Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2011 committee line-up

This past weekend members of the House Democratic Caucus approved the new committee structure (down from 25 committees to 21), chairs and members of the committees.

Agriculture & Natural Resources
Rep. Brian Blake (Aberdeen) - Chair
Stanford - Vice Chair
Van De Wege

Business & Financial Services
Rep. Steve Kirby (Tacoma) - Chair
Kelley - Vice Chair

Capital Budget
Rep. Hans Dunshee (Snohomish) - Chair
Ormsby - Vice Chair

Community Development & Housing
Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney (Seattle) - Chair
Finn - Vice Chair

Early Learning & Human Services
Rep. Ruth Kagi (Lake Forest Park) - Chair
Roberts - Vice Chair

Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (Seattle) - Chair
Lytton - Vice Chair

Education Appropriations & Oversight
Rep. Kathy Haigh (Shelton) - Chair
Probst - Vice Chair

Rep. Dave Upthegrove (Des Moines) - Chair
Rolfes - Vice Chair

General Government Appropriations & Oversight
Rep. Zack Hudgins (Tukwila) - Chair
Van De Wege

Health & Human Services Appropriations & Oversight
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (Seattle) - Chair
Appleton - Vice Chair

Health Care & Wellness
Rep. Eileen Cody (West Seattle) - Chair
Jinkins - Vice Chair
Van De Wege

Higher Education
Rep. Larry Seaquist (Gig Harbor) - Chair

Rep. Jamie Pedersen (Seattle) - Chair
Goodman - Vice Chair

Labor & Workforce Development
Rep. Mike Sells (Everett) - Chair
Reykdal - Vice Chair

Local Government
Rep. Dean Takko (Longview) - Chair
Tharinger - Vice Chair

Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness
Rep. Chris Hurst (Enumclaw) - Chair
Ladenburg - Vice Chair

Speaker Frank Chopp (Seattle) - Chair
Van De Wege

State Government & Tribal Affairs
Rep. Sam Hunt (Olympia) - Chair
Appleton - Vice Chair

Technology, Energy & Communications
Rep. John McCoy (Tulalip) - Chair
Jacks - Vice Chair

Rep. Judy Clibborn (Mercer Island) - Chair
Billig - Vice Chair
Liias - Vice Chair

Ways & Means
Rep. Ross Hunter (Medina) - Chair
Darneille - Vice Chair, Appropriations
Hasegawa - Vice Chair, Finance

42 in the hopper

Legislators have already begun pre-filing bills for the 2011 session. As of this today, there have been 42 House bills dropped into the "hopper" (the extremely technical term for the basket in the code reviser’s office where legislators file bills they want to sponsor).

See a bill that interests you? Set up an easy bill-tracking account and follow it through the process.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Supplemental budget part II

Lawmakers met last Saturday for a special session to get a head start on addressing the $1.1 billion shortfall in the current 2009-11 biennium.

Legislators got about half way there and today Governor Gregoire released her proposal for an additional supplemental budget to balance the rest.

From the Governor's press release:
Many of the proposed reductions are similar to those in the 2011–13 budget the
governor unveiled Wednesday but they take effect sooner, including:
  • Elimination of additional state funds for kindergarten through 4th grade class size reduction efforts for the entire 2010–11 school year, saving $42.1 million.
  • Reducing levy equalization payments to eligible districts by 6.287 percent for Fiscal Year 2011, saving $18.0 million.
  • Shifting part of the June 2011 apportionment payment to school districts from the last business day of June 2011 to the first business day of July 2011. This will result in $253 million in savings in the 2009–11 budget.
  • Elimination of the Basic Health Plan beginning March 1, 2011. All insurance subsidized through the Basic Health Plan will be eliminated, which affects 66,000 individuals, saving $26.8 million in General Fund-State and $21.3 million in other funds.
  • Elimination of the Disability Lifeline Grant and Medical programs, saving $43.5 million in GF-S and $22.6 million in federal funds.
Legislators won't take action again on the budget until they come back to Olympia in January for the 2011 session.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Transportation budget: good news*

Compared to the drastic cuts expected in the operating budget, the separate state transportation budget looks great. But in these times of budget challenges, “great” is a relative term, as you'll see below.

While the operating budget dominated media headlines yesterday, the governor also released her proposed 2011-13 transportation and capital budgets at the same time. The good news is that her $5.4 billion in proposed transportation construction spending will create or sustain about 22,000 jobs for an industry that’s been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn. Funding will continue to support major regional projects such as the bored tunnel in downtown Seattle, the SR 520 bridge replacement, I-5 HOV lanes in Tacoma, the North Spokane Corridor and many more.

One especially bright spot is the investment in rail projects. In January, Washington received nearly $600 million from the feds for use on high-speed rail along the I-5 corridor, followed by $31 million in October and $161 million just last week. (More info on rail projects here.)

*But here comes the not-so-good news. Revenue forecasters have adopted a new economic model that should more accurately predict fuel consumption trends, and the first use of this model shows $642 million less in revenue over the next 10 years than previously predicted. The ferry system expects to see significant shortfalls soon, which led to the governor recommending service reductions and delayed boat-building. Additionally, many of the projects made possible by the 2003 and 2005 fuel-tax increases are finished or nearing completion, meaning that construction activity will turn down in the coming years unless a new package of projects (and funding) is approved.

The Legislature will use the governor’s budget and proposed project list as the basis for deliberations this session, before passing a final budget in the spring. Read more about the governor’s proposal here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Government-streamlining measures introduced by Hudgins helping state save money

A report presented to the House General Government Appropriations Committee this past week demonstrates the impact a simple money-saving idea can have on a state budget still reeling from recession.

In an effort to implement new print management strategies, last year, Zack Hudgins hatched the simple idea: saving money at the State Printer (DOP) by simply reducing the number of envelopes used by state agencies. In total, the state made use of 309 different sizes, shapes, and colors of envelopes to conduct business and communicate with citizens. Thanks to Hudgins’ efforts, that number is now nine.


Along with a few other print management and streamlining processes the DOP estimates the state will save the state $1.5 million this coming biennium.

“This is no time for business as usual in state government,” said Hudgins. “With jobs, health care, and human services all on the chopping block due to the economic downturn, it’s important to scrutinize every tax dollar, where it goes, and if it’s being used most efficiently. This certainly won’t solve all our problems, but this could mean saving some from falling through the cracks.”

“If this $1.5 million saves even a dozen families from losing their state-funded health care, or helps more students reach their goal of higher education, then it’s worth it to me. Our state government can’t and shouldn’t always run like a business, but this is one of those instances when smart business practices make sense.”

Rep. Hudgins has built a legislative career on taking a harder look at streamlining government and ending inefficiencies. He plans to continue this effort into the 2011 legislation session, beginning January 10, 2010.

Passing down the page jacket

As the League of Education Voters recently pointed out, serving as a page in the Legislature is a great learning and life experience.

Reuven Carlyle can attest to that. Serving as a page in the House was the beginning of Carlyle's run with state government. After serving as a page here, he went on to page in the other Washington for some memorable state figures -- Sens. Warren Magnuson and Henry Jackson. Carlyle is appealing to students to apply and get involved:

"Walking on the floor as the House debates important issues, like education funding and graduation requirements, is an experience pages won’t forget. These youth will become our next generation of leaders and lawmakers."

Photo from Carlyle's blog -- reuvencarlyle36.com

Summary of Governor's budget proposal

This morning Governor Gregoire announced her 2011-13 biennial budget proposal. The governor's supplemental proposal will come out later this week and will start many of her proposed 2011-13 reductions early.

The General Fund-State deficit for next biennium (2011-13) is $4.6 billion, or $5.4 billion if you add in the $881 million ending fund balance. Gregoire's proposal makes $3.6 billion in reductions, suspends $1.1 billion in initiative spending and makes about $700 million in transfers from other funds.

Here's a summary of some of the major actions proposed:

Pensions/Compensation/Health Care:
  • Eliminating the PERS/TRS 1 uniform COLA ($368 million)
  • Cap the state’s contribution to higher education retirement plans ($57 million)
  • Close the retire-rehire exemption in higher education
  • Caps the state’s contribution for employee health care benefits to $850/month
  • A late-breaking agreement with employee organizations (not yet ratified) calls for a 3 percent reduction in compensation, taken through more flexible arrangements than the current furloughs. This translates into about a 5.2 hour reduction/month. About 90 percent of the state workforce will be impacted. ($176 million)
Fund Transfers:
  • Use of Rainy Day Account (Budget Stabilization Account) - $290 million
  • Suspend GF-S Transfer to Education Construction Account - $204 million
  • Extension of Liquor price mark-up - $85 million
  • No reversions sent to Education Savings Account - $45 million
  • Treasurers Service Account - $20 million
  • Eliminate K-4 enhancement ($216 million)
  • Eliminated Highly Capable ($18.6 million)
  • Suspend Initiatives 728 and 732 (the class size and teacher COLA initiatives) ($1.1 billion)
  • Suspend annual bonuses for National Board certified teachers ($99.5 million)
  • Suspend annual increment salary increases (steps) for teachers ($56.3 million)
  • Suspend planned increase of all day K ($57 million)
  • Delay implementation of new basic education formulas until the 2013-15 biennium – HB 2776 (about $710 million)
Higher Education:
  • Continue 4.2 percent reductions from the current biennium to all higher ed institutions ($102.2 million)
  • Reduce State Work Study program ($20.8 million)
  • Suspend small scholarship programs ($15.6 million)
  • Increase tuition by 11% at UW/WSU/WWU; 10% at community and technical colleges; 9% at other regional universities, and offset state funding with tuition ($344.7 million)
Early Learning:
  • Reduce 3-year-old participation and re-direct some of that funding for 4 year olds ($9 million)
  • Eliminate the Career and Wage Ladder Program ($3 million)
Health Care:
  • Eliminate the Basic Health Plan ($230.2 million)
  • Eliminate Disability Life Medical ($147.2 million)
  • Eliminate the Children’s Health Program ($59 million)
  • Eliminate Medical Interpreter Services ($11 million)
  • Eliminate state funding for family planning grants ($9 million)
  • Reduce optional Medicaid services such as non-emergency dental and maternity care to high-risk mothers ($48.2 million)
  • Reduce grants by 50 percent to community health clinics ($12.8 million)
  • Reduce local public health funding by 11 percent ($7.5 million)
  • Reduce federal qualified health center funding ($85.1 million)
  • Eliminate the Medicare Part D co-payments ($16.4 million)
Human Services:
  • Eliminate the Disability Life grants ($180.1 million)
  • Eliminate the State Food Assistance Program ($45.6 million – net; $15 million goes to food banks)
  • Eliminate the child support pass through ($18.8 million)
  • Eliminate state funding for refugee employment services ($10 million)
  • Eliminate state funding for naturalization services ($5.6 million)
  • Reduce in-home Medicaid personal care hours ($97.5 million)
  • Reduce funding for 26,000 clients of community mental health services ($17.4 million)
  • Reduce residential and outpatient chemical dependency programs ($14.1 million)
  • Suspend mandatory training for home-care workers ($29.1 million)
  • Increased fees for licensure of adult family homes, nursing homes, boarding homes, etc. ($15.4 million)
Public Safety:
  • Close McNeil Island by April 2011 ($17.6 million)
  • Close Maple Lane School by June 30, 2011 ($3.3 million)
  • Eliminate Tolling for offenders on community supervision ($6 million)
  • Eliminate the Auto Theft Task Force ($3.6 million)
  • Reduce staff and programs in the Dept. of Corrections ($51.6 million)
  • Reduce parole services for juvenile offenders ($5 million)
Natural Resources:
  • Make the Parks and Recreation system self-funding ($47 million)
  • Impose cost-recovery fees for water rights, commercial fishing, hydraulic projects, and silviculture burning permits ($11.3 million)
  • Reduce funding for agricultural fairs ($3 million)
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan released a statement saying:
“We will be carefully considering this proposal in the days and weeks to come. But any of the choices we make will have a serious negative impact on the social structure of our state, the education of our children, and the future of our economy. We are out of good options.

Clearly, we will pass a balanced budget before the session ends, just as we always do. And, just as always, it will not look exactly like the one the Governor has proposed today.

How it will differ I clearly can’t say at this point. But it is important to remember that our enemy is the recession, not the people of our state. The steps we take must reflect the kind of state we want Washington to be in the future.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We're $3.2 million up!

The latest Economic & Revenue Update is out.

According to our state's economists, when you exclude non-economic factors, last month's collections were $3.2 million above what was forecasted. (Counting non-economic factors, we're $24 million up.)

Of course, that's bittersweet news since the forecast from November lowered revenue projections so much legislators had to come in for an emergency budget-cutting special session.

Still, $3.2 million up is better than $3.2 million down. We'll take it.

Want change? You got it. The Governor's multi-billion dollar reform ideas

In the past two days, Governor Gregoire has outlined several major proposals to restructure and rethink some of the services our state provides.

At yesterday's press conference, she outlined major pension and health care reforms that will save tens of billions of dollars over the next 25 years.

By eliminating the automatic pension increases paid to TRS 1 and PERS 1 employees, Gregoire says the state would immediately cut its unfunded liability in half and save $2 billion over the next two biennia. She proposes other changes such as eliminating the no-penalty provision for future new hires and closing the retire-rehire exception for certain retirees in higher education. In total, Gregoire's pension plan would save $11.3 billion over 25 years. (Note: Rep. Reuven Carlyle introduced a bill yesterday that would also address some of the retire-rehire issues in higher ed.)

Her health care proposal aims to save $26 billion over the next ten years by focusing on reducing health care cost inflation to no more than 5 percent per year, paying for Medicaid and other health care services based on outcome instead of number of office visits, and better leveraging the state's purchasing power by consolidating health care purchases into a single agency.

In today's press conference, Gregoire suggested major agency consolidation plans that she says will reduce overhead costs and minimize duplication across agencies. She anticipates savings of about $30 million in the next biennium and a reduction of 125 employees. She wants to:
  • Consolidate the state's 11 natural resource agencies into five
  • Merge the Departments of General Administration, Personnel, Printing, and portions of the Department of Information Services and the Office of Financial Management merge into a new Department of Enterprise Services (Gregoire alluded to more details in January about other broad changes regarding DIS's IT management)
  • Consolidate the state’s Human Rights Commission, Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise, Commission on African Affairs, Commission on Hispanic Affairs and Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs into a single Office of Civil Rights
  • Eliminate 36 more boards and commissions (dozens were already eliminated last session)
  • See whether anything comes of discussions between the Department of Corrections and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs about short- and long-term strategies to maximize each correctional systems’ (state and local) strengths and integrate certain services
The Governor will release her budget proposal tomorrow. Her budget is expected to reflect savings from these proposals.

For more information, you can see yesterday's press conference on the Governor's pension and health care reform ideas here.

Today's press conference is here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Special Session Saturday

Today’s action began in the Ways and Means Committee, where the budget proposal was approved with bipartisan and unanimous support. Outgoing chair Kelli Linville presided over the hearing and offered that “working together is the way you’re going to get through this” right before the committee voted 18 to zero in favor of the bill.

“These cuts that are included in this bill will have a real impact,” said Majority Leader Pat Sullivan. “Whether it’s school children or those that get health care through community clinics…these are tough choices that’ll affect citizens across this entire state.”

Sullivan concluded by saying the House will need “to make sure that we hold our core values true, but also take difficult actions to resolve the budget shortfall.”

The hearing can be viewed online at TVW.

This afternoon the House and Senate passed the budget cuts (which The Advance reported on yesterday) as well as two supporting bills dealing with tax complains and child support. The bipartisanship in committee was reflected on the House floor, as members from both parties voted for and against the budget, passing 86 to six.

In all, today’s actions will tackle $585 million of the current budget hole. When members meet in January, the remaining $541 million in cuts needed to balance the budget ending in June will be addressed.

Rep. Williams' last speech on the House Floor, on cuts to health and social services

Friday, December 10, 2010

Details on tomorrow's budget vote

The Legislature will convene tomorrow for a special session to take early action on the FY 2011 supplemental operating budget (fiscal year 2011 is the current and second budget year of the 2009-11 biennial budget).

The House Ways & Means Committee will hold a hearing on the budget bill at 10 a.m. and members will then head to the floor around noon.

The bill to be voted on tomorrow represents an agreement between all four corners of the Legislature – Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate. It will result in about $490 million worth of reductions, $51 million in fund transfers and $44 million in additional revenue through tax compliance efforts.

The total budget shortfall for the remainder of the current budget year is about $1.1 billion. With a total of $585 million in reductions in tomorrow's budget bill, that leaves about $541 million more for legislators to cut when they convene for regular session in January.

In addition to millions in administrative reductions, cuts include:
  • $51 million in across-the-board cuts to state universities
  • $39 million to eliminate K-4 class-size enhancement
  • $9.1 million in planned K-12 education reform activities
  • $27.7 million in Basic Health Plan (freezes coverage and lowers enrollment as people drop off the plan)
You can see the full list of agreed-to budget reductions here.

So Long, Chair Conway

After 18 years serving on the Commerce & Labor committee, 11 of those as the Chair, Rep. Steve Conway banged the gavel one last time today in the House, closing a chapter in the committee's history.

It was an emotional moment, as many kind words were exchanged between the Chair and members from both parties on the committee.

"This committee has been home to me," said Conway. "This committee can easily become very polarized. But I think what we've been able to achieve here has been a good balance, and I attribute that a lot to the members here and to the high-quality staff."

"I've always found the Commerce and Labor Committee had some of the most robust, honest debate in the House," said Rep. Bruce Chandler, the Ranking Minority Leader on the committee. "I will say, Mr. Chair, you've always been fair... At least after some discussion," he jokingly added.

(Conway receives a hug from Rep. Jim Moeller)

Conway isn't going far, however. He leaves the House to join the Senate, in which he'll serve as the Vice-Chair of the Senate Labor, Commerce, and Consumer Protection Committee.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's official: Special Session this Saturday

Governor Gregoire has just announced she will call the Legislature into special session at 9:00 AM this Saturday, December 11, 2010 to pass a first Supplemental Operating Budget that will address a large portion of the current budget shortfall.

The lingering recession continues to cause state revenues to go down at the same time as more Washington families are looking to the state for help.

Deep cuts will have to be made, and each one will hurt real people. But our children, our seniors and our most vulnerable citizens will remain our top priority.

Pettigrew, Moeller and Green join caucus leadership team

At a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus today, Representative Eric Pettigrew was chosen as caucus chair. He has been the Chair of the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee for the past two years.

Also elected were:
  • Rep. Jim Moeller as Speaker Pro-Tem designate. He will be approved by the entire House on the opening day of the 2011 session.
  • Rep. Tami Green as Majority Floor Leader. She has served as Deputy Majority Floor Leader for the past two years.
They join Speaker-designate Frank Chopp, Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, and Majority Whip Kevin Van De Wege, who were elected last month.

Additional leadership positions will be filled at a later date.

Who will it be? Bored tunnel contract winner to be announced today

Update 1:34 p.m.: The Seattle Tunnel Partners team was announced as the “apparent successful bidder.” The bid is $1.09 billion.

Hammond spoke highly of both teams, saying, “Both of them went above and beyond,” what was asked for in the original bid criteria. Officials reviewed over 6,000 pages of documents over the past few months as they evaluated the proposals. WSDOT officials, Gov. Gregoire, Rep. Judy Clibborn, and elected city and county officials were on hand for the announcement.

What’s next? Bidders can protest the awarding of the technical credits for the next nine days. The contract will be awarded in January, and execution will begin in February.

Earlier today:

Cue the drum roll—this afternoon we’ll find out which team wins the contract to build the bored-tunnel viaduct replacement in Seattle. Last May the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) issued a request for proposals, leading to two project teams submitting plans in October. The two bids will be revealed publicly at 1 p.m. at an event in Seattle’s Union Station. Elected officials, transportation staff and stakeholder groups are expected to attend.

As already announced, both teams’ bids are within the contract’s price limit so evaluators have spent the past few months looking at how each proposal most efficiently meets the project’s overall goals and minimizes distractions to the community. “After an in-depth review, we will award the contract to the team that has complied with our requirements and has the best-value proposal,” said WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond in October.

The contract, expected to be valued at $1 billion to $1.2 billion, is known as “design-build,” which combines the project design and construction responsibilities into one entity that assumes most of the financial risk. We will update this post later today with the final decision, so stay tuned.

(Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rep. Goodman reintroduces bill protecting rape victims from their assailant in the courtroom

KOMO 4 News reports on a bill introduced this week to offer more legal protection to victims of rape, shielding them from coming face-to-face with their alleged assailant in the courtroom.

The bill was first introduced last year by outgoing Rep. Brendan Williams. "I've heard heart-wrenching stories of sexual abuse survivors being revictimized in a courtroom by their abusers," said Williams. "Our justice system cannot endorse courtroom theater that leaves witnesses incapacitated with fear and unable to testify."

It passed the House but failed to pass the Senate. Now, Roger is taking up the mantle from Williams and plans to finish the job this session by reintroducing the legislation on the first possible day. "The rapists acting as their own attorney aren't trying to be found innocent by the jury," Goodman said. "They're taking one last chance to be in control of their victims again. It's sadistic and wrong."

HB 1001 direct the courts to develop rules so that judges could (a) order a stand-in attorney to question rape victims or (b) have accused rapists question victims by closed-circuit television.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chopp: Caucus will discuss budget, special session on Thursday

The headlines say it all: Governor Gregoire is giving legislators until Christmas to convene for special session and take early action on the budget.

At this point, no date is set, but all five corners are meeting to hash out an agreement. House Speaker Frank Chopp sent a short statement to reporters late yesterday:
“The five-corners are making good progress toward an agreement that will significantly address the shortfall in the current operating budget. That work will continue tomorrow, and we will meet with our caucus on Thursday.”
House members will be in Olympia Thursday and Friday for Committee Assembly Days.

You can review budget ideas from the House Democrats. It’s largely recognized that whatever action legislators take in a special session will be only a first step in solving the current biennium’s $1.1 billion budget problem.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Who first wired the White House for personal computers? Hint: It's a legislator...

The Herald published a very interesting and in-depth article about Rep. John McCoy yesterday. In addition to his work in the House, where he chairs the Technology, Energy and Communications Committee, McCoy has been instrumental at home:
Quil Ceda Village contributes millions of dollars per year to the tribal and local economies and the tribes donate millions to nonprofits. The tribes’ relations with their non-Indian neighbors are much improved from 20 years ago.

While John McCoy didn’t make all this happen by himself, he had a huge part in it.
You can read about McCoy's history, which includes work on the beginnings of the Internet and installing computers at the White House, here: John McCoy, Quil Ceda Village helped Tulalips to prosperity

Meetings, mods and... not much more

This week, legislators will be in Olympia for Committee Assembly Days. Senate committees will convene today and tomorrow, some joint committees will meet Wednesday, and House committees will convene Thursday and Friday.

Other signs of life on campus – About a dozen House members were here this weekend as part of the “Committee on Committees” to work on potential changes to House committee structure and recommendations for chair positions. The House will vote on their recommendations later this week. Incoming freshman will be on campus all week for their orientation, and many legislators are scoping out their temporary office spaces in the the "mods," or modular office buildings, while the John L. O’Brien building is under construction.

Oh, and about that special session – still no decision.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Latest budget news

On Wednesday, Speaker Chopp and Rep. Pat Sullivan met with Governor Gregoire for a "five corners" meeting with legislative leaders and budget writers from all four caucuses (House and Senate Ds and Rs).

Last month the Governor requested input from the caucuses on how to address the 2011 operating budget shortfall. Here is the list of reduction ideas from House Democrats.

The list is still very preliminary. Members worked diligently to mitigate some of the most painful reductions that were included in the Governor's list of possible reductions. For example, House Democrats do not include the following proposed reductions:

• Eliminating the Basic Health Plan
• Reducing Levy Equalization
• Eliminating the Children’s Health Program
• Eliminating Disability Lifeline Medical Care
• Eliminating Pharmacy Benefits for Adults

And about that special session -- still no agreement. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quick Take: Liias on school bullying

As we noted last year, the Legislature passed House Bill 2801 to address harassment in our schools. Rep. Marko Liias will be looking to continue that work in the 2011 session:

"The new law requires schools to update and strengthen their policies this year, adopt specific action plans for parents and students to report bullying, and for the first time, schools will be required to designate a specific school official to tackle school bullying.

These steps will ensure that our schools continue to address this challenge. But, as I have spoken with students, parents and community members, it is clear that we need to take another step to engage more partners in tackling school bullying.

That is why I will be offering legislation this January to create a statewide task force to study how our state can truly eliminate bullying and harassment in our schools. This task force will bring together teachers, parents, students, the faith community and others to examine best practices from around the country and recommend an action plan for our schools."

In the news:

The Olympian (Sept. 17) – Op-ed: School bullying is a problem that requires adult intervention

Auburn Reporter (Nov. 18) – Liias op-ed: More steps need to be taken to stop school bullying

Additional resource:

WA Office of the Education Ombudsman: Bullying at school – What a family can do

This for that - Carlyle's pitch for PAYGO

Rep. Reuven Carlyle offers up his thoughts on why legislators should consider a "pay as you go" approach to budgeting, an approach he says "would radically change the dynamics of our political dialogue."

Read it here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The first step to fixing the $5.7 billion budget problem

The $5.7 billion budget hole announced last week is what you'll hear lawmakers describe as a "three-year problem" - finding a way to balance the books for the remainder of this year, and then drafting a balanced budget for the next two years.

The first (and most urgent) step is cutting an additional $385 million from this year's budget which ends in June 2011. After September's revenue forecast, Governor Gregoire trimmed $520 million using across-the-board cuts, but last week's forecast necessitates yet another round of reductions.

When the Governor learned of the new shortfall, she asked leaders from all four corners of the Legislature (the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate) to provide a list of ideas by November 29. Yesterday, she revealed her list which includes:
  • Delay financial aid funding to 2012 for State Need college grants ($76 million)
  • Eliminate the Basic Health Program on Feb. 1 ($33.7 million)
  • Eliminate state funding for more resources for grades K-4 on Sept. 1 ($81.5 million)
  • Reduce levy equalization property-poor school districts by 6.3 percent ($18 million)
  • Eliminate the state-only food assistance program on Feb. 1 ($9.6 million)
  • Eliminate the highly capable student funds for next year ($7 million)
This $300 million+ list doesn't even touch the surface of the kinds of cuts legislators will have to make next session to bridge a $5.7 billion shortfall.

Contrary to popular cliche, this first step won't be the hardest.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snowed in?

Looking for something to do? The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is looking for feedback about the state's education reform efforts.

According to the Governor's office, OSPI is trying to identify specific steps to help us meet the four state goals laid out last June in our state's application for the Obama Administration's Race to the Top grant program:
  • Students entering kindergarten will be prepared for success in school and life;
  • Students will compete in math and science nationally and internationally;
  • Students will attain high academic standards regardless of race, ethnicity, income or gender; and
  • Students will graduate able to succeed in college, other higher training and careers.
Washington ultimately was not selected as a recipient, but reform efforts continue.

So take a few moments, see how quickly you can decipher some of the wonky survey language, and give your two cents on education reform.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hitting the road for the holidays? Look up traffic conditions, weather, closures before you go

Today’s snow is causing traffic snarls in many areas, but they probably won’t be the last this week as families hit the road all over the state for Thanksgiving. The Department of Transportation (WSDOT) estimates that traffic volumes could reach “five times the typical level” this Wednesday.

So save some stress (and probably gas, too) by visiting WSDOT’s enormously helpful website to learn about traffic patterns, weather conditions, alternative routes, best time to travel popular routes, and general winter driving tips.

And regardless of the time of year, you can always visit WSDOT's traveler information page or dial 5-1-1 for up-to-date info on accidents, congestion and more.

Friday, November 19, 2010

House Speaker Chopp unanimously "re-selected" by HDC members

Speakers of the House are officially elected by the entire body on the first day of each new Legislature - the second Monday of every odd-numbered January. But that election is usually pretty anti-climatic because the majority party selects their "Speaker-designate" far in advance of the beginning of session.

That's what happened today in Olympia - Democrats unanimously picked Speaker Frank Chopp as Speaker-designate for 2011-13.

Also elected this afternoon were:
Rep. Pat Sullivan (Covington) as Majority Leader. Sullivan, who served as vice-chair of the House Ways and Means Committee the last two years, replaces the retiring Lynn Kessler.

Rep. Dawn Morrell (Puyallup) as Caucus Chair.

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (Sequim) as Majority Whip.

The rest of the leadership team will be elected December 8th when members return to town for Committee Assembly Days.

Governor tells state worker unions to "try again"

With yesterday's news of an impending $5.7 billion budget hole, Governor Gregoire has issued a proclamation declaring in a news release that "collective bargaining agreements and arbitration awards arrived at earlier this fall are financially infeasible."

Essentially, she's calling for the unions and her negotiators to come up with new contracts because the state can't pay for the new ones.

Marty Brown, head of Gregoire's budget office, sent her a letter yesterday claiming the new collective bargaining agreements will cost the state $1.1 million for a daily rate increase associated with training money for adult family home care providers and $120 million in compensation and benefits for the five agreements with other state workers unions. (Brown also notes that of the five agreements, one resulted in no cost increase and one actually resulted in decreased costs.)

Some of those unions have been quick to respond. The Washington Federation of State Employees says they've been the ones "pushing the governor’s bargaining team to speed up the glacial pace of negotiations" and that
"Federation members have submitted countless money-saving ideas through the union, through the governor’s 'budget transformation' program and the program set up by Sen. Joe Zarelli and Sen. Margarita Prentice. And you don’t need to be reminded that in the past two years you’ve already sacrificed more than $1 billion in lost pay raises, furloughs, furlough-caused pay cuts, higher health costs, diverted pension funds, layoffs and the resulting workload increases."
This is just the start of many budget-related battles to come.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The $5.7 billion problem

At today's revenue forecast meeting, legislators learned just how bad the budget situation will be when they return in January. For 2011-13, they'll have to fill a budget hole of $5.7 billion. That's $5.7 billion out of about $31 billion in state funding, much of which can't be touched because it's constitutionally protected (e.g., K-12 "basic education") or tied to federal requirements (e.g., "maintenance of effort" requirements in higher education).

The more urgent problem, however, is how to handle the current 2009-11 biennium.

For the current biennium, which ends in June, revenue projections have been dropping every quarter: $203 million in June, $768 million in September, and another $385 million today (including $63.5 million resulting from the passage of I-1107). Much of this is due to a lagging recovery in the construction industry, small businesses having difficulty getting access to loans, and people simply not spending money.

This means that since legislators left town in March, revenues have fallen about $1.3 billion. Part of that has already been resolved. There's about $451 million left in our budget reserves. The Governor already ordered $520 million in across-the-board reductions. But legislators will have to find at least $379 million in additional savings.

As Marty Brown, head of Governor Gregoire's budget office, pointed out, this level of reduction could mean the elimination of our state's Basic Health Plan, the Disability Lifeline, or levy equalization for property-poor school districts.

The Governor has asked each caucus in the House and Senate to submit ideas. House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees have already started working on this and will submit their ideas to her office by Monday, November 29th.

It is still not yet decided whether a special session will be necessary.

Revenue forecast today at 10

Following a rather bleak economic review earlier this month, Arun Raha, our state's chief economist, is expected to roll out news today that, as Senator Craig Pridemore stated, "would make us wish for the end of the world."

That may be a bit dramatic, but for families who are struggling in these tough economic times and are in desperate need of health care, worker retraining classes, child care or food stamps, the impact of Raha's news hits close to home.

Today's revenue forecast will tell us whether the state is on track to bring in the revenue needed to keep our budget in the black for the remainder of the 2009-11 biennium. If not, more budget cuts will be needed before the 2011 budget years ends in June.

The forecast will also tell us whether the budget hole for the 2011-13 biennium is going to be bigger than the $4 billion or so already anticipated.

You can watch it online live at 10 a.m..

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Senate announces new committee chair line-up

Our friends in the Senate Democratic Caucus just announced their recommended slate of committee chairs. Senator Lisa Brown will remain Senate Majority Leader.

Agriculture & Rural Economic Development: Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond

Early Learning & K-12 Education: Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell

Economic Development, Trade & Innovation: Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup

Environment, Water & Energy: Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Kitsap County

Financial Institutions, Housing & Insurance: Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens (new)

Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections (formerly Government Operations & Elections): Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver (new)

Health & Long-Term Care: Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent

Higher Education & Workforce Development: Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina (new)

Human Services & Corrections: Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam

Judiciary: Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle

Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection: Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle

Natural Resources & Marine Waters(formerly Natural Resources, Ocean & Recreation): Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan (new)

Transportation: Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island and Vice chair: Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle (new)

Ways & Means: Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle and Vice chair of capital budget: Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor (new)

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, has announced that she will run for the leadership position of President Pro Tempore, and Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, has announced she will run for the leadership position of Majority Caucus Chair. Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, has announced her desire to remain Majority Floor Leader.

The House Democratic Caucus is still working on leadership and committee chair assignments, including who will take over one of the top leadership roles that opened up when House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler retired. We'll keep you posted.

Tunnel comments wanted

Since the Legislature in 2009 endorsed building a bored tunnel to replace Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, the state transportation department has engaged the public in dozens of community forums as it plans how best to move forward with the project. If you’ve missed them, don’t worry—the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is hosting three more opportunities in Seattle this week for citizens to learn about the project’s environmental impact and provide comments. The first one is tonight:

Nov. 16 - 6 to 8 p.m. at Madison Middle School, (3429 45th Ave. SW)

Nov. 17 - 6 to 8 p.m. at Ballard High School (1418 NW 65th St.)

Nov. 18 - 5 to 7 p.m. at Plymouth Church (1217 Sixth Ave.)

In late October, WSDOT published a draft of the tunnel’s environmental impact statement, triggering a 45-day public comment period that lasts until Dec. 13. Written and verbal comments will be accepted at the three public hearings, or they can be emailed to awv2010SDEIScomments@wsdot.wa.gov. Comments become part of the project’s public record and will be addressed in the final report, expected in mid-2011. More info about this week’s events is here.

Because of our election-year hiatus, we haven’t been able to cover the developments of the viaduct-replacement project recently, but much has happened over the summer and fall. Check out WSDOT’s project page for the scoop.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We're back

It's November 15. And that means the end of election-year restrictions on our web activity!

This is going to be an incredibly busy session so stay on top of House Democratic news by signing up for our RSS feed, following us on Twitter and visiting our caucus newsroom.

It's great to be back.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shhh! It's an election year - Part II

Your House Democratic Caucus bloggers will be signing off for the next few months due to election year restrictions and whatnot.

We like people to know that official legislative activities are still going on during the interim, so though it's a bummer we can't tell you about them ourselves, here are a few non-partisan resources you can check out occasionally to stay on top of things:
We'll be back post-elections. Have a great
  • summer,
  • back-to-school,
  • Labor Day,
  • Veterans Day, and
  • Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Web winners!

Many legislatures have good web sites to help people connect with lawmakers and vice versa, but only Washington state can boast that we have the best state legislative web site in the nation.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has just announced that Washington is the 2010 winner of the coveted Online Democracy Award, which is presented annually to the legislature, legislative chamber or caucus whose website stands above all others “for making democracy user-friendly."

We don’t want to be accused of bragging about this latest coup, so we’ll let the national experts do it for us. Here is what the NCSL says about why Washington has the best state legislative web site of them all:
“The Washington Legislature’s website won for providing extensive information that is simple to find and understand, for its easy and accurate search function, downloadable web services, and for student pages geared to different grade levels.
Some of the other notable winning features of the website include:
  • Detailed explanations on web pages about available functions and features.
  • Voluminous reports and data.
  • Print and Spanish versions of web pages.
  • Site accessibility and prominent information related to the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
    Deputy Chief Clerk Bernard Dean spoke for the entire House when he responded to Washington’s triumph by saying: “Earlier, we received accolades from Congress.org for having one of the best legislative websites in the country, but this award is even more gratifying since it comes from our peers in other states.”

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Washington's race to the top is not really over

    Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced the semi-finalists in President Obama's Race to the Top competitive grant program.

    Of the 35 states competing for grant money, Washington wasn't one selected to continue to the final round. But that doesn't mean legislators are finished working on the reforms already set in motion before the Race was even announced.

    A committed, bi-partisan group of legislators worked hard the past two legislative sessions to pass the most comprehensive changes to our education system in more than 30 years, and the group tasked with following through on those changes will continue to do so, with or without Race funding.

    It's worth noting that despite Washington's actions on many of the selection criteria (including adopting common standards and turning around low-performing schools), a significant number of points were awarded to states who have or are willing to launch charter schools. Washington voters have repeatedly rejected this approach, though our K-12 system currently operates numerous innovative schools such as Aviation High School in Des Moines, Tacoma School of the Arts, and more than a dozen skills centers.

    You can read the joint statement from Governor Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, and see coverage of the announcement here and here.

    Two-thirds of states anticipate double-digit budget holes in 2012

    Governor Gregoire's calls for ideas to transform Washington's budget have so far brought in more than 1600 comments and ideas.

    These efforts are part of a strategy for dealing with the fallout of the national recession - fallout that left us with a $12 billion hole in the last budget cycle and that forecasters predict will keep us another $3 billion behind when legislators reconvene in January to craft the 2011-13 budget.

    Well, as is said and as we've pointed out before, misery loves company. As reported by Stateline, The National Conference of State Legislatures just released a state budget update saying:
    Nearly half of states reported fiscal 2011 gaps at 10 percent or more of their general fund budgets. The states with the largest gaps were Nevada (45 percent), New Jersey (28 percent), Arizona (27 percent), Maine (26 percent) and North Carolina (25 percent). Two-thirds of states already forecast another round of double-digit budget gaps for fiscal 2012.
    The Stateline article also points out that the two views in Congress about extending the FMAP money so many states are waiting on. It's worth a quick read.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Hundreds show up to talk about state budget

    Last night was the first of four public budget hearings hosted by Governor Chris Gregoire.

    More than 450 people crowded the room UW-Tacoma to hear presentations from the Governor's budget guy, Marty Brown, the Governor herself, and staff from the Office of Financial Management.

    Attendees were given a 10-page overview describing our budget situation and the six "values" driving budget decisions: student achievement, protect health and vulnerable people, economic development, effective government, public safety, and natural resources.

    About 40 people were able to testify of the 140 who had signed up. Many of the comments were pleas to continue funding for various programs, though some people offered up ideas on how to address the budget shortfall. Suggestions included:
    • Take away the $5 million tax exemption for the TransAlta coal plant and make more progress on climate change
    • Close down state institutions for people with developmental disabilities and put resources in community
    • Set up a state bank like in North Dakota
    • Re-negotiate state employee collective bargaining contract and cut salaries
    • Set up waiver programs and low-interest repayment plans for businesses that can’t afford to pay state taxes
    The Governor has also set up a website where the public can post comments. It went up yesterday, and as this blog post is being written, there are nearly 400 suggestions. You can take a look and vote to agree or disagree or comment on the ideas posted.

    You can also take a look at this morning’s News Tribune story about last night’s hearing .

    Three public meetings remain:
    • Tomorrow, July 21 at 7 p.m. – Everett (Everett Community College, Parks Building, Multi Purpose Room, 2000 Tower Street)
    • Tuesday, July 27 at 7 p.m. —Vancouver (WSU-Vancouver, Administration Building Room 110, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue)
    • Thursday, July 29 with time TBA—Spokane (Spokane City Hall, City Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard)

    Friday, July 16, 2010

    Will there be a fish kill in Lower Hood Canal this year?

    Recent media reports, like this one in the Kitsap Sun, describe oxygen depletion in Hood Canal. Researchers are concerned that if the oxygen deficit increases, fish kills may occur within “dead zones.”

    This week, members of the House Ecology & Parks Committee got an update on current conditions in Hood Canal, and heard about ongoing research to track “dead zones” and determine what effect humans (mainly via residential on-site septic systems) have on lower oxygen levels in the water. Dr. Jan Newton, from the University of Washington, gave a presentation showing annual variations in oxygen levels at various spots along Hood Canal. Dr. Newton heads the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program, which has determined so far that although the input of nitrogen into Hood Canal from residential septic systems is small compared to the marine input (nitrogen from ocean water coming into the canal),it is enough to potentially cause a “tipping point” depending on the background concentration of nitrogen for that year. In other words, some years it might not make a difference, and other years it most definitely could.

    This year, oxygen levels in Lower Hood Canal are at the lowest levels based on record-keeping, which means 2010 could be the year of sudden fish kills within the Canal. It’s too early yet to tell if that will happen, but what is clear is that minimizing human input of nitrogen into Hood Canal is important. This is an issue that the Committee will continue to track during the interim, because the economies of many communities along Hood Canal are dependent on a healthy marine environment for fishing, shellfish harvesting, and recreation.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Unemployment rate falls to 8.9%; third straight month it’s fallen

    Some good news for the state and those looking for work: the unemployment rate dropped to 8.9 percent.

    The 8.9 percent rate for June is down from 9.2 percent in May. Here is more about where the jobs are coming from:

    Industries that added jobs in June were education and health services, up 1,300; construction up 1,000; retail trade, up 900; professional and business services, up 700; leisure and hospitality, up 700; other services, up 400; information, up 300; and manufacturing, up 100.

    Jobs were lost in government, down 8,000; financial activities, down 500; wholesale trade, down 300; and transportation, warehousing and utilities, down 100
    More information can be found through the Employment Security Department’s press release and in the Seattle Times article.

    Upbeat summer: CNBC ranks Wash. highly for biz climate, ahead of Oregon, Idaho

    It’s easy to focus on all the economic chasms that have opened in recent years, but good news does surface from time to time. Business news network CNBC just analyzed all 50 states to determine which ones are best for business, and Washington came in at a healthy 15th place, up one notch from last year. Our neighbors Oregon and Idaho showed up further down at spots 23 and 26, respectively, while Montana and California registered in the 30s.

    Unlike other rankings that focus on one metric, the CNBC analysis takes a holistic account of business competitiveness—factors such as technology & innovation, workforce, cost of living, economy and more. Washington ranked particularly high in the areas of access to capital (placing 5th), technology & innovation (5th) and quality of life (8th). We also got high marks for the overall economy (18th) and education (22nd).

    Check out the full report here.

    Washington’s strong business climate isn’t a new trend, nor is this study an outlier—we’ve covered this long-standing theme several times before.

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    Retail sales down, largely due to construction

    The Department of Revenue released its revenue report for the first quarter of 2010. There are some gains since this time last year in sales of cars and food service, but those small gains were overshadowed by a huge lag in the construction sector.

    The overall decline in taxable retail sales is 2.9 percent. This is disappointing news for a state that relies on these sales for about 40 percent of state revenues. But it isn't unexpected, given the slow and bumpy economic recovery so many states are trying to manage.

    For more information, you can check out DOR's numbers here.

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Monday will be a quiet day at many state agencies

    Next Monday marks the first of ten mandatory furlough days for workers at dozens of state agencies. Need to call someone at DSHS? The only ones there on Monday will be the child protective services workers. Have a licensing question or need to talk to someone at L&I? Try again Tuesday.

    The furloughs (time off with no pay) are just one of many cost-cutting measures taken by the Legislature this past session. Some agencies have opted to find equivalent savings in other ways, but many are going the furlough route.

    You can check out the full schedule of which agencies will be closed and when over the next 12 months.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    The "Transforming Washington's Budget" roadshow starts in two weeks

    A couple weeks ago Governor Gregoire announced a new budgeting process that would take place with the help of a committee made up of public- and private-sector experts in economics, industry, labor and more.

    The new process is also designed to include the help of Washington residents via a series of public hearings. For anyone interested in learning more about our budget challenges and, more importantly, providing feedback on ways the state can do more with less in these difficult times, these meetings are a rare chance to do it in person.

    Here's the July schedule:
    July 19: Tacoma, 7-9 PM (UWT-William W. Phillip Hall, Milgard Assembly Room, 1900 Commerce Street)

    July 21: Everett, 7-9 PM (Everett Community College, Parks Building, Multi Purpose Room, 2000 Tower Street)

    July 27: Vancouver, 7-9 PM (WSU-Vancouver, Administration Building Room 110, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue)

    July 29: Spokane, Time TBA, (Spokane City Hall, City Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard)

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Shhh! It's an election year

    Today is July 1 and the first day that election-year restrictions kick in for communications from your legislators at the House of Representatives.

    This means our members' websites will be "frozen" for the rest of the year and they won't be sending out newsletters or mailings. (Well, not legislative ones anyway.)

    For our blog it means we'll continue sharing news about legislative and committee meetings, budget news, and progress on implementing recently-passed bills, but things will slow down a bit and rarely will we provide news about our members.

    So keep checking in, but if you're wondering why our members seem so quiet all of a sudden, it's because they have to be.

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Clibborn sheds light on ferry problems, recent progress

    The state’s ferry system has generated quite a few headlines recently—the governor last week floated the idea of privatization, and news outlets have focused a spotlight on overtime policies and other operational practices. Rep. Judy Clibborn (Mercer Island) has weighed in with her thoughts on these issues, along with an account of successive ferry reforms over the past several years.

    “… it’s clear that good judgment and fiscal responsibility were thrown overboard in some instances,” Clibborn writes about some of Washington State Ferries’ (WSF) overtime, travel and special-projects policies. She continues, “State employees serve in the public’s interest and have a special obligation to use taxpayer dollars in thoughtful, efficient ways as they deliver services.”

    Clibborn notes that WSF has had a troubled past, which the Legislature has worked to remedy with a series of reforms since 2007. “The Legislature has taken corrective action and will continue to demand accountability with the public’s dollars,” she writes. Recent progress includes cost-savings and efficiencies to the tune of $35 million annually, and the construction of three new, much-needed ferries. And in recent months, WSF itself has put a stop to questionable overtime and mileage/travel practices.

    Clibborn believes in the leadership team at WSF and the achievements of recent reforms but adds that “… our reform work must continue.”

    For more information about ferry reforms, click here for Clibborn’s 2010 bill and here for a comprehensive, long-range plan by WSF created at the direction of the Legislature.

    What do phony prescriptions and phosphates have in common?

    They'll both be much harder to find starting tomorrow.

    Numerous new state laws go into effect on July 1 including one that will improve the health of our waterways by requiring stores to only sell low-phosphate dishwasher soap. Washington will be one of 16 states to enact such a ban tomorrow. Washington has had a similar ban on laundry detergent since 2006.

    Tomorrow, doctors and other professionals with clearance to write prescriptions for their patients will have to use tamper-resistant notepad or paper. The Department of Health says the change will cut down on people stealing or altering prescriptions.

    Other bills include one that requires anyone wanting to collect solid waste to obtain a "solid waste collection certificate" (now that's something you'd want to frame and hang on your wall!), one to cut down on fraudulent use of out-of-state vehicle licensing, and one that will strengthen consumer protection for homeowners seeking to refinance their home by requiring licensing for loan modifiers and services.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    "Fill 'er up" is sooo 2009

    Next year you may be charging up your car instead of gassing up.

    It's been a long time coming, but soon, electric vehicles will be hitting what will likely be the first electric highway in the nation.

    For several years, legislators such as Rep. Deb Eddy have been trying to put in place an infrastructure that would support mainstream use of electric vehicles. Last year, she pushed successfully for a bill to encourage our state and local governments to seek funding for charging stations and other necessary EV infrastructure.

    Now, with the help of a $1.3 million federal grant, I-5 will become one of the first major corridors to feature charging stations that will allow drivers of EVs (such as the upcoming Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt) to drive from the Oregon to Canadian borders.

    More info on the EV Project and in today's news story.

    Wanted: Workers with college degrees

    Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney is one of the leading lawmakers keeping Washington ahead of the curve when it comes to helping more people tap into a post-secondary education, starting with access to our community and technical colleges.

    This is a tough calling when the growing demand for college degrees is accompanied by declining state support for colleges and universities. But it's a demand we can't afford to ignore.

    "America is slowly coming out of the Recession of 2007 — only to find itself on a collision course with the future: not enough Americans are completing college... By 2018, we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees—but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees."

    That's according to a new report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

    According to the report, by 2018 the number of new jobs in Washington state requiring postsecondary education and training will grow by 259,000. That's far more than the 107,000 new jobs that will be available for high school graduates and dropouts. Overall, 67 percent of Washington's jobs will require some level of post-high school education.

    Rep. Kenney doesn't just talk about getting more people into college, she continuously pushes the doors wider. That's why the state’s community and technical college trustees recently awarded her their 2010 Outstanding Advocate for Equity Award.

    They cited Rep. Kenney's sponsorship of the Opportunity Grant program in 2006 which provides millions of dollars for low-income adults wanting to gain new skills or retrain at a community college. She has worked tirelessly to secure resources for Seattle’s community colleges to expand programs for low-income students and increase access to high-demand programs such as engineering.

    Rep. Kenney also helped create a ground-breaking new Certified Nursing Assistant program for Spanish-speaking students at South Seattle Community College, a partnership program with Swedish Hospital, the University of Washington and Sea-Mar. The nursing program has since become a nationally recognized model known as I-BEST (Integrated Basic Skills and Education Training) and has been mentioned by President Obama during speeches on education.

    It's these kinds of innovations and programs that will bolster Washington's ability to keep our workers well-trained and our employers well-supported.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    New economic reality prompts new budgeting process

    This morning Governor Gregoire rolled out a new approach for "Transforming Washington's Budget."

    The 20-page plan is worth checking out as it lays out a more detailed set of questions that agencies will have to answer if they want funding for the services and programs they currently provide. The questions are grouped into the areas of efficiency, performance and fiscal responsibility.

    Niki Reading from TVW was there for the Governor's press conference. She reports the Governor's new approach is prompted by the slow economic recovery and its anticipated long-term impact on our budget, starting with a projected $3 billion shortfall for the 2011-13 budget. In Gregoire's opening remarks she said:
    "We are seeing hopeful signs in our economic recovery but quite frankly, we are also seeing that things are not going to get back to the way they were anytime soon.”
    The plan lays out some major reform ideas to be considered including the privatization of our state ferry system and moving more people with developmental disabilities from state-operated residential centers to home- and community-based settings.

    The Governor has created a committee to provide input on these and other budget ideas. A cross-section of right- and left-leaning economists are on the roster, as well as chief budget writers from all four legislative caucus including House Ways & Means Chair Kelli Linville.

    The Governor's budget office also plans to engage the public with a series of budget hearings across the state. The first is in Tacoma on July 19. Additional dates and locations will be announced soon.

    Gregoire made an important point that this is not the first stab at major budget reforms, but it is a continuation of re-assessing how we "invest scarce dollars among so many competing demands." The 20-page plan includes numerous examples of spending reforms and efficiencies put in place during the previous legislative session including transferring certain state parks to local governments, cutting back on health care coverage for low-income families and consolidating correctional institutions.

    Governor to announce new budgeting approach this morning

    At 10:30 the Governor will announce a new budgeting process for the 2011-13 budget that expands further on the current Priorities of Government process (POG).

    We'll provide an update after Gregoire's press conference.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Linville: reforms underway, more needed

    State government needs to realign itself with today’s new economic reality—that’s the message Rep. Kelli Linville (Bellingham) delivered in an op-ed over the weekend to the Bellingham Herald.

    The Ways & Means Committee leader notes that reform is actually an ongoing practice in the budget process, although it rarely grabs the headlines. Reforms in recent years for long-term care, childhood vaccine purchasing, business permitting, and the juvenile justice system have sought to wring more value from taxpayer dollars.

    That being said, the severity of today’s worldwide economic crisis means reforms must go even further, Linville says. “The Legislature's top priority now is realigning government with today's new economic reality so that it works better for the people we represent,” she writes.

    To that end, the Ways & Means Committee is engaged in a substantive reform effort this legislative interim. As we mentioned earlier today, the committee is meeting to discuss reform efforts on education, health care, performance-based contracting, information technology and more. In May, the committee held two reform work sessions (agenda one, agenda two) open to all members of the House, where budget and audit experts presented potential reform methods, and legislators discussed their own reform ideas.

    Interested in receiving notice of meeting dates and agendas? Sign up for the committee’s email list here.