Friday, January 21, 2011

Rep. Billig gets his 15 minutes

Freshman Spokane legislator Rep. Andy Billig met with Secretary of State Sam Reed today, who officially welcomed him as a new lawmaker. Secretary Reed takes the time to meet one-on-one with all new legislators in his office, which is located in the Legislative Building.

During the 15-minute meeting, Secretary Reed told Rep. Billig that he is a graduate of Spokane's Lewis and Clark High School, and is currently the only statewide elected official from eastern Washington.

Rep. Billig, who is part-owner and former general manager/president of the Spokane Indians Baseball Club, encouraged Secretary Reed to return to his hometown and attend an upcoming Indians game.

"You can throw out the honorary first pitch," Billig promised him.

A little good news for Washington businesses

Here’s a little bright spot for businesses that have fallen behind in their taxes during these tough economic times. All interest and penalties on unpaid taxes could be waived by the state Department of Revenue under a temporary amnesty program now available for those trying to get caught up.

If you owe state business and occupation (B&O) tax, state public utility tax, or state or local sales and use tax that was due before February 1, 2011, you may be eligible for the program.

This could be especially advantageous for businesses that are unregistered or have outgrown the active non-reporting status.

If you are interested in the amnesty program, go to and request a quote. The quote will let you know what you would owe and how much you would save by participating in the program.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Early action budget bill passed committee with some changes

The House Ways and Means Committee met last night and passed SHB 1086, the early action savings bill for the current biennium. It passed out of committee by a vote of
16-11 on a straight party vote.

The committee made a number of changes made to the bill, including the following with fiscal impacts:
  • Special Education Safety Net Change - This policy changes when special education funds are sent to districts (-$22 million)
  • Basic Health Plan - Restores funding for two months for those clients that receive Medicaid match (+$7.2 million)
  • Limited English Pathways (LEP) - Restores half of the funding for this program (+$1.5 million)
  • Interpreters - Sets up two pilots to test technology-based alternatives to in-person interpreter services (+$200,000)
  • Highly Capable Program - Restores funding for the entire program (+$7.1 million)
  • Pediatric Interim Care - Restores funding (+$201,000)
  • K-12 Compensation - Technical adjustment (-$14,000)
  • Maternity Support Services from Children’s Services - Shifts $800,000 from Children’s Services to the MSS program – nets to zero
  • Parent-to-Parent networks are funded - Shifts $75,000 from the residential rehabilitation centers - nets to zero
The net effect of these changes is to reduce General Fund-State funding for FY 2011 by an additional $5.7 million for a total of $222 million in cuts.

The following provisos were also adopted:
  • Removes the requirement that the Department of Natural Resources must lease facilities in Eastern Washington to house aircraft, mechanics, and pilots used for forest fire prevention and suppression.
  • Directs the Department of Early Learning to not adopt, enforce, or implement any rules or policies restricting eligibility below 175 percent of the federal poverty level for the Working Connections Child Care program effective January 31, 2011.
Next step? The bill will soon be up for a vote to the House floor.

Questions about cuts to colleges?

As you might have noticed, the House Higher Education Committee is under new leadership this session. Rep. Larry Seaquist was named chair in December and has since then been working with members to take a fresh look at university funding and issues.

To start the 2011 session, the committee has done a series of informative overviews of various issues affecting our state's higher education system -- which began back in the 1860's. These sessions on higher education's impact on the economy, a look at who is attending college, and other topics can be found archived at TVW.

The Seattle Times has taken an interest in higher education, with a review of the proposed budget cuts to higher education in yesterday's paper: The Budget Breakdown - Trimming higher ed may erode job opportunities

Today they're going a step further and hosting an online chat to answer questions about the cuts and what impacts they'll have. Reporter Katherine Long will be starting that at 1 p.m. today.

You can join in here: Education - Live chat about higher education in Wash. state

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Details on today's early action budget bill

The House unveiled a plan today that takes another $340 million bite out of the current budget shortfall while maintaining current funding levels for basic education and Apple Health for Kids.

“One of our goals going into this process was to protect our children as much as we possibly could,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “We couldn’t save everything, but we really prioritized core services for kids.”

Hunter’s proposal includes $216.5 million in cuts and $123.8 in fund transfers. This comes on top of the $588 million cut last month during the one-day special session.

“This is real progress,” said Hunter. “The problem is getting smaller. We still have a gap of about $260 million to fill for the fiscal year that ends June 30, but taking this action now will mean taking fewer cuts next biennium.”

Levy equalization funds that help property-poor school districts are left intact, according to Rep. Pat Sullivan, House Majority Leader and long-time education advocate.

“These decisions aren’t easy for any of us,” said Sullivan, “but maintaining the current levy equalization was a high priority for our caucus. Schools all over the state rely on those dollars for vital education programs.”

Besides levy equalization, differences from the governor’s proposal include several safety net items. Apple Health for Kids and the Disability Lifeline are funded at current levels, and the following services are cut, but not to the level recommended by Gregoire:
  • State food assistance
  • Child abuse prevention
  • Prescription drug assistance for seniors
  • Community health clinics
  • Family Planning services
  • Mental health assistance
“There are still devastating cuts in this proposal, but in many cases we managed to stretch the safety net without breaking it,” said committee vice-chair Rep. Jeannie Darneille. “Our children, elderly, and most vulnerable people remain a top priority in this proposal.”

“The House recognizes our state has a real problem,” said Hunter. “Unlike the lawmakers in some states, we know it’s our responsibility to tackle it early in the session.” His proposal will be heard in House Ways and Means today at 3:30 and could be approved by that committee as early as tomorrow.

Full text of bill

Move that boat! Fitzgibbon to strengthen problem-boat program

Boats abandoned in harbors and waterways are a problem on several levels. They're an aesthetic and safety concern for neighboring homes, they can leak fuel and oil, and eventually at risk of sinking. The Department of Natural Resources runs the Derelict Vessel Removal Program, which helps public agencies remove problem boats.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon is working with DNR on improving the state's waterways, and has introduced legislation with them to bolster the derelict boat program.
"Abandoned boats are a big problem, logistically and environmentally, for communities and waterways around the state. This program is tackling that problem effectively, but we can improve it by holding these owners more accountable and improving DNR’s partnerships with local governments. This solution is free to taxpayers and helps DNR use its existing resources better to improve waterway safety and eliminate serious pollution hazards."

Among other changes, the bill grants public agencies addressing derelict vessels the same liability immunity enjoyed by other emergency responders; clarifies that knowingly abandoning a vessel is a misdemeanor; and allows local governments to contract with marinas to remove abandoned vessels.

The program was featured over the summer in a KING5 segment, where officials went out to put boats on notice, and tow away a problem boat:

More information: DNR's Derelict Vessel Removal Program

State program saving jobs, keeping businesses afloat

As the attention focuses on some major modifications to the state’s unemployment insurance system moving through the Legislature in order to provide tax relief to businesses and extended benefits to the unemployed, we thought we’d shed a little light on an innovative program at ESD called the Shared Work Program.

Instead of just eliminating jobs, the Shared Work Program allows struggling employers to cut their payroll costs by reducing the hours of their full-time employees. ESD then provides those workers with partial unemployment benefits to make up for some of the lost wages.

According to ESD, more than 32,000 Washington workers kept earning a paycheck in 2010, up from the record 22,000 saved jobs in 2009.

“The Shared Work program is a great example of the kind of assistance the state can provide to struggling business owners,” said Chris Reykdal, the freshman legislator from the 22nd District who sits on the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. “It’s helping keep businesses afloat, paychecks going to workers, and money flowing into our local communities. Before any employer considers layoffs, I highly recommend giving the Shared Work Program a shot at saving jobs first.”

Employment Security paid out $35 million in shared-work benefits to participants in 2010. The department would have paid an estimated $69 million more in unemployment benefits if the workers had been fully laid off and collected the state average of 20 weeks for regular unemployment benefits.

Click here for more information about the Shared Work Program or call ‘em up at 800-752-2500.

Early action budget bill on today's agenda

Today's House committee activities include some major budget action in the Ways & Means Committee at 3:30 when members will hear an early action budget bill. Other committee activities from our Hot Sheet include:

10:00 am Labor and Workforce Development
Work Session: Overview of the Workforce Investment Initiative

1:30 pm Education
Work Session:
Quality Education Council – 2011 Report to the Legislature
Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee
High school assessments and high school graduation

3:30 pm Ways & Means
Public Hearing: HB 1086 – Making 2011 supplemental operating appropriations (will hear substitute proposed by Rep. Hunter)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Honoring Dr. King

For most public employees, today is a holiday to commemorate the birthday of one of our country's greatest civil rights leaders, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But the Legislature was open and in session today, honoring Dr. King with a floor resolution. Several legislators spoke about Dr. King's life and legacy, including Rep. Luis Moscoso, who introduced this year's resolution.

"This country must continue the heroic work that Dr. King and others sacrificed their lives for," Moscoso said.

Later, a rally in front of the Legislative Building brought together people from all walks of life to stand for racial and economic justice.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove addressed the noon crowd, speaking about America's great promise of freedom and opportunity for all that, 43 years after Dr. King's death, is not yet completely fulfilled.

“All people, regardless of our differences, have value, have something to contribute, and deserve equal rights and fair treatment," Upthegrove said. "Those are our values. That’s why we’re here."

What's hot in the House this week?

This week's list of interesting committee hearings can be found here.

Today's lineup includes:
1:30 pm State Government & Tribal Affairs
Work Session: Washington Lottery Commission – an overview.

1:30 pm Judiciary
Public Hearing: HB 1037 – Placing restrictions on legal claims initiated by persons serving criminal sentences in correctional facilities.

3:30 pm Ways & Means
Work Session: Bills necessary to implement the Governor's 2011 supplemental budget proposal.