Archive for August, 2011

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…)

Working on The Impact special report: Ferries director David Moseley assures the bigger boats are coming

By | August 26, 2011 | 0 Comments

theimpact_cropped150The Washington State Ferry system has faced challenge after challenge over the past decade or so.  Among the major issues is its boat-building program.  With three new 64-car ferries nearly complete, the next step is to build boats that can carry about 144 cars – these boats are considered more versatile with the ability to serve larger routes throughout the system.  The legislature secured money for the first of two 144-car ferries, and ferry administrators are working toward a contract to start the first one.

Interview with WSF director David Moseley at Bainbridge Island church, where he addressed concerned citizens

Interview with WSF director David Moseley at a Bainbridge Island church, where he had just finished addressing a group of engaged citizens

In a 40-minute, in-depth interview with ferries director David Moseley, he talked about the importance of new boats to the aging fleet, as the three Evergreen State Class ferries near the end of their 60-year lifecycle.

Bidding issues have held up boat-building programs before, and it wasn’t until the 80-year-old Steel Electrics were suddenly pulled from the system in 2007 that the 64-car program was pushed through. With the 144s in the pipeline Moseley told me “we’ve got the money to build, and we’re going to start building the 144s next year.”

Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, has expressed concerns about the direction of the past and present boat procurement process (for background go here), and he’s asking the governor and state auditor’s office to investigate.

Will the state ferry system’s vessel replacement program continue to navigate rough waters in the future, as it has in the past?  It’s just one of the many questions we’re asking in our special report – Staying Afloat:  Challenges facing Washington State ferries.  Stay tuned for the premier on Tuesday, September 27th at 7:00 pm, on TVW.

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Gregoire: Congratulations to Boeing on 787 certification

By | August 26, 2011 | 0 Comments

Gov. Chris Gregoire just sent out a congratulatory note to Boeing on the occasion of its 787 Dreamliner being certified. She said the “incredible milestone” marks “a new chapter in the company’s long history that will include one of the most innovative an fuel-efficient airplanes in the world.”

She also said she looks forward to the company’s first delivery of that plane next month to Nippon Airways.

She said Washington state is and will remain a global aerospace hub, with 84,000 aerospace workers on the forefront of innovation. She said she’s committed to maintaining that industry here.

Changes on the way for ferry fares in an effort to raise $310 million

By | August 26, 2011 | 0 Comments

Ferry Boat, Washington State Here’s a relaxing photo to enjoy before you hear the bad news: Ferry fares are going up.

Earlier this week, the Washington State Transportation Commission adopted a 2.5 percent general fare increase, effective Oct. 1. A 3 percent increase will go into effect May 1, 2012, and every fare will have a capital surcharge of 25 cents. In addition to that, vehicle fares will be restructured to encourage people to bring smaller vehicles onto the ferry.

The changes will help bring in $310 million as required by this biennium’s transportation budget.

While fares are going up, some of the changes are designed to encourage ferry riders to ride bicycles or drive smaller cars to save space. The restructured vehicle fares, for example, will eventually mean that those driving cars under 14 feet long will pay significantly less for their vehicle fare. And the annual bicycle permit is eliminated: Those with multi-ride cards, monthly passes or an ORCA card can bring a bike for free (except for in the San Juan Islands, where only multi-ride cardholders will be able to bring a bike for free).

There’s one more change that might not be as popular as free bike passes: A fuel surcharge. The surcharge would only go into effect if gas hits $4.08 per gallon, and the surcharge would be capped at 10 percent. Changes will be assessed quarterly and customers will get a 30 day notice if any surcharge changes are made.

All these changes are aimed at making the Washington State Ferry system slightly more sustainable. Currently, funding from the Legislature and fares doesn’t match costs. TVW’s Jessica Gao has spent the last month talking with ferry experts around the state and is preparing a documentary on the system that will air Tuesday, Sept. 27. Stay tuned to this blog for more information!

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…)

Meet the Public Disclosure Commission candidates

By | August 19, 2011 | 0 Comments

If you care about the disclosure of public records, campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, the Public Disclosure Commission wants to see you: Next week on Wed., Aug. 24 they’re hosting an open house for the top two candidates to run the commission.

Andrea McNamara Doyle and Alan Rathbun will be available at the open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at 711 Capitol Way, Room 206.

Jobs are up, but unemployment rate is holding steady

By | August 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

The Employment Security Department announced this morning that, despite adding 5,700 jobs to the economy, the state’s unemployment rate has held steady at 9.3 percent.

This marks the eleventh month of job gains — but those gains haven’t been substantial enough to touch the unemployment rate.

Industries responsible for adding those 5,700 jobs include leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, retail trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities, professional and business services, financial activities, construction, and government. Meanwhile “other services” and information lost jobs.

Need help finding a job? Go to WorkSource. Want to view the full report? Go here.

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…)

Rep. Jeannie Darneille will run for open Senate seat

By | August 10, 2011 | 0 Comments

darneilleRep. Jeannie Darneille announced today that she plans to run for Sen. Debbie Regala’s seat in 2012. Regala has announced that she will not seek re-election.

Darneille has lived in Tacoma for 32 years and served in the House of Representatives for 11. This session, she helped write the budget and was an advocate for social service programs, like General Assistance Unemployable.

For more on the decision — including her full press release — visit Jordan Scrhader’s post here.

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State agencies asked to find another 10 percent in cuts

By | August 8, 2011 | 0 Comments
Budget director Marty Brown is asking state agencies to submit more proposed cuts.

Budget director Marty Brown is asking state agencies to submit more proposed cuts.

The state budget picture must not be looking good: Marty Brown at the Office of Financial Management has sent out a memo on behalf of Gov. Chris Gregoire asking all state agency directors to submit a proposal for 5 percent “first priority” cuts — and an additional 5 percent cut for a total of 10 percent.

The reason? Brown says in the memo that the “near-term economic outlook has weakened since June,” when the last Economic and Revenue forecast was issued. And he says there’s a “distinct possibility” that further revenue losses are on the way in the coming year.

And what will those cuts look like? The Washington Policy Center has the chart from OFM here.

The agencies were asked to assume a January start date for cuts that couldn’t be implemented immediately. And they were warned that, as OFM monitors the economic conditions, the target could be revised.

The next ERFC Economic Review is on Sept. 2 at 2:30 p.m. TVW will cover that, as usual. And we’ll be there two weeks later for the Sept. 15 Economic and Revenue Forecast — when we’ll find out if the forecast is indeed down. But that’s not all:  Before session, we’ve also got the November forecast to deal with.