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Posts published in January 2012

WA bill of the day: SB 6061

People who do lawmaking know after a while how important process is. You can do the same thing in different ways, and it can have drastically different effects.

In Washington, where the sales tax is relatively high statewide (with some local add-ons as well), there is a limited exemption on the sales tax to non-residents. Only residents of certain areas qualify: Oregonians do but Idahoans do not, because it applies only to jurisdictions that do not themselves impose sales taxes. At their discretion, retailers can make exempt sales, but do not have to. (A lot of Vancouver residents make them to Oregonians, for example.)

That exemption has been a matter of just not paying when you buy. But that may change if Senate Bill 6061, introduced today by Senators Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, and Ed Murray, R-Seattle, is passed. Technically, it keeps the exemption in place, but requires that it be imposed at the time of sale. The buyer would then write to the state and ask for a refund.

Think in terms of that $50 rebate you can send for when you buy a electronic item. Maybe you forget about it, or lose the paper - generally what the manufacturer hopes will happen. Now, the state of Washington will be hoping for the same thing.

The exemption, of course, was sought by border retailers who didn't want to be too severely disadvantaged (especially by Oregon). Wonder how they'll react to this?

ID bill of the day: HB 354

Bill of the day is regular short highlight of a new legislative measure - some good, some bad, others just interesting.

The first new substantive bill of the Idaho 2012 session, HB 354, by Representative Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is not likely to go far. You might think it would if you focus on the part of the sales tax reduction. But then you realize the negative pile-on when that is paid for by extending the sales tax to a bunch of goods and services currently exempted.

What's notable is the list of goods and services exempted - and this is just the list needed to make up for the tax reduction by a penny or so: "eliminates ten exemptions (broadcast equipment, commercial aircraft, railroad rolling stock and remanufacturing, driver's education automobiles, trade in value, ski lifts and snow grooming equipment, heating materials, utility sales, precious metal bullion, and telecommunications equipment), and extends sales tax to nine categories of services (professional, personal, business, construction, transportation, repairs, lottery and pari-mutual betting, media measurement, and miscellaneous)."

Carlson: Behind the Kroc Center

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The first invitation to tour the Kroc Center was tendered by long-time friend Sandy Patano. I have worked with her on a number of issues for more years than either would want to acknowledge. The former state director for Senator Larry Craig, Ms. Patano was the one indispensable aide and a key reason why he served as long as he did.

She made sure the state offices diligently worked to solve constituent problems, regardless of one’s political affiliation, while also keeping a sharp eye on Republican political machinations. Always a class act guided by a keen mind, common sense, solid character and an infectious laugh, many felt the First District congressional seat could have been hers for the asking when Butch Otter vacated the post to run for governor in 2006.

Since the Senator’s retirement she has kept busy in local and state affairs serving on boards and engaging in some consulting. One of her pet projects was bringing her considerable talents to help secure the Kroc Center for Coeur d’Alene. She rightly feels that the almost $1 million pledge by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe was the critical component to the community winning the facility. I have no argument with her view.

She, like the Salvation Army’s Major John Chamness (who tendered an invite to tour in a response column in the Coeur d’Alene Press) felt that my column cast an inappropriate and unfair cloud on the Kroc Center. I implied it was not a qualifying recipient for the 5 percent “give back” funds gaming tribes committed to provide as a quid pro quo for Idaho approving Indian gaming by initiative in 1992.

The tour on January 10th was indeed interesting and informative. The Salvation Army clearly does conduct a variety of educational offerings, as Major Chamness said, “from health education to swim instruction, and the Kroc Center also provides more traditional educational programs in line with more traditional instruction.” (more…)

WA: Gregoire’s turn

The title given to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire's state of the state - "Our turn, our responsibility" - suggests what's coming: Something other than another round of cut, cut, cut.

No shock there; she's been putting down the foundation for such a call for months.

After her usual quick anecdote or two ("I have a complicated relationship with growing older. First, I get carded at Hannah’s Tavern and now I’m getting hearing aid offers in the mail"), the keynote seemed to be this, reached early on: "Many believe we should just ride out the Great Recession or use this time of economic stress to dismantle our government. But that’s not our Washington."

Really, there's nothing radical here. She continues, lacing the speech with traditionalist language, "Today, it’s our time. It’s our time to practice the courage and compassion handed down to us by our parents and grandparents. It’s our time to rebuild our highways and bridges. It’s our time to create jobs now and for the future. It’s our time to keep our streets safe. It’s our time to give our young people the education and knowledge they will need to succeed in a world economy."

This being one of the short sessions in Washington, Gregoire's wish list wasn't vast;the ambition here, in usual contexts, isn't immense. But she did lay down markers:

So in the next 60 days, I ask you to do four things:
1. Use the early start you got in December and quickly pass a budget;
2. Ask the voters this spring to approve a temporary, half-penny sales tax increase for students and their future;
3. Pass my school reforms; and
4. Pass a major transportation and jobs package.

The transportation package may be the least-thoroughly advanced of the group, but she reserved most of her rhetoric for the revenue increase - the piece that's doubtless going to be the hardest sell.

Remember, the last time we raised the state sales tax was in 1983, under a Republican governor during the worst recession until this one.
I ask you to listen to your hearts as well as your heads.
Will that 85-year-old woman with failing health who needs help to live in dignity at home find it regressive?
Will that student who faces the difference between a mediocre education or a great one find it regressive?
Will that family living in fear of a criminal getting out of prison five months early with little supervision find it regressive?
No. They will say it’s the right thing to do, because it is. And they will remember we didn’t wait for things to get better. We made them better.
Without the half penny, we lose far more than we gain. We lose our future, our values and our way.
Like governors and Legislatures in the past, it’s our time to do something very hard. It’s our time to ask for sacrifice from everyone, to ask everyone to contribute to our future so everybody wins in the turn.

There will be some blowback. House Republican Richard DeBolt said that "People want us to adopt a balanced budget that doesn’t take more money from their household budgets." But there's a fair chance that Gregoire has the timing about right.

Some Idaho SOS remarks

No great surprises in the state of the state speech today by Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter - not much to rebut, either, the recent reports that he's been phoning it in of late. Running through the speech, here's some of what jumped out.

Toward the beginning, a detailed status report on Idaho's troops sent overseas, noting the return of the Idaho National Guard 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team and the Army Reserve's 391st Engineer Company, and sending callouts to individuals. It was a more detailed depiction than you usually hear in a speech like this, and a nice touch.

Other areas were a little more debatable.

After the fiscal decisions of the last few years, he said, "the result is a state government that does not face and will not face the staggering deficits, layoffs, shutdowns, tax increases and other problems that are plaguing other states ... We are not here just to get by. We are here to enable the people we serve to get ahead."

To accept that, you have to forget about the massive budget cuts the state underwent last session, teacher and classroom cutbacks and much more. There were no tax increases - a from-the-beginning decision - but that decision came with extensive cost.

Otter talked about state efforts to bring in new business to the state. (And there have been some, though from here the patterns look not a lot different than in Washington and Oregon.) He also brought up the IGEM (Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission), still not defined at the granular level but described: "IGEM involves industry, entrepreneurs, higher education, the Idaho National Laboratory and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. Together, their focus will be on creating value on our campuses that will help our existing businesses grow, nurture the startup of new businesses, and create more jobs and opportunities for Idaho."

As in so many institutions around the country, Idaho's colleges and universities have in the last few decades developed an ever-closer relationship with large businesses, to the point in some cases where it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. IGEM will be worth watching: What exactly is it supposed to do that the universities aren't already doing? And is it a good idea?

Otter also called for a start in refilling the state reserve accounts - though what the budgetary tradeoffs for that may mean is not clear.

And he made mention of the health insurance exchange, one of the hottest topics for his administration in the last month (and the subject of some revolt among a number of Republicans). The plain text of what he has to say about it is a good deal softer than some of his statements over the last few months have suggested. In this speech, referring to the application for a federal grant for the exchange, Otter said his action "simply preserved the opportunity for you and all Idahoans to discuss our options and decide what's best for our citizens." (Emphasis Otter's.) Not exactly a fierce defense of an exchange.

And so the session begins.

Legislative prep sessions

Washington and Idaho legislative sessions crank in tomorrow, both probably a good deal different - in spite of having the same personnel generally in place - from a year ago. And both having something else in common: A special awareness of how their actions in this session may shape ballot issues in the fall, or earlier.

That's most notably true in Washington. For the last couple of years, budget action has mostly meant cuts in pay, services and so forth. Revenues at this point are still looking shakey, but a good many Democrats, including Governor Chris Gregoire, are saying that the cuts have to end. What may emerge, in effect, is two budget prospects, one with massive cuts, and the other balanced to some extent with revenue increases (such as Gregoire's proposed half-cent sales tax increase), which would then go to the voters. It could almost be a backflip on Tim Eyman legislating.

That may be only the first of a string of legislative matters heading to voters, stretching out into social territory (same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization).

In Idaho, there's a precedent already hanging over legislators' heads - a referendum on last session's public schools "Luna laws" (as they're now being dubbed). But there could be much more. Democrats are talking about a state ethics commission; at this point, it'd be good politics to run that out as an initiative if legislators won't pass it. The debate over health insurance exchanges promises to be about as lively. If cuts continue, it wouldn't be hard to imagine ways those too could be placed on ballots. And the kickoff for that could be obvious: For the second year, the budget committee (to its great credit) will be holding public hearings on the budget. (That never had been done in Idaho before last year.) Last year's hearings drew large crowds; so might this year's.

Welcome to the statehouses, guys. Should be interesting.

NW money for Obama and Romney

Not much of a shock here, but the Oregon Public Broadcasting article reviewing contributions from Washington, Idaho and Oregon to the presidential candidates is worth note:

"Third quarter numbers for last year showed Oregon, Washington, and Idaho donors giving to all the major candidates. Mitt Romney led the Republican pack for contributions from donors in all three states," the story said. Democrat Barack Obama led all Republicans by far in Washington and Oregon.

WA: More for schools, really?

One line in the newly-released Washington Supreme Court case McCleary v. Washington gives pause to the immediate dismissal of its importance. We've been here before: Courts saying (in the Northwest, in Washington and elsewhere) that not enough is being spent on schools to meet constitutional mandates, and the legislature really ought to do it.

But without any hammer ever following up, and the legislature in whichever state is at issue shrugging its collective shoulder.

In McCleary, that line of critique at the state goes like this: "The State has failed to meet its duty under article IX, section 1 by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that falls short of the actual costs of the basic education program." We've seen similar strong verbiage before.

And it's followed by acknowledgement (as earlier such decisions often have been, too) that the legislature has been fiddling around with education, trying to do new things. Weight has to be given to the legislature's policy-setting role, and so on. In this decision: "We defer to the legislature's chosen means of discharging its article IX, section 1 duty ..."

The line that gives pause is this, following that last: "but the judiciary will retain jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress in the State's plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018. We direct the parties to provide further briefing to this court addressing the preferred method for retaining jurisdiction."

In other words, the case isn't over.

WA: The very new 15th

The final hangup in Washington reapportionment had to do with a single legislative district in eastern Washington - a vast area which has been uniformly Republican for quite some time, so an unlikely place for a hangup.

But the new District 15 is the first in the area to reflect the reality of the very large Latino population in south-central Washington. It runs from part of Yakima south to the Klickitat County line, taking in lots of farm country and mid-sized communities. Historically, this area has elected Republicans solidly. The Latino population in the area, very substantial for some time, has had a light voting footprint.

Now, with the prospect that population can directly make its own choice, that could be changing. The Yakima Herald-Republic notes that "OneAmerica, a Seattle-based immigrant rights group that has been working in the Yakima and Tri-Cities areas, will now step up its efforts with a voter registration campaign early this year targeted to the Latino population."

And there was this: "Whitman College political science professor Paul Apostolidis, who has spent years studying voting in the Yakima area and the role of majority-minority districts in improving civic engagement among minorities, applauded the new district. ... Latinos, Apostolidis said, have been drastically underrepresented in local and state elections. A greater opportunity for minority candidates to win elections will inspire more people to participate, he said."

Such as change the mix of candidates for legislative and other office. The 15th will be a district to watch.