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Washington state’s 63rd Legislature

OLYMPIA — The 63rd Washington Legislature opened Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, after a political ‘coup’ was staged in the state Senate. On Jan. 10, 2013, the 23 Senate Republicans in the chamber announced they had formally reached a deal with conservative Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon to form a “Senate Majority Coalition Caucus” to run the state Senate. Technically, there are  26 Democrats in the Senate and 23 Republicans, but with Tom and Sheldon’s maneuver, the Republicans hold a working majority. The Democrats will be in the minority for the first time since the 2006 session.

In the state House, Democrats held a 55-43 seat advantage over Republicans.

The Legislature was called into special session on Nov. 7 by Gov. Jay Inslee to work on a transportation funding bill, including a package that includes extensions of tax incentives for the Boeing Co. so that it will build its new 777X airliner in the Puget Sound region.

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Close to a budget deal?

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OLYMPIA — The Legislature adjourned for the day Sunday without reaching a budget agreement, which means that thousands of state workers will begin receiving notifications Monday that they will be temporarily laid off starting July 1 if no deal is reached by then.

The House and Senate, however, plan to resume negotiations Monday.

If lawmakers don’t agree on a budget by the end of June, there will be cutbacks in law enforcement and health services. State parks will close.

Jobs are also on the line, with layoff warning notices set to go out Monday.

The governor’s office put out a contingency plan last week in case the state government closes on July 1. For a complete list of programs and services that will be affected,  click here.

capitolOLYMPIA –  Gov. Jay Inslee’s office released a contingency plan Thursday that outlines the state’s plan of action if lawmakers can’t finalize the budget by the July 1 deadline.

Mary Alice Heuschel, the governor’s chief of staff, said a partial government shutdown is the last resort.

“This is the last thing the governor or any of us would want to happen,” she said. “He is doing everything in his power to help legislators reach an agreement to come to this conclusion as quickly as possible.”

If lawmakers don’t agree on a budget by the end of June, there will be cutbacks in law enforcement and health services.  State parks will close.

Jobs are also on the line, with layoff warning notices set to go out Monday.

For a complete list of programs and services impacted click here.

INsleeSEATTLE — The Washington state Senate passed an estate-tax “fix” late Thursday night, hours before the state was slated to send out millions of dollars in refunds to about 70 families.

The bill was in response to a state Department of Revenue decision and state Supreme Court ruling that required the state to doll out $160 million beginning on Friday to as many as 70 families. A recent decision by the state court said estate tax did not apply to couples who had a certain type of trust in their estate planning, but that the state had collected estate-tax from those couples.

The bill closed that trust exemption.

The Senate approved the measure by a 30-19 vote before midnight, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law early Friday morning. The state House had approved the bill earlier in the day.

According to Pubilcola, some Senate Republicans voiced concerned that the law would take effect retroactively.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee held a Cabinet meeting Wednesday and instructed all state agencies and departments to begin contingency planning for a possible state government shutdown on July 1.


Mary Alice Heuschel, chief of staff to Gov. Jay Inslee, said Wednesday, “We just began a difficult but very necessary process, to prepare for July 1 in case a budget agreement is not reached.”

The agencies were instructed to provide the governor’s office by end of business on Monday, June 17, a list identifying which of their programs could legally continue and which would have to be closed without a new state appropriation when the fiscal year ends June 30.

At the same time, the Legislature started its second special session Wednesday in an attempt to reach a compromise on a state budget. Without a deal and passage of a budget, the state will have no appropriations when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

The state has never before had to shut down the government.

The Democratic-controlled state House wants a budget to include new tax revenue, while the Republican-controlled Senate wants a budget to include deep budget cuts and no new taxes.

After the governor’s Cabinet meeting, Inslee’s chief of staff, Mary Alice Heuschel, told reporters, “We just began a difficult but very necessary process, to prepare for July 1 in case a budget agreement is not reached. (Our) time frame is very quick. We remain hopeful that that (government shutdown) will not become necessary. This is a challenging situation and we hope this does not occur.”

David Schumacher, director of the state Office of Financial Management, told reporters at the briefing that the U.S. Constitution, Washington Constitution and other mandates prevent the cutoff of some services, such as closing the state’s prisons in the Department of Corrections.

“We’re not talking about opening up the prison doors,” he said.

Schumacher added that there are more than 600 state budget accounts. “Over half of those are non-appropriated accounts” and would be able to continue despite a government shutdown, he said.

“This (potential shutdown) only applies to those accounts that need appropriations. We also have a transportation budget (already passed) that will cover large portions of the Department of Licensing, Department of Transportation.”

In a letter sent Wednesday to all agency directors, statewide elected officials, presidents of higher education institutions and state-funded boards and commissions, Schumacher asked that they identify which of their activities could or could not continue without authorized appropriations and to get back June 17.

The governor’s office will then start deciding which services and agencies would need to close on July 1.

“Many important programs and services will cease, absent timely legislative appropriations. Therefore … I am also asking that agencies identify services that are necessary for the immediate response to issues of public safety, or to avoid catastrophic loss of state property,” the letter said.

OLYMPIA — A frustrated Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday called a second special session of the 63rd Legislature starting Wednesday, because lawmakers continue to be deadlocked over the state budget.

insleeIn doing so, the governor had harsh words for who he thinks is to blame for the impasse.

“The Senate Majority Caucus is going to have to get off its ideological bandwagon and on to this effort to get an education funding package,” Inslee said, referring to the need for a spending plan that fulfills the state Supreme Court mandate to add more money to public schools.

The state Senate is controlled by 23 Republicans and two conservative Democrats who have chosen to join the caucus.  Since the start of the regular session, the Senate and the Democratic-controlled House have been unable to come together on a budget deal.

The governor claims the Republican-controlled Senate is insisting on what he calls “non-budget” items as part of any final deal.  Among them:  reforms to the state’s workers compensation system; a bill to give principals more say over who teaches in their buildings; and a plan to cap the growth in non-education spending in the future.

“One side is not insisting on policy, ideological policy,” the governor said. “One side is. That is a clear difference.”

The Senate Republican leader, Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, denied that his party’s reform bills are inappropriate in the budget negotiations.

“I certainly don’t think fiscal responsibility or education accountability or job creation bills are ideological,” Schoesler said.  “Those really are issues that Washington citizens do care about.”

Schoesler believes the state’s budget hole can be closed without raising revenue as the House Democrats the governor have insisted on.

“The solutions to the state aren’t just more money,” he said.  “It’s spending it smarter and wiser.”

Inslee admitted that he has started contingency planning for a possible government shutdown if a budget deal isn’t reached by July 1, the start of the state’s new fiscal year.

OLYMPIA — With just seven days to go and the Legislature still in deadlock, Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday seemed to be laying the groundwork for who’s going to get blamed next week if the clock runs out and there’s still no budget deal.

insleeInslee had harsh words for the Republican-dominated state Senate, saying they are an “impediment” to negotiations.

He pointed to their proposal last week that would reduce the estate tax for a number of wealthy Washington families. Inslee said that would put the budget tens of millions of dollars further into the red when he believes lawmakers should be increasing revenue to meet a court mandate to fully fund education.

“At a time when we all should be working together to plug that hole,” Inslee said, “the Senate majority wants to knock another hole in the ship and take on more water.”

Inslee said the move was “shocking” at this stage in the budget negotiations. “Instead of focusing on a million children, we are focusing on 210 multimillion-dollar estates,” he said.

When asked for reaction to the governor’s comments, the Senate Republican leader said the estate tax plan was only a “work in progress.” He, too, expressed frustration about where things stand over the budget negotiations.

“They’re moving, but there not moving as fast as any of us would really like,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “We’d all like to be farther along in that process.”

Meetings continue to take place behind closed doors, but, given the tone of the governor, it doesn’t seem likely that they will get done by next Tuesday –when the 30-day special session will expire. He typically makes jokes with reporters, but there was none of that.

Legislators must reach a budget deal by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, or else there is a good likelihood of a state government shutdown.


Steve O’Ban

TACOMA — The Pierce County Council voted Tuesday to appoint state Rep. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, to fill the state Senate seat in the 28th Legislative District of Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, who died last week.

Local Republican Party activists had recommended former Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri to fill Carrell’s seat. But the county council voted 4-3 against the Muri nomination and then voted unanimously for O’Ban.

O’Ban will fill Carrell’s seat until November 2014, when a special election for the 28th District Senate seat will be held.  The winner of that election will serve the final two years of Carrell’s four-year term. The 28th District Senate seat will be up for election again in November 2016.

Carrell, who had served in the state Legislature for 19 years, died last Wednesday of complications from the pre-cancer condition myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS. He was 69.