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Posts published in January 2010

Vote by movie

Some analyst ought to be able to make something out of this.

The New York Times has linked a zip code database to the database for rental popularity at Netflix - allowing you to see how popular various movies on the company's most-popular list fared by zip code. The variations are often larger than you might think.

Most of the maps provided are outside the region, but the Seattle-area map is sure worth a look.

The first positive variance

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.

Otter’s page, and the Legislature’s

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.

Back on KLIX

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.

Reassembling

The Idaho legislative session for 2010, the first back in the statehouse for what seems like a long time (and probably seems a lot longer to them), cranks up on Monday. Its tone, in this time of funding shortfalls, is unlikely to be cheerful.

But it may not be as terribly difficult a session as it's been billed. And to the Idaho Falls Post Register's suggestion that "it's not hyperbole to say 2010 could be the most important legislative session" since the last really turning-point session in 1965 . . . well, anything could happen, but from here the likelihood is that, yes, it's hyperbole. This session is more likely to be one in a series, all pointing the same way.

1965 was a critical session because it changed things in Idaho, quite a few things, starting with the imposition of the sales tax and going on from there. It altered directions, to the point that politics reaction to it split and shifted.

There's always a possibility that Idaho's legislators (and governor, whose signature is a key component in whatever happens) will tear off in some whole new and unexpected direction. But based on what Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter has said, and what legislative chamber and budget leaders have said - and they none of them seem to be very far apart in their views - the course of the next three months or so looks pretty clear.

No new taxes or other significant money raisers - at most, maybe some small idea slips through. Basically, the revenue shortfalls will be made up by cuts, in schools, colleges and universities, health care, parks, and all sorts of other things. The main exceptions may be those agencies heavily reliant on dedicated funds of money (like the hunting and fishing fees going to Fish & Game). Otherwise, deep cuts all over.

The exact numbers will be up for grabs. Otter will offer his list tomorrow. Legislators will accept some of those numbers, adjust some. But in the main this will be a chopping block session.

And when it is done, the trajectory of the last session - which was heavy into cutting as well, though not as much as this one likely will be - will be continued. And the overall style of budget limitations Idaho has seen for some years will be simply put on steroids.

Not so much a new direction as an acceleration of what has been. A simple and straightforward shot. Other subjects will arise for consideration, of course; at any given time, most legislators aren't working on the budget, so they'll have time for other things too. But as we sit here now, this could be one of the shorter sessions in recent years. The big decisions seem already to have been made.

Newspapers, newsprint

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At Oregon City/Stapilus

Newspapers are shrinking. There have been times, during the boom years for newspapers, when they actually had some trouble laying hands on enough newsprint paper. No longer; with consequences for the newsprint industry.

As Rogue Pundit usefully points out: On New Years Eve, Blue Heron Paper of Oregon City (if you go through downtown, its maybe the most visible business of all there) filed of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, and laid off 50 employees.

Rogue takes a look at the industry through the eyes of Blue Heron, and it's worth a look. One observation that jumped out: "Notice that it's cheaper to ship old newspapers to China, recycle them into newsprint, and ship it back to us. No doubt the purchasers of that newsprint brag they're being green because it's recycled."

At Newberg: Not your daddy’s teabaggers

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Wyden's Newberg town hall/Linda Watkins

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden's town hall meeting at Newberg this evening was not so different, in many ways, from those we've attended in past years. But this is the era of the teabagger, and so some things were different. The venue (a high school commons) was larger with more seating, and questions were take on a ticket system. Those things, neither bad, were just reflective of a larger audience. When in past town halls in this county Wyden asked how many people had attended before, nearly all hands rose. Tonight, the percentage was maybe less than half - and the overall persuasion of the audience was decidedly different.

Last summer that might have suggested an overheated room with a chorus of people yelling, shouting, calling out "liar!" and "Nazi!" and such. And signs and pictures with Hitler mustaches for Barack Obama. But that was then. The opposition - which is to say, the conservative Republican opposition to health care reform and lots of concern about illegal immigration - was certainly in evidence. But it neither dominated the proceedings nor offered the kind of "they'll hauling granny to the gas chamber" type of claims that made the rounds back then.

Things actually seem to have cooled off a bit, and Wyden's handling of the meeting was not a lot different from the way he has dealt with the last few. On a string of issues, he delivered clearly-developed stances, well-framed. To one woman concerned about citizenship for children of immigrants here illegally, he was definitive: The adults should face consequences for breaking the law, but the kids did nothing wrong and shouldn't be penalized. On health care, Wyden's work on his own health bill, co-sponsored with both Republicans and Democrats, actually wound up giving him cover of a sort: To concerns about deficiencies in the bill which passed the Senate, he could and did argue that his own proposal was better (as, in our view, it generally is). He also argued that the Senate bill is useful as a starting point, and useful enough in that sense to merit a vote for it. (more…)

Washington: Ban ahead

What with Oregon and California both banning hand-held cell phone talking while driving, as a primary offense - something cops can pull you over for as a singular offense - it's not a tough guess that Washington soon will follow suit.

Police in Oregon already have begun ticketing on the offense, though warnings seem to predominate at the moment.

Then there's this from the Slog in Seattle, which makes the argument against texting, or at least sexting. With a little help from a state senator.

A government-business mashup from long ago

The too-tight relations between so many government officials (not to say so many entities of government) and well-connected business operations is one of the problems of the age. But not only this age.

Steve Crump of the Twin Falls Times-News today unearthed an old one indeed, and worth the review and the ponder.

It dates to 1921, when a land speculator in New York, D.W. Scott, touted a great land buy opportunity in the Idaho Magic Valley. Nothing new in that (and some small present-day Idaho communities, New Plymouth for one, got their start that way). Here's the added twist:

"He learned that Idaho Gov. D.W. Davis was in Washington, D.C., for a conference, so he traveled to the capital and button-holed the governor. Would Mr. Davis come to Brooklyn and pitch the project? The governor agreed, and on May 22, 1921, he met with about 100 investors and potential investors and endorsed the Roseworth venture. According to historian George Frederic Stratton, one of the potential settlers asked Davis if city folks could go on to sagebrush land and raise a crop within a year. Yes, the governor replied, adding cryptically that Idaho didn’t want Eastern farmers who knew nothing about irrigated agriculture."

Of course, the settlers who arrived at the location, Roseworth (they came up with some of the nicest names), found nothing but dust and sagebrush, and soon gave up.

Crump points out that Davis soon after was named to head the agency that is now (after a renaming) the Bureau of Reclamation.