Inside Opinion

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Tag: Pat McCarthy


Stealing the good bad guys from the Pierce County Jail

As our news staff reported Wednesday, the Pierce County Jail – which is to say, the Pierce County government – is taking a big hit from Tacoma’s decision last December to pull its petty crooks out of the downtown slammer.

Tacoma was the jail’s biggest customer. We’re talking the loss of millions of dollars a year (the city paid $6 million in 2012). The financial crisis is forcing Sheriff Paul Pastor to lay off jail staff, shut down 160 beds and do something creative with the resulting bed shortage. He promised there’d be no Fall-of-Baghdad-style mass release of mad sociopaths.

Pastor, county Executive Pat McCarthy and Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald were in this morning to lay out the dismal facts.

“We don’t fault Tacoma,” McCarthy said, for sending its misdemeanants to Fife’s relatively cheap penal system and leaving its high-maintenance felons – whose incarceration the city doesn’t pay for – in the Pierce County Jail.

But McCarthy really wasn’t delighted with Tacoma. She proceeded to elaborate on the ill consequences of the city’s “shopping around” for jails and the way it let Fife “cherry-pick” the nicer, healthier, less dangerous small-timers.

This is something like the adverse selection that health insurers worry about – getting stuck with the sick, older people when the younger, healthy people decide they don’t want to subsidize all those heart attacks and strokes with their premium dollars. The City of Tacoma is a rational actor. It’s in a budget crisis of its own, and it’s not passing up a chance to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in criminal justice expenses.

The City of Fife’s creative entrepreneurialism should be noted. Its jail has a scant 36 beds, but it’s negotiated for jail space in cities from Des Moines to Sunnyside in Eastern Washington. It then markets these beds to its own customers, now including Tacoma and Lakewood.

Another rational actor. Somebody should be working on Wall Street, not 23rd Street East.
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McCarthy for executive; O’Brien for assessor-treasurer

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

As Lincoln might have said, you can fool 10.7 percent of the people all of the time. At least in Pierce County.

In the August primary, that’s how much of the electorate wanted to give Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam another four years in office. Another four years to break the law, abuse the staff and run up seven-figure legal losses for the taxpayers.

The nightmare in the assessor-treasurer’s office is almost at an end, thanks to the other 89.3 percent. They booted Washam and narrowed the remaining field of candidates to Billie O’Brien

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Give citizens the decision on emergency dispatch tax

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

A new tax to fix Pierce County’s fragmented 911 system could prove a tough sell this November – but let’s allow the voters to decide whether to buy it.

Right now, the County Council is split on whether to put the proposed tenth-of-a-percent sales tax on the ballot. The toughest opposition has come from council members Joyce McDonald and Dan Roach, who represent East Pierce County.

The dispute largely revolves around Puyallup, which has spent $8.5 million improving its emergency dispatch system. Its leaders say the city shouldn’t be forced to pay twice, for their own investment and for the technology of a consolidated county system. They’re also fretting about the fate of the 25 employees who work at Puyallup’s emergency communications center.
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County officials argue – and justice suffers

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The resignation of Judge Michael Hecht Monday didn’t just rid Pierce County Superior Court of a malodorous scandal. It quickly exposed serious fault lines in county government.

A day after Hecht vacated Department 9 – his seat on the bench – the County Council surprised nearly everyone by voting unanimously to eliminate the seat. County Executive Pat McCarthy hadn’t been in the loop; she didn’t hear about the action until after it had happened.

Fault No. 1: Mutual resentment between the county’s executive and legislative branches. McCarthy is a Democrat and the council is Republican-dominated, but this doesn’t seem to be an entirely partisan thing: The council Democrats were part of that unanimous vote.

Some council members have long complained that McCarthy doesn’t work well with them, doesn’t communicate well, etc. Their elimination of Department 9 was clearly driven by deep worries about the county’s dire financial straits. But the way they did it looks a lot like a snub of McCarthy.

Fault No. 2: A split between county Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and both the council and the Superior Court bench. Lindquist has been hesitant to criticize the council, but he made it clear Tuesday that he was unhappy about the loss of Department 9. He’s been working with the bench – successfully, but with some frustrations – to reduce the backlog of criminal cases. The loss of a judge would make that task harder, although Lindquist is optimistic about reaching a cooperative solution.
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Double health plans for $148,000 judges?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

If you’re a judge, you’re a lawyer. If you’re a lawyer, you’ve probably had to defend the indefensible at some point in your career.

That’s the best explanation we can come up with for the way some Pierce County judges are fighting to hang on to the luxury of double medical coverage.
County Executive Pat McCarthy has been scrounging for any kind of savings in her recession-struck budget. One thing she’s targeting is the $182,000 the county pays to extend health insurance to members of the Pierce County Superior Court, all of whom are already covered by the state’s health plan.

You cut that $182,000, and the judges will still have coverage. They just won’t have the almost unparalleled extravagance of coverage by two plans at once, an arrangement that virtually eliminates out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Presiding Judge Bryan Chushcoff (who may be dutifully representing his “clients” on the bench) offers a double-tiered defense.
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Share the cost of health care premiums

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It took the worst recession since the Great Depression to force the issue, but Pierce County may finally do the unthinkable: require workers to share the cost of their own health insurance.

County Executive Pat McCarthy’s 2010 spending plan is a brutal budget for brutal times. But one of the economies it proposes has long been routine in the rest of the world: splitting the cost of premiums with county employees.

Assuming it’s adopted, this would soften the sweeping budget cuts McCarthy is proposing by a cool $3 million.

It’s amazing that any group of employees is getting free coverage these days. Predictably, this group belongs to the public sector. Private employers, facing market discipline, can’t afford such munificence. The most generous private coverage is generally found within large companies – and they require that employees foot at least a quarter of the bill, on average.

Fully paid premiums break budgets in a couple ways.

Up front, they cost the employer a fortune. According to McCarthy, Pierce County spends an average of $1,000 a month on each worker’s health insurance. Dependents are included regardless of whether they qualify for some other insurance plan. Superior court judges have enjoyed double coverage, from both the county and state.
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