Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “legislature”

First take

The Washington Secretary of State office reports a runoff election for an open seat in a House district bordering Idaho: "The 34 counties that conducted a primary this year certified their returns on Tuesday. Statewide, about 818,000 ballots were counted, or 24.4 percent, about average for an off-year primary with no statewide races or issues on the ballot. One interesting angle is that an automatic recount shaped up in the special election in the 9th District House race in six Eastern Washington counties (Adams, Spokane, Asotin, Garfield, Franklin and Whitman). Richard Lathim, R, finished just 47 votes ahead of Kenneth Caylor, D, for the second runoff spot for the General Election. The difference of 0.48 percent triggered the state’s automatic recount law (if it’s under 2,000 votes and less than one-half of 1 percent separating two candidates for either the first or second place spot). Secretary Wyman will certify the election on Thursday, and the recount will be ordered at that time. The recount can begin as early as Friday. If Lathim retains his lead, he would face Mary Dye, a fellow Republican who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Susan Fagan. Under the Top 2 system, occasionally two people with the same party preference make it through to the General Election, usually in one-party districts such as Seattle or Eastern Washington. Last year, the 4th Congressional District also had an all-GOP final." Two considerations: one, that the Republican remains highly likely to win in November; two, that a Democrat was actually able to make it something of a contest this time. - rs (photo/Charles Knowles)

The Oregon corporate minimum

Through a quirk - a perversion, some might say - of interpretation of the law, corporations are in many ways given the standing of human beings before the law. The reverse doesn't always work out; people, for example, tend to pay income taxes much higher on average than many corporations do.

That was once less true than it is now. In Oregon, state House Revenue Chair Phil Barnhart notes that “Corporations now pay less than 6% of income taxes paid in Oregon. It used to be closer to 18%. But now over 2/3rds of Oregon corporations pay the $10 minimum.”

Some of that is worth remembering, since the argument that these are tough time for businesses - which they are - will be flashed prominently in argument against the new proposed raising of corporation taxes in the state. But the background needs some bearing in mind: The point of comparison is almost absurdly low.

The tax battle - now that much of the discussion about budget cuts is winding up - already is solidly partisan.

The Republican argument sums up this way: "Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives announced plans last Thursday to pay for spending increases by raising taxes on Oregon small and family owned businesses. The plan to create a new tax bracket of 11% on filings greater than $125,000 targets Oregon LLCs, sole proprietorships, partnerships and s-corps, the typical organizational structure of Oregon small businesses."

The Democrats describe their proposal differently: "new revenue would come from increasing taxes on profitable corporations and increasing the top tax rate for households making over $250,000 per year. . . . The plan has several components, including increasing the state’s corporate minimum to $100, up from its current level of $10. A second change to the corporate minimum would apply only to C-Corps which earn gross receipts over $500,000. Those corporations would pay an additional marginal rate of 0.15% up to a cap of $60,000. For those companies paying more than the corporate minimum, the bill retains the 6.6% tax on the first $250,000 of net income. But it raises the rate to 8.2% on net income over $250,000."

Pick your details, and discuss.

A red light

stop light

Red-light cameras, designed to catch drivers who run red lights, have been developing some value in the cities around the Northwest which have taken to using them. Red-light runners are menaces on the road, and these catchers have some safety utility. Problems arise when they're used not for safety but as ATMs.

This space has ranted no lack of times about the trouble inherent in letting a government agency - whether law enforcement or something else - build its budget off regulatory fines. We're also highly skeptical of any place in public law enforcement for private corporations: The temptation to hand people fines or to lock them up to boost the quarterly bottom line is just too great.

A measure in the Oregon Legislature, House Bill 2701, is aimed at exactly this point. Ashland Senator Alan Bates has been its prime sponsor in the Senate.

Medford, which is part of his district turf, has a red-light camera program, and Bates said that "I would not have sponsored HB 2701 if its passage would end Medford's photo red-light program, nor is that the purpose of the bill." He said he is backing it because:

First, the bill would prohibit cities that use red-light and photo-radar equipment from compensating manufacturers and vendors of red-light and photo-radar equipment based on the number of citations issued or on a percentage of monies collected from payment of fines. Six U.S. cities (Dallas and Lubbock, Texas; Union City, Calif.; Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Springfield, Mo.) have been found guilty of shortening the yellow-light cycles on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners. According to the National Motorists Association, when Virginia officials added 1.5 seconds to the yellow light at an intersection with red light cameras, the number of violations went down 94 percent.

Second, the bill would prohibit any city that uses red-light and photo-radar equipment from collecting more than 5 percent of its annual budget from the citations issued using it. Tim George, deputy chief of the Medford Police Department, is quoted in the article as saying "We don't come anywhere close to generating 5 percent of our budget from the red-light cameras or the two speed vans." It is my understanding that the most recent statewide average for revenue generated from traffic citations is 3 percent; however, there is no cap in place. HB 2701 seeks to remedy this incentive: Public safety should be our goal, not generating revenue.

The bill isn't moving fast; it's still in House committee. But there's still plenty of time.

Definition

At the end of a Horse's Ass post on the failure of a piece of consumer protection legislation in the Washington legislature - it may be dominated by Democrats, who are presumed to be in favor of such measures, but this outcome is hardly unusual there - blogger Jon DeVore came up with a priceless definition of Democrats:

". . . a circular firing squad of cats who won’t be herded towards a gun safety class where free tuna is being served."

Not enough to do?

Dick Harwood

Dick Harwood

The Idaho Legislature is in a slow state right now, for understandable reasons - more needs to be done on the matter of budgets and revenue before the pace can pick up to normal. But that seems to be allowing all sorts of . . . creative . . . stuff to take up some of the quiet time and committees.

Like the special from Representative Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, introduced today in the House State Affairs Committee (the vote was 13-4). It would have Idaho "declare its sovereignty" from the federal government.

Declare its sovereignty? As in independence, as in sovereign nation? Well, no.

The Harwood measure, a resolution, isn't on line yet. (We'll post a link when we see it.) But you can get a sense of where this is intended from the New With Views web site, which in turn cites a measure in Washington state. Read that touted measure, House Joint Memorial 4009, and what you find are, well, several indicative things. First, it is a memorial, which as people familiar with legislation know, is the same thing as a letter stating an opinion, just arriving on legislative stationary - it has no force or effect. (Harwood's seems to be a resolution, but it is evidently structured much the same way.) Second, its description says it is "Claiming state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment" - which is certainly a part of the constitution, and has been, for a very long time; the reach and meaning of the 10th amendment (like all others) is determined by the courts, not by state legislatures. And third, HJM 4009 isn't going anywhere; its been immobile in committee since January 30.

Which may be the fate of the Harwood measure as well. If it does go further, even if it passes, it will have no practical effect. How could it?

So why is a legislative committee spending its time with this? Only two reasons suggest themselves. One is that political people in Idaho never lose a cheering section by bashing the feds. And the other is that, well, they seem not to have a lot else to do right now.

Hard times, all over

Member of Congress - not all, but most - tend to be more insulated than most of us from economic downturns, but that's a little less true at the state legislative level. State legislators (in the Northwest's states, as in most others) are part-time positions, and those not retired or relatively wealthy have to deal with the same economy as the rest of us.

A useful piece in the Boise Weekly points out some of the Idaho legislators who are hitting scrambling times outside the session.

House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-McCall, is quoted, "I'm looking for jobs and doing my taxes," and the report adds, "Roberts owns a construction and excavation business in Valley County, where construction has come to a near standstill. His wife works four days a week at a pancake house in McCall." Had a little intake of breath when we saw the phrase "construction and excavation business in Valley County" - that may be as good a locus of a rough business climate as any in the Northwest right now.

Anti-indoctrination, anti-free speech?

Some ideas are just awfully hard to legislate. Consider the case of Washington Senate Bill 5446, the Worker Privacy Act, which as it turns out is one of the hottest pieces of legislation in the Northwest this year.

Here is how Rick Bender of the Washington State Labor Council set it up at a Senate Labor Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee hearing on it today: currently, employers can require employees to go to meetings or listen to harangues or get into discussions about such things as politics and religion and what charities they will give to, or not. Bender: "When an employer can force you to listen to or participate in non-job performance related speech, on pain of discharge, discipline or threat, this reality creates a powerful and illegitimate form of compulsion. What worker can afford to risk losing their job? . . . So instead, workers are forced to forego their first amendment rights, and forced to listen to speech on matters of individual conscience."

Another witness: "Under current law, employers can and do hold mandatory meetings in which they make it clear that certain ways of voting are preferrred or better. This is not about the freedom of an employer to make his or her political beliefs known. It's about requiring an employee to listen to that political belief." (There have been plenty of reports of this sort of thing happening; a Wall Street Journal article has outlined numerous cases at Wal-Mart.)

So, SB5446, which generally makes that kind of thing - discussions on matters like that, as opposed to discussions that relate to the work or workplace - illegal. There seems to be some logic to the point. But getting it to practical legislation is a difficult matter.

Senator Janea Holmqust, R-Moses Lake, noted that the language of the bill refers to "communications" - very broad, prospectively raising questions about even casual hallway conversations. (more…)

A tax review?

Last May Stan Howland, a veteran corporate income tax auditor for Idaho Tax Commission, delivered a startling 17-page report on what he argued was an inappropriate activity at the commission: Making secret (as in not disclosed to the public) deals with out of stat corporations that allow them to pay to the state a fraction of the taxes they owe. The argument in favor of this approach is that the legal action needed to collect the taxes might, at least in some cases, exceed what could be collected.

The report caused a flurry of discussion, most of which seemed to lead to three conclusions: (1) the activity he describes does in fact go on; (2) it appears to be legal; and (3) nothing more seemed likely to come of it, since the commission is arguing it is doing the right thing, and no one else in a position to impose their clout seems interested in forcing them to do otherwise.

But is the current economic crunch, alongside the crunch in state revenues, leading to a reconsideration of that outcome?

The subject came up Thursday at the state Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, and the upshot didn't look so good for the commission. From the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert blog post on the meeting: (more…)

Slice and cut

Butch Otter

C.L. "Butch" Otter

C.L. "Butch" Otter, Idaho's governor, has long been a cut-taxes-less-government kinda guy, but some of his recent statements suggested that he might try to find ways in the next year's state budget to avoid really massive, overwhelming cuts. And he may well have tried. But great big cuts are the hallmark of what he has proposed to the Idaho Legislature today.

Consider this slice from early in the speech:

The budget recommendation you received today includes a General Fund allocation for public schools that is about 5-and-one-third percent less than this year’s appropriation. However, the $1 billion, 425 million I’m proposing for K-through-12 education next year still represents almost half our total General Fund budget.

And the fact is that my proposed public schools budget is reduced FAR less than I’m recommending for other state agencies. For example, my General Fund budget proposal for Health and Welfare is down 71⁄2 percent. Higher education is down almost 10 percent; the departments of Correction and Water Resources each are down almost 12 percent. The Department of Agriculture recommendation is down more than 31 percent, Commerce more than 51 percent, and Parks and Recreation almost 56 percent.

He also declined to have any truck with the state's rainy day funds; there may be, he suggested, a lot of rainy days.

As conservative as the Idaho Legislature is, there may be some dispute about some of this.

From there, he spoke of Project 60, a broad-based effort to increase Idaho's economic output, "nurturing a new generation of entrepreneurial giants. We want to encourage and create a climate that enables visionaries like the Simplots, Albertsons and Morrisons of yesterday – and like the Parkinsons, Hagadones, Vandersloots and Sayers of our own generation – to create more jobs and brighter futures for Idaho families and communities." (more…)

On the radio

KLIX

A quick programming note: On Monday mornings during the legislative session, I'll be talking on KLIX-AM radio in Twin Falls. That started this morning at about 8:05 (Mountain), for 15 minutes or so, and the plan is to continue that till the legislators go home.

Talked this morning on the budget mess, the challenges Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and the legislature have (though they seem to coming closer to facing them together) and related subjects. Podcasts are available.

OR: Legislature ahead

statehouse

Are there any state governments not being crunched by economic downturn and diminished revenues? If there are, the Northwest's aren't among them - Oregon, Washington and Idaho have that situation in common. Oregon's legislature does have one advantage over the other two: Longer to work. Not until summer hit hot on the Salem pavement will Oregon's lawmakers call it quits. So they have a little more time to ponder, reflect, and consider. This doesn't always improve the lawmaking, but any sense of imminent panic may dissipate by then.

And the concern is running high. Said Representative Bob Jensen, R-Pendleton: “It’s the worst budget prognosis we’ve had since 1930.”

The challenges may be a little different. For the better part of a couple of decades, the governing responsibility in Salem have been split between the parties, at least to some degree; even last term, Republicans held enough seats in the House to block an array of fiscal proposals if they chose. This year, Democrats have full effective control, and also full effective responsibility for whatever happens. A certain giddiness at the prospect of pushing through all sorts of ideas is understandable, but caution will have to be part of the mix too. The voters who make can take as easily.

Some of what they'll be facing may be easy and even popular. Governor Ted Kulongoski has, for example, a number of proposals which would "green" the state and also encourage green business, and some of these may run through quickly. But legislators will need to step carefully. The shape of economic assistance (what about the resource industries? what about home sales?) will have to be hashed out. Kulongoski's proposal for a state mileage tax has taken a lot of heat and probably will go down in flames; if it doesn't, the political fallout will be fierce.

In common with Washington, Oregon has had a big budget runup in the last couple of years, and that may give some indication of where cuts can be found. But only to a point. There's going to be little appetite for cutting back on children's health care, or on the recent increase in state police, finally beginning to approach numbers that suggest adequacy.

There are no simple answers here. (more…)

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…)