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Posts published in February 2013

Some sanity

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

Abdications

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. (more…)

A pattern of caves?

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.” (more…)

Out, damned Newt!

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. (more…)

The Risch tele-town

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.” (more…)

And no course is set

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. (more…)

In the Briefings

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.

First take: Guns, guns, guns

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.

Travesty

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. (more…)

Sequester impacts, by state

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.