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Budget breakthrough means no shutdown ?>

Budget breakthrough means no shutdown

Capitol

Gov. Jay Inslee and legislative leaders from both parties and both houses on Thursday announced the good news that had eluded them for weeks — a budget deal that will avert a partial government shutdown.

The state is closer to the budget deadline than ever before — and the phrase “government shutdown” had moved into the state lexicon as anxious state employees, their managers and the public wondered if it could happen here. With just three days before the June 30 midnight deadline, the governor and lawmakers announced the breakthrough.

A “happy and relieved” Inslee told reporters: “Government operations will not be interrupted. All government functions will be in operation Monday. Washington will be at work Monday.”

Secretary of State Kim Wyman and other statewide officials joined the governor in sending out quick word to their employees, explaining the happy development and rescinding notices of a potential temporary layoff that would have occurred starting Monday without a budget.  The state Constitution says General Fund money cannot be spent without a legislative appropriation.  That authority expires at the end of this biennium, Sunday night.

Budget details were not immediately available.

 

 

Bills passed: how Legislature compares to earlier years ?>

Bills passed: how Legislature compares to earlier years

Spring-2013-Capitol-Campus-photos-001

With the 2013 Legislature taking a two-week break to catch its collective breath between the end of the 105-day regular session and the special session starting May 13 to pass a new operating budget and other items, it’s worth taking a look back to see how many bills were passed by the Legislature in previous odd-year “long sessions” and compare the bill production to this year.

This chart was compiled by office staffer (and legislative history buff) Patrick McDonald and session communications intern Adam Noble. It revealed that the ‘13 Legislature passed the second fewest number of bills since it went to annual sessions in 1980.

According to the analysis, 332 bills were sent to Gov. Inslee this year, the lowest mark since 1983 when 315 were signed into law. And what year saw the most bills passed by the Legislature? 2009, when 581 bills were sent downstairs to Gov. Gregoire.

In three (1991, 2001 and 2013)of the five years that saw the lowest number of bills passed by the Legislature, different parties controlled the House and Senate, or there was a tie in the House. In 1981, among those lowest five years, the Senate shifted from a 25-24 Democratic majority to a one-vote edge for the Republicans when Sen. Pete von Reichbauer left the Senate Democratic Caucus for the Senate Rs during the middle of session.

Eyman files ‘Super Bowl’ of anti-tax initiatives ?>

Eyman files ‘Super Bowl’ of anti-tax initiatives

2013 Tim Eyman initiative filing 024

UPDATE: Note that last paragraph recasts the original language…

Initiative activist Tim Eyman has filed what he called the “Super Bowl” version of his long line of ballot propositions aimed at blocking taxes and requiring a supermajority to pass tax hikes in Olympia.

It will have to be a hurry-up offense for Eyman, since there is little more than two months before his July 5 deadline to submit well over 300,000 petition signatures to secure a place on the fall General Election ballot.  It takes roughly three weeks for an initiative to be processed by the state Code Reviser and Attorney General, and for the likely court challenge of the AG’s ballot title. After that, Eyman and co-sponsors Mike and Jack Fagan can have petitions printed and start the collection process.

Eyman and the Fagans were surrounded by a media scrum at the Secretary of State’s Office in the Capitol on Wednesday.  They described their strategy of trying to enlist the voters to help pressure the Legislature into initiating a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses to pass tax hikes in Olympia. Only the Legislature may originate a constitutional amendment, and it takes two-thirds voters in both houses and voter approval.  An initiative requires only simple majority voter approval and can write or amend only statute law.

2013 Tim Eyman initiative filing 005

The State Supreme Court recently held that earlier voter-approved Eyman supermajority initiatives were unconstitutional, since only an amendment of the state constitution can add the new restriction.  The constitution’s reference to passing bills — including tax bills — says only that a majority in each chamber will be required.

Eyman’s plan, quickly lambasted by his critics and some legislators, has three parts:

  • A one-year life span for new taxes or extension of existing taxes.
  • An annual statewide vote on an advisory measure on asking the Legislature to initiate the two-thirds supermajority constitutional amendment.
  • Legislators and governors running for re-election would have all of their tax votes listed underneath their photos in the Voters’ Pamphlet.

Eyman includes an “escape” clause that says if lawmakers pass and refer the two-thirds-for-taxes constitutional amendment on the ballot, then the three provisions would expire.

House advances new deadlines for voter registration ?>

House advances new deadlines for voter registration

450px-WashingtonStateCapitol

Washington’s voter registration deadlines might be changed under a bill passed by the House, one of several elections-related measures  approved by the chamber.

Engrossed House Bill 1267 extends the time period for voter registration closer to Election Day. Under current law, the online and mail-in registration deadlines are 29 days before an election and the in-person deadline is eight days prior. The original bill sought to allow people to register even on Election Day, but county auditors voiced strong opposition, so a compromise was reached. Under the bill as amended on the House floor, the mail-in deadline is moved to 28 days before an election, and the online and in-person deadlines are moved to 11 days before an election. The reason the mail-in deadline was moved by one day is that oftentimes the deadline falls on a federal holiday, which prevents the mailed voter registration application from being postmarked that day and therefore considered too late to be valid for that election. ESHB 1267 passed 64-33.

A more controversial bill passed by the House is SHB 1413  (the “Washington Voting Rights Act”), which addresses representation of minorities in local elections. The measure allows for minority individuals or groups to seek court orders to jurisdictions, including towns or cities of at least 1,000, school districts, fire district, counties and ports, to reform their elections, such as voting by wards.  It passed on a 53-44 nearly party line vote. One Democrat sponsor said proportional representation is reflective of American democracy. Republicans countered that the bill was unnecessary and potentially costly.

Among the elections bills approved by the House were two requested by our office:
House Bill 1157 updates and corrects election law, including statutes related to the old Pick-a-Party Primary, which was signed into law in 2004 and used  in Washington through 2007. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Top 2 Primary system in March 2008, 3½ years after Washington voters overwhelmingly approved it through Initiative 872 in 2004. Passed 97-0.

House Bill 1639 adjusts presidential electors’ compensation to reflect current reimbursement rates. Since 1891 (yes, that is 122 years), Washington has provided $5 per diem and 10 cents per mile travel allowance in compensation to electors who come to Olympia to take part in the Electoral College once every four years to cast the state’s electoral votes for the popular winning ticket statewide. The bill brings compensation for Washington’s 12 electors in line with current per diem and travel compensation.  Passed 78-19.

Other elections bill passed by the House include:

SHB 1103, requiring the Secretary of State to work with the State Association of County Auditors to develop a uniform ballot format to be used be each county by 2022. Passed 77-20.

2SHB 1195, allowing partisan races to always have a primary, and mandating that nonpartisan races only have a primary if three or more candidates file. Passed 96-1.

HB 1279, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or identicard. Passed 55-42.

HB 1474, eliminating the provision in judicial and SPI races that allows only one candidate, who receives a majority of votes in the primary, to appear on the General Election ballot. Under the bill, the names of the two candidates receiving the most votes in the primary must appear on the General Election ballot. Passed 97–0.

The measures all headed to the Senate. Senators are considering their own election package.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman praised the House for paying close attention to election administration bills. She supported a number of the changes and will continue working with lawmakers in the remaining weeks of the session to achieve workable legislation for the millions of Washington voters.

Secretary Wyman certifies I-522 to lawmakers ?>

Secretary Wyman certifies I-522 to lawmakers

Checker

The second of two initiatives to the 2013 Legislature has cleared the signature check process. The Secretary of State’s Election Division finished the review of Initiative 522 late Thursday afternoon. The official certification was then signed by Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

I-522, sponsored by Chris McManus, concerns the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The initiative, also known as “The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” would require most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods, seeds and seed stocks, if produced using genetic engineering as defined, to be labeled as genetically engineered when offered for retail sale.

To qualify, an initiative to the Legislature this year requires at least 241,153 valid signatures, 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor. Because I-522 and I-517 (certified Jan. 23) were filed with our Elections Division in 2012, the signature requirement was based on the number of votes cast in the 2008 gubernatorial race.

Initiatives filed with our office this year through 2016 will need at least 246,372 valid signatures, based on the higher number of votes cast for governor in 2012.

Initiative 522 sponsors turned in 353,331 signatures, enough for a 3 percent random sample check to be done instead of a full check, which would have taken weeks.  By contrast, the sample check took just over a week.

Out of the random sample of 10,762 signatures for I-522, 9,503 were valid, 1,241 were invalid and there were 18 pairs of duplicate signatures. The error rate was 17.02 percent, slightly less than the historic average.

Now that I-522 has been certified by the Secretary of State, it has been forwarded to the Legislature. Legislators have three options on an initiative sent their way: pass it into law as is; take no action, resulting in it going to the November ballot for a public vote; or send it and a legislative alternative to the ballot and let voters decide which, if either, they support. The typical initiative to the Legislature takes the second path, going on the General Election ballot. One or both chambers may hold public hearings on either or both initiatives.

The final updates for both I-517 and I-522 can be seen here.

House D budget: Cuts, delays, but no sales tax hike ?>

House D budget: Cuts, delays, but no sales tax hike

Majority House Democrats launched the endgame of the election-year 2012 legislative session Tuesday, unveiling their plan to close a billion-dollar budget gap.

They propose doing this by shifting $405 million in K-12 payments into the next biennium; creating a few new taxes; shedding some revenue-sharing with local government; and cutting higher education, social and health services, inmate supervision, parks, State Archives and other programs.

The proposal includes some new revenue, including $18 million from a new tax on mortgage bankers and $13 million by taxing manufacturers of roll-it-yourself smokes.  It does not, however, require a half-cent increase in the state sales tax that Gov. Chris Gregoire had proposed for a springtime election before the state’s economic picture brightened recently.

The plan also does not require 24 furlough days by state employees, as House Republicans had proposed, nor does it cut salaries of state workers and teachers or charge them more for their health coverage.  The budget cuts the state payroll by 1,554, including about 900 layoffs due to voter approval of a 2011 initiative privatizing liquor retail.

In all, House budget Chairman Ross Hunter said, it’s a “workable solution that doesn’t do long-term harm to our state.”  In describing the state’s descent into red ink in recent years, he said “What is obvious is that we can no longer afford many existing expenditures,” particularly with a looming court mandate to ramp up K-12 support from the state level.

One change, he noted, is that the state must wean local governments from state appropriations.

Hunter said the proposal does not “securitize” future revenue streams as a way to pay for today’s spending, nor does it skip any pension contributions.

He said education suffers “no significant damage,” such as the governor’s idea of shortening the school year and levy equalization, subject to restoration with the sales tax vote. Higher education, though, does take a $65 million hit ($35 million community colleges, $30 million (more…)

FAQ on pending gay-marriage referendum ?>

FAQ on pending gay-marriage referendum

UPDATE:  Washington’s gay-marriage legislation, Senate Bill 6239, easily cleared the House 55 to 43 Wednesday after 2 1/2 hours of emotional debate. It now heads to  Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature, probably in a big ceremony next week.

And challengers already are making plans for a ballot challenge.

How would that work? What’s the timeline?  What does the filing of a referendum mean to people who were thinking about a summertime wedding?

Here is a look at how a referendum would work:

Q. When would the legislation ordinarily take effect?
A.  90 days after adjournment of the regular session, or June 7 this year.
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Q. When can a referendum be filed?
A. After Gov. Chris Gregoire has taken action on the bill. She has five working days to act, once the bill is actually delivered to her desk. She has said she will sign the bill, although it is possible she could veto sections or amendments that were attached. The referendum must include the text of the bill as passed by the Legislature and acted upon by the governor.
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Q. How long does it take for a referendum to be processed and ready for signature-gathering?
A. Roughly three weeks.  The measure is sent to the Attorney General’s Office for preparation of a ballot title, concise description and ballot summary.  The AG has five working days to complete this. Within five working days, anyone dissatisfied with the ballot title or summary may petition the Thurston County Superior Court for changes.  The court is required to “expeditiously review” the request(s) and render a decision within five days.  The decision of the court is final. After that, sponsors can print petitions and begin collecting signatures.
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Q. What is the deadline for turning in signatures?
A. June 6.
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Q. How many signatures are required?
A. The bare minimum is 120,577, or 4 percent of all votes cast in the 2008 election for governor.  The state Elections Division suggests turning in 150,000 or more, to cover invalid and duplicate signatures. The average error rate is 18 percent.
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Q. How long does the signature check take?
A. If sponsors submit a large enough pad, a random sample can be completed in about two weeks; a full every-signature check can take a month. Crews will be checking to make sure the signer is a properly registered Washington voter, that the signature matches the one on file, and that the person didn’t sign more than once. Both sides are welcome to have a small number of observers whenever the signature-verification is underway.
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Q. What happens to the gay-marriage law in the meantime?
A. The filing of the signatures suspends the effective date.  If the signature-verification process shows an insufficient number of signatures, then the law goes into effect right away.  If the referendum is qualified for the ballot, then the law remains on hold until the voters make their decision in November and the General Election results are certified on Dec. 6.
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Q. Is there a “window” in which same-sex couples can marry, between the bill being approved by the Legislature and governor and a vote in November?
A. No.
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Q. What is the question posed to voters by the referendum?
A. The referendum places the text of the bill before them. An affirmative vote is to uphold the law as it passed the Legislature and was signed by the governor.  A vote to reject wipes out the measure and it does not take effect.  As with the 2009 vote on Referendum 71, the “everything but marriage” law, the sponsors who mount the effort to get the measure on the ballot will be asking for a “reject” vote on their referendum.  Bottom line: a vote to “approve” upholds the new law, a vote to “reject” abolishes the bill.
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Q. Does the referendum require a simple majority or a supermajority?
A. A referendum takes a simple majority to pass.
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Q. Where can I get more details about the process?
A. The Elections Division has posted this primer.

Q&A on circulating petitions.

Special session adjourns after trimming budget $480m ?>

Special session adjourns after trimming budget $480m

Washington lawmakers have adjourned their unprecedented 17-day November-December emergency session designed to start trimming the state budget to size.

But they won’t be gone for long.  The regular 2012 session, supposedly limited to 60 days, is just around the corner — Jan. 9.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature didn’t do the complete $2 billion budget-and-tax deal that Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire had strongly recommended when she called the session.  They gave strong bipartisan agreement to a plan, House Bill 2058, that begins the task by shaving $480 million from the budget — a combination of cuts, fund shifts and revenue-generating ideas. The latter does not include taxes, such as the voter-approved half-cent sales tax hike the governor has in mind.

Legislators called it a down-payment, although unhappy minority Republicans called it only a partial down-payment with all the tough decisions yet to come.

The Office of Secretary of State, which includes the Elections Division, Corporations and Charities Division, State Archives, State Library, Address Confidentiality Program, and other programs assigned by the Legislature, was included in this first new wave of budget cuts — $2.6 million in all.

Cuts include $498,000 from the State Library, which has sustained heavy cuts in recent sessions; $1.6 million from administration of the agency; $203,000 from Elections; $300,000 in pass-through support for TVW, the state’s version of C-SPAN; and $30,000 from the Legacy Project, which produces oral histories and other projects.  The State Archives also are sustaining cuts due to declining contracts from public agencies for preservation and digitization of public documents.  The Corporations Division does not receive General Fund support and generates money from fees to sustain their operations and to help pay for schools and other General Fund programs.

Gregoire proposes sales tax hike, budget cuts ?>

Gregoire proposes sales tax hike, budget cuts

Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed a $2 billion all-cuts rewrite of the ailing state budget, along with a plan to ask the voters to OK a three-year state sales tax hike of a half-cent to head off some of the cuts.

The Democratic governor said the Legislature already has slashed the state budget by $10 billion in the past three years, “shredding” the state safety net and whacking K-12, higher education and other areas.  She said her latest list of budget cuts would be too damaging to school kids, public safety and the most vulnerable — and thus her decision to seek a temporary sales tax increase.

The increase, from 6.5 percent to 7 percent, would raise about $500 million per fiscal year, and would head off her plan for reducing the school year by four days and cutting levy equalization for property-poor districts, deep cuts in higher education and prisons, and her proposals to cut social and health services to the poor, including the Disability Lifeline and the Basic Health Program.

Gregoire insisted that she and lawmakers have  “reset” state government at a “leaner and, sadly, meaner” level and that “This is not about scare tactics.”  She said the sales tax, last adjusted by the state in the recession of 1983, would sunset after three years.  She repeatedly urged Washington residents to “Please stand with me,” and said she will stump the state to campaign for the tax plan if  legislators put it on the ballot.

Democratic leaders praised her willingness to lead on the tax issue, and Republicans pushed back.

A referendum bill takes only a simple majority in both chambers and voter approval.  Democrats control the House 56-42 and the Senate 27-22, although both chambers have some conservatives called “road kill Democrats” who have voted with Republicans on fiscal matters.  It takes 50 votes in the House and 25 in the Senate to pass a bill, so there is little room for maneuvering.

Gregoire is aiming for the March 13 special election date, which would require a decision by the Legislature by Dec. 30.   The governor has called lawmakers into emergency session beginning next Monday. That session can last up to 30 days.  The Legislature already has a regular session scheduled for January.

The sales tax increase would take effect in July.

The governor also released a list of $59 million in various fees that legislators could pass with a simple majority, and a more controversial list of tax items that total $282 million and would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers or public approval.  The latter includes a business tax increase on Big Oil and banks, repealing out-of-state sales tax exemptions, imposing a 5 percent tax on luxury cars, a 1.5 percent tax on gambling and lottery winnings, and a 25-cent-a-pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax, now about $3 a pack.

 

Sign here, please ?>

Sign here, please

Photo courtesy Washington House of Representatives

Washington’s Charitable Solicitations Act is getting some helpful updates. Secretary Reed stood by Governor Gregoire as she recently signed into law SHB 1485, a bill requested by our office that makes changes to the state’s Charitable Solicitations Act. The House and Senate unanimously passed it. Standing on the left side of the photo are Charities Program Manager Rebecca Sherrell (far left) and Corporations and Charities Division Director Pam Floyd.

The governor also signed into law SHB 1040, another bill that our office requested. That proposal, also approved unanimously by the Legislature, allows our office to send renewal notices to businesses and other entities by e-mail rather than postal mail, if they choose the e-mail option.