Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Tag: Washington Legislature

June
4th

Pierce County Jail crisis demands legislative fix

PIERCE COUNTY JAIL
Tacoma’s transfer of misdemeanants to Fife has put the Pierce County Jail in a budget crisis. (Staff file photo)

When cities and counties have a serious conflict they can’t settle among themselves, it’s really a state problem. The Legislature should start paying attention to the predicament of the Pierce County Jail.

That predicament is a result of municipalities acting in their own interests and the interests of their citizens — good local impulses that add up to a bad regional result.

It started in 2009 when the City of Lakewood began moving its low-level offenders and arrestees from the Pierce County Jail to cities that ran cheaper lockups, including Fife’s 36-bed operation.

Pierce County rolled with that punch. But then, in December, the City of Tacoma — the county’s biggest jail “customer” — decided to do likewise, diverting its own misdemeanants to Fife’s jurisdiction. This left the county reeling with the loss of millions of dollars; Sheriff Paul Pastor is now ordering the closure of two 84-bed dorms at the jail and elimination of as many as 30 jobs there.

Tacoma and Lakewood officials are grabbing savings dangling in front of their noses. Fife officials are doing something more imaginative: turning their small city into a big-time broker of jail capacity.

They’ve recently bargained for available beds in Yakima, Wapato, Sunnyside and the South Correctional Entity in Des Moines; they’re brokering those beds to Lakewood and Tacoma.

This wouldn’t hurt the county so much if Lakewood and Tacoma were sending all their people to Fife. What they are actually doing is saddling the Pierce County Jail with their felons, accused felons and severely mentally ill, who cost much more to control, guard and treat.

The county had been able to subsidize those costs with city reimbursements for petty offenders. Now the shift of those cheaper arrestees to the Fife archipelago is allowing Tacoma and Lakewood to pocket the difference — and leaving the Pierce County Jail bleeding from the pockets.

Aside from the financial crisis for the county, there’s a potential threat to public safety. Had those two 84-bed pods been unavailable last week, for example, the Pierce County Jail wouldn’t have had the capacity to house the inmates who were actually in it.

When the pods do close, some criminals who belong behind bars might instead wind up in home-monitoring or some other more relaxed arrangement. Relaxed arrangements are not great deterrents to crime.
Read more »

May
3rd

In Olympia, lobbyists grab the tab – and the connection

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Thank heaven for public disclosure. Without it, Washingtonians might not know how their lawmakers avoid starvation in the middle of a legislative session.

They do get hungry, as evidenced by the $200,000 lobbyists spent this year wining, dining and entertaining them after exhausting days of committee hearings and floor votes. With a special session coming up, lobbyists and legislators alike will be licking their chops for more.

There’s nothing wrong with lobbying per se. Citizens have every right to let officials know what they want from the Legislature. In fact, political speech and petitioning the government are guaranteed by First Amendment.

But it can be unseemly and suspicious when – as Austin Jenkins of Northwest News Network reported last week – lawmakers are eating steak with special interest reps by night while the Legislature’s making sausage by day.

The restaurant tab isn’t really the point. It reflects coziness more than it creates it.

One of Olympia’s top lobbyists, Steve Gano of Lakewood, is disarmingly honest about the game. The dinners, he told Jenkins, are about “getting to know folks on a one-to-one basis.”

That translates into access, a precious commodity when laws are being shaped.
Read more »

Oct.
1st

Any new state tax must spare economy, satisfy voters

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Some Democrats are whispering the T-word – taxes – as falling state revenues threaten public education and human services that are helping the poor, the sick and abused keep their heads above water.

It’s a conversation that must happen. The September revenue forecast blew a $2 billion hole in what was already a bleak biennial budget. On the chopping block, potentially, is funding for community colleges and state universities that have already been savagely whacked, property-poor school districts and community supervision of dangerous felons.

Thousands of children, domestic violence victims and

Read more »

Sep.
17th

Lawmakers, governor face brutal budget triage

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

“I’d like to assure you this nightmare will end. But I don’t see an end in sight.”

That’s precisely what you don’t want to hear from the state’s chief economist, Arun Raha. His new revenue forecast has blown a $1.4 billion hole in the state’s biennial budget, which was already packed with an abundance of suffering. And $1.4 billion is actually an understatement: The necessity of restoring a prudent reserve makes this a nearly $2 billion problem.

The only faint hope Raha offered was the possibility of a 4.4 percent revenue bump

Read more »

Feb.
5th

What real medical marijuana would look like

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Tacoma City Council has done itself proud. Its decision to tolerate illegal medical marijuana sales has borne fruit in a pot shop at one of the city’s iconic family and tourist attractions, Freighthouse Square.

Hello, San Francisco. This is what the future holds – especially in Tacoma, apparently – if cannabis advocates succeed in expanding and privileging the fast-and-loose industry that medical marijuana is rapidly becoming in Washington.

Some lawmakers are actually pushing a bill that would loosen already-lax prescribing rules, legalize commercial sales, sanction large-scale grow operations and give users extraordinary legal protections against child-custody complaints, workplace anti-drug policies and law enforcement.

That’s precisely where medical marijuana should not be taken in this state.

But the Legislature could do much to clean up the current mess and help legitimate patients – simply by treating medical marijuana as medicine.

Cannabis does help some patients whose conditions can’t be relieved by other treatments, and some ethical doctors will recommend it in those narrow cases. But if it’s medicine, its purveyors shouldn’t be allowed to operate outside the rules that control the abuse and misuse of other potent drugs.

For example, the fly-by-night clinics that mass-produce marijuana authorization documents for patients – often on flimsy medical pretexts – are not required to maintain detailed medical records. That makes auditing and enforcement extremely difficult. The laxity taints the credibility of every authorization in the state.
Read more »

Nov.
22nd

The state budget crisis has become a budget emergency

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Lawmakers have often promised to bring a hard-nosed, results-oriented, “everything on the table” approach to writing the state budget.

Occasionally they’ve partially delivered. Mostly they’ve claimed they were delivering while leaving sacred cows untouched.

This time is different. As of last week’s revenue forecast, state government was short $900 million of what it needs to continue the state’s existing programs and services at existing levels. It is short a staggering $5.7 billion over the biennium that begins in July. And that’s after the 2010 Legislature made tough cuts in some programs.

The immediate challenge is to carve the $900 million out of the current biennial budget – close to a billion dollars worth of pain crammed into seven short months. Gov. Chris Gregoire has already covered $520 million of that, crudely, by imposing 6.3 percent across-the-board cuts.

That’s the worst possible way to cut a budget, but she was forced to do it because lawmakers refused to meet in special session to make adjustments last summer. Their foot-dragging made the problem considerably worse.
Read more »

April
21st

New talk about a state income tax

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Taxes are best spread like peanut butter, wide and thin, across the economy.

The wide part argues for a state income tax, which theoretically would allow for reductions in Washington’s sales, property and business taxes. It’s obviously not a good idea to penalize shopping, job creation or home-ownership by making them excessively expensive.

It’s the thin part that has always gotten income tax proposals in trouble in this state. Historically, Washingtonians simply don’t trust lawmakers to ratchet down other taxes to the extent that they ratchet up taxes on income. Initiative 1077, which would package an income tax as a squeeze-the-rich plan, is already running afoul of this ingrained suspicion.

Bill Gates Sr. – patriarch of a notably comfortable family – is championing the initiative campaign on a sort of Nixon-to-China basis. He’s a poster child of the upper-income brackets I-1077 would target: The measure would impose a 5 percent tax on individuals earning between $200,000 and $500,000 a year, and 9 percent on income above that.

For a much broader class of Washingtonians, there’s a sweetener: a 20 percent rollback in the state’s share of the property tax.

But the initiative also comes festooned with a pre-painted bull’s eye, which opponents are already zeroing in on. No initiative can amend the Washington Constitution; I-1077 can only create statute. A statute can be changed down the road at the whim of the Legislature.
Read more »

March
28th

FDA should get tough on indoor tanning

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

It’s a shame that state Rep. Jeannie Darneille’s bill to regulate and restrict the indoor tanning industry didn’t get very far in this year’s legislative session.

Her bill would have required that indoor tanning businesses be licensed and inspected as they are in most other states – and as other personal care businesses such as hair salons already are in Washington. Most importantly, it would have banned the use of indoor tanning beds by anyone under 18 without a doctor’s prescription.

That last provision was especially important, because experts say indoor tanning is the main reason doctors are seeing more advanced cases of potentially deadly melanoma in younger and younger victims – and mostly in women because they’re more likely to use tanning beds. Cancers that dermatologists once saw mostly in old men are now showing up in twentysomethings and even teenagers.
Read more »