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Budget writers get $400 million boost from latest revenue forecast

By | May 19, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state is on track to collect about $400 million more in revenue in the current and upcoming budget cycles, giving legislative budget writers a boost as they attempt to negotiate a deal in the remaining 10 days of special session.

The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council expects the state to collect $327 million more in the 2015-17 cycle than previously projected. It also projects an additional $79 million more in the current 2013-17 budget cycle.

Construction, real estate and marijuana taxes are among the biggest drivers of the revenue increase, according to state economist Steve Lerch. He said the state is also enjoying a strong labor market.

“People continue to move to Washington. This is a desirable place to be,” Lerch said. “So we have seen more labor force growth than the U.S. That is helping to drive our economy at slightly stronger rates than what we’re seeing nationally.”

Economists are forecasting $1.1 billion in marijuana excise taxes and license fees through 2019, partially due to the passage of a Senate bill this year that overhauls the state’s medical marijuana system.

The House’s lead budget writer, Rep. Ross Hunter, raised concerns Monday about the “river of money” economists expect to flow from the state’s legal marijuana stores.

“If we write budgets assuming that and it doesn’t come true, I’m concerned what actions we have to take,” Hunter said.

Budget writers say they are continuing to talk as the state approaches the final stretch of the 30-day special session, which ends on May 28. If they don’t complete the budget by the deadline, lawmakers must go into another special session.

Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill said the latest forecast makes their job easier than it was at the start of session in January.

“At some point you have to say, ‘Holy Cow, we have a lot of money.’ We should be able to get this job done very quickly. We are well beyond what you would think you would need to get out of town,” Hill said.

The forecast was scheduled to be released in June, but was moved up to May to help lawmakers as they continue budget negotiations.

Watch the revenue forecast below:

Categories: economy

On TVW this week: Revenue forecast, teacher strike bill, private rail crossings

By | May 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s what TVW is covering live this week (we’ll update this as more events are added):

Monday, May 18 at 2:30 p.m.: The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council is releasing the latest revenue forecast a month early at the request of legislators who are still negotiating a two-year operating budget deal. TVW will be live on television and the web at this link.

Tuesday, May 19 at 9 a.m.: The Washington State Transportation Commission is live webcast at this link. The Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee is live webcast at this link.

Tuesday, May 19 at 11 a.m.: TVW will be live with a press conference with Gov. Jay Inslee as he discusses the current special session. Watch live at this link.

Tuesday, May 19 at 1:30 p.m.: The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee is hearing a bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Sheldon that would ban teachers from collecting pay or benefits during a strike or work stoppage. TVW will be live on television and the web at this link.

Wednesday, May 20 at 10 a.m.:  The House Committee on State Government is hearing a bill that requires out-of-state political committees and non-profit organizations to report political contributions to the state Public Disclosure Commission. TVW will be live on television and the web at this link.

Thursday, May 21 at 8 a.m.: The Senate Energy committee is holding a work session on “carbon reduction investments.” TVW will carry it live.

Categories: TVW

Statewide drought emergency declared by Gov. Jay Inslee

By | May 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency on Friday due to “unprecedented” low snowpack in the mountains, where he said glacier lily flowers are blooming in areas where there should be more than 6 feet of snow.

“It’s really unlike anything we’ve experienced. Rain has been normal. What we’ve lacked is snow,” said the governor, who termed it a “snowpack drought.”

Of the 98 snow sites in Washington measured in May by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, 66 sites have little to no snow — with 11 sites “snow-free for the first time ever,” Inslee said.

The lack of snowpack is resulting in historic river lows, and irrigation districts are being forced to tap reservoirs earlier than normal.

Farmers are expected to bear the brunt of the drought. The Dept of Agriculture is projecting $1.2 billion in crop losses due to the drought this year, according to Inslee. To extend water supplies, irrigation districts in the Yakima Basin are turning off water for weeks at a time.

“We are already seeing severe impacts in several areas of the state and conditions are expected to worsen over time,” Inslee said. “Difficult decisions are being made today about what crops gets priority in our vital agricultural region.”

When deciding which crops will get emergency water assistance from the state Dept. of Ecology, agency director Maia Bellon said the department takes into consideration the value of the crop and expense of replanting.

Allowing an annual crop to fallow is less expensive, she said, when compared to perennial crops like pears, cherries and hops. “It is much more expensive to replant a pear orchard,” Bellon said.

Puget Sound residents are unlikely to be impacted by the drought, although officials say they should be mindful of water use. Large municipal water districts in cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have adequate water storage and don’t anticipate shortages, Inslee said.

“Use what you need, no more, don’t waste,” said Ginny Stern of the Dept. of Health.

Watch the press conference below:

Categories: Governors Office
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Gov. Inslee signs ‘Joel’s Law’ two years after Joel Reuter’s death

By | May 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Family members of the mentally ill will be allowed to petition the courts for help getting a relative involuntarily committed, following the signing of “Joel’s Law” by Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday.

The bill is named for Joel Reuter, who was having a mental health breakdown when he was killed in 2013 in a shootout with Seattle police.

Joel Reuter's parents, Doug and Nancy, speak to the media Thursday.

Joel Reuter’s parents, Doug and Nancy, speak to the media.

His father, Doug Reuter, told reporters his son was struggling with an “evil, evil” mental illness, but it was manageable with medication that would have allowed him to go back to work at his job as a software engineer.

Doug and his wife, Nancy, attempted to get their son mental health help dozens of times.

If the bill had been in effect, they say they could have gotten Joel involuntarily committed several months before he was shot. Joel would have turned 30 this month, his parents said.

“For the first time in four decades, families have standing in superior court to get their loved ones the help they need,” Doug Reuter said following the bill signing.

Inslee signed the bill using a glass pen blown by Joel’s father. His parents said they found it in Joel’s apartment in a box labeled “Keep Forever.”

Today on TVW: Oil train bill, cap-and-trade plan, press conference regarding Troy Kelley

By | May 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s what TVW is covering for Thursday, May 14:

Thursday at 9:30 a.m.: Democratic leaders including Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan and Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson are holding a press conference to update reporters on the session. TVW taped the event and it will be posted online here later in the day.

Thursday at 10:45 a.m.: Gov. Jay Inslee is signing several bills, including one that aims to improve oil train safety in Washington. Following the bill signing, the governor will briefly answer questions. Maia Bellon from the Dept. of Ecology, Dave Danner from Utilities and Transportation Commission, Robert Ezelle from the state Military Department, and Rob Duff, the governor’s policy adviser on natural resources, will also hold a Q&A about the oil transportation bill and new federal oil train regulations. TVW cannot live webcast the event, however we are taping it and it will be posted online here later in the day.

Thursday at noon: Sen. Barbara Bailey and Sen. Steve O’Ban will have an “announcement regarding Auditor Troy Kelley’s leave of absence,” according to a press release. TVW will be live on television and the web.

Thursday at noon: The Economic Revenue and Forecast Council is holding a meeting to discuss the timing of next revenue forecast. TVW is live on the web only here.

Thursday at 1 p.m.: TVW will be live on television and the web with the House Appropriations Committee, which is holding a pubic hearing on the latest cap-and-trade proposal from Democrats. Watch it live online here.


Categories: TVW

First step in impeachment proceedings of Troy Kelley introduced in House

By | May 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

Two state representatives filed a resolution Tuesday to begin the process of impeaching State Auditor Troy Kelley for “malfeasance of office,” which they say includes the abandonment of his office and illegally delegating authority to an unelected official.

Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, introduced the resolution at a press conference Tuesday that calls for the indicted auditor to resign. If Kelley refuses, the resolution creates a committee of six members of the House to begin drafting articles of impeachment.

“All of this lies squarely on the shoulders of Troy Kelley,” MacEwen said. “It rests squarely with him and the resolution rests with him.”

However, the resolution looks unlikely to advance to a vote on the House floor while negotiations on the budget are ongoing.

House Speaker Frank Chopp said in a statement released just before Tuesday’s press conference that “now is not the time” for impeachment proceedings, adding that House Republican Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen agrees.

Chopp said impeachment proceedings would be a “major distraction from the more pressing and time-sensitive challenges” facing the Legislature as it negotiates a two-year operating budget.

Stokesbary said he remains optimistic there will be time during the special session to vote on the resolution. “I think it is possible to handle multiple things at once,” he said.

TVW taped Tuesday’s impeachment press conference — watch it online here.

Kelley is taking an undefined leave of absence from his position as auditor while facing federal charges of tax evasion, stealing money and lying under oath. He has delegated authority to Jan Jutte, the office’s director of operations.

It takes 50 votes for the House to impeach. The Senate would then hold a trial, which requires two-thirds of the chamber’s members to vote for a conviction and remove Kelley from office.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said at a media availability on Tuesday the resolution is a step to explore “whether you really have a case.”

“If the majority in the House is willing to look into it, I think a resolution to study it is better than taking the next step,” Schoesler said.

The Republican media availability is posted online at TVW here. Members also answered questions about budget negotiations, saying they are continuing to go through the House and Senate budgets line-by-line to identify differences.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said they expect to spend another day going through the budgets, then he believes the next step is up to the House. “Are they willing to pass a tax package they’ll vote for and then allow us to frame a box that we can sit down and negotiate with?” he said.

The House has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday on a proposed capital gains tax, and a hearing Thursday on a cap-and-trade plan that would raise $500 million.

On TVW today: Kelley impeachment proposal, criminal justice bills, Republican press conference

By | May 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s what TVW is airing live on Tuesday, May 12:

Tuesday at 9 a.m.: The Senate Natural Resources committee is holding a work session on naming parks, elk hoof disease and fish passage barrier removal. TVW is live on television and the web.

Tuesday at 12:30 p.m.: Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, and Sen. John Braun will hold a press conference to give the Republican perspective on the ongoing special session. Although TVW cannot go live from the location, we will tape it and post it online here as soon as possible.

Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.: The Senate Law and Justice committee is holding a public hearing on a measure dealing with drunk driving, as well as a bill that would allow for someone to represent a victim in court if he or she has no family. The proposal cites the murder of Arlene Roberts, who was strangled in her home in 1978 at the age of 80. She had no surviving family to speak on her behalf during the sentencing, so a detective asked the court for the maximum sentence. The state Supreme Court later ruled in an appeal that an officer cannot undermine a plea agreement between the state and defendant. TVW is live on television and the web with the hearing.

Tuesday at 3 p.m.: Representatives Drew MacEwen and Drew Stokesbary will hold a press conference to introduce a resolution to establish a committee that would draft articles of impeachment against Troy Kelley. The state auditor is facing federal charges of tax evasion, and has taken an unspecified leave of absence. TVW will live webcast the press conference at this link.

Categories: TVW

Mary Dye selected to replace Rep. Susan Fagan in 9th District

By | May 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

Mary Dye, a wheat farmer from Pomeroy and state committeewoman for the Garfield County GOP, was sworn in on Friday to replace the 9th District’s Rep. Susan Fagan, who resigned her seat following ethical violation allegations.

Mary Dye is sworn in Friday (picture from WA House GOP)

Mary Dye is sworn in Friday (picture from WA House GOP)

Washington State Republican Chairwoman Susan Hutchison said the party “acted quickly” to replace Fagan in one week, allowing Dye to participate in the special session.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Dye will represent the “interests and values” of the 9th District, a large rural district that encompasses the counties of Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield and Whitman, as well as part of Spokane County.

County Commissioners from the six counties selected Dye from a field of three candidates to fill the position.

“Her knowledge and experience in agriculture and her family’s deep roots in Garfield County make her a natural leader on issues important to the 9th District,” Schoesler said in a statement.


Categories: Republicans, WA House

Special session update: Budget briefings, cap-and-trade proposal forthcoming

By | May 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

Budget writers met this week for two days of budget “briefings,” but have yet to resolve more than 1,000 differences between the budgets passed by the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican majority Senate, according to Democratic legislative leaders.

“Going through each section of the budget, going through where the differences are, where the decisions have to be made — that’s what is happening right now,” House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan told reporters on Thursday.

The Legislature began a 30-day special session on April 29 after adjourning regular session without a two-year operating budget in place.

House Speaker Frank Chopp said there remains “major differences” between the two budgets, highlighting a difference of $450 million more in the Democratic budget for K-12 basic education than the Republican approach.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Democrats don’t have the money for the $450 million expenditure. “They can spend it, but they can’t pay for it,” he said at a Republican media availability.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are pushing to get an early revenue forecast update to see if the state will collect more revenue.

Waiting for June 17, when the revenue forecast is scheduled to be released, is “just too late,” said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. (more…)

Death penalty case before the Washington Supreme Court, TVW will air live

By | May 4, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Washington Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in the death penalty case of Conner Schierman, who was convicted and sentenced to death for stabbing four people, including two young children, and burning their bodies in a Kirkland house fire.

In 2010, a King County Superior Court jury recommended that Schierman be executed for killing Olga Milkin, 28; her two sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24.

The victims lived across the street from Schierman in Kirkland. Milkin’s husband was overseas serving with the National Guard in Iraq when his family was killed.

According to court documents, Schierman claims he drank three or four bottles of vodka and went into an alcoholic blackout, then woke up in the house with the bodies. He then went to a mini-mart to buy gasoline, which he used to douse the house and set it on fire.

Attorneys for Schierman are asking the Washington Supreme Court to reverse the death sentence, claiming the trial court violated Schierman’s constitutional rights and the state presented improper evidence.

The state is asking the court to uphold the conviction and sentence. Read full court documents here.

TVW will air the arguments live on Tuesday from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., with breaks for lunch and recess. It will be webcast at this link.

Categories: Courts