All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Corruption in the audotor's office

Embattled State Auditor Troy Kelley was back in the news yesterday. Last week a jury found him not guilty of lying to the IRS and deadlocked on the other charges.

The prosecution’s contention, however, is still true: Kelley’s actions to move and conceal millions of dollars were not the actions of someone who was convinced he was innocent.

With the trial over, Kelley apparently thinks that it’s now time to settle scores. He forced two Auditor employees to resign this week and is requiring another to do no work until his retirement later this month.

Kelley's motive seems to be punishing those he deems insufficiently loyal to him during the awkward time during his indictment and trial, when Auditor’s Office employees had to muddle through as best they could.

Deputy Auditor Jan Jutte, who ran the office admirably during Kelley’s absence, told the News Tribune, “I don't know what's going on. I have a lot of staff who are living in fear, asking what they should do, and I don't have any advice for them.” It’s just one more example of how Washington will be better off without Troy Kelley in office.

-Rob McKenna

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Washignton state 2015 measures election results

The People decided the following initiatives (The results are not final at this time):

The People approved Initiative 1366 concerning state taxes and fees. This measure would decrease the sales tax rate unless the legislature refers to voters a constitutional amendment requiring two-thirds legislative approval or voter approval to raise taxes, and legislative approval for fee increases. 

The People approved Initiative 1401 concerning trafficking of animal species threatened with extinction. This measure would make selling, purchasing, trading, or distributing certain animal species threatened with extinction, and products containing such species, a gross misdemeanor or class-C felony, with exemptions for certain types of transfers. (My 100 year old Steinway piano, which has keys made from elephant ivory, cannot be sold legally anymore.)

The People were also asked to advise the legislature on four matters.

Advisory Vote No. 10 Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1449, oil spill response and administration taxes, should be repealed.

Advisory Vote No. 11 Second Substitute Senate Bill 5052, marijuana excise tax on medical marijuana sales, should be maintained.

Advisory Vote No. 12 Second Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5987, additional taxes on motor vehicle and special fuels, should be repealed.

Advisory Vote No. 13 Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6138m, increased business and occupation tax revenues and excluded certain software manufacturers from a retail sales tax exemption, should be repealed.

There were two legislative positions decided:  You can find them here.

Three judgeships were decided.  You can see the results here.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Legislative interim update, Oct. 7

Much of the interim news has been focused on education. The Washington State Supreme Court has issued a second controversial ruling. The most recent being that the state's voter-approved charter-schools are unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court ruled charter schools don't qualify as "common" schools under our state constitution and cannot receive state funding.

The court's ruling affects about 1,200 students and their families, and may impact other educational programs such as Running Start and skill centers that provide career and technical education for high school students. Traditional, public schools aren't the answer for all students. Our charter schools provide greater flexibility in order to respond to students’ needs.

The timing of their latest ruling was unsettling. The state Supreme Court decided to issue its ruling on the Friday before a Labor Day weekend with many schools already in session. They had the case for more than a year, yet chose to issue a ruling at a time that may be the most disruptive, and not when the Legislature could possibly address the Court's concerns.

The Legislature is looking at options. There is support for charter schools from both Republicans and Democrats. We will be looking at a legislative fix when we return to Olympia in January.

There is still a chance this may get resolved before the Legislature needs to act. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has also urged the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

McCleary update K-12 funding increases

In my last email update I touched on the  latest McCleary ruling from Aug. 13. You will recall the state Supreme Court wants to fine the Legislature $100,000 per day for violating the court's McCleary decision on funding education. They are also demanding the Legislature return to Olympia for another special session.

With recent teacher strikes around the state, along with the latest McCleary ruling, it is worth reiterating a few points regarding the Legislature's work and the Court’s order.

  • Our state remains on track for full compliance of the 2012 McCleary order by the original 2018 deadline.
  • By directing appropriations under McCleary the court is trying to do the job of the Legislature, which is outside of its constitutional powers. Only the Legislature has the constitutional vested power to appropriate public monies.
  • The operating budget provided historic increases in K-12 education (see chart) and was one of the greatest bipartisan budgets in decades.
  • The spending plan included cost-of-living increases for teachers, made major investments in early learning and expands all-day kindergarten, reduces class sizes in grades K-3.
  • The capital budget included $200 million for classroom construction.

My colleagues continue to advocate for a "Fund Education First" solution which would require the Legislature to pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriation. This would ensure we are putting education and our children first when it comes down to the budgeting process.

Wildfire update

I want to commend our first responders for their efforts during the devastating wildfires this year. Without their efforts, things could have been much worse. I spent a lot of time on the front lines of the fires in Chelan and Okanogan counties and they should be commended.

That said, I expect us to look at further improvements with our state agencies and collaborative efforts with the federal government to manage and fight wildfires. All of us have a vested interest in preserving our environment and protecting our natural resources.

The unfortunate realities of the current drought and wildfire season remind us of the need for efficient management. We must continue to focus on long-term solutions such as clearing our forests of debris and undergrowth, and disease management.

Cary Condotta

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Washington state Supreme Court fines legislature?

The Washington state Supreme Court earned a lot of attention this week for its ruling on sanctions against the Legislature, which the Court previously found in contempt of court. The Court’s fine of $100,000 a day is eye-popping, but from a practical standpoint is actually small potatoes compared to the billions our state spends every year on K-12 schools.

Curiously, the Court backtracked this week on a central tenet of the original McCleary ruling (for an explanation on this and other issues, see “Supreme Court ruling on education is a head-scratcher”). In the original 2012 ruling, the Court said that K-12 funding needs to be “ample”, “uniform”, and “stable”. Now the Court seems focused only on “ample provision” and said it has “no opinion” on whether levy reform is needed to make school funding uniform around the state.

The News Tribune is as confused by this as many others, writing: “The justices might have helped the cause of levy reform by re-emphasizing what they said in 2012. Failing that, they might have at least said nothing. Instead their inexplicable ‘no opinion’ will actively undermine efforts to fix the greatest inequity in Washington public education.” In its role as a clarifier, the Court failed this week. It only made the Legislature’s remaining job more confusing.

-Rob McKenna

Friday, July 17, 2015

Olympia approved a $38 billion operating budget.

On Friday, July 10, after 176 days of session, the Washington State Legislature finally adjourned after completing its official business. The Legislature approved a $38 billion operating budget.

Operating budget - the good
As with any budget compromise, there is going to be good and bad. In the end, I decided to vote for the operating budget because of the historic nature of the spending plan - largest education budget in state history, first-ever tuition reduction, and important funding for our mentally ill. And, when you look at the final product many felt it had a Republican feel to it. Not easy to do when you have a Democratic governor and a Democrat majority in the House led by Frank Chopp, the longest sitting speaker in state history. Here are some budget highlights:
  • invests an additional $1.3 billion in K-12 basic education to meet the McCleary court decision;
  • reduces class size in grades K-3;
  • provides a cost-of-living raise for teachers and state employees;
  • reduces the cost of tuition at the state’s four-year colleges and universities and two-year community colleges, a huge win for students and middle-class families;
  • makes significant investments in treatment and capacity for our mentally ill and preserves our health and human services safety net;
  • increases funding for state parks; and
  • accomplishes these things with NO major taxes increases - capital gains, carbon, cap and trade, bottled water and most B&O tax proposals were taken off the table.

The bad
Some of the aspects of the budget I am concerned with and hope will be addressed in future budget negotiations:
  • takes money out of the state Public Works Trust Fund - the account our local governments rely on for infrastructure and construction projects;
  • it establishes a click through nexus for purposes of collecting B&O and retail sales taxes on internet businesses; and
  • it increases spending more than necessary.
The ugly

I am disappointed the Legislature passed a $16 billion transportation gas tax revenue package. Taxpayers in Washington state will pay about $13.60 in state and federal gas taxes every time they pull up to the gas pump for 20 gallons of gas. It will be the second highest gas tax in the nation when it is fully implemented. It isn't just the gas tax either - we will see weight and license fee increases, and this plan falls disproportionately on the residents in rural areas who commute long distances.
I do not believe the state Department of Transportation has proven efficient enough to warrant this level of spending and debt. We are working on alternative finance options for next year.

Session politics
There was a great deal of frustration from constituents, as well as us legislators, on how long we were in session. However, some things are worth fighting for and it was important we hold the line. Remember in December Gov. Inslee and House Democrats were proposing tax increases of up to $1.5 billion. Instead we got a budget with no major tax increases.

That said, political gamesmanship did rear its ugly head in the last couple weeks. After a budget agreement had been reached, leaders from both parties and chambers stood with the governor to announce that agreement. That agreement should have been honored. I am pleased to see the actions by the Senate Democrats did not go unnoticed by the press:
The Columbian editorial: Senate Dems’ action stinks (July 5, 2015)
  • “As Senate Democrats last week blew a $2 billion hole in the just-approved state operating budget, they exposed the seamy underbelly of political gamesmanship, eschewing compromise and negotiation in favor of extortion. The result is a steaming mess for taxpayers.”
  • “Nobody wins from further delaying the process, save for Democrats who wish to pander to the Washington Education Association, which supports I-1351.”
The Seattle Times editorial: Senate budget breakdown over 1-1351: Get back to work (July 3, 2015)
  • “The whole state has to wait for the Senate Democratic leadership to line up. Disappointingly, that group, led by Minority Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island and Deputy Leader Andy Billig of Spokane, reneged on a hard-won budget deal contingent on delaying the implementation of Initiative 1351. Confoundingly, both stood by the governor and their House and Senate counterparts at a June 27 news conference to announce a deal — before working to undermine it.”
The Wenatchee World editorial: A state budget worth the wait (July 5, 2015)
  • “Undermining significant bipartisan accomplishments on the operating budget, using the impossible Initiative 1351 as leverage, only discredits the Senate Democrats.”
  • “The holdouts say they only want attention for a bill to revamp mandatory testing and high school graduation requirements. If so, they choose a tantrum with consequences way out of proportion to their goal. They stand in the way of a budget that is in most ways an important accomplishment for the state and its people. They should step aside.”
- Cary Condotta

What other people read on this blog

Effing the ineffable - Washington State elections sometimes have been rigged.

“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
-- Joseph Stalin