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State Auditor Troy Kelley found not guilty on one count, state leaders respond

By | April 26, 2016 | 0 Comments
State Auditor Troy Kelley surrounded by media as he leaves the U.S. District Court after pleading not guilty to 10 counts. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

State Auditor Troy Kelley surrounded by media as he leaves the U.S. District Court after pleading not guilty in April 2015. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

State leaders responded Tuesday to news that State Auditor Troy Kelley was found not guilty by a jury of lying to the Internal Revenue Service. Jurors could not reach an agreement on 14 other felony charges, including stealing money and tax evasion.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s waiting to see what prosecutors do next.

“Regardless of the outcome in court today, serious questions remain about Troy Kelley’s ability to successfully fulfill his role as state auditor,” Inslee said.

The governor and several state leaders have previously called on Kelley to resign.

Kelley took an unpaid leave of absence for seven months last year while facing federal charges. He returned to work in December after four legislators signaled their intent to begin impeachment proceedings against Kelley during the 2016 session.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said Kelley should “do the right thing and resign” despite the verdict.

“The jury has made its decision, but the public trust has been violated. The elected office of state auditor has been sullied by Mr. Kelley’s trial,” Schoesler said.

Categories: Auditor

On ‘The Impact:’ Gypsy moth update, oil spills and education funding task force

By | April 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

On this week’s edition of “The Impact:” Washington begins spraying to kill the dreaded Gypsy moth.

The gypsy moth is capable of defoliating millions of acres of forest a year, which also destroys wildlife habit and can disrupt stream habitat for salmon. The Washington State Dept. of Agriculture has been eradicating isolated populations of the moth since 1997.

theimpact_anitaHost Anita Kissee interviews Dept. of Agriculture spokesperson Hector Castro about the effort. More information about spraying schedules and the gypsy moth is available here.

Also on the show — a look at the hands-on training for a worst-case oil spill in the Puget Sound. Plus, Sen. Christine RolfesD-Bainbridge Island, and Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, discuss their work on the education funding task force.

Watch the show here.

Categories: TVW

Supplemental operating budget signed into law

By | April 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday signed the supplemental operating budget passed by lawmakers last month, which pays for wildfire and mental health costs. It also commits the Legislature to fully fund basic education next year.

“This sets the state up for success in 2017,” he said. “We have what we need, which is a budget with financial rigor.”

Inslee vetoed a section of the budget that would have cut $10 million in funding to the State Auditor’s Office. The governor said he didn’t know if lawmakers made the budget cut in response to the criminal case against State Auditor Troy Kelley, who is on trial for charges of tax evasion, stealing money and lying under oath.

The veto restores funding that allows the auditor’s office to conduct performance audits. “These things have value,” Inslee said. “They help government perform its job better.”

As part of the agreement with the auditor’s office, $5 million dollars from the performance audit account will move back to the general fund.

Watch TVW video of the bill signing here.

Categories: Governors Office

Gov. Jay Inslee fires Western State Hospital CEO in wake of escape

By | April 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee has fired Western State Hospital CEO Ron Adler after an accused murderer and another mental health patient escaped through a window in the psychiatric hospital last week.

“This incident comes on the heels of numerous other ongoing issues at Western State,” Inslee said at a press conference Tuesday. “These incidents have justifiably eroded public confidence in the hospital and my confidence regarding the management of this troubled hospital.”

Cheryl Strange speaks at a press conference with Gov. Jay Inslee.

Cheryl Strange with Gov. Jay Inslee.

Adler took over the hospital in 2013. His termination was effective immediately Tuesday.

Inslee is replacing him with Cheryl Strange, who has managed both private and state-run mental health hospitals during a 30-year career. She begins her new job April 25.

Strange said her priority is restoring cuts to the hospital and seeking feedback from employees.

“I’m going to be out there meeting staff, residents. Hear from them directly about what’s working, what’s not working,” Strange said. “I think that’s a really critical component.”

Inslee said he’s known for “some time” that Western State Hospital needed an overhaul, in part because the Legislature slashed 400 jobs during the recession. New recruiting efforts, including bonuses, have helped the hospital add new staff at a rate of about 15 people per month, Inslee said.

“We are still well short and we’re going to have to double down on our recruiting efforts,” Inslee said.

The governor said the escapes “accelerated” his decision to fire Adler, but it had been considered prior to the incident.

Anthony Garver, who is accused of the torture killing of a 20-year-old woman, escaped from the hospital on April 6 along with another patient, Mark Alexander Adams. Police caught Adams the next day, and Garver was captured Saturday in Spokane Valley.

In response to the incident, Western State Hospital officials say all windows in the hospital have been inspected and secured. The Department of Corrections also has a security team at the hospital to inspect the grounds and review procedures.

Watch TVW video of the governor’s press conference here.

Legislature passes supplemental budget

By | March 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

The Legislature has approved a supplemental budget that pays for costs associated with last summer’s wildfires and increases spending at the state’s psychiatric hospitals.

The supplemental budget passed out of the House with a vote of 78-17 early Tuesday afternoon, the 20th day of the 30-day special session. The Senate gave final approval to the budget Tuesday evening, 27-17.

The supplemental budget increases by $191 million the state’s current two-year $38.2 billion budget adopted last year. It includes $7 million to retain more teachers, $15 million for youth homelessness and $28 million to improve safety at Western State Hospital and other psychiatric hospitals. Read the full details here.

To cover costs from last year’s devastating fire season, the budget uses $190 million in emergency “rainy day” funds.

House Democrats hold a press conference Tuesday.

House Democrats hold a press conference Tuesday.

House Democratic leaders told reporters Tuesday they did not get all they hoped in the supplemental budget — especially when it comes to the teacher shortage — but it represents a compromise.

Democrats had originally sought $38 million in rainy day funds to pay for homeless programs. That was dropped in the compromise budget, which instead focuses narrowly on youth homelessness and programs that pair schools with housing groups.

“When kids have a stable house and stay in that community, they really do a lot better in schools,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, the lead Democratic budget writer. “I think we did pretty well and we advanced the cause as much as we could in a limited year like this.”

Initially, Democrats proposed fixing the state’s teacher shortage by raising beginning teacher salaries from $35,000 a year to $40,000, paid for by eliminating six tax breaks. The final agreement does not give teachers pay raises, but it does include funding for a mentoring program that aims to keep teachers in the classroom longer. It also creates a task force to look at teacher compensation in the coming year.

“The shortage will grow, so the issue is stemming that. We made some initial progress this year, recognizing that we’ll have to come in next year and do more,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said the budget “stuck to a true supplemental budget formula” by not raising taxes through the elimination of tax breaks or funding pay raises for teachers.

Schoesler said Republicans compromised on the budget by spending more overall than the $49 million that Republicans had initially proposed.

“We spent over six months last year passing a budget that was very good, got wide bipartisan support. We felt like we didn’t need to change things, so adding additional spending was an issue for us,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.

On the House floor, several members in both parties praised the budget for taking incremental steps toward addressing the state’s teacher shortage and preparing the state for next year’s big budget challenges in fully funding McCleary obligations.

“It addressed a lot of surprises we saw this year and I think it’s a responsible and very thoughtful approach to setting ourselves up for success in the next biennial cycle,” said Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah.

Opponents of the budget say it will negatively impact some local communities and governments. Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, criticized the the budget for “short-changing” community mental health programs.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, also voted no on the budget because it takes money from the Public Works Assistance Account, which local governments use to pay for public works projects. As a former city councilwoman, she said she knows the value of the public works fund.

“Probably the most distressing part about that is that this is a sign of what’s going to happen over the next several biennium,” Pike said. “We’re going to continue to sweep those revenues.”

The Legislature adjourned Sine Die just before 11 p.m. Tuesday evening following passage of bills related to the budget. Members in both chambers also voted to override 27 vetoes by Gov. Jay Inslee. The governor had vetoed the bills at the end of the regular 60-day session as a way to spur lawmakers to come to a budget agreement faster.

Inslee held a late evening press conference Tuesday where he said he was supportive of the veto overrides now that the Legislature had completed its work. “We got the budget done,” Inslee said. “These bills passed, that’s fine with me.”

The governor warned that “heavy lifting awaits us next January” when lawmakers will come back to negotiate a new two-year operating budget, while also meeting the Washington Supreme Court mandate to fully fund basic education. 

Inslee said the bipartisan task force dedicated to school funding “needs to take its work very seriously so we can be assured we have all the information we need to tackle the tough decisions on Day 1 of the 2017 session.”

Categories: Budget

Gov. Jay Inslee discusses special session, signs bill giving pay raises to troopers

By | March 25, 2016 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday that budget negotiators have reached “tentative agreements on a variety of important issues,” but have not yet reached a deal on a supplemental budget at the halfway point of the 30-day special session.

“They have tackled some very difficult issues and they have solved quite a number of them, so there has been real progress,” he said. “But they’re not done yet.”

The governor spoke to the media after signing nearly two dozen bills Friday afternoon. Watch TVW video of the bill signing and press conference.

Among the bills he signed was a supplemental transportation budget that makes about $507 million in changes to the state’s current two-year transportation budget. Inslee said the budget focuses on traffic relief, including funding for 10 new incident response trucks to clear collisions and additional capacity on Interstate 405.

Gov. Inslee signs a bill giving Washington State Troopers pay raises.

Gov. Inslee signs a bill giving Washington State Troopers pay raises.

Inslee also signed a bill giving Washington State Troopers a 5 percent pay raise starting in July. The state patrol has a high number of vacancies, in part because many troopers leave for higher paying jobs at local law enforcement agencies.

“Having worked with this group, they deserve this,” Inslee said before signing the bill in front of a group that included several troopers. “There’s more to come and we’re going to keep working on this.”

Categories: Budget

Senate Republicans release latest supplemental budget proposal

By | March 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

Senate Republicans publicly released a new supplemental budget proposal on Friday that makes a number of changes from the version previously passed off the Senate floor.

It would increase spending in the two-year current budget by $178 million, up from $34 million. It no longer counts savings from a controversial plan to merge the public pension for certain law enforcement officers and firefighters with a pension for retired teachers. And it taps into the rainy day fund to pay $190 million in costs associated with last summer’s wildfires in Eastern Washington.

Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill said it is a “true supplemental budget” that balances over four years and addresses emergencies, while also fixing concerns that were raised with the previous proposal.

Senate Republicans Budget

Senate Republicans speak to media

“You’ll see a number of small issues that people had concerns with on both sides of the aisle that we’ve addressed,” Hill said.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said Democrats identified 15 concerns with the previous Republican proposal. The new version “addresses every single one of them,” he said.

“I think we’ve moved in a number of ways,” Braun said.

Watch TVW video of the Republican press conference here. 

House Democrats in February passed a separate plan off the floor that also uses the rainy day fund for wildfires, but spends significantly more overall and includes pay raises for teachers in an effort to improve the state’s teacher shortage.

House Democrats

House Democrats speak at press conference

House Democrats acknowledged Friday the budget moves closer to their position, but say they are disappointed in the way it was revealed.

Watch TVW video of the Democratic press conference here.

Lead Democratic budget writer Rep. Hans Dunshee said there are “some things in there we like and some places they came in our direction,” but they remain far apart on a few items. 

He said the Republican budget does not address the teacher shortage or women’s reproductive health. It also finds $13 million in savings by making changes to a program for the aged, blind and disabled.

“These are folks who have trouble accessing healthcare system and to move them from plan to plan for what we think is fictitious savings is dangerous for those people,” Dunshee said. 

Democrats say they submitted their latest budget offer to Republicans on Tuesday evening, and did not get a response until hours before the start of the special session on Thursday when they learned of the new Senate Republican plan.

“They spent time crafting their own budget rather than negotiating with us,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan. “Had this offer been made on Tuesday, we could have made substantial progress and maybe even finished our work before the end of session.”

Braun responded by saying Republicans spent those two days “trying to understand how or if [Democrats] were going to come off their current position.” He said Republicans felt it was time to share with the public what they believe the supplemental budget should look like.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on the supplemental budget proposal on Friday. Watch TVW video of the hearing here. 

Categories: Budget

Special session underway after Legislature adjourns without supplemental budget

By | March 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee told lawmakers Thursday evening there will be “no break and no rest” after they failed to come up with a supplemental budget agreement by the end of the regular 60-day session. 

The governor immediately called them into a 30-day special session. He also vetoed 27 bills, following though on a threat he made earlier in the week to veto bills if lawmakers did not finish their job on time.

Among the 27 bills vetoed is one establishing guidelines for growing legal industrial hemp, and another bill that changes rules for how restaurants have to store Asian noodles and Korean rice cakes.

DSC_0788He also signed ten bills that he said have a “common thread of public safety and health and law enforcement.” Those bills include one making epi pens more widely available at places like sports arenas and youth camps, and another that makes vehicular homicide a more serious crime

Read the full list of bill action here.

The governor said lawmakers have made progress on budget talks, but they still fall short. “Given the nature of the numbers involved, there is no reason they should not be able to reach the necessary compromises in the next several days,” he said. 

He also expressed frustration with the recent repeated special sessions.

“Unfortunately it’s become a little bit of a habit for the Legislature, and I don’t believe that habit should continue,” he said. 

Categories: Governors Office

Negotiations set to begin as House, Senate pass supplemental budget proposals

By | February 27, 2016 | 0 Comments

The House and Senate are set to begin negotiations on a final supplemental budget plan following the passage of budget proposals out of both chambers this week. While both budgets fund mental health and wildfires, they remain apart by more than $400 million in overall spending.

capitol_domeThe budget approved by the Democratic-majority House adds about $476 million in spending to the state’s current two-year budget. It raises beginning teacher salaries to $40,000 a year in an attempt to address the state’s teacher shortage.

The budget also taps into the state’s “rainy day” fund to help the homeless and pay for costs related to last year’s devastating wildfires.

Several Republicans spoke in opposition to the budget on the House floor Thursday for using emergency funds to pay for homeless programs.

“Homelessness has been growing for more than a decade,” said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger. “It’s fine to say a supplemental budget is to deal with emergencies, that doesn’t mean that every single thing is suddenly an emergency that has to be solved with it today.”

Democrats argued that homelessness is an emergency that cannot wait until next year’s budget.

“You know, I haven’t heard any objections to the $180 million dollars that we’re investing in this budget to deal with the fires,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “But who is going to tell a 10-year-old kid who is living under an underpass that his or her issue isn’t emergent?”

The House budget passed with a vote of 50 to 47. Watch TVW video of the House floor debate here.

The Republican-controlled Senate took up its supplemental budget on the floor Friday afternoon. It adds about $49 million in spending to the current budget, largely focused on mental health and wildfires. It also provides $6.6 million for charter schools to stay open in Washington after a Washington Supreme Court decision threatened to the close the schools.

Democratic Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe told members she was “extremely disappointed’ by the priorities of the Senate budget.

“We rush to fund charter schools for 1,000 children. I want the same thing for our one million children in our public schools,” McAuliffe said. 

Lead Republican budget writer Sen. Andy Hill said the budget is “smart with the way we spend money” while also addressing emergencies at Western State Hospital and fires.

“This sets us up for a successful, sustainable budget when we do a big one next year,” Hill said. “I think it’s really important that we don’t create a bunch of unfunded liabilities.”

The Senate budget passed with a 25-22 vote. Watch TVW video of the Senate floor debate here. 

The chambers must negotiate a compromise in the remaining two weeks of session.

Categories: Budget

Senate releases proposed supplemental budget

By | February 24, 2016 | 0 Comments

Senate Republicans released a supplemental budget proposal Wednesday that focuses spending on wildfires and mental health, while also restoring money to charter schools to keep the schools open in Washington.

“Not only does it make investments where we need it, but we also have policy and reforms to go along with those investments,” said lead budget writer Sen. Andy Hill at a briefing with reporters.

It does not tap into the state’s “rainy day” fund, which House Democrats have proposed using to pay for homeless programs. Hill said the Senate is instead narrowly focusing on youth homelessness by adding about 52 temporary youth shelter beds.

Sen. Andy Hill and Sen. John Braun

Sen. Andy Hill and Sen. John Braun

The Senate proposal spends $54 million on mental health, including salary increases and extra staffing at Western State Hospital. A geriatric ward at the psychiatric hospital would be moved out of the hospital and put in a private nursing home.

“The whole idea is open up forensic beds in general,” Hill said. 

The budget provides $6.6 million for charter schools out of the Washington Opportunity Pathways Account.

Hill said the charter school funds won’t have an impact on the budget because that money was included at the start of the fiscal year, then removed when the Washington Supreme Court declared charter schools unconstitutional. “Now we’re adding it back in,” he said. 

Senate Republicans say the primary difference between their proposal and the one by House Democrats is the level of spending.

“We spend about $49 million more in this biennium, they spend about $500 million more in this biennium. If you cut right to the chase, they spend 10 times more money than we do in new adds,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia. 

Both supplemental budgets pay for wildfire costs from last year’s season — the Senate includes $173 million, while the House proposal is about $190 million.

Democratic Sen. Sharon Nelson criticized the Republican proposal Wednesday, saying it ignores “key issues important to the vast majority of Washingtonians” including homelessness and the teacher shortage.

“It falls far short of addressing the state’s teacher shortage crisis and does nothing to invest in attracting and retaining quality teachers,” Nelson said in a statement.

Democrats proposed spending $99 million to address the state’s teacher shortage. That includes raising beginning teacher salaries to $40,000 a year.

Read the Senate’s full budget documents at this link. The proposal is scheduled for a hearing at 3:30 on Wednesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Categories: Budget, WA Senate