Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rep. Pettigrew stands up for budget process

Late last night, Rep. Eric Pettigrew gave an impassioned speech on the House Floor in support of the Operating Budget that he helped shape as Chair of the House Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee. Eric stood up to claims that the budgetary process had been flawed and secretive, pointing out that more members had greater access to the process than ever before. He likened those scattering from taking responsibility to a childhood baseball game in which he broke a neighbor's window. Rather than run, his mom raised him to own up to his actions - a good lesson for us all.

Watch his speech here:

Hurry up! No, wait!!

That will be the rhythm of this final weekend of the 2009 Legislative Session. There is still a double-handful of important bills that must be passed before we can Sine Die, but they are in various stages of readiness right now. Senate bills are being heard in House committees, House bills are over in the Senate, conference reports are being signed, final amendments agreed to.

It's all par for the course as any session wraps up, but the pace can be very frustrating as members wait for all the pieces to come together. So don't be surprised if you tune in to watch us today and find that we are "at ease" or "in caucus." Hang in there -- there's still plenty of action to come!!

When we do go to the floor today (maybe around 1:00), we will approve the conference report on the transporation budget, and probably consider action on a bill to require that oil companies help pay for cleaning up petroleum waste that is polluting storm water run-off.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Men and women in hard hats...

The 2009-2011 state Capital Budget has been released and will likely be voted on later today by the House.

This budget pays for construction projects across the state – things like school construction and repair, health and safety upgrades to public buildings, college campus investment and preservation projects, and even land acquisition for future parks.

It also provides emergency grants to local governments for vital infrastructure projects, such as sewer system upgrades.

Because it’s a construction budget, it has the ability to create good, family-wage jobs in every corner of the state. In these economic times there aren’t a whole lot of new building projects, but the state is trying to maintain and preserve existing structures. This means many locally-based plumbers, electricians, roofers and other contractors have a chance to perform necessary maintenance and repair on public facilities.

In the past, the Capital Budget has been the feel-good budget, because it also funds local projects in each member’s district. This year, there’s not as much cash to go around, especially with $777.1 million of it being transferred to fill the shortfall in the operating budget. However, there is still plenty of opportunity for job creation. And that’s something everyone should feel good about, according to House Capital Budget Committee chair Rep. Hans Dunshee.

In other budget news...

The agreed-upon transportation budget is now out.

There are some differences from the original budget passed by the House. For example, the number of driver licensing offices that may be closed is up from 8 to 25, and funding for ferries includes three new Island Homes (64-car), and possibly a fourth 144-car if revenue is available. If not, then a fourth Island Home will be built in 2011-1013.

You can read the full story here.

Some light Friday reading

The operating budget is now out. You can read all 515 pages here or check out the summary document here and agency details here.

If you really want to spend some time crunching budget numbers, this is the site for you.

The House will take action on the budget this afternoon after 3 p.m. and send the budget over to the Senate.

Also this afternoon, the Capital Budget will be released. We'll post those docs as soon as they're released.

Three more days!

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Sine Die by midnight on Sunday. Before that happens, both chambers must pass the 2009-2011 operating, transportation, and capital budgets as well as a short list of bills necessary to make those budgets work.

First up in the House, budget-wise, will be the operating budget. That action will begin after 3 pm today. Stay tuned!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adult day health advocates rally support for Rep. Pettigrew

Adult day health advocates gathered at the Capitol today in support of Rep. Eric Pettigrew and his recent comments about the life-threatening effects of not approving additional revenue for health care.

“Rep. Pettigrew, among all of the legislators, is the one who has paid the most attention to these issues,” said Jerry Reilly, chairman of the Eldercare Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to providing care services to older adults. “He had the courage to speak the truth.”

Reilly and other advocates shared the potential impacts of not approving an additional revenue package. Patti Dahlman from ElderHealth in Kent spoke about an insulin dependent diabetic who required continuous monitoring by her ElderHealth nurse. “There are serious consequences for these people,” Dahlman said.

Pettigrew’s HB 2377 would help fund these kinds of health care services, as well as the Working Families Tax Rebate, with a temporary, voter-approved sales tax increase.

The Final Countdown

This is it. The Final Countdown. The numbers are (mostly) in and the schedule's set.

Plan on tuning in for an Operating Budget debate on the House Floor tomorrow. The hard-working OPR staff is busily writing up the massive bill in order to have the documents ready ASAP.

Then on Saturday, we'll vote on the Capital Budget.

No word yet but the Transportation Budget is also very close and will run in the next few days.

And you know what this all means: If things go according to plan, we're still on schedule to wrap up the '09 session on Sine Die Sunday.

Until then.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

House approves tuition bills

There's been lots of chatter about what's going to happen with college tuition this session. Currently, our public colleges and universities have the authority to increase tuition no more than seven percent per year.

But as the state's economic situation has worsened, so have the proposed cuts to our higher ed institutions. Institutions get most of their instructional funding from two sources: state dollars (from taxpayers) and tuition dollars (from students). With state support going down and demand for classes going up due to unemployment, talk of lifting the seven percent cap has been one of the many difficult budget decisions bantered about.

The House just passed the two bills related to tuition - HB 2344 and SB 5734. These bills essentially lift the caps out of statute. Legislators will instead set a new cap in the two-year budget that is soon to be released. That new cap has not yet been determined, but it will likely be higher than the current seven percent.

This was one of the session's most difficult issues. TVW's blog has a great recap of some of the floor debate here. For a flavor of what the discussion has been leading up to this point, check here, here, here and here.

Things are moving very quickly (and hence, very slowly) in the House today

The House and Senate are in the final moments of negotiation on the 2009-2011 operating budget, amendments to bills necessary to implement that budget are being quickly written, and all kinds of last-week details are being ironed out as the Legislature steams toward Sine Die.

In spite of all the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle, to the casual observer things appear to be at a standstill. For example, although floor activity is "scheduled" for the whole day, very little is expected to actually happen on the floor until early afternoon. In the meantime, committees are getting out their last bills and members are being brought up-to-date on the latest changes to the remaining pieces of legislation they need to approve.

We will do our best to keep you updated as things move along!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's 10:00 pm -- do you know where your legislator is?

Right here on the House floor, that's where!

Yes, for the second night this week (but not the last, I bet!), the House of Representatives is still working. Members are currently considering bills that will establish an Aerospace Technical Institute at Edmonds Community College (HB 2318) and let Washington join the Powerball lottery (SB 6108).

As we charge toward the session finish line, members are starting to wear down. This photo by Spokesman Review reporter Rich Roesler, taken last night about this time, very nicely sums up the energy level felt by most members at this time of night.

The 100th day

Only five days to go until sine die and while much remains to be done (can you say "budget?"), legislators are working through bills pretty quickly.

Last night the House concurred with changes in the Senate to HB 2261, which now goes to the Gov's desk for signature. This is the big basic ed funding bill that has been making headlines all session. It was a bi-partisan effort from start to finish and congratulations are in order for Reps. Pat Sullivan, Ross Hunter and GOP Reps. Skip Priest and Glenn Anderson for their years of work on this.

This morning the Health & Human Services Appropriations Committee is voting on Rep. Eric Pettigrew's HB 2377, the temporary .3 percent sales tax increase that voters would approve to help offset cuts to health care and fund the Working Families Tax Rebate. You can watch it live on TVW or on

Members will then be back on the floor all day. And evening. Maybe night...

Monday, April 20, 2009

What is all this concurrence about?

Members are spending an awful lot of time on the floor voting on bills they already approved. What gives?

The Washington State School Directors' Association is one of many organizations that publishes regular legislative updates for its members. Here they provide a handy description of what's happening these days.

...Remember that in order to become law, a bill must be adopted by both the House and Senate in the exact same form and then be signed by the governor. If the opposite house adopts an amended bill, it must be returned to the original house for “concurrence.” If the original house agrees with opposite house amendments, they will “move to concur” and vote on final passage. If the original house disagrees with opposite house amendments, they will “move to not concur” and send the bill back to the opposite house. Once back there, the opposite house can strip off the amendments; negotiate new language and adopt new amendments; or “move to insist on its position. Bills can ping-pong back and forth between the two houses until agreements are reached — or until it is determined that there will be no agreement. At this point, a Conference Committee can be appointed to formally negotiate a compromise... In order for a Conference Report” to be adopted, at least two members of each house must agree to the new bill... they are free to amend the bill under consideration in any manner they see fit — including throwing the entire bill out and rewriting the entire bill, so long as it remains consistent with the "scope and object” of the original bill (that is, it deals with the same subject).

There you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about the concurrence process.

The legislative website also provides an overview of concurrence and other legislative terms.

The sun is shining in Olympia....

But that's not the only reason there are smiles all over the Capital Campus -- today is also the last Monday of the 2009 Legislative Session!

There is a lot of work to be done before legislators can head back home, though. The heavy lifting begins this morning at 10:00, when we start running through a long list of bills that are necessary to implement the budget. Later this week, expect to see floor action on the 2009-11 operating budget and capital budget, as well as a variety of last-minute adjustments to bills related to basic education, green house gas emissions, and many other high-profile issues.

Floor sessions are likely to last way into the evening all week. We'll keep you posted!