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Posts tagged as “Washington”

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 . . .

Bailout numbers

The number of banks in the Northwest getting bailout (TARP) money keeps on rising. Here's the latest, according to ProPublica:

Washington: 15 banks.

Oregon: 3 banks.

Idaho: 4 banks.

The gay marriage referendum

The Washington Legislature's passage today of Senate Bill 5688, the revised domestic partnership act - revisions that provide same-sex couples virtually all of the legal status of marriage except that formal description - was not close, though it was partisan, splitting pretty much along party lines. And the aftermath is as predictable: A push for a referendum, to try to overturn the law at the ballot box.

The core national analysis has been that public attitudes on same-sex marriage have been shifting, in increments, gradually becoming more accepting of them. The question mark seems to be the timetable. Oregon gay-rights activists seem to have mapped that transition carefully, deciding to pass on 2010 for an attempt to overturn the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Their thinking clearly is that a little more time is likely to improve their odds of success, and they're probably right.

However, the Washington referendum - which will have to content itself with settling for complaining about specific provisions, rather than an up-or-down on "gay marriage" - is likely to do two other things, whatever the results (and assuming the proponents succeed in getting it to the ballot, which may not be a foregone conclusion).

First, it effectively inoculates the legislators who voted for it. If the referendum to kill the new law fails, that means the legislators were on the popular side, If it does kill the new law, the beast is dead anyway and no one will care next year.

Second, it will provide a new, reasonably clear measure of how people are feeling about this now.

Where will that go? The Slog today quotes one referendum organizer as saying, “We are taking a statewide poll this week. We’ll make the poll public when we get it, unless it’s so ugly that I don’t want to tell anybody.”

That they're holding out that possibility may have some significance.

Tea parties, then and now

Jeff Kropf

The Boston Tea Party, 1846 Nathan Currier depiction

The 1773 incident now known as the Boston Tea Party was a truly spontaneous demonstration of immediate anger. It stemmed from the imposition of a royal tax on the tea, and was the result of a situation specific to Boston. Taxable tea was arriving from Britain in all 13 American colonies, but in the other 12 colonies protesters sent the tea on a return trip with their visible protests alone. It was a less simple matter in Boston, where the governor of Massachusetts had an insider business arrangement with the providers (two of them were his sons). And so a standoff. A meeting to consider options was called by the rabble-rouser Sam Adams, and in the midst of it some of the fed-up simply stalked out and (there are differing reports over how many were actually dressed as Indians) boarded the ship and tossed the tea into the harbor.

Some contrast with what's happening in terms of current "tea parties," aimed as criticism of the Obama Administration's financial policies, is worth a note. A string of tea party events are scheduled - for the 15th, of course - in Idaho (Boise, Coeur d'Alene, Council, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Priest River, Rexburg and Twin Falls), in Oregon (Astoria, Beaverton, Bend, Coos Bay, Corvallis, The Dalles, Enterprise, Springfield, Forest Grove, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, La Grande, McMinnville, Medford, Milton Freewater, Newport, Oregon City, Portland, Reedsport, Rogue Riven, Roseburg, Salem, Tillamook) and in Washington (Anacortes, Bellevue, Bellingham, Colville, Everett, Grays Harbor, Issaquah, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Okanogan, Port Orchard, Pullman, Olympia, Shelton, Tacoma, Port Angeles, Redmond, Seattle, Spokane and Yakima).

That's a lot of scheduled spontaneity.

Some of what's happening is coming out of conservative blogs and networking. But there's a good deal more going here.

The central Tax Day Tea Party web site is well equipped with Resources, Media/Press, Team Wiki, Media Wiki, Social Networking and Store functions. Someone centrally put this up and organized rapidly and at considerable cost.

It turns out to be a lobbying astroturf project of Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity. The liberal site Think Progress pointed out how

– Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters, contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”

– Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local events in Florida.

– Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “clear message” to the public and media.

– Freedom Works has several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.

– Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.

Freedom Works was "founded in 1984 and described as a 501c4 "grassroots organization," is chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. . . . FreedomWorks was formed in 2004 when Citizens for a Sound Economy merged with Empower America." It has worked on a number of policy matters, notably on Social Security, closely with the former Bush Administration.

There's nothing wrong with any of this - free speech is everyone's right, and everyone has the responsibility to protest government actions they disapprove of - but the parties shouldn't be described (as they are in some quarters) as an uprising from below. That would be a significant mischaracterization.

Side note: A distinction of core message. The message behind the first was, "No taxation without representation." Today, we pretty much have the "representation" part covered, which leaves the new message a tad unfocused. (The national tea party site doesn't focus on a specific message; the words on its core graphic are, "Silent Majority No More." That may give a clue as to the point and purpose.)

An early clue

court

From the pages of Washington Supreme Court decisions today comes one that may not have tremendous precedential import (or, maybe it will within the field of family law) but makes up a pretty astonishing read.

In re Marriage of Bernard is the tale of a pre-nuptial agreement, and the wording is intentional: This is a story a small novel could be wrapped around, and maybe one will. It concerns a pre-nuptial agreement insisted on by a wealthy man prior to marriage; the high court tossed it out as procedurally and substantively unfair. The thread of fact and argument are best read there.

But you come away with the thought: If the pre-nup was this difficult, how did either of them ever think the marriage was going to work?

How Washington is income tax-less

A good summation of Washington's troubled relationship with the income tax in today's Peter Callaghan column in the Tacoma News Tribune.

And why Washington still operates, essentially, on a tax system developed in the middle of the Great Depression.

The idea of a limited income tax - on only those with $500,000-a-year and up income - still seems to be gaining some traction this year. But the obstacles it faces turn up neatly in this anecdote from Callaghan:

"Take the case of Glenn Pascall, a very smart guy who was then-Gov. John Spellman’s Department of Revenue director. It was the first week of the 1982 session and the state was considering how to get out of yet-another deep budget hole. Pascall told a legislative committee that everything was on the table and that the income tax is no longer 'an idea which is doomed to fail. It is one unpopular option in a range of unpopular options.' The next day, Spellman convened a press conference:'I have not considered an income tax. We are not considering an income tax. And Mr. Pascall has resigned.'”

A non-starter, or a game-changer

KohlWelles

Jeanne Kohl-Welles

Everybody has their legislative non-starters - among those issues a lot of people talk about with some seriousness. In Oregon, the sale tax. In Washington, the income tax.

Or . . . suppose you structured the tax so it would apply only to a small minority, but still raise a bunch of money? Is there a calculus under which (especially in hard times) the unthinkable becomes thinkable?

So now, introduced as of today, we have in Washington a proposal for an income tax, usually considered a poisonous third-rail subject. Democrats are proposing Senate Bill 6147, and Republicans are going to pounce (actually, take the future tense out of that).

Here's the twist: It would only apply about 1% of Washingtonians (those earning a half-million dollars a year or more for individuals, with the bar higher in some other cases) and would be set at a relatively low level - 1%. Easy to grasp.

It has backing from majority Democrats; the key sponsor is Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, along with six others. Majority leadership doesn't seem to be dousing the idea. It carries a trap door: Legislators wouldn't give themselves a final sayt; the idea would go to the voters for an up or down.

The specific statement of intent in the bill says, "It is the intent of the legislature in adopting this title to provide the necessary revenues for the support of vital state services on a more stable and equitable basis." But that's not its real political engine. What could make this possible is the specific populist environment of the moment: Go ahead and tax the rich. As matters sit, in this case, a number of Washingtonians usually unwilling to budge on the income tax might be tempted. Republicans will argue this is an entre to something larger, and they could be right. But for the moment, the ballot issue is what it is. (If it ultimately is.)

There's something much broader going on here than a typical question of tax policy. This will bear close watching.

And still more troubled banks

We're not done with the troubled-bank story yet. A Seattle Times analysis today by Drew DeSilver says that "At least a dozen of the 52 Washington-based banks examined are carrying heavy loads of past-due loans, defaults and foreclosed properties relative to their financial resources. Many of these banks have set aside relatively little cash to cover problem loans, the analysis shows."

The banks cited include Anchor Mutual Savings Bank at Aberdeen, Horizon Bank at Bellingham, Evergreen Bank at Seattle, and Venture Bank at Lacey. But there are others too. (Interesting that the overlap with the list of federal stabilizing funds recipients doesn't seem to overlap much.)

There's also an interactive chart showing where the banks sit according to a number of measures of stability. With the caveat that no single set of numbers are solid indicators, the eye naturally goes nonetheless to the comprehensive risk ratio, which (roughly) indicates how bad assets stack up against good ones. You see there why some of the aforementioned banks get some of the attention they do. Westsound of Bremerton has the highest CRR at 282.5%; Venture at Lacey is at 172%; City Bank at Lynnwood at 171%; Frontier Bank at Everett at 126%; Shoreline Bank at Shoreline at 120%; Seattle Savings Bank at 117%; Horizon Bank at Bellingham at 110%; North County Bank at Arliington at 103%.

None of this is totally current; most of the information seems to be as-of the end of last year. But it gives you an idea of what headlines might be emerging in the months ahead.

Economy getting you down?

Well, the Olympian has a remedy, more or less.

Try this video from Olympian reporter Adam Wilson. Maybe the funniest take we've seen lately on the local state of the economy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cringe . . .

The biggest shifts

The presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 obviously had different partisan results, but they also registered distinctly different partisan numbers - a shift from Republicans to Democrats, nationwide, of about 10%. The only significant Republican percentage increases in the presidential were in Alaska (the biggest by far, at 26%), Arkansas, Louisiana and Tenneesee, plus sliver improvements in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The other 45 states, including those which voted Republican both times (such as Idaho), all moved in the Democratic direction.

The Center for American Progress has put together a map on this, showing in the Northwest that Democrats made the largest presidential-level gains in Idaho (13%), closely followed by Oregon (12%) and Washington (10%).

In Washington state, 18 counties (of 39) registered a Democratic shift of more than 10%. The largest shift was in one of the most Republican counties in the state, Chelan County just east of the Cascades, at 15%.

In Oregon, 24 counties of the 36 shifted 10% or more. The highest shift there was in Washington County, at 16% - seemingly a continuation of a general trend in that county.

In Idaho, 21 counties (of 44) shifted 10% or more. As in the other states, most were just above the 10% mark, but one of them - Teton County - registered the largest shift in the whole region, at 23%, as well as the second highest, Power County at 18%. Those are both small counties, but also of interest were the shifts in the two largest counties in the state - Ada (17%) and Canyon (16%).

None of the 119 counties in the Northwest shifted Republican in that pair of presidentials.

A tale of two bonds

spokane schools

From the Spokane School District 81 website

Those into parsing the details of election returns will want to turn toward a post on the Spokane Spokesman-Review Spin Control blog, which gets into the distinctive results of two March 10 public bonding votes in Spokane. One (the larger) passed, the other failed. The votes weren't close.

In fact, the one that passed, a $288 million school bond, was estimated at 15 times larger than the city of Spokane bond, which failed.

Why that result? Reporter Jim Camden points to a much larger campaign budget for the school bond than for the city's - $145,000 to $6,600 - and more sophistication on the part of the school campaign. But there was also this: "the city bond issue was for a fairly amorphous set of projects, such as an evidence warehouse, some new courtrooms, an expansion of an animal shelter. The District 81 bond issue was for specific schools, and the approval margin is significantly higher in the neighborhoods around those schools, presumably because parents who live there know what needs to be done to their kids’ classrooms."

The outlier

When it comes to voting in Washington state, the peculiar county is not oft-maligned King, but rather Pierce County - the only one of 39 where voting at physical polls can still be done. (Mail voting is optional.) All others vote, as Oregon does, by mail.

The Washington House has now passed - on a close vote, 54-43 - House Bill 1572, which would convert Washington to an all-mail-vote state, and do two other things: "Changes precinct sizes to not more than 2,000 active registered voters effective 2012. Allows the appointment of four precinct committee officers in precincts that have 2,000 or more active registered voters."

The Pierce County delegation was split, by the way. And the Tacoma News Tribune has an amusing sidelight: "George Walk, Pierce County lobbyist, told me that earlier this session he had to testify both for and against the bill when it was in committee. County Executive Pat McCarthy was in favor of all-mail voting (she’s the former election chief for the county) but the County Council was against it."

It's in the Senate Government Operations & Elections Committee now, awaiting action there.