The Washington Supreme Court has struck down a requirement for a two-thirds vote in the legislature to raise taxes. The court, in a 6-3 vote, said the state would have to pass a constitutional amendment to change from a simple majority to a supermajority.

While Washington voters have repeatedly approved the two-thirds requirement, it’s nice to know that at least six people in high places have brought some sanity to a tax system that was already a mess. Score in year 2013: Washington’s future, 1. Tim Eyman, 0. – Tom Menzel

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Menzel Washington

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Pope Benedict XVI should be commended for acknowledging he is not up to the demands of his job and is stepping down.

Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter should take a lesson and follow suit.

The Idaho “ship of state” is adrift with no firm hand on the tiller. There is no real captain, just a figurehead as wooden as the figureheads on the old sailing ships.

The evidence is abundant and appalling. Just a few of many examples:

· The Governor’s fiscally irresponsible support of an unfunded property tax shift that benefits only several major corporations that don’t need it. Follow the numbers carefully. There’s $140 million in “relief” which will come at the expense of smaller counties, school districts and other taxing districts.

The governor says the state will cover $90 million but that has to be new money coming out of the existing general fund which means there is a “bow wave” effect going through future budgets. Bottom line is there will be even less general fund dollars available for an already woefully underfunded commitment to public education.

Furthermore, school districts and other taxing districts providing basic needed services will have to seek replacement funding at the local level through more over-ride levies. Many Idahoans will get hit by another tax increase thanks to a governor and Republican legislators who look you in the eye and flat lie by saying with a straight face they once again did not vote to increase your taxes. Pure hogwash.

· After taking the correct step following the rejection by the voters of all the proposed Luna Law reforms by forming a commission to take a year and come up with a set of consensus based recommendations for the 2014 Legislature to consider, he sits idly by while “we-know-best” legislators draft bills implementing parts of the rejected laws.

His failure to defend his process is appalling. Long ago he should have had the leader of the “we-know-better-what’s-good-for-education” crowd, Senator John Goedde of Coeur d’Alene , down to his office and shown him what his veto stamp looks like.

· Failure by his staff to vett properly the nomination of Joan Hurlock is so indicative of sloth that it borders on sheer incompetence. But it is his staff and he has now been at it for seven years. Bottom line is no one did even the minimum of background checking. Losing a gubernatorial nomination is a clear sign of indifference.

· All the signs point towards a Republican Legislature once again rejecting a Republican governor’s single major issue he is asking the legislators to give him. A few years back it was the gas tax to help fund needed infrastructure improvements to Idaho ’s roads, bridges and highway. This time it is the state overseeing the health insurance exchange rather than punting to the Feds. Once again his party’s legislative leadership is going to hand him his head on a silver platter because they know they can get away with it.

· Despite his pledge that there will be no amendments to the 1995 Nuclear Waste agreement negotiated with the Federal government by Governor Phil Batt, he continues to allow his Commerce Director, Jeff Sayer, who he appointed to head up the LINE commission, to go around saying there may be circumstances that will warrant changes but such changes will be in Idaho’s best interests. Poppycock.

· He continues to raise money to pay off a $250,000 campaign debt, now down to $131,000, but fails to mention he is raising funds to pay off loans to himself. Want to wager that once he has raised the last $131,000 he will decide he is not going to seek a third term?

Admit the obvious, Governor. Step aside and let Brad Little demonstrate what a truly engaged governor can do.

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Carlson Idaho

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

This is not a headline that any political party wants to read: “House GOP Caves: Violence Against Women Act Impasse Finally Broken.” The shape of a new deal is simple, according to Talking Points Memo. “The Rules Committee instead sent the House GOP’s version of the Violence Against Women Act to the floor with a key caveat: if that legislation fails, then the Senate-passed version will get an up-or-down vote.”

In other words, the majority of the House, a combination of reasonable Republicans and Democrats will have the final say. Thus the Senate bill, including expanded jurisdiction for tribal governments, is much more likely to pass. As I have written before, the Violence Against Women Act makes sense in this era of austerity because it reflects an efficient tool for Domestic Violence prosecution. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the House still must vote for the Senate bill.

But the bigger picture is that conservatives are losing across the board right now.

Look at this week’s action list:

Conservative governors across the United States are buying into the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care act. Most recently Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Gov. Chris Christie signed their states up for the program.

In the Senate, conservatives could not hold their own members on a filibuster against Chuck Hagel. He’s now the Secretary of Defense.

And, yesterday, a congressional candidate in Illinois won her primary (essentially, the election in a district that is heavily Democratic) running against the National Rifle Association.

And two days before the sequester begins, there is growing evidence that the American public is siding with the president. A Washington Post-ABC news poll found that “67 percent of those tested disapproving of the way Republicans in Congress are handling federal spending.”

So how are Republicans responding? Will they fold on the sequester sooner or later?

The conservative blog Red State says “conservatives, not liberals” are now the problem. It calls for Republicans to oppose their own leadership more often and block bills by voting against their leader’s proposed rules. Erick Erickson writes: “So why do House conservatives support the rules on bad bills? Because leadership tells them to. And they fear that they will get punished for crossing leadership. But our allies need to be made aware that saving our country strongly outweighs preserving allegiance to leadership hacks. And we will be there to support them if they choose to fight.”

And, in the Senate, Erickson says, conservatives “need to filibuster everything in order to leverage the opportunity to amend bills and engage in extended debate.”

The very notion of obstruction as a governing philosophy shows a movement in retreat. If you don’t have the votes, or the facts, then try to use every congressional trick to block action. That may score a few votes, but it ultimately loses the argument. For the Democrats, it’s a recipe for winning the House of Representatives in 2014.

Perhaps after all of this back and forth about the budget and the sequester, the word is finally getting out that the fight has been about the wrong problem. The budget challenge of the United States is not this year’s budget, or even a spending problem. It’s a longterm demographic challenge that’s based on two simple trends: People live longer and there are more elderly than ever before in history. The solution should fit that problem, not an across-the-board attack on government.

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the Senate yesterday that “deficit reduction be secured through well-designed, balanced policies that don’t impede the economic recovery, jeopardize future productivity growth, increase poverty and inequality, or sacrifice access to health care or health care quality.

The deep cuts proposed by conservatives undermine that long term challenge.

“Enacting a larger amount of deficit reduction now would be desirable if policymakers can secure it without doing harm in other areas — that is, if policymakers can achieve it through policies that: do not impede the economic recovery or jeopardize future productivity growth by providing inadequate resources for areas like education, infrastructure, and basic research; don’t increase poverty and inequality, which already are higher here than in many other Western nations, or raise the number of Americans who are uninsured; and don’t sacrifice health care quality or increase overall U.S. health care costs,” Greenstein.

In other words: Solve the real problem, not the imaginary one.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity

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Trahant

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

I was raised in a Central Oregon, Republican culture when kids were taught certain rules about respectable behavior. I don’t mean just not saying bad things – although I did learn the taste of Ivory Soap at a young age. No, I mean saying or doing things that embarrassed the grownups. Say or do something that reflected badly on the family? Just not acceptable. And swiftly punished.

Whether at home or in school, deviation from rules of respectability often resulted in someone being exiled. Separated from the rest. The teacher wouldn’t call on you for the rest of the day or week. At home, immediate justice often meant sent to a lonely room – often the laundry room in my case. With the door shut. You “ceased to be” for awhile. Silence.

Sadly, rejection and punishment – and silence – are no longer the fates imposed for those who’ve become national embarrassments or politically and socially disgraced voices. How else can you explain the ever-present face of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Dick Morris, Sanford, Robertson, Orley Taitz, Santorum, Bachmann, McCain, Paul (2), DeMint, LaPierre, Perkins, Dobson, Trump, Gohmert, et al? All have engaged in speech or conduct – or both – deserving rejection. Yet they are ever-present. Even sought out.

In a nation faced with deeply troubling national struggles for all of us, why do these discredited people remain in our living rooms, day after day, spewing the same specious nonsense into our atmosphere? When respectable leaders are so embroiled in terribly important work affecting our lives, why do these same voices of craziness and rejected thought still occupy so much of our national attention?

Gingrich is undoubtedly the most excellent example. Disgraced and forced to resign from the highest office in the U.S. House of Representatives and his Georgia seat in the body, he should have been expected to “go quietly into that good night.” A proven adulterer – at least twice – a consummate liar – repeatedly – a man who has failed every try at elective office since his well-deserved dismissal – a con artist who uses presidential campaigns to hawk his books and videos and to drive up his personal appearance fees. Why is this bastion of all things rejected and despicable in a public persona still being so prominently forced into our consciousness?
What is the national media’s fascination with this guy? He’s on the Sunday talk circuit nearly every weekend. He and his twisted – often warped – thinking are pursued by Blitzer, Cooper, Gregory, Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren, Crowley, Morgan and the rest. Why? He’s become a politically obscene “whack-a-mole” creature.

What you see in this Gingrich over-exposure is our national obsession with celebrity. From statesmen and visionaries with deserved recognition to demented serial killers – and everywhere in between – you’re assured of repeated national media exposure, millions of dollars for the book rights to your story and millions more for the movie or television series.

Think not? Check the speaking fees for ol’ Newt. Nearly double what they were two years ago. Prices up on all his videos and books, too. Way up.

How about disgraced former South Carolina Gov. Sanford? Admitted liar and repeated adulterer. Now he’s running for Congress. So you’ll see even more of him. Ah, love those “family values” types? Shame? Nah!

Has Lindsey Lohan with her immensely troubled life dropped off your kids radar? No? Has any Kardashian done ANYTHING meriting someone’s notice? Ever? Why do we keep getting extended exposure of Ted Nugent on Fox? Notice you’re still hearing the deep “thinking” of that Palin woman on all things national? And Gohmert who believes a teacher with a semi-automatic is the answer to school massacres? And Beck who’s making another media fortune spouting end-of-the-world apocalypse? Ever wonder where he would have spent all that new money if he was right and the rest of us were wrong?

Looking to their elders, our kids see us holding out the ignorant – the violent – the sociopath – as people to be admired and rewarded. Teens know who these people are. They’re exposed to them in school and in their media. Social or otherwise. Since these misfits are granted continual presences in our lives, they’re in the lives of the young, too. For what purpose?

In the extreme over-coverage of the Newtown massacre, several “talking heads” proudly said they would not use the killer’s name in their reporting. Say what? To what end? “Being responsible,” boasted Anderson Cooper. “Being an idiot,” sez I. We don’t know the shooter’s name? Our kids don’t know not only the name but everything they can find on Facebook and Twitter? You think celebrity has not already attached to the murderer’s name and face? Look for a made-for-TV movie in the next 12 months.

If Cooper and his media cohorts sincerely want to “be responsible,” here’s some advice. Dispatch Gingrich and others of his ilk to the garbage heap. Seek out wiser heads – with much wiser voices – to create the important conversations we badly need right now. Give us honest discussions and educated thought. Help us understand issues and the variety of responses to them.

And for Newt – a lifetime supply of Ivory Soap. On Elba.

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Rainey

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

President Obama must wield his authority to minimize the harm inflicted by the looming $85 billion in federal “sequestration” budget cuts set to take effect on Friday, March 1, Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch said Monday night, Feb. 25, during a “Tele-Town Hall” meeting.

“I hope the president of the United States who is in charge of implementing the cuts and whose idea it was will do so reasonably,” Risch said. “The president has the ability to move those cuts around and make them as painless as possible. I hope he does that.”

Recently ranked by the National Journal as the most conservative U.S. senator in Congress, Risch said the nation’s financial condition is the most prominent issue confronting Washington and all states.

“If you think it’s pretty bad, the bad news is you wouldn’t be exactly correct. It’s much worse than what every American knows,” the former Idaho governor said. “The facts of where we are right now are not debatable.”

The federal government has been spending $3.8 trillion annually for the past four or five years – or about $11 billion a day. “Unfortunately, on average, the federal government only takes in $6.5 billion a day. … The federal government borrows a little over $4 billion every single day just to meet its bills that night.”

Contrary to what is commonly believed, the government is borrowing the money to pay the difference, primarily from China, not printing it. The U.S. Treasury used to borrow once a month to pay its bills, then once a week. After the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was enacted as a $787 billion economic stimulus, borrowing had to be done on a daily basis. Now, it’s done multiple times a day, he said.

Treasury tells the Bureau of Public Debt how much to borrow. “We also borrow between $50 billion to $70 billion a day to refinance the debt.” If the $6.5 billion in daily revenue were spent on priorities, it would only pay for Social Security, Medicare and the interest on the national debt, but nothing on defense, education, agriculture, parks or anything else, Risch said.

“This also helps underscore how difficult the situation is and how badly the government is pinched,” he said. “The bad news is there’s nothing in play right now to turn this around or change this.”

Congress and the White House have kicked the can down the road by passing legislation every 90 days to keep the government running. The debt ceiling is hit every six months. When Risch took his Senate office in 2009, the national debt was $10 trillion. It now stands at more than $16 trillion.

When the debt ceiling was hit last August, a “Super Committee” was created to find up to $1.6 trillion in spending cuts. When committee members were not able to reach agreement, automatic spending or “sequester” cuts were set to take effect on March 1, after November’s presidential election.

Entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are exempted from the sequester cuts, which will come entirely from discretionary spending programs, which comprise 40 percent of the total federal budget.

“There has been a lot of talk and misinformation and fear mongering” about the impact sequestration will have on the nation, Risch said, noting that when he served in the Idaho Legislature, the governor had the authority to make holdbacks in times of financial setbacks. He would work with legislators to ensure crucial programs were spared.

“We all worked together to make it as painless as possible for Idahoans,” Risch said. “We worked together to make it work in the best interest of the people.”

When asked by a man in Buhl why senators don’t just go home and let others work on passing a budget after four years of not enacting one, Risch responded by saying only the majority party can bring a budget forward, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to do so.

“We have urged him over and over to do it,” Risch said, referring to his Republican colleagues. “I’m absolutely and totally astounded Congress will not follow the law or adopt a budget. It astounds me that an institution that spends $3.8 trillion does so without a budget. I’m outraged by it, and most Americans are.”

When a woman from Grangeville expressed concerns about the Federal Aviation Administration threatening to close airport control towers in Lewiston, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Pocatello, Risch said the FAA’s budget under sequestration would be rolled back to its levels four years ago.

“In 2009, the FAA was able to operate all of those towers without any difficulty at all,” he said. “One of the things that astounded me when I got to Washington D.C. was how archaic and cumbersome the process is. … It’s incredibly frustrating to deal with a system like that.”

Risch said it’s ridiculous to project budgets 10 years out so cuts are targeted for the eighth, ninth and 10th years, not immediately. Since 2000, the federal government has virtually doubled in number of employees and money spent, he said.

It is up to the executive branch of government to execute the budget and appropriations enacted by the legislative branch. “It will be up to President Obama and his administration that executes the holdback,” Risch said, adding the list of cuts put out by the White House appears painful and punitive. “You can’t help but get the feeling, it’s all political.”

Risch warned the United States is heading toward a financial catastrophe like Greece if exorbitant spending continues unabated. “In some cases, our credit card has a higher limit than Greece’s does,” he said, lamenting the predominant cavalier attitude toward spending in Washington.

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Idaho Mendiola

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The sequester begins in four days and Congress is set on a do nothing course.

Not that anyone is happy about it.

The White House over the weekend released a state-by-state list of impacts. (I wish a similar sheet had been released for the impact on tribal governments.) For example: “Alaska would lose about $1.8 million environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste,” the White House said. Another program that will lose money there is the Nutrition Assistance for Seniors, some $184,000.

Elderly lunches are big in Indian Country, both on reservations, across Alaska and in urban Indian centers. The White House says that sequester will mean 4 million fewer meals this year. “These meals contribute to the overall health and well-being of participating seniors, including those with chronic illnesses that are affected by diet, such as diabetes and heart
disease, and frail seniors who are homebound,” the White House said. “The meals can account for 50 percent or more of daily food for the majority of participants.”

All week we will be hearing about the impact of these cuts on real programs and real people. Especially federal employees and contractors whose family budgets will be cut by furloughs and other means.

But what about the politics?

President Barack Obama says these cuts will be required by law and the impacts are real. He has his own plan to avoid them.

Republicans, generally, are continuing to blame President Barack Obama for the sequester, saying it was his idea. But that’s a bit complicated because Republicans then voted for the plan. And, more important, both sides said that sequester would never happen. But the Congress is so broken that there is no hope of a deal at this point. Neither Speaker of the House John Boehner nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have the votes to enact a budget or a real relief to the sequester act that nearly everyone calls a stupid way to govern.

The House passed a repeal of Obamacare more than thirty times so a simple repeal of the Budget Control Act seems like it would be easy. But the truth is that many conservatives would not vote for a repeal of the sequester. They see this as the first step toward real austerity. As Boehner put it in his blog: “Government spending is the problem. No one should be talking about raising taxes when the FAA spends $500 million a year on consultants; the EPA has sent more than $100 million in grants to foreign countries; the IRS has a $4 million-a-year TV studio; and more.”

The National Review’s Rich Lowry goes further. He writes: “It’s hard to see how a cut of a little more than $40 billion this year can possibly tank a $16 trillion economy. Or why keeping the deficit the same as it is projected to be this year, at about $845 billion with the sequester cuts already accounted for, will be a shock too severe for the economy to take.”

So here we go. Sequester. Now, the nearest thing to a “plan” is to begin the sequester on Friday, see how much chaos surfaces, and then shoot for a fix at the end of the month when the federal spending bill, the Continuing Resolution, expires. But that said: If there remains as much distance between Republicans and Democrats as there is now, then government will shut down.

Democrats in the House and Senate have their own plan, of course. The plan would stop the sequester and still cut the budget (along with increasing tax revenues). It has everything going for it … except enough votes to pass. (Unless – and this is a long shot – there are enough Republican votes in the House to force what is called a “discharge petition” that goes around leadership and allows a direct vote on the plan.)

So for now, beginning Friday, the budget cuts are set on automatic pilot by a Congress that lacks the votes to do much of anything about it. But that’s only the beginning. Plan on a chaotic month ahead.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity

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Trahant

derelict 
DERELICT A 30′ non-motorized boat was removed from the ocean shore near Horsfall Beach north of Coos Bay February 21. Contractor Johnson Rock of Coos Bay transported it to Les Sanitation in Coos Bay. Removing the debris cost the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department $2,500. (photo/Oregon Parks & Recreation Department)

 

Legislative action was prominent in all three states last week – and likely will be again this week, in the three Northwest Briefings.

Meanwhile, winter continues apace, in this case driving an old board ashore on the south-central Oregon coast.

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Briefings

news

OREGON GUNS Legislation as introduced, whether in a state legislature or in Congress, is a work in progress. If it does get passed – and most doesn’t – it often doesn’t look exactly the same by the time it reaches the executive for signature. That’s why critics of the Oregon gun bill (House Bill 3200) proposed by Representative Mitch Greenlick are both correct to weigh in on its problems and overreach, but would be wrong to worry about it overmuch. It does overreach by prospectively allowing for searches and investigations of gun storage; even Greenlick acknowledges as much. It was introduced as a starting point for discussion, and if the bill eventually does move, it likely would be in a much reduced form. Same thing goes for the Washington state Senate Bill 5737, also containing provisions that would be widely seen as excessive (as noted in a recent column by Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times).

BOISE/ACHD SQUABBLE A minor tempest? Some harsh back-and-forth between the city of Boise (most principally involving Mayor David Bieter) and officials at the Ada County Highway District has gone fully public, after distribution (apparently by Bieter) of an anonymously-written piece questioning whether the ACHD should exist. Will the squabble continue? Maybe it will ease back. Bieter seems to be easing off on his side, saying the paper was a “working document” not intended for wider distribution, though he said some of the complaints have been around a while. This could still go in any of several directions.

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First Take

Menzel TOM
MENZEL

 
Washington
My Home

FOR SALE, LEASE OR TRADE: 120,000 acres of prime Washington real estate. Valued at more than $3 billion. Includes 116 parks, 700 historic buildings, cabins, yurts, vacation houses, forts, fabulous wedding venues, and dozens of stunning beaches. Buy now and get naming rights for hokey park names like Cape Disappointment, Steamboat Rock, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea. Contact Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission or your local state legislator.

Pardon the hyperbole, but this scenario may not be too far off since our parks have become nothing but financial burdens that need to be monetized. After the legislature voted in 2011 to cut off all general fund support for our state parks and replace it with user-fees (“earned income”), the State Parks and Recreation Commission has been scrambling to keep them open and operating while continuing to make its case for stable funding sources.

Unfortunately, the latest desperate attempts to shore up lost revenue – a $30 annual “Discover Pass” and a $10 day-use fee – have fallen 50 percent short of projections. So now we have a critical funding crisis, yet one more chapter in the ridiculous quest to run government like a business. As state parks director Don Hoch said last summer: “At no time in our 100-year history have we been in a position like this, where we have to make so many tough decisions.”

Palous Falls
Palouse Falls State Park (photo/state of Washington)

A report to the Parks and Recreation Commission last August says that no other state follows such a self-funded model, calling it “impractical” and “unachievable.” So now we have a rare opportunity to lead the way to the bottom in park management. The visionary generations who came before us are rolling over in their graves.

Ironically, the legislature’s target for defunding our parks is this year, 2013, which happens to be the 100th anniversary of our state park system. Many of the noble and ambitious plans to upgrade, expand and improve the parks for the centennial celebration have been shelved. State Parks has already made painful staff and spending reductions and has been planning for “previously unthinkable reductions.”

In the very year when we should be bursting with pride to celebrate these crown jewels, we are casting this loyal old dog out into the cold without food or shelter – sort of like filing for divorce on your 50th anniversary party. And we now have a draft of the divorce papers in the form of a report released January 29th by the Parks and Recreation Commission. It’s called “Transformation Strategy – Adapting to a new way of operating Washington’s state parks.”

This is not a fun read unless you like hearing about good people begging for help. I can imagine the seven volunteer commissioners weeping as they sat through countless McKinseyesque workshops and public meetings and finally forcing themselves to approve this document. They are doing the best they can. They are doing what they have to do.

But the 27-page report reads like notes from a corporate retreat. It uses the word “business” 20 times. “Lease” shows up 13 times. It includes buzzwords straight from Dilbert, like: forming strategic partnerships; strategies and initiatives to help create a new business model; transformation principles with imperatives that will drive agency-wide planning, resource allocation and day-to-day decisions; core values and cultural norms that promote organizational change and innovation; specific action-oriented initiatives that will advance agency transformation. And, my favorite, it boldly encourages a decimated park staff to embrace risk-taking, accepting responsibility for the outcome and “excellence in all we do.”

The report even sheepishly admits a dark secret: “For many years parks and recreation providers believed that technology had no place in parks. Even commissioners and staff believed state parks should remain technology-free.” Imagine that.

The report concludes with a 10-page to-do list (“Transformation Initiatives”) that includes some excellent plans to protect and restore plant and animal communities, the Puget Sound shoreline environment and cultural and historic properties. But then it directs park staff to “adopt a business management approach” that you might find in a General Motors strategic plan. Much of the list is devoted to initiatives involving lean management, data management, fees, a Discover Pass business plan (prepared by a consultant), “park enterprise” (retail sales of park-branded stuff), concessions, marketing and advertising, and other initiatives like cabin upgrades, new signage, events, recreation programs, partnerships and sponsorships.

The report calls for a “systematic approach to continual process improvement,” “transitioning all fee programs into a market-based system of competitive rates for facilities and services,” developing “a robust program to market the Discover Pass and the state park system” and expanding “opportunities for tasteful and appropriate park and private enterprises in parks.” It insists that “State Parks must now compete effectively for people’s recreation and leisure time and money.”

Several consultants have already been signed up to lend their expertise to this “new normal” in park management. And they will be the only winners.

What’s going on here? These are public lands! These are our parks! Get rid of the consultants and hire back those rangers!

Perhaps most draconian are the proposed “best practices from the public and private sector with regard to pricing” for campsites, which the Parks Commission included in a January 17 press release. A new fee policy under consideration would use “variable pricing options typical in the private sector” to “increase earnings from premier sites for weekends, holidays and prime seasons.”

The proposed base camping fees are outrageous enough, ranging from $12 for a primitive campsite and $25 for a standard tent site, to $35 for a full-utility site. But here’s the clincher: “In addition, the policy would allow the agency to charge up to an additional $15 for designated premier sites and up to $8 on standard or $15 for RV campsites for weekends and holidays” (i.e., those who can afford it will get the best campsites). The policy also includes discounts for “designated economy sites” (muddy campsites? no trees? next to a generator?) year round and during the winter.

I’ll be blunt. This sucks. Bottom line: Those who can afford it get the best campsites at the best times. Those who cannot will get the dregs. One way or another, we seem determined to balance this budget on the backs of regular folk who picnic, camp and vacation at our state parks on very limited family budgets. They won’t show up because they can’t. And we’ll wonder why park attendance drops like a rock. As State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor said last summer: “For many people, those parks are the only outing that they can get, and we need to keep those costs as close to zero as we can.”

How cheap can we get? This is the home of Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen. This is a state dominated by Democrats. This is in a country that is spending $27 billion for a new aircraft carrier. That’s enough to fund Washington’s parks for 287 years at 2009 levels ($94 million).

With 40 million visitors annually, Washington’s state parks are among the most popular in the nation. That’s 13 times the number of visitors to Yellowstone National Park. As the report says: “State parks are the places where the largest numbers of Washingtonians visit, to know, respect, and love the natural world.” They “get people of all ages, abilities, and means off the couch, moving, and re-creating themselves away from the hectic pace of modern life.”

It’s painful to watch dedicated park staff and members of the Parks and Recreation Commission fight like hell to maintain access to what we all have a right to enjoy. Defunding our parks is an embarrassment. We must stop comparing them to the private sector and hiring ad agencies and property consultants to squeeze every nickel and dime out of shores, lakes, beaches and trails that belong to us all. Instead of pricing people out, we must do exactly the opposite.

As funding measures move through the legislature in the coming days and weeks, we can only hope they will restore full funding to our parks, kill the Discovery Pass and day-use fee, return camping fees to levels that are affordable to all, and do whatever it takes to raise revenue needed to fund Washington’s priorities.

However, I fear that we are about to dismantle a park system that millions of people have enjoyed for a century. I fear that our parks, along with our educational system and so many other critical public programs, will continue their downward spiral until Washington has the guts to create a balanced tax system, ignore the Tim Eymans among us and renew our commitment to the greater good.

The January 29th transformation strategy is clearly marked “DRAFT.” If we’re smart, we’ll toss it in the recycling bin, restore full funding to our parks and proudly carry out the ambitious plans for Centennial 2013 adopted by the Parks and Recreation Commission a decade ago. We’ll do this not only for future generations, but to honor the legacy of the visionary generations who came before us.

Draft state parks transformation strategy report

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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Menzel Washington

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From the White House, state breakdowns were released Sunday on local impacts of the prospective federal budget sequester.

Reports for all the states were released; these are the links for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Interesting reading, and they do tend to bring the airy national numbers down to more specific results.

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Reading

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Here’s an idea to get your mind around: A legislature in which you’re represented by two rather than three state lawmakers, with legislators elected from 105 rather than 35 districts. In which the number of legislators overall is the same as it is right now.

Welcome to the way Oregon apportions its legislature, and the way a group of legislators in Washington state – a liberal and a moderate Democrat and a conservative Republican – are proposing it be done there. A way that could be done, too, in Idaho.

It’s less complicated than I made it sound a couple of paragraphs back, and barely more complicated than what Idaho does now. Idaho has (and has had since 1966, with a six-year interruption) 35 districts, roughly equal in population, each represented by one senator and two representatives. Washington state does the same with 49 districts.

Oregon has 90 legislators, and like the other two has twice as many representatives as senators. But its districts are different. It has 30 Senate districts; on the House level each of those Senate districts is split in half, those halves each electing one representative, 60 in all. For a total of 90. That gives each representative a smaller group of constituents to worry about, and theoretically at least gives the voters better access to and more influence with their representative. You could argue that it makes the House “closer to the people” without increasing the number of legislators.

A bill proposed by three Washington House members, liberal Democrat Hans Dunshee, moderate Democrat Dawn Morrell and conservative Republican Hans Zeiger (inevitably, the “Hans and Hans bill”) has been introduced there instructing the next redistricting commission (which Washington, like Idaho but unlike Oregon, has) to split up the legislature in the separate-House-district way.

In Washington, that would mean House districts of about 70,000 people instead of the current 140,000. In Idaho, that would mean House districts of about 22,500 people each rather than 45,000 or so.

There is some precedent in Idaho for this.

Originally, Idaho had 44 senators – one for each county – and House members at one or more per county depending on population. When in the mid-60s court orders threw out that system, the 35-district approach was launched, but at first not exactly as we know it now. Six of the 35 districts (but not the 29 others) were split between A and B House districts. (I’d be interested in knowing how and why those six were picked out.) District 9 (in effect, the Senate district), for example, included Adams, Valley, Boise and Gem counties, but House 9A included just the first three, and 9B just Gem. In District 20, a senator represented Lemhi, Custer, Clark and Jefferson counties, but a House A representative covered Lemhi and Custer while House B had Jefferson and Clark. Like those districts, the other four were in relatively rural areas with large square mileage. That system ended after redistricting in 1971.

Idahoans concerned about the extravagant size of some of today’s mega-sized rural district (District 7, say, which runs from just outside Sandpoint to south of Riggins) might give thought to what Idaho did then, and what the Washington Hanses are pursuing now.

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TUITION EQUITY The Oregon House on Friday cast what probably was the key vote on “tuition equity” – allowing in-state college tuition rates to students who aren’t in Oregon legally but have lived there for a long time and meet certain standards. Similar measures have failed in the House before, though they have passed the Senate (where this one goes next, and is expected to clear). All House Democrats voted in favor; a scattering of House Republicans did too, but most of the Republican caucus (including most from the Willamette Valley) voted against. It was called a bipartisan issue, but … not really.

ANTI-TAX AGENCY It’s not often Idaho legislators give a better review to a federal agency than to its state counterpart, but a bunch of senators did on Friday, during a floor discussion of tax auditing. The Internal Revenue Service, so often disparaged among Idaho elected officials, was described as relatively decent compared to the state Tax Commission employees. Senator Monty Pearce: “We have that image with the surrounding states. They know that’s how we are. There’s just a mentality – we’re going to collect money, come hell or high water.” But not just Republicans took that stance; it was heard across the aisle as well. Tax officials took exception.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/02/22/2462308/senate-bashes-idaho-tax-agency.html#storylink=cpy

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ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a February 20 Idaho Education News post by Kevin Richert.

Members of the House Education Committee voted unanimously Thursday to introduce a groundbreaking — and potentially controversial — charter school funding bill.

The bill would provide $1.4 million to offset charter schools facility costs.

Because Thursday’s hearing was only an introductory print hearing, legislators did not allow testimony from education stakeholders or the public. Now that the legislation has been introduced, a full public hearing one the charter school proposal will likely occur in the coming days or weeks.

Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff for the Idaho State Department of Education, said a committee including representatives from the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, school district administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Charter School Network crafted the plan after studying charter school rules and laws since June.

Unlike school districts, charter schools are unable to go to voters to seek bonds or levies to pay for facilities. Instead, Hancock said, charter schools often have to spend 15 and 30 percent of their operations money on facilities.

“During the coruse of their existence, (charter schools) have had to scrimp and save and steal in order to pay for facilities,” Hancock told lawmakers will introducing the bill.”

Ken Burgess, a lobbyist representing charter schools, concedes that the bill sets up an “interesting battle” in the Statehouse.

The pricetag poses one challenge, Burgess said. The second challenge is a matter of precedent: Idaho has historically resisted putting state dollars into school facilities, for traditional schools and charter schools alike.

Charter schools have been forced to siphon off some of their state dollars from classroom needs to facilities, since charter schools cannot use local property tax dollars to pay for facilities. That shift of money, from instructional needs to infrastructure needs, amounts to $7.8 million, or $549 per charter student.

Meanwhile, says Burgess, traditional schools collect $569 per student in building bonds or plant facilities levies — and this is the driving figure in the charter school bill.

In its first year, 2013-14, charter schools would receive a facilities stipend that represents 20 percent of what traditional schools pay for facilities. That comes to about $115 per student, or $1.4 million.
In 2014-15, the stipend would increase to 30 percent of what traditional schools pay for facilities — a cost of about $2 million to $2.1 million.

From there, the math gets even more complicated.

In 2015-16, the charter school facilities stipend could reach 40 percent — but only if the public schools’ general fund appropriation increases by 3 percent or more. If the public schools do not get their 3 percent increase, the bump in the charter schools’ stipend remains on hold.

Eventually, the charter schools could receive a stipend of 50 percent per student — but the facilities stipend would be capped at that point.

Charter school funding was a recurring theme during two House-Senate education committee “listening sessions” earlier this month. At both sessions, charter school advocates argued for funding equity — and money to help pay for facilities.

And the bill is designed to provide funding help for all of Idaho’s 43 charter schools, Burgess said. Roughly half of the state’s charter schools have borrowed money to build facilities — but half lease their buildings, and wouldn’t be helped by a bill that helps charters finance loans at a lower interest rate.

The funding bill is one of two major charter school bills in the works. The second, likely to be introduced next week, would focus on charter school governance issues:

The bill would allow colleges, universities and private nonprofit groups to authorize a charter school. The Students Come First laws had allowed colleges and universities to authorize charters.

It would require an authorizing entity to renew the charter every five years, and would also rework the makeup state’s Public Charter School Commission. Currently, the board must have three current or former charter board members; three current or former members of traditional school boards; and a seventh, at-large member. This bill would get rid of these requirements.

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rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

From time to time, I’m sternly criticized by a reader or three – and an occasional friend – that the musings usually found within these digital pages are too anti-Republican. I’m accused, not necessarily of being a Democrat in journalist’s clothing, but of just not giving support to things GOP. Not finding the good, as it were.

Well, there’s some truth to that last criticism. Trouble is, my critical GOP friends, there’s not much Republican “good” tidings where most of us Americans are these days. We’re just not supporting things Republican. By large numbers.

A new Pew Research poll out this week is the best scientific evidence to date that the “Grand Old Party” is in disfavor on every single issue of national importance. All of ‘em! The statistics are overwhelming.

Taxes and the deficit. The Democrat proposal of a combination of spending cuts and tax increases is supported by 76% across the board. Republicans want only cuts and that gets the support of just 19%.

Raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour? Support is 71% by all but only 50% by Republicans.

Climate change. More than 54% say the most important step to take is developing alternative energy sources (what Democrats want) versus 34% expanding production and drilling more (what Republicans want.)

Gun control. Americans favor new gun legislation 67%-29%. Specifically, expanded background checks 83%-15% – assault weapons ban 56%-41%. Those numbers find Republican and NRA oriented Democrat members of Congress on the losing end on all counts.

Pew sampled immigration. Border security and a path to citizenship – Democrat positions – favored by 47%. The GOP’s stand of prioritizing only enforcement got 25% and on citizenship opportunities 25%. And today’s Republican official position on eventual citizenship consists only of some sort of ill-defined second-class status.

But we’re not done yet. If you re-read these numbers, you’ll find one very startling fact: majorities favor federal government/legislative action on every issue. Every one! That concept – borne out by the numbers – is completely contrary to Republican positions. On all issues, most of us want federal government action. Now!

But, if I were a Republican campaign pro, here’s a result that would really send me straight to the bar. A new Bloomberg sampling this week gives the President a 55% job approval rating – highest in three years! Also, Bloomberg found 49% believe the President’s ideas to increase government spending in key areas are more likely to create jobs.

Finally, more bad GOP numbers news. Just 35% responding in the Bloomberg poll, said they have a favorable view of the Republican Party. Or, conversely, 65% don’t.

So, to the few who think I’m being anti-Republican – read ‘em and weep. What you see in the statistical samplings by both Bloomberg and Pew is a national profile of Americans wanting action on a host of issues – including federal government action – by overwhelming majorities. While Republicans filibuster, quash Democrat attempts to introduce legislation, make 35 failed attempts to repeal Obamacare, hold up cabinet nominations and judgeships, try to outlaw legalized abortion and close the federal government, Americans aren’t buying it. In big numbers!

There was a time – not long ago – when politicians began and ended the day with their noses in polling spreadsheets. While many could be legitimately criticized for shifting positions to keep up with the polled majority, at least they were responsive to where the rest of the country wanted to go. And what Americans were thinking. For Republicans, it seems, not anymore.

Now, a few dozen loudmouths – with no idea how government works – are putting sand in the federal gears while shredding decorum and our patience. They apparently don’t give a damn about the overwhelming evidence that exists about what we want done. In Congress – and far too many state legislatures – we’ve got obstructionists trying to run the ship(s) of state into the nearest dock. We’ve had far more debate on abortion and vaginal probes than legitimate action to create employment and nourish an economy struggling to improve despite government inaction.

The two polls cited here are more important than just a couple of new samplings. They are only the most recent. Over the last several years, others had very similar results. There’s a very big stack of ‘em. And – we’ve soundly re-elected a President who seems to be aligned with these distinct majorities wanting action. The messages “we the people” are sending to Congress and the statehouses are not hard to read.
No, it’s not that the musings here week-to-week are anti-Republican or pro Democrat. Taken in sum – and compared to what polling pros are finding – they seem to be pretty mainstream. None of these survey results on the key issues of the day are “within the margin of error.” Or even close.

What also seems pretty “mainstream” is that the national Republican Party is on a collision course with the rest of America.

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Rainey

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REARDON OUT Not so many years ago, Aaron Reardon seemed to be one of the rising stars in Washington Democratic politics, maybe a prospect for governor or some other higher office, after his move from the legislature to becoming executive of the state’s third-largest, and one of its key political swings, Snohomish. How the tides turn … He has been in recent months, as the headlines say, “embattled,” and this morning he said he will resign as executive at the end of May. As the Everett Herald summed, “He was investigated last year by the Washington State Patrol, and never charged, for allegations of misusing county money during an extramarital affair. He is the focus of a state Public Disclosure Commission investigation into using county resources on political campaigns, and he has been subject to repeated efforts by a Gold Bar blogger to recall him from office.” Not pretty, and maybe not recoverable (politically) at this point. And Snohomish politics, often shaky, looks about to rumble and roll again.

ALBERTSONS REDUX Looks as if the people who will be running the New Albertsons supermarket operations (evidently being spun from SuperValu) may be the people who were running Albertsons long ago, when it was an independent operation. That may be helpful for the operation, if these executives learn from recent history.

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