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Gregoire OKs state employee furloughs ?>

Gregoire OKs state employee furloughs

peopleGovernor Gregoire has signed legislation ordering many state employees to take 10 unpaid days off during the coming fiscal year – possibly starting on July 12.

The furlough bill, Senate Bill 6503,  gives agencies some latitude for avoiding the “temporary layoffs” mandate.  Many agencies are exempt, such as parks, highways and ferries, pris0ns, social and health programs, and workers who make money for the state, such as liquor store and lottery employees.  Employees who make under $30k a year are exempt.  And agencies can submit  alternative plans for saving the dough – $49 million all told.

But the governor said she’d prefer that those affected departments and employees – an estimated 20 percent of the state government workforce – actually take the days off, rather than cut costs in other ways.  Her budget director, Marty Brown, conceded in an interview that it may be harder than it looks. Employee unions have stoutly opposed the furloughs.

Gregoire did veto an requirement for pay cuts of $10 million for managers, saying it could be the equivalent of another two weeks off without pay.

The legislation lists the preferred furlough days: July 12, Aug. 6, Sept. 7, Oct. 11, and Dec. 27 of this year, and Jan. 28, Feb. 22, March 11, April 22 and June 10 of next year.  Most are Fridays or Mondays or designed to combine with holiday weekends.

Something’s burning at the Capitol … ?>

Something’s burning at the Capitol …

capitoldoor… or at least the fire alarm went off and emptied the whole building, including the Senate, which was in session at the time.  Biggest excitement of the day–heck, of the entire special session!

So Governor Gregoire, exiting the campus for a meeting, has her car stop at the corner where her executive staff is huddled while awaiting the all-clear signal, insists she didn’t pull the alarm, just to stir things up.   She impishly added that, true, she wants the Legislature outahere.

We’re now in day 11 and week 2 of a session she wanted limited to just one week.  Lawmakers are still looking for an $800 million tax deal, and the increasingly impatient governor is now warning that the alternative may be a 20 percent across-the-board cut.

Any guess how long it will actually take to wrap up?

How long will lawmakers be in session?

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McKenna, Gregoire clash over health care law ?>

McKenna, Gregoire clash over health care law

docpatientWashington’s governor, Chris Gregoire, and state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is widely viewed as a gubernatorial contender in 2012,  are clashing over the newly passed federal health care legislation.

McKenna plans to join a multi-state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.  Gregoire, an ally of the president’s and sometimes mentioned as a future Cabinet pick, says McKenna “doesn’t represent the people of Washington” on this and doesn’t have her blessings to file in the name of the state.

Democrat Gregoire was Republican McKenna’s predecessor as three-term attorney general and the two have gotten along famously for most of the past six years. The other day they linked arms to help kick off a campaign for a constituti0nal amendment for bail reform in the wake of the Lakewood police slayings.   But on the question of using Washington’s name to challenge the federal health care bill, they’re miles apart.  (more…)

Y’all come back now, ya hear? ?>

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

toontotesThey’re gone, but not forgotten.  Weary Washington lawmakers are getting a long weekend off, after wrapping up their 60-day regular legislative session Thursday evening.  But their toughest, and most politically unpopular, tasks remain undone.  They’ll be back at noon on Monday for overtime session.

Governor Gregoire’s proclamation says they’ll be here “no longer than seven days.”  The Constitution says special sessions are limited to “not more than 30 consecutive days.” Likewise, the governor has no authority to limit the subject matter lawmakers may take up, although she does have that veto pen and conceivably could nix anything that she viewed as outside the must-do list for the special session.

Here is language in our State Constitution about special sessions: (more…)

House tax plan: cats and dogs ?>

House tax plan: cats and dogs

catsdogsHouse Democrats have weighed into the tax debate in Olympia, offering an assortment of tax hikes – called “cats and dogs” in Capitol-speak – rather than a package that is anchored by a state sales tax increase.

The $858 million package is closer in approach to Governor Gregoire than the Senate Democrats. The Democratic governor proposed a $605 million mix of taxes, including a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes, a tax on pop and candy and a higher hazardous materials tax on petroleum and other products.  The House closes tax loopholes and taxes smokes, bottle water, elective cosmetic surgery, custom software and personal aircraft.  It boosts the tax on lawyers, accountants and others.  It does not include the hazardous waste tax increase, nor does it follow the Senate’s lead of boosting the sales tax by three-tenths of a cent on the dollar. The Senate’s approach would raise $918 million during the next 18 months.

The two chambers, in consultation with the governor, are racing a March 11 adjournment deadline to pass a budget rewrite and a tax package that will close a $2.8 billion budget gap.

Suspending initiatives? Controversial but common ?>

Suspending initiatives? Controversial but common

Amid considerable controversy that seems destined to spill over into the 2010 legislative races, Governor Gregoire and the Democratic-controlled Legislature have suspended a voter-approved initiative that would have required a supermajority two-thirds of both houses to boost taxes or eliminate tax exemptions.

With I-960 now on hold, Olympia can approve a revenue package by a simple majority of both houses.  The Senate proposal is for $918 million worth of taxes and “loophole closures,” including a $1-a-pack tax on smokes and a three-tenths of a penny increase in the state sales tax, the first increase since 1983. House Democrats have booked new revenue of $857 million, but haven’t unveiled their plan yet.

Initiative activist Tim Eyman and legislative Republicans are furious that the Democrats have “overturned the will of the voters.”  A new poll done for KING 5 News, shows that 68 percent of the respondents said the decision to suspend I-960 was wrong, and 74 percent said they support the two-thirds supermajority requirement for taxes. (more…)

Gregoire: Boost taxes by $605 million ?>

Gregoire: Boost taxes by $605 million

chartGovernor Gregoire has unveiled a $605 million tax package as part of a cut-and-tax plan to close a yawning $2.8 billion budget gap.

The Democratic governor is steering clear of the Big 3 (sales, property or business and occupation taxes), and proposing higher taxes on smokes, candy and gum, soda pop, bottled water and oil products.

The cigarette tax hike would be a buck a pack (to $3.05 total state tax per package, generating $89 million.) The pop tax would be a nickel for each 12 oz.  The new bottled water tax of a penny an ounce would be imposed at the wholesale level, raising $135 million a year.  Extending the 6.5 percent state sales tax to candy and gum would generate $28 million. Raising the tax on petroleum products would raise $148 million for the state treasury and more for local stormwater projects.  Gregoire also supports closing tax loopholes on some out-of-state companies operating in Washington.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Gregoire said:

“As difficult as the choices are, I believe we must address this year’s gap with a balance of cuts and revenue. … The task ahead may appear daunting,  but I believe we can work together to get the job done.”

Gregoire also proposed that legislators cut $967 million from the budget and tap reserves and (more…)

Gregoire: More money coming from Uncle Sam ?>

Gregoire: More money coming from Uncle Sam


Governor Gregoire says a $435 million windfall from the feds — in the form of more money for Medicaid — will help reduce the size of a proposed revenue package.

Gregoire, in a news conference called to report on the billions the state has received in federal recovery money, said she is confident that Congress will approve a healthy chunk of money requested by the White House to bail out the states’ medical assistance program. President Obama has asked for $25 billion nationwide in Medicaid matching funds.

The state Legislature and governor are grappling with a projected $2.6 billion deficit — a number that could grow after new caseload forecasts are factored in.  Gregoire has suggested cuts and fund shifts, plus about $780 million in new revenue.  She told reporters that the new federal dollars could help reduce the size of the tax package.  Lawmakers also are considering tax loophole closures, state employee furloughs and other strategies.

Gregoire budget: All cuts, for now ?>

Gregoire budget: All cuts, for now

budget1Governor Gregoire has proposed, “with the greatest reluctance,” a  new Washington State budget that fills a projected $2.6 billion deficit by cutting $1.7 billion from state programs and using $900 million in “rainy day” savings and fund balances.

But she says she hopes the Legislature won’t pass her own no-new-taxes budget that she was required by state law to submit.

She called her proposal “balanced, but unjust” and said she’ll propose a second budget next month that restores many of the cuts in education, health care and services to the poor – along with a revenue package to pay for it.  She vowed to find additional money to retain the Basic Health Program, welfare for unemployable people, and levy equalization for property-poor school districts, and to restore cuts in Head Start, college financial aid, and numerous state-funded health and social service programs. (more…)

Gregoire, Reed certify R-71 and November returns ?>

Gregoire, Reed certify R-71 and November returns

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed and Governor Chris Gregoire have made it official, certifying that voters turned down Tim Eyman’s latest ballot measure, but adopted the “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law approved by the Legislature last spring.

Referendum 71, placed on the ballot by foes of same-sex marriage, was approved by a margin of more than 110,000 votes, or more than 6 percentage points. National media describe it as the country’s first voter-approved domestic partnership or “everything-but-marriage” law. (more…)