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Archives: March 2009


House rejects 911 fee increase; bill failed to get supermajority

Sponsors of House Bill 2029, the measure that would raise the monthly tax for Enhanced 911 emergency telephone service, failed to get the two-thirds majority it needed to pass when it come up for a vote in the House this afternoon.

The bill would boost the monthly fee to 95 cents from 70 cents for telephone customers.

It failed on a 58-39 vote. It needed 66 votes for passage.

Here is the roll call vote on the bill.

Proponents of the measure predict the bill will come up for a vote again before the Legislature

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Budget freezes teacher pay, closes McNeil prison, cut 7,000 jobs and 10,000 college slots, spends less on schools and health

House Democrats will unveil their budget Tuesday and negotiators from the House, Senate and Gov. Chris Gregoire‘s office will continue their behind-the-scenes talks to reconcile differences in their respective spending plans before the Legislature adjourns April 26.

Here’s the story I wrote for Tuesday’s newsprint edition, with some highlights below.

BY Joseph Turner

House Democrats are expected to take a different path to closing an estimated $9 billion gap between state spending and tax collections Tuesday when they release their budget proposal, and it doesn’t include shutting down the state prison on McNeil Island.

"We don’t close McNeil," said state Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, chairwoman of the House General Government Appropriations Committee, which helps set the budget for the state Department of Corrections.

Darneille said Monday the handling of McNeil Island is only one example of how the House and Senate will differ in their approaches to a state spending plan for the next 28 months.

In general, the Senate budget proposes to make deeper cuts in fewer areas of state spending, while the House budget would make shallower cuts to a broader number of programs, she said.

Senate Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 31-18, unveiled their 2009-11 budget Monday. They propose to use $3 billion in federal stimulus funds, part of the Rainy Day savings account, transfers from building and other funds and a wage freeze for 250,000 state and public school employees to narrow the budget gap. Still, they will have to make about $3.85 billion in actual spending cuts to state programs, said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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If 4 of 10 pay $5 parks fee, state raises $11.5 million a year

Faced with the possible closure of 40 parks, lawmakers are looking at imposing a $5 fee on all vehicles, due when you get your license tabs. The voluntary program that is in place today raised only $700,000 last year.

If the program became “opt out” — that is, the money would be collected unless vehicle owners checked a box that said “No,” the state could raise $23 million every two years.

That assumes that 40 percent of vehicles (and their owners) would be participating, according to the state Parks and Recreation Commission.

Stay tuned. It’s budget day.

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House committee votes to give all counties power to tax utilities

This is mostly a progress report on what new taxing authority cities and counties (and transit districts) might be getting from the Legislature this session.

The House Finance Committee on Friday approved on a 5-3 vote a measure that would let King County impose an utility tax of up to 6 percent on all utilities.

Senate Bill 5433 also would let the other 38 counties (including Pierce) levy utilities taxes in unincorporated areas, too, but with more limitations. Those counties could not tax natural gas and could tax electric service a maximum of only 1 percent. It’s a 6 percent limit on water, sewer, telephone and cable.

And those taxes could be imposed on a councilmanic vote. That is, no public vote, just public hearings and then the county council or county commissioners could vote to impose the utility tax.

On the city front, they basically would get more flexibility in how they can use their existing taxes (or taxing authority) — the sales taxes for public safety and mental health-chemical dependency programs.

They also get authority to levy utility taxes on the water and sewer districts inside their cities. Apparently, there are about 47 cities that get their sewer and-or water from a separate utility, 20 of which are in King County. Like Lakehaven provides service to customers inside Federal Way’s city limits. So, if the bill passes, the Federal Way City Council could vote to put a utility tax on Lakehaven’s service.

Edgewood and Milton in Pierce County are among those cities. So are Auburn, Black Diamond, Covington, Des Moines, Kent, Maple Valley, Pacific and Normandy Park.

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Nose touching, cheek smelling endemic to Washington: Let’s honor it, senator says

Some legislators think we need to honor nose touching and cheek smelling behavior, especially among our state’s only endemic mammal.

No, not politicians.

Olympic Marmots.

Sen. Ken Jacobson (D-Seattle) already convinced his colleagues on the Natural Resources, Ocean and Recreation Committee and the Rules Committee to pass his proposed bill.

I doubt anyone knew what endemic meant. I had to look it up. According to dictionary.com, endemic means: Belonging or native to a particular people or country; native as distinguished from introduced or naturalized; hence, regularly or ordinarily occurring in a given region; local.


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Do you care how many birds hit your plane?

There’s been some buzz about this among journalists, so I thought I’d throw it open to everyone — Is the public responsible enough to receive/understand information about how many birds hit airplanes? Do you want to know how many bird strikes there were on planes at Sea-Tac, for example?

Apparently, the FAA doesn’t think the public can handle the truth.

In this Associated Press story, the FAA is arguing it wants to keep the data secret:

The government agency argued that some carriers and airports

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Was WSP out of line on motorcycle lobbying day?

Check out story from our sister paper and You Tube video footage of a state trooper nosing around the bikes.

By Jeremy Pawloski
The Olympian

A lawyer representing several Washington motorcycle groups wrote an angry letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire protesting Washington State Patrol’s recent surveillance activity at the Capitol, photographing license plates of motorcyclists who were there to advocate for issues important to them.

“I may be old school, but I always thought that the Capitol was supposed to be a sanctuary for free speech and assembly, and not an opportunity for clandestine intelligence gathering on citizens trying to be involved in the political process,” Seattle attorney Martin Fox wrote.

Fox distributed his letter to numerous Washington media outlets, along with a DVD with images of a trooper “crawling around the bushes of the Capitol to record license plate numbers of motorcycles into his tape machine,” the letter reads.

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