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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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SEATTLE — Even though the country is just coming out of a very tough recession, Washington state has one of the most dynamic tech sectors in the country — very profitable companies, with many great, high-paying jobs.

techIndeed, there are more than 20,000 openings right now for tech jobs that are ready to be filled.  That’s the kind of state you want to live in, right?

Apparently not, says a well-known professor at the University of Washington.

“We are the ass end of the donkey in providing educational opportunity for our kids, despite this booming economy,” said Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of Computer Science & Engineering at UW. “It’s absolutely crazy.”

Lazowska is on a crusade to let the public know that many of these great, yet-to-be-filled tech jobs are going to be taken by college graduates from other states – not from Washington.  And that’s because the state isn’t educating its homegrown kids for these homegrown jobs.

“The vast majority of states in this country are doing better than we are at educating their kids, and then they are sending them here,” he said.

Indeed, per capita, Washington state is number one in the nation when it comes to “importing” talent.  The state goes out and gets a lot of graduates from other states to fill the good tech jobs inside the state.

Lazowska argues that’s partly about needing better standards and accountability in Washington schools, but for him it’s largely about money.

“There are just limits to what you can do with scarce resources,” he said.

Washington ranks 43rd out of 50 states when it comes to per pupil funding in K-12, and 49th in the nation when it comes to funding higher education.  Both these numbers are adjusted for regional cost differences.

“Not only do we have no business letting the 10 other ‘tech states’ do better than us, we certainly have no business letting all of America do better than us,” he said.  “That is what is happening in education in this state.”

State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Olympia are grappling with how to find more money for schools right now. The special legislative session ends June 11.

SEATTLE — It’s been less than a week since the Skagit River bridge collapse and already there are harsh words flying over who’s responsible.  At least one group is blaming Tim Eyman and his anti-tax initiatives for having taken away needed transportation money.

eyman“We just can’t afford any more of Tim Eyman’s destructive policies,” said Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute. “Eyman’s initiatives have either wiped out billions of dollars, or they have prevented money from being invested because the Legislature couldn’t agree to raise revenue cause they just couldn’t meet the high bar that his initiatives set.”

Villeneuve’s group has created a graphic of the downed bridge with faux sign reading, “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge.”

“We think Tim Eyman is responsible for the infrastructure deficit,” Villeneuve said.

Eyman responded Wednesday to the attack.

“Efforts by the opponents to somehow make it about me is kind of silly because at the end of the day, it’s the voters that are saying over and over again: Use existing revenues more effectively,” Eyman said. “They’ve got more money than they have ever had. It’s clear that the problem isn’t lack of money, it’s a matter of prioritizing those dollars and spending those dollars as cost-effectively as possible.”

This is the exact debate that lawmakers in Olympia are now having in the aftermath of the bridge collapse. Is a 10-cent hike in the state gas tax necessary to take care of the state’s roads and bridges, or can the state find that money within its current budget?

 

carrell1

State Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, died Wednesday. He was 69.

SEATTLE — State Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, died Wednesday of complications from the pre-cancer condition myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS. He was 69.

Carrell was surrounded by family and friends at the University of Washington Medical Center when he died, state Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said.

He had been receiving an aggressive treatment of stem-cell transplantation and chemotherapy since mid-April after doctors identified a donor who was a perfect match for Carrell’s bone marrow type.

“Mike passed today at about 10:35 am, very peacefully in his sleep, at UW hospital, with his wife Charlotte nearby, of lung complications from his pre-cancer treatment,” Schoesler said.

“Senator Carrell was a true statesman who put the people of Washington above all else during his 19 years of public service as a legislator. It was a pleasure to serve with him throughout his distinguished Senate career. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time,” Schoesler said.

Carrell had been a school teacher for 30 years before he was elected in 1994 to the state House, where he represented the 28th Legislative District for 10 years before his election to the state Senate in 2004 and re-election in 2008 and 2012.

During his tenure, he authored a landmark bill to reform the criminal justice system in Washington by better protecting the public by assuring that no one community is overburdened by returning felons.

He also wrote the “Becca laws,” which help identify at-risk youths who skip school so they can be given the assistance they need to keep from becoming criminal offenders.

Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and Sens. Steve Conway and Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, issued the following statement:

“It’s a sorrowful day in the Senate. Mike Carrell was an excellent public servant. Respectfully, our thoughts are with Mike’s family and not on any implications his passing may have on the Senate. Today the Senate lost one of its own. Mike Carrell will be missed.”

A lifelong resident of the Tacoma area, Carrell lived in Lakewood with his wife, Charlotte, and is survived by their three sons, Matthew, Larry and Carlton, and five grandchildren.

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Here is the process for filling Carrell’s seat in the state Senate.

– The Pierce County Republican precinct committee officers will send the Pierce County Council a list of three people to replace  Carrell as the 28th Legislative District’s senator.

– The Pierce County Council has 60 days from the date of vacancy (May 29) to fill the vacancy from the list of names provided by the PCOs.

– If the council can’t choose an appointee from the list during this time, Gov. Jay Inslee will decide on an appointee from the list provided by the Pierce County Republican PCOs.

– Whoever is appointed to the Senate seat can be sworn in to office immediately.

– Whoever is appointed to fill Carrell’s seat will serve until November 2014. (Under state law, because his death occurred on or after the Monday of this year’s Candidate Filing Week, it is too late to have a special election for the 28th District Senate seat in November 2013.)

– A special election for the 28th District Senate seat will be held in November 2014. The winner of that election will serve the final two years of the four-year term. The 28th District Senate seat will be up for election again in November 2016.

SEATTLE — With the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River, Gov. Jay Inslee is renewing his push for a big, $8.5 billion transportation package, the centerpiece of which is a 10-cent hike in the state’s gas tax.

inslee bridge collapse“I do hope that this incident will help us all focus our bipartisan effort to find a solution to our transportation needs,” Inslee said Sunday.

Though we still don’t know for sure whether the age or condition of the bridge had anything to do with its collapse, the governor is certainly taking the occasion to remind residents of the state that many bridges and roads in Washington are in bad shape, and to argue for a gas tax package during this special session of the Legislature.

“We just lack the resources to do the work that’s necessary on our bridges,” he said. “This is a decision the people of Washington need to make, and I hope we make this soon to be able to have the resources to have safe bridges.”

Inslee does have the votes to pass a gas tax hike in the state House. It’s the conservative-led state Senate where he’s encountered resistance.  To gain a majority there, it seems that two things will need to happen.

First, the package is probably going to have to include some reforms to the way the Washington State Department of Transportation does business.  There’s just too much frustration with the State Route 520 Bridge pontoon problems, the ferry overruns, Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolling issues, among other problems.  Republicans talk about not wanting to throw good money after bad.

The second big thing that is holding this package back is something called the Columbia River Crossing. The governor wants a new span between Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, something that Oregon has already approved.  But many Republicans reject the fact that the plan includes an expensive light rail component.  And, they argue, the governor is trumping up the danger of the current bridge.

“That bridge has 60 years of useful life left on it,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-Clark County. “Those pilings are in an anoxic environment.  So, they can’t rot because there’s not oxygen to make them rot.  But I do think that’s a great talking point to frighten people into thinking that we need this bridge.  But it doesn’t pass the straight face test.”

There are some who argue that if the governor just removed the Columbia River Crossing from the package, which is more than $400 million, he might well have enough votes.  But so far he hasn’t done that.

The current legislative session ends June 11.

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday repeated his call for a hike in the state’s gas tax, up to 10 cents a gallon, to fund road and bridge projects across Washington.

jay inslee 02-13It’s the cornerstone of an $8.5 billion plan he’s urging lawmakers to approve, even as they stand at an impasse over the state’s operating budget.

“We understand that there is a tooth fairy, but there is no transportation fairy,” Inslee said. “We need to raise revenues to put into transportation.”

The governor addressed a large morning rally on the steps of the Capitol.

“One out of five bridges, today, are functionally obsolete in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “We cannot allow the erosion of this system to begin, and that’s going to happen if we don’t act today.”

The governor has said that a major priority during the Legislature’s special session includes the transportation package, in addition to an operating budget.

The tentative project list for the gas tax package includes improvements to Interstate 405, State Routes 167 and 509, the North-South Freeway (U.S. 395) in Spokane, and other corridors.

The governor argued the multibillion-dollar plan will help with roads and with the state’s high unemployment in the construction sector.

“If you want to put people to work, put people to work,” he said referring to state lawmakers.  “That’s what we want to do this year.”

But the gas tax is going to be a hard sell with the conservative-led state Senate. “The reality is that there is just no appetite for paying more for gas tax,” said Majority Whip Ann Rivers, R-Clark County.

Rivers said cynicism with the state’s Department of Transportation is just too high, especially with the recent pontoon cracks on State Route 520 that will cost taxpayers $100 million to fix.

“We need to see that the money is being spent a lot more wisely before we start throwing good money after bad,” said Rivers.

One question before lawmakers, even if there are the votes to pass some kind of gas tax increase, is whether they send it to voters to make the final decision this fall.

OLYMPIA — Monday was the first day of the Special Session in Olympia. But it doesn’t appear that lawmakers are any closer to a deal on the state budget than they were just a few weeks ago when the regular sessions ended.  The House and Senate remain about $1 billion apart.

capitol1“Now is the time for people to step up to the plate,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at an afternoon news conference.  “This is a new day and that requires a whole new order of consensus-building, which means being open to other people’s arguments.”

By law, the Special Session lasts up to 30 days, and based on the events of the first day, it appears they may take the full month. Lawmakers seem to be waiting for leaders to strike a deal. In the meantime, there really isn’t much for them to do.

Inslee, of course, has sided with the House Democrats on raising more tax revenue to reduce the budget deficit. Inslee acknowledged, with some frustration, that little progress was made in the last few weeks.

The governor still insists that raising nearly $1 billion in new revenue is the best approach for adding money to public schools, something that’s been mandated by the state Supreme Court.

“You just have to make a decision,” Inslee said. “Is it more for important for a kid to get a degree in engineering today, or is it important for this particular industry to enjoy this particular tax break. That’s just a value choice.”

Leaders of the state Senate reiterated their position Monday — that now is a bad time to raise taxes.  They argue savings can be found by changing the way state government is run.

“We need to reform our way in Washington,” said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina. “You look unemployment insurance, worker’s comp, we’re simply not competitive with the rest of the country.”

One small sign that progress might be happening is how the sides reacted Monday when they were asked whether they would be willing to compromise, to give up anything. The governor and Senate leaders both say they wouldn’t negotiate in public. That’s a change from just a few weeks ago, and suggests less posturing and more respect for close-door negotiating.

SEATTLE — In an exclusive interview Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee defended his first 100 days in office despite not having pushed a budget through the Legislature.

“I’m not a miracle worker,” Inslee said. “I’m just a good governor. Frankly, these (Democratic and Republican) parties are light year’s apart right now.”

Watch the video to see the entire interview.

OLYMPIA — The politically divided Legislature adjourned its regular session Sunday without members having approved a state budget.

Shortly afterward, Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday night called for a special session to start May 13.

During the two-week break, he said, top leaders of both parties will stay in Olympia to try to negotiate compromises on the state budget, a transportation package and education policy measures.

“Negotiators from the four corners of the Legislature (will meet) in the governor’s office. I expect most will be on a daily basis. But we will insist on … very vigorous work in the next two weeks.”

Then all members of the Legislature will return May 13 to begin the special session and “move on an expedited basis,” he said.

capitolHe conceded “the parties are light years apart at the moment” on the state budget proposals and added that “people are going to have to get over their ideological fixation.”

The Republican-driven Senate approved a state budget that eliminates the deficit through spending cuts only, while the Democratic-controlled House passed a budget, similar to Inslee’s own proposal, that uses a combination of cuts and revenue increases.

An new budget is needed before the next budget cycle begins July 1.

Earlier Sunday, the state Senate unanimously approved a plan by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, that would allow the crafting of state budget proposals to begin a month sooner.

Hill’s proposal would require the first of the state’s four quarterly revenue forecasts to be ready by Feb. 20 each year. That would allow budget writers to have updated information one month earlier and therefore provide lawmakers with more time to finalize a final budget plan and complete their work on time.

“Being new to the job of budget-writer, I’m very interested in ways we can make the process more productive,” said Hill, who is serving his first year as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “We checked out the concept with the state’s chief economist who didn’t have any concerns. Doing this could help us have a more productive session and avoid additional delays.”

The state’s chief economist releases quarterly revenue forecasts, projecting how much money the state is expected to take in during future budget cycles. Those projections serve as the baseline on which budget writers craft their plans.

“Since I became a senator in 2011 it’s been overtime after overtime because of the budget. Right now, we have to wait for the revenue forecast on March 20, which allows only about one month for us to finalize proposals, conduct committee hearings, vote on the actual bills and get together with the House to negotiate a final plan,” Hill said.

Under Washington’s constitution, the Legislature alternates between 105- and 60-day sessions during odd- and even-numbered years, respectively. During a 60-day session, the first revenue projection is already due on Feb. 20, because that schedule has lawmakers adjourning before March 20.

The bill is sponsored by the four leaders of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, including Hill and Sens. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam; Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane; and Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island; along with the Senate’s previous chief budget writer, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.  

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers have until Sunday to reach a budget deal and pass it or else they will have to go into a special legislative session.

All signs are that the sides are just too far apart at this point to pass a compromise. Even after  three months of talk and negotiation, there are still big differences in the budget proposals.

“The House Democrats and the governor are hell bent on raising taxes,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Mason County, a member of the conservative-led coalition in the state Senate. “That’s just not going to make it through this session.”

For the past four years, lawmakers have gone into overtime to get a budget done, and it always seems to come down to the same sticking point:  raising revenue versus cutting spending.  This year, the script is pretty much the same, with about $1 billion separating the two sides.

Sheldon supported the Senate-passed budget proposal, pushed by the Republicans, that holds the line on taxes. He believes a special session will be necessary to continue to press that point.

“We have some real serious problems about spending money on projects that are not giving us results,” Sheldon said.

The primary thrust of the House-passed budget proposal is that more taxes are needed to help meet the recent state Supreme Court McCleery decision that mandates at least $1 billion more for K-12 education.  Among the sources of that new revenue: a charge on bottled water and a requirement that non-residents pay sales tax, something from which they are now exempt.

“I don’t see how we meet our McCleery requirement without revenue,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “How important is a tax exemption that has been determined to not be necessary versus funding for education?”

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who was voted into his majority leader position by the Republicans, argues that lawmakers can find $1 billion more for schools without raising taxes and jeopardizing the economic recovery.

“We’ve shown that we can hold the line and still be strong on the priorities that people want,” he said.  “Obviously, we’re a ways off on a lot of these key issues.”

Gov. Jay Inslee will make a decision about a special session in the next few days. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn its regular session on April 28 — Sunday.

A special session could start as soon as Monday, or Inslee may choose to give legislators a break and simply have leaders stay in town until a deal is reached.  Lawmakers would then be called back later to vote.

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