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Posts published in “Day: January 11, 2009”

First vote in a new Congress

The U.S. Senate vote on cloture - breaking the prospect of a filibuster, and allowing for a straight-up vote - on the mega-public lands bill (Senate Bill 22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act) passed, 66-12 today, and those 12 were all Republicans, most among the most conservative of Senate Republicans. The yea votes included 12 Republicans also, the remainder being among the 20 senators not casting a vote. (The cloture vote was in response to a challenge from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who almost single-handedly has been blocking these measures for years.)

Owyhee Canyonlands

In the Owyhee Canyonlands/photo by John McCarthy via Owyhee Initiative

It includes a pile of lands efforts for Oregon, including Mount Hood designation, and one big one for Idaho, the Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness plan. The Canyonlands has been one of Idaho Senator Mike Crapo's major legislative efforts, and his vote for cloture meant a vote for his own proposal. The aye votes from the four Democrats from Washington and Oregon were no surprise. But how would the region's new Republican senator, Jim Risch from Idaho, vote? From his office this afternoon:

Senator Jim Risch cast his first floor vote in the U.S. Senate at an unusual time – Sunday afternoon. The cloture vote, which ended debate on S. 22, came at 2 p.m.

Senator Risch cast a “yes” vote to end debate on a public lands bill that contains several items important to Idaho. Those items include setting aside a portion of the Owyhee Canyonlands as wilderness, funding for several water project studies in southern Idaho, conveying 165 acres of BLM land to the City of Twin Falls, and adding Morley Nelson’s name to the Birds of Prey Conservation Area.

“I am very pleased that my first vote in the U.S. Senate was in support of Senator Crapo’s Owyhee Initiative,” said Risch. ”Like the roadless proposal that I worked on as Governor, this land use legislation is the result of a long collaborative effort by local elected officials, ranchers, recreationists, conservationists, and tribes. The resulting bill protects the livelihood of working ranch families, and provides certainty for recreationists and important cultural resources, as well as outstanding scenic backcountry areas.”

Risch surprised a lot of people with a governorship (brief but energetic) that included some genuine environmental activism. Any questions about whether that would carry over to the Senate seem to be answered.

The cloture vote, by the way, clarifies that the bill is almost certain to pass by a large margin, and has a good shot at becoming law in a matter of weeks.

ID: Legislature ahead


All three - Idaho, Oregon, Washington - Statehouses (or, in Idaho, the Annex) this year have decisively unified governments: One party, and even one general viewpoint, strongly in control in each of those three places. Which doesn't preclude some tussling and turning, even internally. And there seems to be some soul-struggle going on as legislators prepare to convene in Idaho.

Not that there's much dispute about the outline. As in Washington and Oregon, revenue is down, plummeting, and employment may be headed toward even worse status in Idaho than in the other two. In Idaho in recent years, the notion of raising taxes just isn't on the table. So that means cuts, substantial cuts. Significant state layoffs, probably upwards of 100 jobs, seem in the offing. But a lot of other ideas seem almost off the table, maybe in part because the state's sheer overwhelming reputation for fiscal conservatism seems to bar certain ideas.

But these conservatism don't seem to be relishing the cutting ahead. Senator John McGee, R-Caldwell (who may be running for Congress in 2010 and therefore would be eager to appeal to the right): "We run such a tight ship over here that when we do have cuts, they hurt. It's going to be painful. And I'll tell you what's different: We don't know where the bottom is."

Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter comes out of libertarian background and has literally made a career out of the idea of cutting government down to size. But consider this from an Idaho Statesman piece today: "The crumbling economy gives him a chance to affirm a core value: 'Government should be there when nobody else is,' but leave the rest to the private sector. Being governor has shown him that finding that line is vexing. He says he can't get the face of an autistic boy named Spencer out of his mind. Spencer's mother confronted Otter about cutting Spencer's treatment from 30 hours a week to 22. 'Nobody ever mentions the Health and Welfare budget that I don't see Spencer's face,' Otter said. 'Ever.'"

In an interview with the Idaho Statesman, there was this revealing bit: "Q: You aren't getting private- sector general contractors, alternative-energy types, broadband providers? A: No, I haven't. Maybe the agencies have. I haven't had anybody call me and say, 'Butch, go get this money and go get that money.' In fact, the only long-term discussion I've had about this is with the media." We'd probably put down some green on the idea that this isn't true of Gregoire in Washington or Kulongoski in Oregon. (more…)

WA: Legislature ahead

Jeff Kropf

It's a shame in some ways the Washington Legislature has just 105 days (okay, with a possible 30-day special as a trailer) to do its thing. There are some really basic questions this legislature could attack, and the structural situation is that it could if there's enough time.

Or, it could just run through the numbers, do the job of passing the budget and setting the revenue streams, and let it go at that. But there's potential here for more.

The key reason is that a triangular situation seems to be developing: Most of the legislative Democrats on one side, almost all of the Republicans on another, and Governor Chris Gregoire more or less in the middle.

This comes together simply because there's one big issue in this upcoming session (and much the same is true in Oregon and Idaho), that being spending. The state currently is on track for a $6 billion deficit, and steady as it goes won't work. Decisions will have to be made: Are cuts to be made? Are taxes to be increased? Will there be some measure of the two? Will some other partial options be found (and, while there are no fiscal wonder pills, there may be some additional options)?

Gregoire seems to have drawn a sand-line around some areas (education, debt service and some others) as no-cut territory, and is looking for major slices elsewhere. The Republicans, and probably some Democrats, would expand the cuttable territory, while most Democrats will probably want to expand the land of no-cuts. What we probably won't see, though, is a serious attempt to simply try to leave everything as it is; as Republican House Leader Richard DeBolt said, "we've never seen a deficit this large before." And he won't get argument on that.

Maybe because the number of Democrats in each chamber is so large, we're not hearing so much (yet at least) of simple anti-government rhetoric. That may be a sign that Republicans recognize they do have a slightly less ambitious but very real opportunity here. Senator Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, has been quoted as saying that spending increases in the last few years by Gregoire and the Democratic majority account for more of the deficit problem than the economic downturn does; and even if you quibble about the numbers, the budget runups in the last couple of biennial cycles certainly have inflated that projected deficit in a major way.

So the question some of the Republicans are getting at - is the state being too generous? - takes on some urgency and could move toward the center of the debate. Not a simplistic philosophical question, but a look at details and degrees. And that, actually, is the sort of thing a legislature should be looking at hardest.

That doesn't automatically translate to something specific. The Olympian has summarized, "Just consider what is on the chopping block: Pay increases for state workers and public school teachers, smaller classes in public schools, health-care coverage for children and low-income families, expansion of the higher education system, and the state human services safety net."

And Senator Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, for example, said all this raises the question of "what kind of state we want to live in, and whether we want to sacrifice some of our key services." But the issue may be joined, seriously. (more…)