Writings and observations

initiative

I-502 co-sponsor Salvador Mungia addresses the media while pro-502 campaign director Alison Holcomb (left) and Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (middle) listen. I-502 opponents hold signs in the background. (Photo/Washington Secretary of State)

Here’s a hot procedural fight in the making: House Bill 2500, introduced by 10 House Democrats, is intended to put a leash on the initiative process. It’s as in-your-face as anything likely to hit big in the session.

The rationale is laid out in section one: “The legislature recognizes and supports the constitutional right of the people to pass laws through the initiative and referendum process. However in recent years, corporations have hijacked the initiative process to advance their special interests. The total dollar amount raised for initiatives between 2001 and 2010 averaged nine million eight hundred thousand dollars per year. In 2010, the total amount of money raised for initiatives was sixty million dollars, and in 2011 that total was forty-one million dollars. A single corporation contributed over twenty-two million dollars to support Initiative Measure No. 1183. Less than one thousand dollars for that same initiative was received from individuals. Therefore, the legislature intends to return the initiative process to the people by setting a contribution limit for ballot measure committees.”

And how? In section two:

“No person may make a contribution to a political committee formed to support or oppose a ballot proposition in excess of one thousand six hundred dollars in the aggregate in a calendar year. No political committee formed to support or oppose a ballot proposition may accept a contribution from any person in excess of one thousand six hundred dollars in the aggregate in a calendar year.”

They must not have enough Tim Eyman down at the statehouse; they’ll certainly have enough when this hits the road. But it may provide the opportunity for a useful question for him: How well would he fare getting his initiatives on ballot and passed without sugar daddy help, relying entirely on the network of supporters he does have around the state? No automatic answer to that question offered here.

Share on Facebook

Washington

Presumably a cost-saving measure, House Bill 362 is apt to be something reviewed again in a year’s time, given the trajectory of the U.S. Post Office.

The bill concerns the sending of certain legal notices – “notices of deficiency determination and notices of levy and distraints” – which traditionally have been sent by certified mail; the bill would allow for use of first-class mail instead. The bill sunsets after a year, so it would have to be revisited in any case.

But especially because of what’s happening to first-class mail as we have known it.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

Americans for Prosperity – a group founded (inter-shell) by the hard-right Koch brothers, and highly active in support of Tea Party activities – has released its list of approval and disdain of members of Congress.

Whatever your view, it can be considered indicative: You may consider an A or an F from these guys a badge of honor, but it does give you a realistic idea of who the new hard right really likes and really doesn’t, and in relative terms. There are no low-graded Republicans, or high-graded Democrats.

Here’s the Northwest results (from their results page):

A+ – Representative Raul Labrador, R-Idaho (the only Northwesterner with a “lifetime” A+, though the fact that he’s in his first term helps some); Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

A – Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho

B – Representative Doc Hastings, R-Washington; Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington; Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington.

C – Representative Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; Representative Greg Walden, R-Oregon; Representative Dave Reichert, R-Washington.

D – Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington; Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington; Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon; Representative Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon; Representative Rick Larsen, D-Washington.

F – Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Representative Norm Dicks, D-Washington; Representative Jim McDermott, D-Washington; Representative Adam Smith, D-Washington; Former Oregon Representative David Wu.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Northwest Oregon Washington

If you’re moving to Idaho, put this on your to-do list: If you’re planning to buy a car pre-move, do it more than 90 days before you hit the state line. Explanation in a moment.

House Bill 359 is, in itself, not especially noteworthy. It comes from the state Tax Commission – ordinarily the source of a number of bills during the legislative session. This one, its statement of purpose says, would “allow non-resident students, temporarily residing in Idaho, an exemption from use tax for vehicles registered in their home state.”

Noted here not because there’s anything wrong with that, but because few such out of state students probably would have thought of owing the use tax on their car to begin with. The use tax, which most sales tax states have on their books, is an obscure cousin tax meant to levy taxes on things the sales tax doesn’t get. Live in Nampa and troop over the state line to Ontario to buy a household appliance or even a magazine in hopes of avoiding the sales tax in Idaho? Sorry, you’re now on the hook (legally at least) for the use tax. Not that the number of honest use tax payees in Idaho (or elsewhere) is necessarily all that large. (As former Idahoans, we’ll take the 5th.)

If you bring a car into the state, though, there’s another consideration. Presuming you’re going to stay in the state long enough to establish residency, you have to register your car. Suppose you bought it in another state? That fact will be placed in front of registration officials as soon as you produce the title. Do you owe the state a 6% ding?

The answer is, maybe. The Tax Commission points to state law (it’s in Idaho Code 63-3621) in drawing the bright line. If you bought the car more than 90 days before moving to Idaho, it’s presumed to be personal property, not purchased basically for use in Idaho, and exempt from the use tax. If you bought it within 90 days before coming to Idaho, you probably owe the tax.

A point maybe specially relevant to incoming college students.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

gun

In case of crisis, in case of emergency, who’s in charge?

That could be the debatable question inherent in House Bill 2382, introduced by Washington Representatives Jim McCune, R-Graham, Jason Overstreet, R-Blaine, Matt Shea, R-Mead, Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, John Ahern, R-Spokane, and Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick.

The bill concerns state authority in times of emergency, and its main section amends the section of state law concerning the governor’s emergency authority. Specifically, it strikes the governor’s ability to prohibit “The possession of firearms or any other deadly weapon by a person (other than a law enforcement officer) in a place other than that person’s place of residence or business.”

And it says that “During the continuance of any state of emergency, neither the governor nor any governmental entity or political subdivision of the state shall impose any restriction on the possession, transfer, sale, transport, storage, display, or use of firearms or ammunition that is otherwise authorized or guaranteed by law.”

Quite a limitation on emergency authority here (and remember, we’re talking here about emergency situations). Let’s say some major natural disaster has occurred, and the governor calls out the national guard to help deal with it. And the guard proceeds to the hard hit area, and encounters roving groups of armed people, all of whom have their own ideas about who and what is in charge … And they are without authority (since the governor is) to tell them to put their weapons down …

You craft a nifty dystopian novel out of this one.

Share on Facebook

Washington

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?

Share on Facebook

Washington

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).”

Share on Facebook

Idaho

carlson
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.”

The course offerings cover a variety of subject matter attractive to a wide variety of ages from toddlers to senior citizens. It is incontestably engaged in education. Since money is fungible, whether the tribe’s dollars actually go for educational instruction or are allocated to the budget for salaries or to pay down debt is all irrelevant.

What is still relevant is whether this meets the definition contained in the initiative which clearly states a preference that the give back be targeted towards surrounding school districts. I will gladly concede the tribe discretion in deciding how close to the spirit of the initiative their donations are. I’m not the one charged with monitoring this, so it’s easy for me to say “great, this does meet the criteria.”

The point in raising the questions was as I said not to question the generous giving spirit of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe; rather, it was to say that the state is not fulfilling the monitoring duties laid out in the initiative. The executive director of the lottery does no independent verification; he just accepts what the tribe says.

This lack of independent review is a disservice to all Idaho voters.

The tribe further clouds the issue by claiming it has no obligation to disclose publicly who the recipients of the 5 percent are. Apparently the office of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden agrees, as does the Spokesman-Review. However, the Lottery’s first ever director, Wally Hedrick, disagrees and states the public’s right to know and judge whether tribes are indeed complying was a critical element in passage of the initiative.

Hedrick told the Gazette-Record that the information should be public and to claim that it is a privileged part of their operations information that competitors could make use of is patently ridiculous. For the Spokesman Review to buy this bilge water given its history of strongly opposing almost all claims by governmental entities to privileged withholding is tortured reasoning totally inconsistent with its commendable historic guardian of the public right to know role.

Bottom line is the Review is guilty of gullibility at a minimum for not asking for a breakdown of the $130,000 annual Tribal contribution to Gonzaga University. What portion of that donation goes for the luxury suite the tribe has at GU’s basketball games? Whatever portion it is, accountants most surely consider an entertainment expense, not a 501-c-3 charitable donation. But then maybe they have figured out a way to have it credited all as a donation to a charitable foundation.

If so, that is what full public disclosure is all about, letting the public know the details and then decide whether one may be engaging in artful accounting.

Set aside that the Kroc Center may fit into a loose definition of an “educational” contribution, the five questions I asked in the earlier column remain unanswered and are deserving of answers from the State, the Spokesman Review and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

Share on Facebook

Carlson Idaho

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.

Share on Facebook

Washington

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.

Share on Facebook

Idaho