This week’s Q&A: Sen. Dan Swecker on an effort to require initiatives to be tied to a funding source

By | December 16, 2011 | 0 Comments

This week, I spoke with Sen. Dan Swecker about a Constitutional amendment he’s sponsoring for the regular session that would put an end to unfunded initiatives. What do Republicans and Democrats think? And how would this affect professional initiative writer, Tim Eyman? Here’s what Swecker had to say.

Q: First, tell me a little about your idea and how this came about.

Swecker: Actually, it’s kind of come from frustrations we’ve felt over the last four or five years as we’ve had to cut the budget. The biggest examples are initiatives 728 and 732 that provided for smaller class sizes and cost of living increases for teachers. The cost of those is just monumental – probably hundreds of millions of dollars every year and in an environment where you’re already having to cut programs in order to balance the budget. The idea of pouring more money into one part of one program just doesn’t seem appropriate. I also just don’t think that people have any understanding of whether or not an initiative is going to cost something or whether or not taxes would have to be raised. 

This bill would do two things. First, the state would do a fiscal impact analysis then the bill has the maker of the initiative indicate what the revenue source would be that would pay for the program. There was a recent issue of Initiative 1163 to provide training for home care workers and the ranges of cost were from $40 million to $80 million. We’re in a position where we’re already cutting programs for the most vulnerable and disabled parts of our population, things like Basic Healthcare. So it seems crazy to take more money out of htose programs to pay for training. So I just decided that it’s important that people take on the same responsibility that I have as a legislator.

Q: So, because not everyone might be totally familiar with how initiatives work: Once voters pass an initiative under current law — even if it requires a lot of funding — the Legislature basically can’t change it for two years.

Swecker: Right, it takes a two-thirds majority to touch it for the first two years.

I mean, everybody loves education and loves teachers and wants smaller class sizes, so it sounds like a really good vote. But when you take a look at the fiscal implications, it could be really horrendous. (more…)

This week’s Q&A: What the new liquor privatization initiative means for the Liquor Control Board

By | November 10, 2011 | 0 Comments
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, voters passed Initiative 1183, which would privatize the state’s liquor system. For this week’s Q&A, I spoke with Brian Smith, Communications Director for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, about what this change means for the WSLCB.

Q: Private stores will be able to sell liquor in June of next year – what’s happening before then in order for that transition to occur?

Smith: Immediately, there’s a number of things. We will need to do some emergency rule making to make sure that our existing rules and laws coincide with the initiative, because it goes into effect Dec. 8.

We need to do something about the trade area, which you may recall was an issue during the campaign.  We need to develop licenses for people to apply for: The spirits retail license, the distributor license do not exist. Then you have to have about 60 days to process them. So, for example, if you’re a grocer, you need to apply for a license, then through that process we work with local governments – all that takes generally about 60 days.

Q: You mentioned “trade area.” Is that a definition that will be established before any licenses are issued, or will that be a case-by-case basis?

Smith: We don’t know yet. We are contingency planning, but that is certainly something that’s going to have to happen very soon.

Q: If you read the initiative, it’s talking about distributors and retailers. Can you describe how that system might look?

Smith: Right now, there are beer and wine distributors in Washington. They do the jobs of not only collecting the product from manufacturers, then move it out to retailers. Usually, they provide a service: They go in and stock the beer shelf, etc. I would imagine it’s going to be something like that under this scenario. They’ll bring in the liquor; handle marketing it on shelf space. The retailer is going to be just that – anyone that meets the criteria of the initiative, which is 10,000 square feet or larger, hasn’t had a public safety violation in two years. Contract stores are grandfathered in but they’ll have some changes: Right now, a contract store is a small business. We own the inventory and we pay them a commission on their sales. Under 1183, they will have to purchase their own inventory, and that runs, on average, $125,000, which is pretty steep for a small business.

Q: I also noticed in the initiative that, while state liquor stores will close next summer, there will be a one-year period for the state to get rid of all the assets. Does that mean the liquor stock? The buildings?

Smith: Assets like land and buildings. We’ll have the distribution center and we’re supposed to auction off the existing state store license locations. (more…)

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This week’s Q&A: Sen. Joe Zarelli on the budget, taxes and more

By | November 4, 2011 | 0 Comments

Last Q&A, I spoke with Sen. Ed Murray, Democrat and head of the budget writing committee, about the budget and his support for taxes. This week, I spoke with Sen. Joe Zarelli, the Republican who takes the lead on budget issues in the Senate, about the same. Here’s what he had to say.

zarelli Q: The magnitude of the budget crisis is hard to comprehend. Do you have any way to characterize it that might help people understand what you’re dealing with as legislators?

Zarelli: Generally, when you make reductions in government spending it’s those who obviously are dependent on government spending that feel the reduction. So it’s hard to express. For those people, obviously it’s a very real scenario. For us, regardless of the fact that one could say we actually have more money projected for this biennium than last biennium, that’s only because we went from a very high projected revenue to a very low projected revenue.

It gets harder as you make those reductions, it’s no different than people sitting around their kitchen table. It gets harder every time as you have to make more cuts. For us, the faces (of those affected by the cuts) are real.

Q: Is there a way to get to the $2 billion in reductions simply through cuts? Or would that be going too far?

Zarelli: Well, I don’t think we have much of an option. To generally raise taxes – the desire of some – I’m more of the mind that we have to make cuts first of all and if someone wants to generally look at the idea of taxes, then they’ll have to take it to the public. And that’s going to be a real hard sell because the basis for our declining revenue is based on the inability of consumers to spend money because they don’t have money. To generally raise the price of goods through taxes, I don’’t know how that helps us get out of our funk.

The answer is, how do we get people working so that people can take care of themselves and not have as great a need for the government. So to me, we should focus rather on the folks and how do we get them employed and make it so that the private sector can create employment strategies.

Q: What are your thoughts on eliminating tax exemptions? There’s been some talk of getting rid of a tax exemption that doesn’t demonstrably boost the economy.

Zarelli: Yeah, I think that’s our job (more…)

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Sen. Mike Carrell on voting, the state Constitution and next week’s big Revenue Forecast

By | September 9, 2011 | 0 Comments

carrell2This week’s Q&A is with Sen. Mike Carrell, who I spoke with mostly about SJR 8205, which will remove a provision in the state’s Constitution that has never been enforced — and has been ruled unconstitutional. We also talked about next week’s big Economic and Revenue Forecast, where the state’s top economist is expected to have more bad news for lawmakers. Read all the way through the interview to see what Sen. Carrell has to say about it.

Q: First, what would the SJR do, in your own words?
Carrell: What it will do is eliminate from the state constitution a redundant part which is Article 6, Section 1(A). Article 6, Section 1 says what the qualifications are for a person to vote: You must live in the state, be 18 years of age, you can’t be a criminal — things of that nature. But Article 6, Section 1(A) says if you’ve been a resident of some state outside of Washington and you haven’t been here at least 60 days, then you can only vote for the president and vice president. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional to not allow somebody to vote that was of the age and had the other qualifications. But this has remained in our state constitution. I’ve tried for a number of years to convince people of both parties to clean up the constitution by removing this clause, and I finally did convince virtually everyone, so it’s going to a vote of the people.
It’s more a matter of doing some house cleaning to clean up something that was never implemented. It was passed by the people in 1977 and since that time, it has never been in actual effect. We have ignored it, so it is time to get rid of it.

This week’s Q&A: Sen. Joe Zarelli on the Rainy Day Fund expansion

By | August 29, 2011 | 0 Comments

zarelliThis week’s Q&A is with Sen. Joe Zarelli. I spoke with him about SJR 8206, a Constitutional Amendment that will bolster the Rainy Day Fund by requiring the state to put “extraordinary revenue growth” in the bank.

Q: First, tell me what this would do in your own words.

Zarelli: Well, it builds upon what we put out a couple of years back establishing the Rainy Day Fund. For me, it’s one of those long-term lessons learned from the current revenue scenario we’re in, where we saw revenue grow way outside a typical scenario (earlier in the decade).  What this does is this sets up a process in the future where if this ever happens again, we’d be required to capture a percent of extraordinary revenues and move it to the Rainy Day Fund. That does two things: First, it makes us save some of that money and second, we don’t spend it — so it has a double effect of making the budget more sustainable over time.

Q: You mentioned that it saves money in two ways — the second being that you don’t create new programs with extraordinary revenue. Can you say more about that?

Zarelli: Well, the biggest problem is that when you have a spike in revenue that you know isn’t going to continue and then you spend that spike, it creates a bow wave — you have no way to support that spending. When revenue comes back down to its historical growth pattern and then spending is way out of balance, that creates problems like we’re in now. The idea is to harmonize the spending pattern so it stays consistent with what is long-term growth instead of the ebbs and flows.

Q: There hasn’t been much opposition to this Constitutional amendment. Does that reflect bipartisan support across the state?

Zarelli: Well, there are some of those in the social services arena who think that we can’t commit to saving money, we have to spend it because there’s a huge need. There is a small group, but my message to them is that it does us no good if we commit to spending that we then have to withdraw from. (more…)

This week’s Q&A: Doug MacDonald on the problems with Initiative 1125

By | August 19, 2011 | 0 Comments

macdonaldLast week, I spoke to Tim Eyman about his latest initiative and how it would affect tolling across the state. This week, I spoke with Doug MacDonald, former secretary of transportation. He retired in 2007, just after the Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened. He’s an opponent of the initiative. Here’s what he had to say.

Q: First, what does this initiative do from your perspective?
MacDonald: Well, the worst part of the initiative is that it’s going to stop a whole lot of progress that’s been made on roadway improvements. I’m not sure that Tim Eyman, when he drafted this initiative, understood what some of its effects would be. But the kind of bomb that it dropped that’s most significant is on the 520 bridge project, because that’s structured to be financed by tolls to pay back bonds that would pay for some of its cost. That’s a good thing because it means that costs get paid in part by the users and not fall on taxpayers across the state. That’s a plan that’s been very attractive.

But the initiative says that tolls have to be set by the Legislature, which is absolutely not consistent with tolls being used to pay back that kind of a bond. And the confirmation of that isn’t coming from people like me, it’s coming from our state treasurer, Jim McIntire. McIntire has analyzed all this and he has put out a statement, reflected in the OFM fiscal analysis, that says that investors won’t buy bonds at as favorable a rate if there’s the political uncertainty of having tolls being set by the Legislature. (more…)

This week’s Q&A: Tim Eyman on Initiative 1125

By | August 12, 2011 | 0 Comments

eymanThis week, I spoke with Tim Eyman on Initiative 1125. Eyman says it provides straightforward protections for toll revenues. Opponents say it blows a hole in transportation funding and is just bad policy. And the Office of Financial Management’s projections say it could jeopardize funding for some big-ticket projects.

Usually, Q&A conversations are limited to 15 minutes. This one went a bit longer — so when I talk to the opposition next week, I’ll give them an extra five minutes, too.

Q: First, what does this initiative do from your perspective?

Eyman: Biggest thing that the initiative does is that it follows up on last year’s initiative 1053. We did that last year, it was the fourth time the voters voted for the policy. It got 64 percent approval. That was about saying, if they’re going to raise taxes, it takes a two-thirds vote. If they’re going to increase a fee, they’ve got to take a legislative vote. It was the fourth time the voters had voted for these policies. It was just a long-standing debate and the voters said this is what we want unambiguously. During session, the transportation budget writers decided not to comply – they re-delegated the authority to set tolls right back to the Transportation Commission.

In theory, initiatives are good for two years. After two years, they can start monkeying with it. This is the first time I’d ever seen them sidestep a provision in an initiative within the two-year period. What 1125 does is the idea that it needs to be the Legislature that sets the tolls it can’t be the unelected bureaucrats at the state agency. (more…)

This week’s Q&A: Julie Ferguson on the drawbacks of Initiative 1163

By | August 3, 2011 | 0 Comments

fergusonLast week, I spoke with Nora Gibson about the pros of Initiative 1163, which would require more training for home care workers. This week, I spoke to Julie Ferguson, who is an opponent. Ferguson is a board member of the Washington Private Duty Association, which represents home care businesses. She’s also an administrator and part-owner of a private duty home care agency, Advanced Health Care.

Q: From your perspective, what does this initiative do?

Ferguson: Well, this initiative is troublesome. Initiative 1163 is special interest training program benefiting only the SEIU with absolutely no funding mechanism. My colleagues and I work with seniors every day, we care for thousands of seniors, we employ thousands of caregivers and this expensive union-sponsored initiative is not necessary. The costs will be passed on through higher taxes and small businesses like mine will be forced to raise their rates to compensate for non-funded training.

The Legislature didn’t fund the predecessor, Initiative 1029, for three years because there’s simply no money in the budget. Earlier this year, SEIU filed several initiatives that did similar things — all the others had a funding component except for 1163. For some reason, they chose that one to focus their signature gathering efforts on. I don’t know where they think the money will come from.

Q: Can you say more about this initiative being a mechanism for unions?

Ferguson: It’s funded, written and has been completely designed by one labor union, just the SEIU. It benefits them and the people that work for them but it’s hugely, hugely expensive. We’re looking at $55 million. The money just isn’t here. To us, when the state’s facing the biggest financial deficit since the Great Depression, how can we justify a union training program? (more…)

Q&A with Bruce Beckett: Proponent of privatizing liquor sales via Initiative 1183

By | July 15, 2011 | 1 Comments
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

This week’s Q&A is with Bruce Beckett, Government Affairs Director of the Washington Restaurant Association and a spokesman for the Yes on Initiative 1183 campaign. I wanted to talk to him about this year’s effort to privatize liquor sales in the state. I’ll be following up next week with someone against the initiative. Here’s what Beckett had to say.”

Q: First, what does this initiative do?

Beckett: Well, it simply removes state government from its role as the sole retailer of liquor in the state and allows private retailers, distributors or even manufacturers to enter into the market. It does so by allowing a limited number of qualified retail stores to sell liquor. They have to be 10,000 square feet or larger, and it also will increase revenues to state and local government over and beyond what they’re currently receiving from the liquor distribution center in Washington. And it strengthens regulations on the liquor sales to minors in particular.

Q: You were involved in an initiative last year to privatize liquor. What are the main differences this time around?

Beckett: Last year, the voters responded quite strongly to the campaign that was put out in opposition. (The opposition) focused on public safety and on revenues to state and local government. There were some legitimate issues raised by stakeholders. This initiative responds to those concerns in a number of ways.

(Initiative 1183) will increase revenue to state and local government by the imposition of license fees on retailers and distributors. The fee is 17 percent for retailers on gross sales, 10 percent for distributors or wholesalers. (The 10 percent rate) does decline to 5 percent once there’s the replenishment of the revenue the state would lose. So on the revenue side, that’s how that’s been addressed.

On the public safety side, there’s a number of things. First, it limits retail outlets to 10,000 square feet or more. That’s a pretty good-sized grocery store. That’s to eliminate the concern over liquor being in convenience stores or gas station mini-marts. Second, it increases education and training requirements for those employees that will be handling liquor in those stores. Third, it doubles the penalty for selling to a minor — doubles it over what would occur on beer and wine sales.

The revenue increase, which is being evaluated right now, is projected to be over $200 million more in the first biennium and then 10s of millions of dollars thereafter. Ten million of the increase is dedicate to public safety. (more…)

Tuesday Q&A: Part 2 on the budget with Sen. Derek Kilmer

By | February 8, 2011 | 1 Comments

This weeks’ Q&A is with Sen. Derek Kilmer, the vice chairman of the Senate budget writing committee. (For last week’s interview with Rep. Gary Alexander, go here.)

Q: The Senate last week passed a bipartisan budget. As some of your colleagues pointed out in floor speeches, that kind of teamwork is difficult. What did that take?

Kilmer: The stage for a bipartisan approach was really set on the first day of session when the rules were changed to allow amending the budget with a simple majority vote on the floor. And that was, in a sense, a good faith gesture to demonstrate our intent to work in a bipartisan way. And you know, the reason for that is clear: The challenges facing our state are not Democratic or Republican challenges, I would argue they’re not even left or right challenges — they’re forward or backward challenges.

We believe that the state moves forward better when we work together to solve problems. And so from the beginning, there was an attempt to work across the aisle, to identify a strong path forward both for the supplemental budget and for the bigger challenge, which is the biennial budget.

Q: What does it mean in terms of the finished product?

Kilmer: There’s been very frequent interaction between Sen. Murray and Sen. Zarelli on the operating budget — that means that the budget that passed off the floor was probably not something that either of them liked every bit of. There’s not a lot of good options as it is. But there’s an acknowledgement when you work together that there’s some things that don’t get in that you would have liked to get in, that don’t get done that you would have liked to get done, but that there’s compromise in working together. Our hope is that that the effort last week was really one more step forward. It’s not a solution to the problem in the current fiscal year and it’s not a permanent solution to the problem the state is facing in the biennial budget, but it’s another step.

Q: You mentioned the biennial budget. Have negotiations started for that?

Kilmer: Yes. There are a couple things that are happening. One is, the committee leadership on both sides of the aisle having frequent dialog, but also really there’s a new approach that Sen. Murray’s laid out to create these sort of bipartisan working groups — on education,  healthcare, corrections … basically looking at various functional areas of the government in a bipartisan way and really asking a couple of core questions: One, what are the essentials that the state needs to invest in and what are some non-essentials that can be cut? Because I think there’s an acknowledgment that the state simply can’t afford to do everything. The state will need to do less with less. And then second, in each of these functional areas, we’re looking for opportunities for reforms, acknowledging that this isn’t simply a two-year budget problem but also hoping to set the stage for the next 20 years.

You know, we’re looking at ways to be more innovative about the delivery of services, looking for administrative efficiencies, and consolidation that make both policy and budget sense. That dialog is happening and will really happen much more in earnest when we can put the early action supplemental budget behind us.

Q: And that bipartisanship continues on the budget negotiations? (more…)

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Q&A video edition: Initiative 1082

By | September 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

Here’s a special video Q&A on Initiative 1082 — with Amy Brackenberry, who is in favor of the initiative, and Rep. Brendan Williams, who is against it. This is the first of many such video Q&As about initiatives that I’ll be posting in the coming days — so stay tuned.

First: To get acquainted with 1082, which would allow private companies to offer workers’ compensation insurance, here are a few sites:
Here is the text of Initiative 1082.
And here’s where you can find the financial impact and more.

First, the pro-1082 Q&A with Brackenberry:

Next, the anti-1082 interview with Williams:

This week’s Q&A: Supreme Court candidates

By | July 30, 2010 | 1 Comments

Sorry for the delay, but this week’s Q&A is very special: I went to Seattle earlier this week to co-moderate debates between Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson and challenger Stan Rumbaugh and Justice Richard Sanders and challenger Charlie Wiggins (the other challenger, Bryan Chushcoff, didn’t show. Neither did Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, who is running unopposed).

The candidates discussed their views on judicial activism, victims’ rights,  the relationship between the Legislature and the court, medicinal marijuana, the high-earners income tax on the ballot, gun rights, opponents’ allegations and much, much more.

Here’s the video:

On a related note: Have you received your ballot yet? They were sent out this week, so check your mailbox. In the case of the candiddates in the video above, if one gets more than 50 percent of the vote they win. No general election required.

Q&A: Secretary of State Sam Reed on this year’s near-record number of initiatives

By | July 1, 2010 | 0 Comments


This week’s Q&A is with Secretary of State Sam Reed. The deadline for filing initiatives for the November ballot is tomorrow — and it’s looking to be a banner year. I talked to Reed today about the initiative process, why the primaries matter and more.

Q: This year, it looks like six or more initiatives could make it on the ballot — a near-record. Do you attribute that to anything in particular?

Reed: We always get more initiatives filed when the citizens are unhappy with what the Legislature is doing. Of course that is exacerbated when there is a situation like now – the economy being bad, revenues falling way short, and the citizens out there having very strong ideas about what the Legislature ought to be doing and then being disappointed that they aren’t doing it. And then I think kind of seizing on the situation and what they would view as good timing to bring these issues up and get them on the table to vote.

Q: Two of the initiatives are identical in scope — they deal with privatizing liquor sales in Washington. But they go about it differently. If both pass, is there any precedent for what to do with state law?

Reed: Actually, there is. What the law says is the one that gets the most votes prevails. However, it’s a little more complicated than that because the two of them have some different language in different places. Say one gets more votes but the other has some language the one that got the most votes didn’t have – then that would be included. In other words, this is going to give the attorneys a lot of fun. It is very interesting. It’s such an unusual circumstance.

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Updated: This week’s Q&A: Reps. Richard DeBolt and Lynn Kessler

By | April 2, 2010 | 0 Comments

This week, the Thursday Q&A is posted on Friday. Why? The Legislature hasn’t seen much action this week, meaning many lawmakers are back to their jobs — and not in town, ready to be interviewed. But today I tracked down Rep. Richard DeBolt and Rep. Lynn Kessler. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: Thanks for making time to talk to me. What’s new?

DeBolt: We know nothing. I have a little sign up that says, “I know nothing.”

Q: What have you been up to?

DeBolt: We have been going back to work. We also, though, have been trying to keep people informed about the things that are going on.

Q: Where do things stand now?

DeBolt: The capital budget is still moving in somewhat of a bipartisan fashion. Somewhat is the key word.

The other thing is, the budget is pretty close between the two. But the tax package still seems miles away.

Q: You’ve said you know nothing and aren’t involved in the tax negotiations. What do you see as your role in the process at this point?

DeBolt: What we’ve been doing this session is telling the people of the state of Washington what’s in it and making it more transparent. It just shows that there’s a lack of transparency when we don’t even know what’s being considered and we’re public officials.

Q: So from what I’ve read, there’s a $200 million disagreement on the tax packages between the House and the Senate. Can you give me any more information on that?

DeBolt: From what we understand, the Senate wants a sales tax and this kickback to people and the House wants a B&O tax increase and they have a myriad of other taxes.

Q: Is the “kickback” the “Working Families” tax credit for poorer families?

DeBolt: Working families tax credit, or redistribution of wealth. Whatever you want to call it.

Q: Now that regular session is over and a lot of the policy bills have been decided, can you tell me some highlights and disappointments from  your perspective?

DeBolt: To me, the positive of the session was the constitutional amendment to protect our police officers. That worked well, I think that was a big deal. One of the shining moments of our caucus that we were able to be a part of that.

The biggest disappointment of the year would be the taxpayer protection act being repealed. (more…)

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Thursday Q&A: Reps. Hunter and Orcutt on 960, taxes and the budget

By | February 4, 2010 | 3 Comments

On the news that the Senate and House Democrats were introducing bills to amend and suspend Initiative 960 and raise revenue, respectively, I scheduled this week’s Q&A with Rep. Ross Hunter — sponsor of the tax package — and Rep. Ed Orcutt — who wants no new taxes. Read the interview below. (And cut me some slack on the questions: I got the revenue bill explainer 3 minutes before seeing Rep. Hunter.)

First, Rep. Ross Hunter:

Q: Tell me what your goal is with this bill.
Hunter: You know we have a budget issue. We’ve lost a huge amount of revenue this year because people are buying fewer things and the state is collecting less tax.
The state has a responsibility to provide some things, like basic education for students, we have an obligation to do some of the other things that we do – like healthcare for indigent children, administer the foster care system. There are a lot of things that the state needs to do and it’s why we’re here.
The situation that we’re in now, which is almost completely caused by the national and international economic meltdown, results in budgets that look like what the governor proposed in December, which I’m not willing to do and she made clear she’s not willing to do either.
We’re going to have to buy back some of the things that she cut. And we can do that with some federal government money, which is like manna from heaven.
But most people who look at the budget say, you know what, we’re probably gonna have to raise some revenue.
What I wanted to do with this bill is start with a set of things that we probably would have done a while ago were we not subject to 960. There are clear arguments why all the stuff that’s in this bill is a good idea, even when we don’t have a revenue problem.

The way the system should work is that taxpayers in similar situations should have a similar tax burden. You see a bunch of things in here that react to court rulings – like DOT foods, which was a crazy outcome. That was just a crazy outcome because it provides a tax exemption for out-of-state companies that in-state companies don’t get. It’s large enough that it’s going to provide an incentive to in-state companies to leave. We have to overturn that.

So what you see in the handouts here are some proposals that we’re making that fix problems in the tax code or that repeal exemptions that have probably become outmoded or aren’t working. (more…)

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Thursday Q&A: Reps. Ross Hunter and Ed Orcutt

By | November 19, 2009 | 0 Comments

For this week’s Q&A, I sat down separately with Rep. Ross Hunter (D) and Rep. Ed Orcutt (R) to talk to them about this morning’s revenue forecast, in which it was revealed that the Legislature will have to cut — or otherwise come up with — $2.6 billion in the short Legislative session.

Below is the full text of both interviews, in which each was asked the same questions. I’ve posted the interviews in the order in which they were conducted, with Rep. Hunter first. Enjoy.
Q: Can you put $2.6 billion figure into perspective?

Hunter: Every year, we do a budget. We do a big budget every two years that lasts for the next two years. And then we make corrections on the second year.

This time, something really big happened last session: We had a precipitous drop in revenues. If you do a trend line of the amount of revenue that we’ve taken in over the last couple of decades, the state grows at about 4.7 percent per year. So that means if you had projected that out, just straight line growth, if state revenues came in consistently from year to year and didn’t have wild swings, we’d grow about 4 to 5 percent a year.
That didn’t happen last year. Last year, the amount of money that came in fell. It almost never falls in actual dollars.
The cost of providing exactly the same set of services from year to year is what we start our budget from.  That’s what’s called the current law budget. We looked at that number and the amount of revenue we thought we were going to have. Only now, instead of about a $35 billion budget for these two years, it’s going to be $9 billion less. We lopped off 25 percent of our budget in a two-year cycle.
Some of that is we projected state employees are going to get a raise, we didn’t do that. We’re not going to do it this year.
So, we project how many people will wind up in prison, how many will need unemployment insurance, how many will be eligible for Medicaid? All of the people who are eligible for those services went up. There are more poor people, and they need more services from the state.

So you combine all those things together and (we have of difference of) $9 billion. About a third was help from federal government. And about $3 billion was cut.

This year, we will have to cut $2.6 billion out of the budget in the second year of the two-year budget. Instead of cutting 3 billion in a two year period, we wind up cutting $2.6 billion in a one-year period.
If you assume that we’re even remotely rational, we cut the programs that were less effective last year. So that everything we get into now is better stuff. We’re getting down to the real basics. We look at our education system: The voters approved by overwhelming margins funding for Initiative 728 to reduce class sizes. (more…)

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Q&A with Paula Hammond: Is the Viaduct replacement a done deal? Early tolling and more.

By | August 28, 2009 | 0 Comments

Today’s Q&A is with head of the Washington Department of Transportation, Paula Hammond. She talked with us about whether the tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct is a done deal, federal stimulus, early tolling and the biggest road construction summer in history.

Q. What are the biggest challenges for your department?
A. Well, challenges first of all are not always a bad thing in my mind because a very good challenge we have is an opportunity to deliver the biggest highway construction program that our state has ever seen. So its us delivering projects that provide benefits not only to communities but the statewide transportation system. But it’s a challenge in that its something that’s pretty high volume, for us its the delivery of cost effective projects. And for travelers I’m hearing more and more, Can there possibly be more cones and barrels out on the road?
It’s not only stimulus money, which we’re going great guns on, this highest construction season ever because of 2003 and 2005 gas packages. We’re getting a lot of people who are just wishing that the barrels will go away.
One way of thinking about it is our normal biennial construction capital budget pre-2003 hovered somewhere in the $2 billion range. This biennium, we’re at $4.5 billion for capital investments. So more than double. The good news is that a lot of those projects — the 391 that the Legislature hand selected with the revenue packages — are on the way to being delivered. Of the 391, we have completed 195. Another 82 are under construction, and another 22 will go to construction in the next six months. So of 391 projects, 297 are either in construction, going to construction or done. We’ve got some of the biggest still coming – 520 corridor, replacement of floating bridge and replacing the Viaduct with the tunnel. (more…)

Q&A with Secretary of State Sam Reed: Referendum 71, the Heritage Center and more

By | August 13, 2009 | 1 Comments

This week’s Q&A is with Secretary of State Sam Reed. I interviewed Reed in his office this morning, and have included the entire interview below.

Q. What are the challenges facing your office now?
A. Right now, the number one would be this Referendm 71. We’re checking the signatures on petitions now. One reason it’s a challenge is that they are very close – they’re going to be very close to qualifying – either just a little under or a little over. So both sides are just watching this intently and their observers are of course very nervous and questioning us. And we even expect some litigation to come of it. That is clearly our biggest challenge.
The second big challenge, which, in the long run is more significant and a higher priority is the Washington State Heritage Center, where we’re going to have a new building on the capitol campus housing the state archives, state library, a museum, there will be a place for a learning center for children. And that passed the Legislature in 2007 but then, because of the economy taking a dive and the bond market getting dicey and some of the fees supporting it getting dicey, the Legislature decided to delay it. So we are working very hard to move ahead and be ready by the 2010 Legislative session. (more…)

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Q&A with Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark

By | August 5, 2009 | 0 Comments

This week’s Q&A is with Department of Natural Resources head Peter Goldmark. His agency manages all the state lands, timber harvest and aquatics. It is, as he said, “an enormous responsibility.” Hear how budget cuts, housing starts and geoduck have affected his agency’s budget — and how they’re working to reduce forest fires and address climate change at the same time.

Note: The interview took place on July 30, so keep that in mind for the fire references.

Q. What are the biggest issues facing the Department of Natural Resources?
A. One of the biggest issues is our duty of putting out the fires on state and private lands and helping other jurisdictions. Today, we have perhaps 30 or 40 fires; we don’t even know the exact number. We’re busily trying to get to all of them. We had a major one in Chelan – the Union Valley Fire – unusual in that it threatened a number of homes. We asked for and received federal FEMA assistance. That one will be under control later today (July 30). This time of year with the heat, the biggest threat is wind.
Fortunately, the last couple of days we’ve had an enormous number of starts, but we’ve had little wind.
We deploy one fire retardant bomber and 7 or 8 helicopters along with many different crews and trucks. We interface with all the different fire jurisdictions – for instance, municipal. There’s been a major fire — the Johnson Lake Fire. We had a Type 2 team there, which is a very sophisticated team dealing with larger fires. There’s a new threat just this morning – lighting coming in down from Canada – so federal lands coming under increasing pressure. So it’s a very dangerous time of year for fires in the state and we take our responsibility seriously.
The number of fires is probably close to a record. We’ve had over 700 fires to date, not counting yesterday. There were tens of new starts yesterday. Fortunately we’ve been able to keep the fires at a fairly small size, so we’ve been able to limit the damage and expenditures. Three-quarters of our expenditures are on large project fires.
We just got a report on the 19th of this month (July) about our expenses and they were under projection. We’ll actually be returning some funds from fiscal year ‘09. Fiscal year ‘10 and ‘11 we don’t know. We’re working hard our goal to contain costs, but weather is the driver and there’s a tremendous about of dry lighting. We have a lot of exposure right now. (more…)

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Q&A with Susan Dreyfus, head of DSHS: Dealing with more Washingtonians in need on a smaller budget

By | July 30, 2009 | 2 Comments

Susan Dreyfus, who was hired to lead the Department of Social and Health Services — the largest state agency — earlier this year, has a lot on her plate. From reducing her budget to dealing with high profile cases, Dreyfus told TVW what she’s working on in our second installment of Q&A.

Q. What are the biggest issues facing DSHS today?

Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was faced with a $1.8 billion reduction to the 2009-11 Operating Budget, which was offset by $1.4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s one-time funding. While that was very helpful for the state and DSHS specifically, we will need to make up those one-time revenues in additional to taking another estimated $400 million dollar reduction in the next state fiscal year while still maintaining critical services to the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Caseloads continue to increase since January 2009 – for example, the Family Medical an additional 60,000 persons, increase of 25.5 percent in Food Stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Families and additional 11,000 persons, which require additional funding to support. On a personal note, I recently visited Pierce County Community Service Office (CSO) and met people who were coming in for benefits and services who never thought they would be visiting a CSO as a client. The economy is affecting everyone and DSHS is not immune from these impacts.

Obviously the hard-working, dedicated employees of the Department are also being impacted daily by the seriousness of this recession. We have had to eliminate nearly 500 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions, which results in asking staff members to take on additional responsibilities and they too have family members who are being impacted by this economic downturn. (more…)

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