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Posts tagged as “Washington”

The Peoria plan

Nick Licata

Nick Licata

In this time of weakening newspapers, as lots of people start looking for alternative models, the situation has gotten so serious that public officials are holding public meetings on the subject of "who will report the news?"

Specifically, in Seattle, where one daily newspaper - the Post-Intelligencer - is near certain to end printing and may or may not remain in some online form, and the other - the Times - is also in perilous financial shape. It's where tomorrow Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata will convene a council Culture, Civil Rights, Health, and Personnel Committee meeting, and devote most of it to "a panel discussion about the importance of maintaining diverse media outlets, the future of daily newspapers, and the potential roles and responsibilities that a community can take to keep public discourse healthy and thriving." (It is supposed to be streamed.)

That's noteworthy right there, since it means the search for news alternatives in the Northwest now has its first substantial public elected official taking point.

The meeting already seems to have had one effect at least: Discussion of what's being called the Peoria Plan. A piece today in the site Crosscut describes it: In Peoria, Illinois, where the daily paper also is in serious trouble, there's talk about creating and using a new type of business structure to encourage news operations.

This blog generally has become increasingly wary of new business structures, but if limited and defined properly this one, called the LC3, has com promise. It's described as a hybrid, with some allowance for limited profits, but also some status as a charity, making possible tax-deductible contributions, which could allow some newspapers to become something akin to non-profits (a term which is in itself a term of art).

The Crosscut piece is worth reading. And the meeting tomorrow should be worth watching.

Stimuli in the states

So what are the prospects for states - the three in the Northwest, specifically - to get from the current iteration of the federal stimulus package?

The Center for American Progress has put together some general information. It's limited in details, but some of the interactive maps do provide some useful material.

Overall, Oregon seems to make out marginally the best. But results vary . . .

bullet Oregon - total $6.3 billion. Of that, 11.9% goes for balancing the state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $2 billion (or $529 per person), $1.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $50.7 million for EITC increases, $153 m for child tax credits. Spending for unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.3 billion ($330 per capita), $835 million for those who lost jobs, $75 million for housing, $312 million for food stamps, $30 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

bullet Washington - total $10.4 billion. Of that, 12.8% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $3.6 billion (or $550 per person), $3.2 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $85.8 million for EITC increases, $288 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.5 billion ($232 per capita), $935 million for those who lost jobs, $135 million for housing, $398 million for food stamps, $49 million for miscellaneous poverty efforts.

bulletIdaho - total $2.5 billion. Of that, 13.3% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs, tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: about $900 million (or $566 per person), $.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $23.9 million for EITC increases, $79.4 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $312 million ($205 per capita), $198 million for those who lost jobs, $34 million for housing, $66 million for food stamps, $14 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

Wacked-out according to whom?

Ken Jacobsen

Ken Jacobsen

There's an air around some of the legislation proposed by Senator Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle - maybe in part because of the sheer volume of it, 46 bills so far this session - that some of it is maybe half-baked, or just a little quirky. Maybe. But that doesn't mean the underlying ideas aren't worthy of some consideration.

Like the current hot topic at the Washington statehouse, Senate Bill 5063, which would allow for joint burial of people with the pets (dogs and cats only). Which on first glance sounds a little like, well, yeah, maybe one of those weird ideas from Seattle. Think on it a little further, and ask . . . well, why shouldn't be be allowed to if they want to? The bill could use some tinkering (it would require cemeteries to allow the practice; a wise colleague suggested it merely allow cemeteries the choice). But for many people, pets are family. The guess here is that this will actually be a coming thing.

Sometimes ideas take time to mature and develop strength, and maybe fine-tine along the way, and it could be that Jacobsen is one of those people who pick up on the earlier waves. He recalled (in a Spokane Spokesman-Review article) how when he proposed state labeling of organic foods, “I was treated like I was talking about kinky sex.” Pretty widespread these days. (Organic labeling, that is.)

So what else is Jacobsen about this year? From the Spokesman: "Barely a week into this year’s legislative session, Jacobsen has proposed an airline passenger’s bill of rights, allowing pet dogs in bars, designating a state oak tree, and giving tax breaks to taverns that install on-site breathalyzers." The first and last of those anyway are highly useful ideas we've long thought to be wise policy. They could be coming things. And herewith, an indication of that.

D.C. stimulus? Don’t count on it

Thompson

Dock Thompson at EDTI Committee/TVW

There's an undercurrent of discussion in the Northwest statehouses, hard-pressed financially all three of them, about the possibility of at least partial salvation coming from Washington, D.C. There is, in that Washington, a major stimulus package under development. What will it mean for the states in the Northwest? No one knows.

But the legislatures would like to know what they can. In Washington, Governor Chris Gregoire at one point said she was hoping for a billion dollars or so in stimulus money.

Best not count on it. This afternoon, the Washington Senate Economic Development, Trade & Innovation Committee heard from Dick Thompson, special assistant to the governor (and previously holding a wide range of positions in state government), who has been tasked with finding out what to expect.

"For year, my advice to people who were going to testigy was never guess," he said. But: "Guesses and rumors is about all I can give you today. . . . I will tell you everything we think we know. But there is not a lot we know in real fact."

Much of the package, he said, seems to be in the form of tax relief rather than direct spending, so that portion doesn't do much for state budgets. "We have gone from thinking we have large discretion to thinking we have very, very little." (A big difference from the bank bailout last year.) Highways and bridges have been thought to be a key component of this, he said, but it still amounts to just about $30 billion nationally - and maybe a little over $500 million might make its way to Washington. Not nearly as much as once hoped for.

Looks like a window of three to four months to let bids, which means project would have to be close to ready to go. And money apparently would go directly to local or state agencies, not to the state for general distribution.

There's little clarity though, he said, of whether this formula is an Obama-backed proposal or just something wandering through the U.S. House. And everyone waits . . .

WA: An aggressive approach

Chris Gregoire

Chris Gregoire

The view of a sizable number of Republicans in Washington is that, while Governor Chris Gregoire and the Democrats didn't cause the national economic calamity, they are responsible for making worse the impact on government in the state, by pushing for more spending in the last few years than they might have. State spending has in fact risen quickly in the last few years, and if it had grown more slowly, state revenues and spending might be at least closer to alignment. (In Republican-run Idaho, where spending hasn't been increasing nearly as much, Republicans talk about how fortunate they are in that regard - and now need to make big cuts in spending.)

There's a powerful argument in that, and no doubt the Democrats in charge in Olympia are going to have a harder time maintaining in the fact. A few years ago you might have expected a bunch of Democrats to sign off on it, at least partly and in principle. But Gregoire, delivering her second inaugural address today, made clear that she doesn't and won't. A central segment:

Instead, we must renew hope for Washingtonians who are suffering today, and lay — for them — a platform for a better tomorrow.

First, we can and must quickly create new jobs for working families by rebuilding roads and schools, and creating a green economy for the 21st century — all in partnership with President-elect Barack Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment” plan.

Second, like our struggling families and businesses, we can and will tighten our belts, balance our budget and focus on basic needs — protection of our children, our schools and colleges, our public safety, our environment and our economy.

Third, we won’t waste this crisis! We can and must reform state government. In this moment of clarity, we must grab the opportunity to reform so we can respond to the evolving needs of this century.

Fourth, we can and must approach all our challenges as a computer engineer might. Let’s build a new platform that makes Washington unique — that can support the exciting possibilities of the 21st century rather than the fading possibilities of the last.

And finally, this is the time for generosity among all Washingtonians.

So what we're seeing here is a call for activism, in a time of revenue diminishment - maybe a little less than in Oregon, a lot more than in Idaho. She has yet to lay out all the specifics, but the outline in her speech today seems clear enough: "We can quickly create thousands of new jobs this year and next by accelerating nearly $1 billion in public works projects. These projects will build new roads and schools, and create green-collar jobs to lay more groundwork for the prosperity to come. The time to act is now!"

Philosophical lines are being drawn - two very different approaches to dealing with the down times. We'll be able to do some sharp comparisons in the months ahead as they play out.

THE VIADUCT The apparent consensus decision among state, county and city officials (Gregoire, Chopp, King, Nickels and others) to go for the tunnel as the replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct seems of a piece with this. The tunnel is the most costly way of dealing with the need for action on the viaduct, and it may be the long-range quality solution, but it also is the most expensive. That is why so many people recoiled from it before. But now? There's no certainty about where the money will come from, and there's a distinct possibility (as the Seattle Times notes) of a taxpayer revolt. Will there be?

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…)