Friday, July 8, 2011

Lift your apple cider glass and celebrate the end of a costly NAFTA dispute

The end of a small tariff war with Mexico could mean mucho dinero for Washington's agricultural industry.

One of the provisions of the 1994 North America Free Trade Agreement allowed commercial trucks open access across the US borders with both Mexico and Canada.

But access on this side of the border was not fully granted due to safety and environmental concerns. And in 2009, Congress cut funding for a pilot program to allow long-haul Mexican trucks to circulate in the U.S.

In retaliation, Mexico placed tariffs on 99 American products including tree fruit - our very own cherries, pears, apricots and, of course, apples. These tariffs have cost our fruit growers tens of millions of dollars.

But there’s good news in the very, very near future, as an agreement signed Wednesday will allow U.S. and Mexican trucks to freely transport goods across the shared border.

Consequently, Mexico will soon remove the tariffs. Twenty percent will be reduced almost immediately and the rest will come off in the fall. Great timing, too, because Mexico is Washington’s largest apple export market.

According to the Yakima Herald story:
Mexico is the state's largest apple export market, accounting for more than 10 million boxes annually. The 20 percent tariff imposed on apples in 2010 has cost growers an estimated $44 million annually.

Losses to the pear, cherry and apricot industries are estimated at $30 million since those products were first subjected to the tariff in 2009, according to estimates provided by the Northwest Horticultural Council. The council represents Northwest growers on trade and regulatory issues.
Read the full story in the Yakima-Herald Reporter.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Homeless shelters feeling the pinch from state budget cuts

This week Rep. Andy Billig met with Rusty Barnett, program director of Hope House in Spokane, for a tour of the downtown facility. Hope House provides shelter for 30-34 homeless women every night year round. Women visiting Hope House can shower, store their belongings safely, have a hot meal and a bed to sleep in at night. Those interested in looking for work, finding a place to live, or getting help for chemical dependency or mental health issues are also provided with the assistance they need.

Hope House (originally the Downtown Women's Shelter) was founded in 1998 in response to serial murders of Spokane women. Operated by Volunteers of America since 2001, Hope House gets its funding from federal, state, county and city sources, as well as private donations. Food for shelter residents comes from the Second Harvest Food Bank and the Women's and Children's Free Restaurant, both also located in Spokane.

Like all nonprofits, Ms. Barnett and her associates are feeling the squeeze caused by the recession.

"I worry that cutting services now will cost all of us more in the long run," she told Rep. Billig.

Photo: Rusty Barnett, left, chats with Rep. Andy Billig in the kitchen of Hope House in Spokane. The artwork behind them and throughout the facility was provided by the shelter's residents.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

How does a bill really become law?

Is it the step-by-step process like you’d read about in your civics textbook? Yes. And no. It’s an art, and a science, and in this new Capitol Ideas podcast, Rep. Jamie Pedersen sketches the biography of a bill to give listeners a behind-the-scenes look at how it works.

To give a listen, just click here. To hear other Capitol Ideas podcasts from the House Democratic Caucus, click here. You can subscribe on that page, or visit iTunes and search for Capitol Ideas.

Performing on reforming

Washington hasn’t rested on our reform laurels since earning top Grading the States honors in “results-based government” from the Governing Magazine and the Pew Center on the States. Much is being done and there is still more to do, according to new reports.

A summary of Major 2011 Legislative Reforms from the office of the Governor points to hundreds of millions in savings from actions taken this year—including Unemployment Insurance Reforms that will save businesses $300 million this year alone.

A brand new report from the State Auditor’s Office shows we’re also making progress on performance-based contracting. In November 2010, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s 2011 Executive Order on Performance Based Contracting directed all state cabinet agencies to institute performance-based contracting for new contracts and renewals of existing contracts. The new State Auditor’s report on performance contracting followed up with detailed reviews of more than 450 state contracts and hundreds of interviews. Findings include:
  • Overall, Washington has built a solid foundation from which to improve its contracting processes and possibly to reduce costs.
  • Washington contracts for about $10 billion annually—roughly a third of all state spending. And 92 percent of reviewed contracts met the Office of Financial Management’s basic standards by identifying deliverables and tying payments to successful completion or delivery.
But there’s still more to do. For example, the Highlights of the Auditor’s Recommendations calls for increasing the use of performance or outcomes measures in determining payments, and improved training on performance contracting.

The work of reform is never complete. There will always be more to do … and House Democrats will always be leading the way.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New projects will need new revenue, hence a new task force

Washington's transportation system is need of more than $175 billion worth of improvements, maintenance and preservation work over the next 20 years.

Those projects, however, cannot currently be funded with existing revenues. Gas tax revenues are flat and revenue from the 2003 and 2005 transportation packages approved by voters are committed to paying off projects that have been or soon will be completed.

The lack of available new funding is evident in the most recent transportation budget approved by the Legislature, which essentially maintains funding for existing projects and maintenance efforts but funds very little in the way of new projects.

That's why today the Governor announced a new task force to whittle down the top priorities in the state and strategies for funding them. State Rep. Judy Clibborn, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, will be on the task force along with representatives from local communities, business groups, labor, tribes, environmental groups, and more.

The first task force meeting will be later this month. We'll let you know when details are confirmed.