Friday, December 4, 2009

Looking into the transportation crystal ball

We’ve mentioned before that 2009 is a banner year for transportation investments. The construction season that just ended was the largest in state history, as our investments from 2003 and 2005 hit their peak. The federal economic recovery funding also provided a boost.

At the same time, as we peer into the future, challenges emerge. Page nine of the
transportation budget passed last spring shows that revenue projections over the 16-year planning horizon dropped a couple of billion dollars over 2008’s projections.

Why? The major factor is the changing habits of drivers. People are driving less and are using more fuel-efficient vehicles, which is causing fuel-tax revenue to dip. Moreover, fuel taxes are flat rates, resulting in decreased purchasing power as years go by. These fuel taxes revenues form the large part of the transportation budget.

Recognizing these long-term trends, transportation leaders last session called for a study of potential financing methods for the future. The Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee earlier this week heard the findings of the
“draft final” report on this topic, prepared by a transportation consulting team.

The report shows some drastic numbers. For example, in 2025 the average driver will pay about 15 percent less in taxes (in 2025 dollars) compared to 2009. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about 38 percent less! The reduced revenue accounts for about $10 billion.

How to address this issue? The report explores myriad options, including fuel, system use, vehicle and driver funding methods. At this point, the report is intended simply as a look to the future, along with an array of potential options for the Legislature to consider in future sessions. Nothing is binding, and aside from starting a dialog, little to no action is expected this coming session. For now, it’s an intriguing look at our challenges and opportunities for funding the transportation system of Washington’s future.

Boards and commissions on the chopping block

The House State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee will meet today at 1:30 to review plans for saving more public dollars. As alluded to in our earlier post, the committee is scheduled to discuss the potential elimination of additional state boards and commissions.

In the 2009 session earlier this year, the Legislature passed
Engrossed Senate Bill 5995 to abolish 18 of these public bodies. Governor Gregoire announced yesterday that she’s eliminating 17 more boards and commissions by executive order and is asking the Legislature to axe another 78 when they convene for the 2010 session in January.

Gregoire's office is sending folks to today's committee meeting to discuss her proposal. Committee chair Rep.
Sam Hunt wants the committee to hit the ground running with specific cost-saving proposals.

The committee will also hold a work session to talk about the
Washington Management Service (WMS), which was set up in 1993 and “… is a decentralized personnel system established separately for civil service managers in state government. Agencies have delegated authority under the law to create management positions. [The WMS] recognizes the unique nature of management positions and the importance of strong management skills to effective state government.”

Regarding the Washington Management Service and other aspects of state government, the Legislature earlier this year approved and the governor signed Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2049. This legislation calls for yearly public reports from every state agency on the number of classified workers the agency employs, as well as the agency’s WMS employees and the agency’s exempt employees. The agencies must also report the number and cost of bonuses and performance-based incentives that have been awarded to agency staff.

Today's committee meeting line-up

Today marks the End of (Assembly) Days with committee meetings in full swing until 3:30 today. The next time legislators convene in Olympia will be for the start of the 2010 session on January 11.

This morning, the
Education Committee is talking about numerous issues including the status of changes to the state's student assessment program (formerly known as the WASL).

At 10, the
Human Services Committee will take a look at the savings and efficiencies underway in the GA-U program. GA-U is a cash and health care assistance program for people who are physically or mentally are incapable of working, and is one of the programs considered at-risk in the midst of growing budget challenges.

Finance Committee will meet at 1:30. Their agenda includes a look at the 2009 Performance Review of Tax Preferences. Tax preferences (also called tax breaks or tax incentives, depending on your point of view) are essentially money the state is choosing not to collect for some reason, usually to help a struggling industry or lure new businesses to the state. These will get very close scrutiny as legislators determine whether we can afford to keep many of them in place.

And on the heels of some
major news from Governor Gregoire yesterday, the Government & Tribal Affairs Committee will be looking at the elimination of certain state boards and committees. More details to follow in a separate post.

As always, follow the action on

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rescue tug to the rescue…again!

Last session, the Legislature appropriated $3.6 million to fully fund an emergency response tug stationed at Neah Bay. It was the last time taxpayers will pay to protect the Strait of Juan de Fuca from oil spills and other environmental accidents; beginning in July of 2010, the maritime industry will be required by law to fund the vessel year-round. Rep. Kevin Van De Wege sponsored the House version of the legislation that Governor Gregoire signed on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

An incident just this week off the Washington coast underscores how important a permanently-funded emergency response tug is for our state. The state Department of Ecology says that on Wednesday a chemical tanker lost power about 45 miles off the coast. The rescue tug
Hunter left its berth at Neah Bay and is heading towards the disabled tanker, prepared to render assistance if needed.

In September, Rep. Van De Wege, along with Speaker Chopp and members of the state Senate, had a tour on board the Hunter and learned about the devastating impact of one of our state’s worst oil spills. Click the video below to watch the tour, which includes interviews with the Vice President of Operations for Crowley Martime, which owns the Hunter, and Chad Bowechopp of the Makah Office of Marine Affairs.

Gregoire and capitol press reporters give their take on the coming session

Tonight's episode of Inside Olympia is a must-see for anyone interested in what's to come in the 2010 session.

During the first half of the show, Austin Jenkins interviews Governor Gregoire who will be
releasing a supplemental budget proposal to the Legislature next week.

Her proposal, as required by law, will be a spending plan based on estimated revenues, which for the remaining half of the 2009-2011 biennium are down $2.6 billion. Since already cutting $4 billion from our budget last session, Gregoire plainly states that an additional round of deep cuts would be devastating for the people of our state and raising revenue is an option that is now on the table.

During the second half of the show, Jenkins speaks with two of the (rapidly shrinking number of) Capitol press corps reporters, Rachel LaCorte from the Associated Press and Brad Shannon from the Olympian.

Tune in at 7 and 10, or watch it online

Today's committee meeting line-up

Assembly Days continues with a full slate of committee meetings. A few meetings that might be of particular interest to folks:

This morning the Committee on Health and Human Services will talk about sustaining public assistance services to clients during difficult economic times. Topics include the
primary care safety net and food programs in the safety net.

Later this morning, the
Education Appropriations Committee will focus on higher ed, looking at how to keep the Guaranteed Education Tuition program solvent, tuition policy issues and more.

Transportation Committee will meet this afternoon for an update on tolling operations, the SR 410 mud slide and the transportation budget.

Ways & Means will meet at 3:30 for a 2010 budget outlook. TVW will air the meeting live.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like session...

Everywhere you go there are legislators milling, meeting and huddling. It's Assembly Days and lawmakers are here in Olympia for the first of three days of committee hearings and work sessions.

With the start of session just around the corner, legislators use this time to really start digging in to the work of updating the state's two-year operating budget.

One particular meeting of note is the joint Ways & Means, Education, Education Appropriations and Early Learning & Children's Services committee. The five committees are
meeting jointly right now and getting an update on HB 2261, the big basic education bill passed last session.

Of particular interest might be the
draft early learning plan presented by the Department of Early Learning. DEL spent months gathering input from a wide array of stakeholders, parents, providers and more to draft this proposed long-term plan to ensure all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed. You can also learn more about the recommendations coming from the funding formula work group, potential changes to the teacher certification process, and improvements to data collection in the K-12 system.

TVW is airing the meeting live right now.

Check out the full list of today's meetings

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quality Education Council meeting today

The Quality Education Council is about to convene the second of a two-day meeting here in Olympia.

The QEC is the group overseeing the implementation of last year's big
education reform bill. The QEC will listen to recommendations from various work groups assigned to work on issues such as how to pay for the expanded program of "basic education," improving the teacher certification process, and more. After reviewing the work groups' recommendations, the QEC members are tasked with submitting a complete set of recommendations to the Legislature for the upcoming 2010 session.

At the end of the noon hour yesterda, Reps.
Pat Sullivan and Skip Priest, who sponsored HB 2261 will led a discussion about the QEC's recommendations to the Legislature. You can look at their presentation here.

TVW is airing the meeting

Monday, November 30, 2009

For the families of Mark, Tina, Ronald, and Gregory

They need our support through this difficult time. Let us honor their memory by supporting the families left behind, and stand with the fellow officers of the Lakewood Police Department who continue to serve and protect despite their deep personal pain.

Donations can be mailed to:
Lakewood Police Independent Guild
PO Box 99579
Lakewood, WA 98499

Donations can also be made on their Web site,