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Posts tagged as “Washington”

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…)

The biggest evacuation?

Is this the biggest single evacuation of people from an area that the Northwest has ever had? There's case to be made for what's going on now in Pierce County:

Rob Harper of Washington Emergency Management: “This is the largest evacuation in scope and scale. We haven’t dealt with something like this before. It’s hitting more populous areas and an industrial area – it has a much more devastating impact on the economy.”

The raw numbers: About 40,000 people being strongly advised to leave, whole communities including Puyallup and Orting. Everyone living in the Orting Valley, which was being flooded by the Puyalup River, was being asked to leave their homes.

Lewis flooding

Flooding in Lewis County

And that isn't even the heaviest flooding, which seems to be around the Centralia-Chehalis area. Again. for the second year in a row, in an area (about halfway between Portland and Seattle) that historically is a little drier than most parts of western Washington. The flooding is so severe that Seattle and Portland effectively are cut off from land transportation.

Indications are that skies are clearing and the precip may be slowing. Couldn't come too soon.

Initiative misdirection

The latest Tim Eyman special is truly classic misdirection - an initiative that would, if passed, seek to do something a whole lot different than its backers are proclaiming. Without telling you very exactly what that something different is.

Here's what Eyman says: "We have a proposal for 2009 that aggressively tackles our state's property tax crisis. It's called the Lower Property Taxes Initiative. Our tax burden keeps growing faster and faster and government keeps getting bigger and bigger - the people are losing control. The Lower Property Taxes Initiative is our last, best chance to gain control of our government."

It is spun as a property tax limitation proposal. But that's not exactly what it does; the core of that comes in this a little further down: "This measure would limit the growth of state, county, and city general fund revenue, not including new voter-approved revenue, to the annual rate of inflation. Revenue above this limit would be used to reduce property taxes."

In other words, what it gets at directly is overall spending limits, the same sort of trouble-prone device we've seen across the last generation. What it has in common with those long list of efforts (which started with California's Prop 13 all of 30 years ago) is the placing of a ceiling on governmental spending, but no indication of how those budget limitations will be managed - where the resulting cuts will be. Like so many other initiatives before it, it says, "I don't wanna pay," but is silent on the other side of the equation: What should be tossed overboard.

Which is why it explicitly isn't the "last, best chance to gain control of our government." It might be if Eyman filled in both sides of the equation; by leaving one side blank, voters would be no more in control of their government with the initiative than without it. (We've long thought an initiative aimed at cutting specific government activities would be a far for responsible approach than cuts on the revenue side.)

Will it pass? Maybe - anti-tax initiatives are always popular. But then, voters should see the impact of this coming a mile away.

Washington Person of 2008: Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

In 2008, Dino Rossi was not so much "the man who" as "the man without who(m)" . . .

He was the measuring point, and may continue to be for a while.

Dial it back a year ago, and imagine Rossi, the photo-finisher for governor in 2004 who didn't become governor, decided that, nah, a second run wasn't in the cards. That little counterfactual leads to a surprisingly long list of events and trends that probably would have played out differently in Washington over the last year. Not so much in terms of overall final political results: Washington wound up with a Democratic-dominated general election as it was. But the changes would have been quite real anyway.

Start with this: When it came to the governor's race, the one big contest on the dock this year in Washington, Republicans were up against the wall. They had scant bench: If their nominee would not be Rossi, the descent to the next most serious contender would have been precipitous. Democrat Chris Gregoire was well positioned for re-election, and against almost any Republican in the state other than Rossi, the race would have been seen as a runaway re-elect from the outset. It would have gotten modest attention, and the psychology would have developed that Washington was set up to be a Democratic sweep state this year. That swiftly would have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In turn, that might have made some difference in a number of spots. It could have depressed Republican activity overall and especially around Rossi's home turf in eastern King County; the 8th District U.S. House race was close enough that it could have switched. So might several state legislative races, which might have dug the Republican hole deeper still.

Put it this way. Republicans in Washington are in a deep minority, but this year may have marked the end of the fall; taken as a whole, Republicans in the Everegreen did not lose substantial ground again, as they had in very election for a decade. Apart from the loss of a statewide office (lands commissioner), they were able at least to hold their own, which gives them the opportunity to start working their way back. They would have been in worst shape than that, but for Rossi; and that's not a small thing. (more…)

’08, concise

Among the many reviews of the year nearly past, we'll recommend one out today - Washington-focused, with national components too - from the entertaining Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan.

In, as he says, 607 words. Sample, from around springtime: "State bans cell phones when driving, sort of. Democrats use 'Sopranos' music in video critical of Rossi; Italian Americans protest. Pollster says 25 percent of state voters don’t know that GOP means Republican. Sonics allowed to move to Oklahoma City where fans rejoice, until they see them play."