I highlighted a letter from Sen. Braun to the Attorney General requesting an informal opinion in response to the June 30 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Harris v. Quinn, which called into question the forced unionization of some Washington residents. The Senator asked these three questions . . . READ MORE

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Senator requests opinion from Attorney General on Harris v. Quinn impact in Washington

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Harris v. Quinn calling into question the forced unionization of some Washington residents. More than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, however, there has been no official word yet from the Governor or Attorney General on how the ruling will be implemented in Washington. On August 5, state Senator John Braun sent a letter to the Attorney General requesting an informal opinion to answer these three questions . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Protest planned for tomorrow's secret union contract negotiations

Tomorrow the Governor's Office will continue secret contract negotiations with state employee unions focused on compensation related issues for the 2015-17 budget. Not only is the public and media not allowed to monitor these conversations but the legislative committee created in the same law that authorized closed door contract negotiations still hasn't been consulted as required by law. This lack of legislative consultation isn't new, however, as the committee the Governor is charged to consult with has never met since the law went into effect in 2002 . . . READ MORE

Monday, July 28, 2014

WPC agrees with union speaker; "trust us" shouldn't be standard for negotiations

Last week the Washington State Labor Council held its 2014 Constitutional Convention meeting. Among the speakers was Gillian Locascio of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition. Although she was speaking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, her concerns and criticism of how those negotiations were occurring are 100% aligned with our concerns about public union contract negotiations . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Attorney General's statement on Centralia School District's Medicaid fraud

Last Friday my colleague Liv Finne highlighted a disturbing case of the Centralia School District committing Medicaid fraud. Last night I received this statement from the Attorney General's Office concerning the $372,000 settlement agreement with the school district . . . READ MORE

Thursday, July 17, 2014

WFSE says state compensation contract offer is "totally unacceptable"

Define a "totally unacceptable" compensation contract offer: Is it no raise? A 2% raise? A 6% raise? A 10% raise? Due to the fact the negotiations currently under way between the Governor's office and state employee unions are secret and prohibit public access we have no idea what the union deems to be "totally unacceptable" and neither do union members for that matter. What we do know is the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) issued this "urgent" update yesterday (in-part) . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Resources for Benton County Proposition 14-5: Public Safety Sales Tax Increase

Ballots are starting to arrive in Benton County for the August 5 primary. One measure voters will be considering is Proposition 14-5, a proposal to increase the local sales tax rate by 0.3 percent and collect approximately $9 million per year for increased public safety spending. Here are the Key Findings of our study reviewing Proposition 14-5 . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

State and local pension payments could increase by $1.2 billion for 2015-17

Members of the state Select Committee on Pension Policy met today to approve one of three options concerning assumptions for government pensions in Washington. Instead the committee adopted a consensus proposal to merely forward to the state Pension Funding Council reports by the State Actuary showing a change in life expectancy for public employees and the impact that funding the required actuarial rates would have on the state and local budgets . . . READ MORE

Monday, July 14, 2014

State asks if Court will fine taxpayers for McCleary response

Circle your calendars for September 3. That is the date we'll start to get a feel for if the state is on a crash course for a full-fledged constitutional crisis or if the respective branches of government will respect the separations of power. The first attempt to back off the current dangerous path was filed last Friday when the state submitted its brief arguing against several proposals to hold the state in contempt concerning its response to the McCleary school funding lawsuit . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Does separation of powers still matter?

As we kick off our 4th of July festivities it's a good time to reflect on the founding of our country. What better way to do that than to dust off the farewell speech of the first U.S. President George Washington. Given the recent controversies concerning McCleary and separation of powers and President Obama's quote to Congress yesterday ("So sue me"), these comments from Washington are worth reflecting on . . . READ MORE

Monday, June 30, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court ruling against forced unionization of home care workers may strike down Washington state law

Although the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) did not rule in its Harris v. Quinn case today, as some had expected, on whether government workers must join a union, the decision does call into question the forced unionization of some Washington residents. The decision at a minimum likely applies to home healthcare workers, family child care providers and language access providers (it may also impact others) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, June 26, 2014

OFM to agencies: Take 2015-17 budget requests off auto-pilot

For many Washingtonians, summer is the time to wind down and enjoy much needed R&R. Not so for budget writers at state agencies and the Office of Financial Management (OFM). This is the time of year that the framework for the Governor's 2015-17 budget proposal is put into place. To facilitate these efforts OFM sent agencies budget instructions which lay out several directives that agencies are to follow when submitting their budget requests . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

63% of voters want local supermajority for taxes protections

Based on the results of a May 2014 statewide poll, Washingtonians' support for taxpayer protections has not waned since they approved I-1185 in 2012. You may recall that approval of I-1185 was the fifth time that voters had adopted a supermajority vote for tax increases requirement. It passed statewide with a 64 percent “yes” vote and with majority approval in 44 of the state’s 49 legislative districts and in every county of the state. This policy received more votes statewide than either President Obama or Governor Inslee . . . READ MORE

Monday, June 9, 2014

Do you know how the current state contract negotiations are going?

No? Neither do we. Realizing that potentially hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, we believe that like other budget related decisions, these meetings should be open to the public. This is exactly what already occurs in several states. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, here is how several states treat collective bargaining sessions under their open public meeting laws . . . READ MORE

Friday, May 16, 2014

Will the Washingtons keep access to the internet tax free?

Only in Washington D.C. can near unanimous agreement on a policy mean there is danger it may not occur. Consider the pending expiration of the ban on internet access taxes and whether or not Congress will act in time. As reported by the Wall Street Journal . . . READ MORE

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Remote testimony approved in Colorado

If the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl demolition of the Denver Broncos taught us anything, it's that anything Colorado can do Washington can do better. With that in mind, it is worth noting that Colorado lawmakers have sent to their Governor a bill to allow remote testimony. As reported by Colorado's KREX news . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Legislative survey says: Remote testimony is a winner

Washington State University has released the results of the "2013 Washington State Legislative Service Survey and the Washington State Governance Series." Based on the answers of lawmakers, legislative staff and lobbyists, WPC's recommendation for remote testimony options for citizens is a clear winner . . . READ MORE

Marijuana, Lean management and public records best practices

No, that's not the opening line of a joke but instead an example of how the (now misnamed) Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) is improving access to public records. According to Governor Inslee's Results Washington process, the Liquor Control Board has made progress using Lean management to improve its response time to growing public records requests as a result of the state's legalization of marijuana . . . READ MORE

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Benton County Proposition 14-5: Sales tax increase but no performance audits?

My prior posts discussing Benton County Proposition 14-5 (0.3% sales tax increase for public safety spending) looked at the details of the proposal along with the recommendations of a Citizen Advisory Committee that was created to study the county's public safety programs. Along with proposing the 0.3% sales tax increase that was placed on the August ballot, the Citizen Advisory Committee also recommended Benton County pursue performance audits saying . . . READ MORE

Monday, May 5, 2014

Benton County Citizen Advisory Committee Recommends Sales Tax Increase and Performance Audits

In my prior post I highlighted the details of Benton County Proposition 14-5, a proposal on the county's August ballot to increase the local sales tax rate by 0.3% raising approximately $9 million per year for public safety spending. The proposed sales tax increase came from the recommendations of a Citizen Advisory Committee that was created to study the county's public safety programs . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 14, 2014

Public safety sales tax increase on ballot in Benton County

In August voters in Benton County will consider Proposition 14-5 and whether to increase the local sales tax rate by 0.3% raising approximately $9 million per year for public safety spending. The tax increase would sunset on December 31, 2024. The revenue would be split between Benton County and the cities of Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, and Prosser for law enforcement staffing increases and various public safety programs (such as gang prevention and intervention) . . . READ MORE

Monday, April 7, 2014

Should candidates verify their background for voters?

Voting for candidates for elected office is an important decision. Unfortunately at times there is little information available about candidates to help us make an informed decision. While county auditors and the Secretary of State produce voter pamphlets with information self-provided by those running for office, is the information actually truthful? That’s where the new in our state has the potential to bring clarity . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

$43.5 million left to pay for imploded Kingdome

14 years ago today this was the scene in downtown Seattle as the Kingdome was brought to its knees . . . READ MORE

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Setting the stage for the 2015-17 budget debate

With seven minutes to spare, lawmakers adjourned at 11:53 p.m. on the last day of the 60 day 2014 Legislative Session, avoiding for the first time in several years going into a special session. Among the bills passed was a 2014 supplemental operating budget (SB 6002). Unlike previous years, when major re-writes of the budget were needed, SB 6002 was a true supplemental budget making minor changes to state spending. This was possible due to an improvement in the state’s revenue forecast and adherence to the state’s landmark four-year balanced budget requirement . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sunshine Week legislative update

This Sunshine Week forecast is brought to you by the 2014 Legislative Session: Your right to know is partly cloudy. When the just concluded session began there was the opportunity for brilliant sunshine but at least we avoided any severe secret storm warnings. Below is a look back on some of the open government actions (or lack thereof) during the 2014 Legislative Session . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Funding for TVW repairs and upgrades cut from capital budget

In just a few weeks the country will be celebrating "Sunshine Week," a time committed to celebrating the people's right to know about what their government is doing. Recent developments in Olympia, however, may put a damper on those celebrations. While neither the House's or Senate's original supplemental capital budgets included requested funding to repair and upgrade TVW's equipment that enables it to provide coverage of the Legislature, the Senate did add the funding to its version sent over to the House after hearing testimony from TVW about the urgency of the situation . . . READ MORE

Monday, March 3, 2014

Providing opportunity for remote testimony and improving public notice

At the invitation of Rep. Pollet and Rep. Hawkins (Co-Chairs) I had the opportunity to make a presentation before the House Open Government Caucus today on ways the Legislature could accommodate remote testimony and improve its public notice process . . . READ MORE

Friday, February 14, 2014

10:45 p.m. "public" hearing with no public testimony, surprised?

Lawmakers work long hours on your behalf, sometimes late into the night. One of these instances occurred on Monday when lawmakers held a public hearing at 10:45 p.m. on HB 2244. Perhaps it was due to the late hour of the public hearing or the fact the bill wasn't listed on the committee agenda for the day/night, but no one showed up to testify on the bill . . . READ MORE

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pension reforms on Senate floor

As we approach the February 18 House of Origin cutoff, bills are starting to fly off the floor of the House and the Senate. Two pension reform bills in the Senate could soon be among those moving. SB 5851 and SB 6305 are both currently on the floor . . . READ MORE

Monday, February 10, 2014

Time for Legislature to live by open government rules

With policy cutoff behind us the list of living and walking dead bills (nothing is really dead till sine die) is being compiled. Among the proposals that didn't even receive a hearing, however, is a bill based on WPC's recommendation for the Legislature to truly provide Washingtonians the opportunity to participate in the legislative debate while also ensuring lawmakers live by the same open government rules the rest of the state's public officials operate under . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Senate rejects supermajority for taxes constitutional amendment

The Senate voted today to reject SJR 8213: Amending the Constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes. The proposal failed to receive the votes necessary for passage with a 25-21 vote (33 votes were needed) . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Governor/Speaker receive open government awards

Governor Inslee and Speaker Chopp received awards from the Washington Coalition for Open Government this week (WPC serves on the WCOG board). Inslee received the Key Award for his pledge not to use executive privilege to deny public records requests. Chopp received the Ballard/Thompson Award for his role keeping a bill (HB 1128) from becoming law that would have in-part allowed government entities to sue citizens to keep from disclosing public records . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 27, 2014

Will voters get sixth shot at supermajority for taxes?

How would you define the undisputed will of voters? Is it passing in every county of the state? Is it passing in 44 of the state's 49 legislative districts (90%)? Is it receiving more votes than either President Obama or Governor Inslee in a blue state? Is it going five for five at the ballot box over the past 20 years? If the answer to these questions is yes, then it is clear that Washingtonians want a legislative supermajority vote to raise taxes or voter approval . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 24, 2014

Exploring Social Impact Bonds

As budget writers continue to face growing demands for increased spending with limited resources, alternative ways of delivering services are being explored. One potential option worthy of consideration are "Social Impact Bonds," or pay-for-performance contracts with non-profits/private businesses to help deliver certain social programs. This relatively new method of service delivery is now getting attention in Washington . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Legislature focuses on open government reforms

The people's right to know has received a serious shot in the arm this session with numerous open government bills under consideration. The Attorney General's proposals to require training of government officials have already received executive action in the House and public hearings in the Senate. Several bills have also been introduced to make more budget related information available online. Now come proposals to require the Legislature to provide more opportunity for the public to participate in the legislative debate and ensure the public records act applies to the records of the Governor and Legislature . . . READ MORE

Brian Sonntag releases Seattle pension study

Former State Auditor Brian Sonntag released a study today highlighting the need for pension reform in Seattle. Sonntag worked on the study at the request of the Washington Policy Center. Considering the recent debate surrounding the Boeing 777X contract vote and pension changes, it is not a surprise to see the cost of Seattle's defined benefit pension program also in need of reform . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Senate Ways & Means to act on revenue forecast reform

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing yesterday on SB 5910: Providing that a quarterly revenue forecast is due on February 20th during both a long and short legislative session year. The committee is scheduled to take executive action on the bill later today. The proposal passed the Senate unanimously twice last year (April 28 and June 23) but was not acted on by the House . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Anatomy of a budget gimmick

When the Governor announced his first full budget proposal (his 2013-15 proposal was an outline) on December 17 releasing his recommended 2014 supplemental budget, I was very curious to see how it would comply with the state's spending limit. After careful review, it looks like it doesn't . . . READ MORE

Monday, January 6, 2014

Missing public records and "harassing requesters"

During the heat of the debate last year on HB 1128 and whether or not government entities should be able to sue citizens to keep from disclosing public records, the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) sent out a public records request to determine the extent of any problem facing local governments concerning compliance with the people's right to know. That WCOG records request resulted in this ultimate public records response fail from the then Mayor of Coulee Dam . . . READ MORE

Friday, January 3, 2014

JLARC releases guidance for drafting tax preference performance statements

Last year the Legislature passed a requirement for bills creating or expanding tax preferences to include a performance statement to identify the expected outcome for the policy change. We were very happy to work with Rep. Carlyle, Chair of the House Finance Committee, on this concept. The Legislature also directed the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) to develop guidance on how these tax preference performance statements should be drafted. The JLARC report is now available. Among JLARC's recommendations . . . READ MORE

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The most important vote of 2014 - Boeing 777X contract

Although 2014 is a general election year with control of the Legislature up for grabs and still unknown ballot measures yet to qualify, perhaps the most important vote of the year will be tomorrow on Boeing's 777X contract offer. Not only does this union vote have the potential to impact tens of thousands of jobs, but it could dramatically change the state's fiscal outlook, not to mention its economic psyche . . . READ MORE