Writings and observations

Budget people in Washington state have become accustomed to delivering and receiving bad news about the state’s economy, and not only that – accustomed to it being worse than they’d originally predicted.

Now, possibly, a turnaround.

Arun Raha, the state economist long nicknamed “Dr. Doom” for his bad news, today told the Senate Economic Development, Trade and Innovation Committee that his new numbers are “the first time we have a positive variance since I have been chasing the numbers down for a year and a half.”

His new report includes a variety of new nuggets backing that up. Such as:

“Holiday sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas grew a higher than expected 3.6% over last year‟s dismal numbers . . . Now that growth in output has returned, the attention is increasingly on when we
can expect job growth to resume. Over the last month the evidence has continued to mount that a turning point in jobs is near. . . . Following the national trend, the number of new car and truck registrations in Washington rebounded to 15,600 (SAAR) in December from 12,100 in November. Excluding the months that were boosted by cash for clunkers, this is the highest sales rate for cars and trucks since October 2008. . . . The National Association of Purchasing Managers Western Washington Index has now been above 50 for the last five months. Values above 50 indicate expansion while values below 50 indicate contraction. This suggests that the state’s manufacturing sector is turning around. . . . [State] Revenue from the December 11, 2009 – January 10, 2010 period surprised on the upside, with positive variances in both Revenue Act and non-Revenue Act revenue.”

Employment is still lousy, and none of this takes Washington state finances very far out of the hole. But it does suggest some light in the darkness.

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Washington

Here was a heartfelt statement: Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, saying to Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter just before his state of the state speech – “Hopefully, we can all be on the same page when you leave this place today.”

The fact that, on a few key matters, they weren’t on the same page last year resulted in an unusually long and difficult session.

The matters ahead of this session are not simple, and Otter said of that his state of the state’s this one was longest. But Otter and the legislators may be more closely on the same page this time.

“Number one: We must not raise taxes.” That was core point number one in the speech. There were words about protecting education, health and safety, but “no taxes” came first. The operating majority in the legislature is unlikely to see it differently.

In fact, the speech taken as a whole was a conservative red-meat speech, starting with the tax talk and going on from there. Without reaching over any improper bounds, it could have functioned as Otter’s re-election campaign opener: A statement of philosophical principles and an argument for why he wants to continue to do the job.

It included a celebration of business, anchored by a long, long list of business leaders – far more of them than any other group of Idahoans. (As the speech structured it, the business owners or executives were the focus of the celebration, not so much the employees or the business per se.) Many were there at the statehouse, and Otter asked them to “please stand and let us thank you.”

The speech was very philosophical on government – lots of lines abut small government, local government, the federal government doing bad things, about government getting out of the way. (A lot of this could have been lifted from an Otter gubernatorial campaign speech in 1978.)

“Idahoans don’t believe good government means more government or bigger government,” he said, rather it means a government that understands its limitations – what it shouldn’t do. (Which logically raises the question of why it should not be got rid of altogether, if it’s so useless.) After which, state employees got a quick note of thanks as well.

He proposed a number of specific changes, including cuts of 400 state jobs (375 of those, he said, currently are vacant) and a cut in public school spending.

The closest thing to a social program was a further small increase in the grocery tax credit – a tax cut, while costing the state funds, is an easier sell than something actively spending money.

There’s little here that the majority of Idaho legislators are likely to disagree with. This certainly could be the short session the governor and legislative leaders say they want.

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Idaho

On Monday mornings last year, I talked with the news staff at KLIX-AM in Twin Falls during the legislative session, about what was coming up at the Statehouse – or, then, the Statehouse annex.

This year we’re doing it again, starting this morning. You can reach KLIX online via the image at the top of the right column. And there’s one difference between this year and last: This year’s radiocasts will be podcast, and available via streaming. This morning’s, for example – it of course had to do with the arrival of the legislators and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s state of the state speech, upcoming shortly – is available for listening. Check it out.

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Idaho website