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Posts tagged as “Chris Gregoire”

Defining unsupportable

Each December, the governor of Washington has to release a proposed state budget. (Earlier there than in Oregon or Idaho, and probably a better schedule.) Those budgets have to work within expected state revenues. Usually, that's not much of an issue, even if the governor is proposing a tax increase. This year . . .

Governor Chris Gregoire's proposed budget (supplemental, for the latter part of the 09-11 biennium) reflects the $2.6 billion spread between the money available and the money which has been expected for spending, through huge cuts:

"Among the programs targeted for elimination are the state Basic Health Plan, which provides health care coverage to nearly 65,000 individuals ($160 million); Apple Health for children, which provides health care coverage to 16,000 low-income children ($11 million); and the General Assistance Unemployable program, which provides cash grants for 23,000 adults and medical services to nearly 17,000 adults ($188 million). In education, funding would be eliminated for 1,500 3-year-olds participating in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program; the kindergarten-through-4th grade staffing enhancement that reduces class size in the early grades; and levy equalization, which provides extra support to districts with a lower than average property tax base."

Gregoire is expected to propose tax increases of some sort, but the idea appears to be that she wants the effect of the cuts to start to sink into public consciousness first. That could change the feel of the either-or decision.

Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News-Tribune writes today: "If that was the plan, it worked. Within 90 minutes of the press conference Iā€™d already heard from the Friends of Basic Health Care Coalition, the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, the Washington State Hospital Association, the state nurses union, AARP and University of Washington President Mark Emmert."

The battle is on.

The bill parade

spring

Spring in Olympia, with actual sun/Stapilus

Olympia looked and felt like springtime today, which carried implications inside the legislative building (the Statehouse) - a reminder to everyone that the carriage turns into a pumpkin in only a few days. And there seems to be no certainty as to whether the work will be completed by then.

Those big-discussion matters are mainly financial, but piles of other pieces of legislation have been making their way through. This afternoon we took the 3:30 governor's bill signings, which offered a sense of some of the day-in, day-out aspects of this, at a very real choke point: The signature of the governor is a point at which mere legislation turns into actual law.

The way it happens is this. Governor Chris Gregoire sits at the end of a long table in a largish conference room in the governor's suit of offices, in front of a stack of bills and a box of black pens. Helping are a staffer or two; a photographer at the far end of the table shoots the signings. A bill number is called out, and a group of people in the lobby outside (often including bill sponsors and people who worked on the measure) are escorted in for the event; the governor briefly describes the bill and why it should become law, she signs, and the picture of all is taken. They then leave through the other end of the room, and the next group comes in.

It sounds a little factory-like, but there are a couple of mitigators. One that Gregoire projects friendliness and courtesy (seems to work better for her in person than on television), and everyone got some attention. The other is that, well, the bills have to be dealt with quickly. Washington requires the governor act on bills within five days (that includes Saturdays and Sundays) after final passage during the session, and when the bills fly out, they pile up.

So there were 16 bill signings on Thursday, in somewhat over a half hour (going a little faster than usual) and odds are that none will make for any big headlines. SB 5305 repeals obsolete language in the state retirement law. SB 5322 concerned civil service commissions for sheriff's offices. SB 5343 had to do with the regulation of accountants. (How's that for excitement? But someone has to deal with all this.)

One bill stuck out: SB 5284, "relating to truth in music advertising." More fully: "Creates the truth in music advertising act. Prohibits a person from advertising or conducting a live musical performance or production through the use of a false, deceptive, or misleading affiliation, connection, or association between a performing unless certain conditions are met."

Meaning? Suppose you see an ad for a concert by a famous music group, you buy a ticket, and then discover that it wasn't the original group, it's someone else performing their material, possibly using the original group's name. The bill wouldn't ban the concern but it would allow a promoter to sell tickets only if he made clear who and what the performing group actually was. (You can probably guess where the bill came from.) A consumer protection measure, in other words.

Signed off by the governor on Thursday. And spring rolls on . . .

Evaluating the vunnel

tunnel

Viaduct-tunnel/City of Seattle

Right next to the Crosscut article headlined "The tunnel solution for the Viaduct is too risky," are these links to encouraging stories from other news organizations: "Ideas debated about using private development to help pay for Viaduct park" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), "Gregoire distances herself from car tabs portion of the Viaduct tunnel deal" (Times), "Tolls probably needed to cover full cost of waterfront tunnel, state says" (Tacoma News Tribune).

It's never easy, is it?

Approved about a month ago by the top elected officials at Washington state, King County and Seattle, the tunnel - why has no one called it the "vunnel" yet?, since it is loosely expected to approximate the current Alaskan Way viaduct - the underground plan has been on the table for a long time. Its main problem has been that it's been viewed as the Rolex plan - nice, maybe preferable, but awfully expensive.

Matt Fiske at Crosscut sums up the issues, which include the financial concerns (fair enough) but also adds this:

"My father Tyman Fikse was an expert who invented many tunneling technologies and spent his career designing massive tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for projects around the world. If there is one thing hanging out with "sandhogs" as a kid and riding muck trains miles in the dark deep below ground taught me, it is this: The earth will surprise you. Consider: The ground between preliminary core samples can change most unexpectedly. Geologic pressures are enormous. Tunnel liners shift and spring leaks. Gases escape ā€” or worse. The best hard-rock boring machine will become gunked-up to a standstill if it is surprised by a section of sand or clay. Stuff happens. Deep tunnels are marvels of engineering that are also among the most difficult projects to plan in advance. To pretend otherwise is delusion. Remove the blinders and the real-world cost of the deep-bore tunnel will easily be double the current guess of $2.8 billion."

All of which sounds real-world. And yet . . . they had to do something.

So now they - and especially their successors (one of the signatories, King County executive Ron Sims, already is almost outta here) - get to ride the tiger.

WA: Legislature ahead

Jeff Kropf

It's a shame in some ways the Washington Legislature has just 105 days (okay, with a possible 30-day special as a trailer) to do its thing. There are some really basic questions this legislature could attack, and the structural situation is that it could if there's enough time.

Or, it could just run through the numbers, do the job of passing the budget and setting the revenue streams, and let it go at that. But there's potential here for more.

The key reason is that a triangular situation seems to be developing: Most of the legislative Democrats on one side, almost all of the Republicans on another, and Governor Chris Gregoire more or less in the middle.

This comes together simply because there's one big issue in this upcoming session (and much the same is true in Oregon and Idaho), that being spending. The state currently is on track for a $6 billion deficit, and steady as it goes won't work. Decisions will have to be made: Are cuts to be made? Are taxes to be increased? Will there be some measure of the two? Will some other partial options be found (and, while there are no fiscal wonder pills, there may be some additional options)?

Gregoire seems to have drawn a sand-line around some areas (education, debt service and some others) as no-cut territory, and is looking for major slices elsewhere. The Republicans, and probably some Democrats, would expand the cuttable territory, while most Democrats will probably want to expand the land of no-cuts. What we probably won't see, though, is a serious attempt to simply try to leave everything as it is; as Republican House Leader Richard DeBolt said, "we've never seen a deficit this large before." And he won't get argument on that.

Maybe because the number of Democrats in each chamber is so large, we're not hearing so much (yet at least) of simple anti-government rhetoric. That may be a sign that Republicans recognize they do have a slightly less ambitious but very real opportunity here. Senator Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, has been quoted as saying that spending increases in the last few years by Gregoire and the Democratic majority account for more of the deficit problem than the economic downturn does; and even if you quibble about the numbers, the budget runups in the last couple of biennial cycles certainly have inflated that projected deficit in a major way.

So the question some of the Republicans are getting at - is the state being too generous? - takes on some urgency and could move toward the center of the debate. Not a simplistic philosophical question, but a look at details and degrees. And that, actually, is the sort of thing a legislature should be looking at hardest.

That doesn't automatically translate to something specific. The Olympian has summarized, "Just consider what is on the chopping block: Pay increases for state workers and public school teachers, smaller classes in public schools, health-care coverage for children and low-income families, expansion of the higher education system, and the state human services safety net."

And Senator Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, for example, said all this raises the question of "what kind of state we want to live in, and whether we want to sacrifice some of our key services." But the issue may be joined, seriously. (more…)