Friday, March 25, 2011

WA Whiteboard: State workers

Rep. Marko Liias takes a minute to describe the average state employee, and where they are working:

In the House today

It’s Friday! The only committee meeting today is Higher Ed at 8:30.

The House will convene on the floor at 9:00. Check out our Twitter feed later today for updates on expected floor action.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Op-ed: More than 500 tax breaks cost state treasury at least $6.5 billion each year

Rep. Chris Reykdal makes the case for closing some of our state's 500 tax exemptions before shuttering some of our state's invaluable services for needy citizens.

An excerpt from The Olympian column:
I am one of only two House members who voted against the three new tax exemptions that have been proposed this session. All three of these exemptions represent great causes, but in the absence of a clear strategy for dealing with current and future tax exemptions, we must draw the line.

As a state, we give out more than 500 “tax breaks” that cost us over $6.5 billion each year, with more added every year. Most of them were borne out of a belief that they would save jobs or lower costs for consumers. There is little evidence that tax breaks accomplish their stated purpose.

To date, only 17 percent of our state’s tax exemptions have ever even been reviewed. We have no idea if these tax breaks to narrow interests outweigh the impact of lost revenue to our schools and the most needy.

Before we consider kicking thousands of people off the Basic Health Plan, stuffing more kids into classrooms, and drastically reducing critical services for seniors, we need to scrutinize every dollar we dole out on tax exemptions and ensure the benefits outweigh the costs to education and health care services we are proposing to cut.

Read the entire op-ed here.

Rep. Zack Hudgins' Virtual Town Hall Tonight

Today in the House: GET, CLAMP, all-day K and more

Most policy committees will finish their work today, and meetings for tomorrow afternoon are canceled. No floor activity today, but we will convene at 10:00 tomorrow and begin running bills. For today, we have:

8:00 am Education
Executive Session:
1. SSB 5184 - Regarding compliance reports for second-class school districts.
2. SSB 5392 - Including technology as a stated educational core concept and principle.
3. SSB 5427 - Regarding an assessment of students in state-funded full-day kindergarten classrooms.

8:00 am Early Learning and Human Services
Work Session: Long-Term Residential Chemical Dependency Treatment.

Executive Session:
1. SSB 5204 - Concerning juveniles who have been adjudicated of a sex offense.
2. SB 5395 - Changing provisions involving domestic violence fatality review panels.
3. ESSB 5656 - Creating a state Indian child welfare act

10:00 Higher Education
Public Hearing:
1. HB 1907 - Establishing the GET ready for college program.
2. HB 1908 - Creating a peer mentoring program to encourage elementary school students to attend college.
3. HB 1954 - Concerning public interest degrees.

Possible Executive Session:
1. SSB 5749 - Regarding the Washington advanced college tuition payment (GET) program.
2. ESB 5764 - Creating innovate Washington.
3. 2SSB 5636 - Concerning the University Center of North Puget Sound.

1:30 pm Capital Budget
Work Session: Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan (CLAMP).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One year later: we still agree with the VP

Today is the one-year anniversary of the big event Vice-President Joe Biden described so memorably – the signing of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In the past six months, the first round of consumer protections have already gone into effect:
  • Insurance companies can no longer deny children with preexisting conditions, take away your coverage if you become very sick, or place a cap on your benefits.
  • Preventive care services such as annual physicals and mammograms are now free of charge.
  • Parents can keep their kids on their policy until they turn 26.
These are just the first steps, however. Full implementation of federal health care reform won’t be complete until 2014. In the meantime, states are gearing up for the transition and Washington legislators have been working to ensure current programs such as the Basic Health Program remain in place to bridge us to 2014. You can read more about why Washington’s efforts to preserve those basic services today, even in the midst of enormous budget challenges, will pay off tomorrow.

Rep. Kathy Haigh receives Pioneer Educator Award for supporting online learning

Hundreds of students, parents and teachers gathered in the rotunda at the Washington state Capitol Tuesday as education advocate Rep. Kathy Haigh was recognized for her leadership in support of online public school programs.

Chosen by the Washington Families for Online Learning, Haigh was one of four legislators selected to receive a Pioneer Educator Award this year.

“I am deeply honored, and I look forward to continuing to provide the best, most innovative educational opportunities to all Washington students,” Haigh said. “Online learning removes geographic and economic barriers while preparing our children to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Budget season begins: Transportation plan unveiled today

The Legislature’s first biennial budget proposal of the session came out today as House leaders rolled out the $8.9 billion transportation budget. The two-year plan will better connect Washington, generate construction jobs, and promote commerce, say House transportation leaders. Rep. Judy Clibborn, chair of the Transportation Committee, met with reporters at noon along with Rep. Marko Liias, vice-chair, Rep. Mike Armstrong, ranking member, and Rep. Mark Hargrove, assistant ranking member.

The budget is expected to create or sustain about 43,000 jobs, which will help construction workers and their families, many of whom have been hit hard by the recession’s construction slump. The budget also maintains the momentum of existing projects across Washington, including the 2003 “Nickel” and 2005 Transportation Partnership Program packages, of which nearly 300 projects are already completed. About $3.9 billion is provided to continue remaining projects in the next biennium.

“Maintaining and expanding our infrastructure is essential to our economic recovery,” says Clibborn. “With this budget, we’re keeping our commitment to connecting the state. We want to minimize disruption and promote efficient travel so commuters can get to work and freight can reach its destinations.”

Looking ahead, long-term revenue forecasts are showing a decline in fuel-tax receipts as people use more fuel-efficient or alternative-power cars. That’s great news for the environment but a challenge for the transportation budget, which relies heavily on fuel taxes. So lawmakers have introduced some efficiency measures in the budget, including reducing operational expenses by $29.5 million and salary reductions to save $18 million. A tentative labor agreement between the state and ferry workers is expected to save an additional $20.5 million.

Even with the belt-tightening, most money in the budget is already dedicated to existing projects, leaving little for new projects. Clibborn says this points to the need for a statewide discussion about whether there’s interest for new revenue to fund a new round of projects.

The budget itself is available here, including an easy-to-read summary at the beginning.