Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “Washington”

The process, not the substance

court

Here's a good example, in the just-released Washington Supreme Court case of Lisa Brown v Brad Owen, of why you often have to be careful in assessing what has just happened. The case was decided, but the question it answered wasn't what you might have thought it was.

For example, this from a press release today from Senator Mike Hewitt: “Today’s state Supreme Court decision was a win for the people of Washington. Their approval of Initiative 960 told the Legislature that they wanted it to show restraint when raising taxes, and they wanted more transparency when it came to knowing how much legislation would take out of their pockets. It’s great news, especially as we’re hearing talk of new taxes to fill the state’s budget hole, that the public will be protected from the Legislature passing huge tax hikes by a simple majority vote."

Hold on a moment.

The underpinning is Initiative 960, a Tim Eyman measure passed in 2007. The first descriptive sentence in the voter guide said that "This measure would require either a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature or voter approval for all tax increases," and that pretty much describes it. But its constitutionality was challenged, even before its passage, and that issue remained an open question.

On February 29, 2008, the Senate voted on Senate Bill 6931, which ordered that "the liquor control board shall add an equivalent surcharge of $0.42 per liter on all retail sales of spirits, excluding licensee, military, and tribal sales." the money could go half to substance abuse treatment and half to DUI enforcement efforts. It was in effect a tax increase measure. The vote was 25-21 in favor, but Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen ruled that the measure had failed, because it didn't receive a two-thirds vote. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who supported the bill, protested, saying I-960 was unconstitutional. Owen replied that courts decide constitutionality, he wasn't a court, and that was that. Brown took the matter to the Washington Supreme Court, asking for a writ of mandamus - an order declaring that the bill had indeed passed and therefore needed to be advanced to the House for action there. (Both Owen and Brown, by the way, are Democrats.)

The Supreme Court left Owen's ruling in place. But what's key here is why. (more…)

On the base

The Northwest's military bases are not especially large in number - compared in some other parts of the country - but they are substantial and they are distinct. As a site of political and social culture, they are distinct from whatever is around them, a separate world. It isn't often explored by outsiders.

The death of a 16-year-old girl at Fort Lewis (near Tacoma) has prompted some examination. A piece in the Seattle Times today is well worth the read, as it notes some of the fallout from the case and the larger picture it illuminates.

From the Times: "The incident has shone an unflattering light on the late-night culture at Fort Lewis, which functions like a small city behind its gates. It also has exposed flaws in the post's policies and security, sparking changes that took effect last week, with more changes likely in the works."

Your own budget calculator

Dang. All the states should be doing this, and not just states, either. Not that it couldn't stand some improvement, but what's there is a good start.

Go to the web page hosting the Washington Budget Calculator. What it is, is an interactive database that lets you propose what you think should be the budget levels for various parts of state government. You can fill in the blanks and (persumably: this isn't clear) send in the results.

The page notes, "Think about what it costs to provide programs and services to Washington state citizens. Our state is growing and we need to provide core services in education and other areas. What choices will you make? What areas of government would you invest in? We do not have the money to pay for programs at current levels. Knowing this, what would you fund? To learn more about what is funded by General Fund-State dollars in each priority area and how much programs cost, click on the links in the table. Use this information to inform your budget decision." Indeed, a key part of the page is a series of links to detailed budget information, so the participant can get some rough idea of the impact of various choices.

Where does the money come from, and where does it go? Not hard to work out, on this page.

The tool could be extended and fine-tuned, and its use as a public input device could be improved. But this is a useful idea that ought to be widely adopted elsewhere.

WA: No Senate drama, again

Patty Murray

Patty Murray

The first Washington state U.S. Senate contest of the new millennium was one of the most dramatic ever: The battle between incumbent Republican Slade Gorton and Democratic challenger Maria Cantwell (eventually won by Cantwell) was so close days went by before its contours were clear.

Haven't been any like that since. Cantwell won a solid re-election in 2006, and the senior senator, Democrat Patty Murray, did the same in 2004 against a solid challenger, Republican Representative George Nethercutt. These were not close calls.

Murray is next up again, next year (and she's expected to run). No clear challenger has emerged. There will be one, of course; Senate seats just don't go uncontested, and it would be bad politics to give a senator a free ride. Whether she draws a challenger as strong as Nethercutt is another question. And since 2004, Washington has become more Democratic.

On the national Daily Kos site, a lot of this is reviewed today alongside some new poll numbers.

These check her favorable/unfavorable numbers (55%/40%, not great but suggesting no re-elect problems). They also pit her against two of the better-known and probably stronger Republicans in the state, Attorney General Rob McKenna and 8th District Representative Dave Reichert; they show her prevailing 55%-39% and 53%-40% respectively. (Her name ID is also much higher than theirs, so that may give her some extra help in this polling.) Neither McKenna nor Reichert are likely to run against her, though, and almost any other Republican is unlikely to do as well.

If she winds up with a little-known opponent, all this may suggest why.

Who owns the colleges?

gonzaga

At Gonzaga University/GU, Jennifer Raudebaugh

The news yesterday that The Society of Jesus (usually called the Jesuits), Oregon Province, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is leading to a question of some significance: Who owns Gonzaga University and Seattle University, which are considered Jesuit institutions?

Predictably, the Jesuits say they are separately owned, and the plaintiffs suing them - this is a continuation of the long-running string of pedophile cases - say they are integrated enough that their assets, too, should be up for grabs.

It seems not an easy question. Look on the Oregon Province (it includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska) web site, and you'll find a number of references to Gonzaga and Seattle U, but little that explicitly links the church organization to them. The universities (and several other schools) are described as "educational ministries," but what does that mean in the context of ownership and asset?

A statement from Gonzaga President Rev. Robert J. Spitzer: "The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus is a completely separate organization from Gonzaga University. Gonzaga was separately incorporated and registered with the Secretary of State in Washington in 1894. Gonzaga University's assets are its own and not subject to others’ creditors." It sounds like a credible argument, but we have yet to know what a court will think.

And what does it mean to the communities? Seattle University is a very substantial institution and a significant force in Seattle, but Gonzaga is a really major player in Spokane. Questions about its future go directly to the front burner there.

Your ideas, anyway

You'll recall that when the Hearst Corporation owners of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said about a month ago that they will be ending their publication of the P-I print edition (which end date is about a month from now), there was some indication of maybe continuing in some way as an electronic publication.

That possibility is still sort of out there, but it seems to be fading. A blogger at the Stranger's Slog, bringing some of this up to date, throws in a fascinating quote from an e-mail from a P-I staffer:

Can I also go off on a tangent and say how bizarre it is for Hearst to ask us for our groundbreaking, lean, out of the box ideas for a profitable online venture? (1) If they were going to ask, shouldn't they have asked before they let us know via KING 5 that we were probably all about to be laid off? (2) Do they seriously not have a plan already in place? That seems like terrible business planning, (3) Why are they asking us these questions instead of paying someone who might actually know something about how to make money on the Internet? Aren't reporters notoriously bad when it comes to issues like this, because we have always prided ourselves on having nothing to do with how ads are sold? But, (4) Didn't the two reporters who did know something about how to make money on the Internet, John Cook and Todd Bishop, come to them with a groundbreaking, lean, out of the box idea not so long ago and get rejected?

The breakup

Tough budget times tends to foster talk of either (1) combining agencies to merge and diminish administrative costs, or (2) splitting up agencies, the better to search for efficiencies which might more easily be hidden away in larger organizations.

Which is right? Hard to say; and it probably varies by agency. But there are plenty of efforts around the Northwest to seriously consider one or the other.

This thought prompted by a proposal to split the Washington Department of Social & Health Services into two. Or four. Depending on which legislator you're talking to . . .

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…)

Olympia catblogging

Jeff Kropf

Bob the Cat

Now, if this cat could talk . . . well it does, sort of. It blogs . . .

Bob the Cat has been a fixture around the Washington statehouse territory, notably around the Blue House where the statehouse reporters are based. Bob became popular among the ink-stained wretches, who proceeded to do two things. First, they ascertained whether he had a home (by attaching a note to his collar; and yes, he did, nearby). Second, writers that they are, they set him up with a blog.

If you have a couple extra minutes, you might see what's on Bob's mind . . .