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 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.