Friday, December 19, 2008

Olympia press corps is a dying breed

Andrew Garber's article in today's Seattle Times is a must-read for anyone interested in government or media.

Those of us working in the Legislature have been watching sadly as fewer and fewer reporters occupy the press offices in what we fondly call the "White House" and "Blue House" next to the Capitol.

Garber reports:

During the past 15 years, the state population has increased by 25 percent and the amount of tax money spent by the state has more than doubled. Yet the number of print, television and radio journalists covering the state Legislature full time has dropped by about 70 percent.
It is a long-term trend that accelerated this decade and finally fell off a cliff this year because of plunging advertising revenue in face of the recession and a changing media landscape.
In 1993, there were 34 journalists covering the Washington state Legislature. By 2007, there were 17. This year, there may be as few as 10 full-time journalists, mostly newspaper reporters.
Garber makes the make the point (and legislators like Rep. Hans Dunshee agree) that having knowledgeable reporters around to keep an eye on the goings-on in the Capitol is essential. The scrutiny keeps lawmakers honest.
For those of us who work in the Legislature, we would add the point that reporters also keep each other honest. When fewer of them are trying to cover the same amount of news, it's harder for them to make sure their facts are straight and their stories are objective.
So the seasoned, can't-pull-the-wool-over-my-eyes Dave Ammons is no longer around to drill legislators about the nitty-gritty details of budgets and bills? The Columbian apparently won't be sending Kathie Durbin up from Vancouver to be embedded in legislative life for the few months of session? How much does it matter? When we see this same trend across the country and in the D.C. press as well, what does it mean about the Fourth Estate's ability to keep tabs on Congress and the White House?

This is the kind of story that really makes you think.

More about the budget in Gregoire's own words

The Seattle Times editorial board spoke with Governor Gregoire and her budget director, Victor Moore, yesterday following the release of her budget proposal. They posted their interview online. The audio is clipped into four convenient segments for your listening pleasure.

Okay, so maybe it's not a pleasure, but it is worth a listen. Gregoire shares some insight into what was clearly a difficult process.

Again, her proposal is only the first step and when legislators convene in Olympia for the 2009 session next month, they'll get to work quickly on proposals of their own.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Statement from Speaker Chopp on Governor Gregoire's budget proposal

From House Speaker Frank Chopp:

"The reductions in the Governor’s budget bring home just how serious our national economic situation really is. Cuts in health care for children and services to the elderly, people who can’t work due to disabilities, and the mentally ill will be devastating to them and will cost us more in the long run.

I also agree with Senator Brown’s concern that this budget counts federal money we don’t have yet.

But this is just step one. The final budget must reflect the basic values of Washington’s people – educating our children, protecting our vulnerable, and building our economy."

The longer short version of Gov's budget proposal

Lots of budget info to share here, so our apologies for the longer-than-usual blog post. For a look at some of the early news reports, visit here, here, here and here.

The Governor’s budget proposal makes it clear, if it wasn’t already, that our budget situation is dire. The budget cuts she proposes do affect our children, our seniors and many other vulnerable folks in our state such as those with disabilities. Her proposal marks the start of the budget-crafting process and when the Legislature convenes next months, lawmakers will take the torch and craft proposals of their own.

But for a review of where we’re at today with the Gov’s proposal, here’s a sample of the kinds of cuts we’ll be looking at. Complete documents can be found at OFM’s website.

Federal Funding: Governor Gregoire has assumed that Washington will receive about $1 billion in federal funding. About $779 million would be increased Medicaid funding. Additional federal dollars are also expected through the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Also, the state is expected to get additional funds for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Compensation: This budget does not include funding for state employee raises. The Governor does not fund the cost-of-living adjustments for K-12 employees under Initiative 732. Together, these compensation reductions save $680 million.

Pensions: Governor Gregoire saves about $400 million in contributions to the state's pension systems.

Revenues: The proposal does not include tax increases, and increases only one fee that deals with federal cleanup activities at Hanford. It does assume additional revenues from additional liquor store hours and additional enforcement from the Department of Revenue.

K-12: Initiative 732 is not funded (saves $349.2 million). Governor reduces funding for Initiative 728 (classroom size reduction) activities by $178 million. Levy equalization, the match the state provides to "property poor" districts, is cut by 33%, saving $125.4 million. Other reductions include: Not funding the two state-funded professional development days for math and science (saves $39.7 million), and elimination of numerous programs and grants totaling $60.8 million.

Higher Education: Four-year universities take a 13% reduction and the community and technical colleges take a 6% reduction (savings of $342 million). Eligibility for the State Need Grant is reduced though the Governor funds increases in the state need grant required to cover tuition increases.

Early Learning: The Department of Early Learning will cut $3 million by suspending the Career and Wage Ladder, $2 million from suspending the Family, Friends and Neighbors program and $1.7 million from eliminating state support for the Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

Health Care: Reductions here include:

· Reducing Basic Health Plan funding by 42% - saves $252 million

· Supending coverage of children between 250 and 300% of federal poverty - saves $6.1 million state, $7.9 million federal

· Eliminating medical care for the General Assistance - Unemployable (GAU) program - saves $251.3 million

· A 1% reduction to rates paid to Medical Assistance managed care plans will continue through the biennium - saves $37.7 million state, $49.2 million federal

· Hospitals, excluding psychiatric ones, will see their inpatient and outpatient rates reduced by 4%- saves $46.9 million state, $53.9 million federal

· The state will no longer purchase all vaccines for children not covered by Medicaid - saves $49.6 million

· Increasing use of generic drugs by 20%, consolidating drug purchasing and reducing coverage for some drugs – saves $108.6 million state, $280.8 million federal

Human Services: These reductions are all in the Department of Social and Health Services:

· Discontinuing the Adult Day Health Program - saves $20.3 million state, $20.3 million federal

· Eliminating the General Assistance Unemployable (GAU) program - saves $160.6 million. "Offset" funding of $20 million for emergency housing and $40 million for community clinics is provided.

· Closing the Yakima Valley School, a developmental disabilities institution - saves $1 million state, $600,000 federal. Funding is provided for community settings.

· Medicaid nursing home rates are scheduled to go up by 2.5% on 7/1/09. The Governor proposes to reduce rates by 7.5%, so the net reduction is 5% - saves $46.2 million state, $42.6 million federal

· Mental Health Services provided through regional support networks are reduced. Medicaid rates down by 3.2% and non-Medicaid rates down by 7.4 % - saves $30.5 million

· TANF sanctions will be accelerated - saves $30.4 million

· The budget assumes that Initiative 1029, passed in November, will be suspended for two years – saves about $29 million

· Secure crisis residential centers are eliminated - saves $9.4 million

Public Safety: The Governor is proposing a number of changes in the state's corrections system. They include:

· Elimination of supervision for misdemeanants - saves $31.7 million

· Discontinuation of community supervision for low-risk offenders, except for sex offenders and violent offenders - saves $9.9 million

· Setting of community custody sentence lengths at 12 months - $27.2 million

· Early release for elderly and ill offenders - $1.5 million

· Deportation of non-citizen offenders with property or drug offenses - $9.1 million

The Governor is also proposing to close Naselle Youth Camp - saving $12.9 million; reducing funding to expand evidence-based programs in the Juvenile Rehabilitation program - saving $8.7 state, $1.4 million Reinvesting in Youth Account; and reducing chemical dependency treatment funding for adult outpatient and residential services - saves $11.4 million.

Natural Resources: The Governor is proposing the following:

· Closing some state fish hatcheries - saves $6.6 million state, $1.7 million other

· Closing 13 state parks - saves $5.2 million

· Reducing local watershed management technical and financial assistance - saves $2.3 million state, $2.9 million other

· Elimination of funding for geologic hazard studies - saves $2.4 million

· Water Resource Management Funding - saves $2.2 million

Ending Fund Balances: For the 2009-11 biennium, the ending fund balance is $408 million General Fund-State and $100 million in the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA), for a total of $508 million. For the current biennium, the ending GF-S balance is $183 million and $432 in the BSA, for a total of $615 million.

Snowed in with nothing to do?

Channel-surf your way to TVW at 9:30 this morning to watch Governor Gregoire unveil her 2009-2011 budget proposal. If you miss the morning show, the station will rebroadcast her press conference later today at noon, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

Please to enjoy, a short photo gallery of the capitol from Snowpocalypse 2008.

Happy Holidays from the HDC.

Times set for opening ceremony, inaugural address and more

Mark your calendars! We know you've been waiting to see the plans for the opening ceremonies and speeches of the 2009 legislative session, and we're happy to share.
Just in from the Chief Clerk's office:
The 2009 session -- and opening day ceremonies -- will commence promptly at 12:00 noon on Monday, January 12 in the House Chambers. Opening day ceremonies will include the administration of oaths of office to members of the House and the election of Speaker, Speaker Pro Tempore and Chief Clerk.
Opening Day ceremonies will be broadcast across the state on TVW.
Joint Session - On Tuesday, January 13 at 11:30 a.m., the House and Senate will meet in joint session to canvass the 2008 general election returns and to honor statewide elected officials Mike Murphy, Terry Bergeson and Doug Sutherland.
Inaugural Address - On Wednesday, January 14 at 11:30 a.m., the House and Senate will meet in joint session in the House Chambers for the swearing in ceremony of the statewide elected officials and to hear Governor Gregoire deliver the Inaugural address.
State of the Judiciary - On Friday, January 16 at 11:30 a.m., we will meet in joint session in the House Chambers to hear Chief Justice Alexander give the State of the Judiciary address.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

State agency, industry respond to Hudgins call for emissions reductions

Are big businesses being rewarded for polluting more?

That’s the question State Representative Zack Hudgins (D - Tukwila) posed to the Department of Ecology (DOE) when he called for the creation of the Toxics Reduction Advisory Committee (TRAC) last legislative session. Hudgins tasked the committee with addressing the way in which DOE collects fees from businesses that release toxic industrial pollution into our air, land, and water.

State officials and business leaders recently reported back to the members of the state House Committee on Environmental Health, of which Hudgins serves as the Majority Leader, on their efforts to revamp the outdated system perceived by some to be allowing bigger polluters to get away with larger quantities of toxic emissions.

Here’s how the system works: Currently the state DOE can collect fees from companies for toxic emissions up to a certain limit. That limit is what has many smaller companies, as well as environmental advocates, calling for change. The more a company pollutes, they argue, the less impact the fee has.

Hudgins challenged DOE’s experts and lobbied his legislative colleagues in the House and Senate to come up with a new way of funding the program, as well as the incentives for pollution-reduction strategies adopted by businesses. His efforts led to the creation in the 2008 state budget of TRAC, the stakeholder advisory group that weighed in on the fee cap, as well as efforts to reduce all toxic emissions in the state by 50 percent.

Read the full story here.

Click here to learn more about the Toxics Reduction Advisory Committee and their findings and recommendations report.

Balancing the budget – ideas from the left and right

Finding ways to address an almost $6 billion revenue shortfall isn’t a job for the faint of heart. That's like cutting at least 500 programs that cost $10 million each. Or imagine it this way - if you combined our state's entire higher education budget ($3.8 billion) and Department of Corrections budget ($1.9 billion), you could get to the magic number. The bottom line is that balancing the budget will take a lot more than a few nips and tucks (and Washington isn't the only state sharpening its budget knife).

When it comes to ideas, though, there seems to be no shortage. Legislators coming to Olympia next month are getting an earful from, well, pretty much everyone. Below is a small sampling from two prominent think tanks - one conservative-leaning group and the other progressive. It shows the range of diverse ideas floating about.

Ideas from the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank:
  • Don’t ask for federal bailout money.
  • Cut salaries versus layoffs.
  • Get the state out of the liquor business.
  • Increase state employee health care cost sharing.
  • Merge state agencies with similar responsibilities (L&I/ESD).
  • Eliminate prevailing wage.
  • Re-negotiate the union contract and eliminate pay raises for all employees – managers, elected officials, everyone for the next 4 years.
Ideas from the Budget and Policy Center, a progressive think tank:
  • A withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund.
  • A temporary general sales tax increase.
  • Fully offsetting the sales tax increase for lower-income working families through the Working Families Rebate.
  • Careful consideration of budget choices including tax expenditures.
Governor Gregoire is expected to release her budget proposal on Thursday and it will be our first look at exactly what it will take to balance the budget.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Goodman taking aim at Electoral College with national popular vote bill

As the state’s Electoral College delegates met today at the capitol, two state legislators announced their intention to move the country towards electing the president by a national popular vote.

State Sen. Joe McDermott, D-West Seattle, and Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, will sponsor the legislation leading to a national popular vote for president and want to remind the state that the President of the United States is not elected by a direct vote of the people, but rather by 538 presidential electors.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It’s so far been enacted by states possessing 50 electoral votes, 19 percent of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect. Those states are Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey.

No changes to how the state allocates its presidential delegates would occur until the law is passed in states totaling to 270 electoral votes or more.

“The principle of one person, one vote is ingrained in the mind of every citizen,” Goodman said. “Even when explained, it’s impossible, with a straight face, to explain why the Electoral College should trump this cherished principle. When we vote for president, we don’t vote as Washingtonians—we vote as Americans.”

Link: National Popular Vote

Seeking students who want to work a week in Olympia as a page

Noting some rather embarrassing results from a recent civics survey of young people, many legislators, including Rep. Jim Moeller, are urging students to consider working as legislative pages in the upcoming 2009 session.
Moeller, who represents the Vancouver area, was struck that most 15- to 26-year-olds could name the reigning “American Idol” and that a big majority also knew that the cartoon “Simpsons” live in a fictional town called Springfield. Sadly, though, not nearly as many young people could say much about their own nonfictional state government.
“We need to get more citizens engaged in the government process – and that certainly includes young citizens,” the lawmaker explained. “Students who serve as a legislative page in Olympia learn a great deal about their state’s political system.”
The Legislative Page Program provides a week-long, hands-on lesson in civics for students between 14 and 16 years old. Pages are paid a salary and work a regular business day, delivering messages, distributing documents on the legislative floor, and taking care of other errands. They also attend page school for two hours during the workday, where they learn key concepts about government. For young people traveling from distant parts of the state, private housing is available through host families who live in the Olympia area.
The 2009 session will run from January 12 through late April. Students who want to be considered for a page position should apply as soon as possible. To find out more about the Page Program, go to and click on either the House of Representatives Page Program or the Senate Page Program. Applications can be downloaded from the Web site and must be sent to a representative or senator for consideration. From this Page Program Web site, interested young people can navigate to Web sites (with addresses) for their local legislators.

Another budget casualty - preschool rating system

Washington's Department of Early Learning is putting the brakes on its new Seeds to Success pilot program. It's another sign of what's to come as state leaders figure out how to manage the state's projected $5 billion revenue shortfall.

Seeds to Success is a pilot program recently launched in five communities around the state. The state evaluates preschools who opt-in to the program and assigns a quality rating that is made public. In exchange for participating in the program, preschools gain access to resources that help them improve the quality of care they provide. The idea is to help families find quality care for their children while helping providers improve their services.

The Department of Early Learning is hoping to save about $2.8 million and instead minimize cuts to the state-funded preschool program known as ECEAP (early childhood education assistance program).

Like the cuts to the state's Basic Health Plan, this is one more example of the tough budget decisions state agencies will face in the coming months.