"The 2009 BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS REPORT provides basic information about boards, commissions, and committees in state government. State law requires the report to assist in promoting legislative and executive oversight of these organizations. This is the sixteenth biennial edition of the publication.
The information in this report covers the period from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009. During the 2009 Legislative Session a number of boards were eliminated or consolidated by executive order or legislation. A list of those boards is attached and, if the board submitted a report for this period, a note is also included on that report .!
In 2009, 449 boards, commissions, councils, committees, and similar groups in state government provided information for this report."
Boards and Commissions were required to provide the following information for the report:
For most voters across the nation today is Election Day. In Washington State, however, today marks the beginning of election week(s) and the possibility for some close races, election month.
In most states mail-in ballots must either be received by Election Day or must be dropped off before the polls close. Washington, however, only requires that a ballot be postmarked by Election Day. This policy unnecessarily complicates the tabulation of votes and can leave the results of close races a mystery for weeks.
With the state's ongoing move to close all poll locations, it is time to require all ballots be received on Election Day. This is exactly what Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming require. North Carolina goes a step further requiring absentee ballots to be returned by 5 p.m. the day before the elec!
Secretary of State Sam Reed supports requiring mail in ballots to be turned in by Election Day. Speaking on his behalf, Elections Director Nick Handy told the Associated Press last year “We believe it builds greater trust and confidence in the system.”
Despite having the Secretary of State’s support, bills introduced in the past to make this change have died. This year the Secretary of State's request bills (SB 5631 and HB 1623) were not acted on by the Legislature. Here is the bill summary for HB 1623:
"Absentee ballots must be received by the county auditor by 8:00 p.m. on the day of the primary or election in order to be valid. For out-of-state voters, overseas voters and service voters, the d!
ate on the return envelope to which the voter attested must be!
no later than the day of the primary or election in order for the ballot to be valid.
The tabulation of absentee ballots may commence at 8:00 a.m. on the Monday immediately before the day of the primary or election. The tabulation results must be held in secrecy until after 8:00 p.m. on the day of the primary or election."
This election reform should be considered again next year.
The State Auditor's Office (SAO) acts as the eyes of citizens to help ensure state and local governments are operating in an accountable, transparent and effective manner. To help lead by example, staff at SAO met last week to focus on strategic planning and performance measures planning session for the agency.
I had the opportunity to sit in on the sessions and was very impressed with the direction SAO is heading.
Earlier this year the Office of Financial Management (OFM) issued an assessment of the performance measures SAO was using for its activities. OFM said:
With two possible exceptions, the current performance measures in the Performance Measure Tracking System (PMT) should be replaced with outcome/result measures that are more relevant to a budget/policy development audience. In particular, survey results a!
nd the cost of performing the audits in relation to the size of the audited entity, are better as internal performance management perspectives. This assessment offers suggestions about the types of measurement topics that would tell a more complete and compelling performance story.
A performance measure is a quantifiable expression of the amount, cost, or result of activities that indicate how well, and at what level, services are provided.
Performance measures provide a snapshot of current performance capabilities and track whether actual performance is getting better, !
staying the same, or getting worse over time.
isn’t a performance measure?
Statements of what you intend to do or how you intend to do it. (Goals, objectives, and strategies)
Performance questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”
A timeline of when something will be accomplished
The responses from a survey
What are the Attributes of Good Performance Measures?
Relevance - Useful to an external audience of stakeholders to assess the level of accomplishment
Understandability - Clear, concise, and easy for a non-expert to understand
Comparability - Do the data, targets, and footnotes provide the reader with enough context to tell whether performance is getting better, worse, or staying the same?
Timeliness - Is the data current and reported frequently enough to be of value in assessing accountability and making decisions?
Consistency - Is the data collection method standardized and is the operational definition for data calculations adhered to?
Reliability - Is the information verifiable, free from bias, and a faithful representation of what it purports to represent?
Performance - Is actual performance in reference to the stated targets getting better, worse, or staying the same over time?
All agencies (state and local) should undergo the same type of self-reflection as SAO to help improve their performance measures. Doing so will allow elected officials to have access to meaningful performance data to help guide budget decisions.
The Open Government Task Force
created by State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Attorney General Rob McKenna
will have its final meeting on November 2 to vote on recommendations to
improve enforcement of the state's open government laws. Currently the
only option available to citizens is to file a lawsuit if they disagree
with an agency's opinion on whether a record should be disclosed.
State Auditor Brian Sonntag noted at the October 5 Task Force meeting
that there has to be a better way for citizens to access government records
without having to resort to lawsuits. Attorney General Rob McKenna
agreed highlighting the fact that every other area of law has an
administrative mechanism for addressing concerns. The reason is
administrative mechanisms are faster and more cost effective than
relying solely on court relief. Unfortunately, Washington lacks this
type of recourse for enforcement of the state’s open government laws.
1) The Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act provide rights to the public for access to public records and meetings. The purpose of these laws is to allow the public access to public records and meetings. The courts are not always the best method for enforcing these rights and may be extremely expensive and slow. The added costs and uncertain liability of agencies subject to litigation are a growing concern.
2) There is a critical need for an independent administrative oversight agency to enforce the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act with the purpose of providing an inexpensive, expedited, and clear process for resolving disputes.
3) The independent oversight agency should have authority to adopt rules pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act to provide clear guidelines for an appeal process, and to issue advisory opinions interpreting the laws to provide clarity on agency duties. The oversight agency should make this information available on its website with other relevant information. The oversight agency should submit an annual report to the legislature on its activities, and recommend legislative reform.
4) Training should be mandatory for designated agency officials for the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act. It would greatly reduce the concern over litigation. The oversight agency should provide periodic training, and make training materials available free on its website.
5) The independent oversight agency may be governed either by:
style="margin-left: 80px;">a) A single independent director ap!
pointed by the Governor who hires appeals officers to manage and decide appeals, and has a term set by law and may only be removed for cause, or
b) It may be governed by a commission.
6) The process for utilizing an appeal to an oversight agency should be expedited. The oversight agency should have a short period set by law to issue a final ruling on any docketed appeal, and a process for requesting immediate rulings on simple issues in less than the period set by law. The oversight agency should have discretion on granting any request for a hearing, and/or conduct a confidential in camera review.
7) The existing legal right to initiating an action under the Public Records Act in superior court applies to any person having been denied an opportunity to inspect or copy a public record, and also for an agency or its representative, or a pers!
on who is named in the record or to whom the record specifically pertains. RCW 42.56.540 – 550. That existing legal right should be extended for any appeal to an oversight agency by a person denied a record, an agency or its representative, or a person who is named in the record or to whom the record specifically pertains.
8) The costs for using the appeals process of the oversight agency should be minimal or none for filing an appeal, and there should be no award of attorney fees, costs, or penalties to a prevailing party at the administrative level.
9) A ruling by the oversight agency is binding on the parties, enforceable in court, and subject to an appeal and de novo review by a court of general jurisdiction. The oversight agency should not be named as a defendant in any appeal to superior court.
10) Use of the adm!
inistrative appeals process of the oversight agency should be encourage!
d to resolve disputes. There may still be a need in emergencies or for other fundamentally apparent reasons to initiate a lawsuit in superior court rather than filing an administrative appeal. A requirement to exhaust an administrative appeal with an oversight agency prior to appealing in superior court would end an existing legal right of the people created by initiative to bring an action directly before an independently elected judge. Therefore a process that allows the option of filing a direct action in superior court should be retained.
11) Adequate funding is vital to allow any oversight agency to successfully perform its work. Funding should be from a dedicated source.
While an administrative appeals option should be pursued, WPC believes it is very important that the right of citizens to go directly to court for relief not be infringed. Here is the video of our comments at the October 5 meeting:
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The Spokesman Review this morning highlighted an October 15 memo from the Office of Financial Management to state agencies asking agencies to identify which of their activities are mandatory. As reported by the Spokesman Review:
Washington state agencies have been ordered to compile a list of their tasks – and whether they’re required by federal law or the state constitution – in preparation for budget cuts next year.
An Oct. 15 memo from the state Office of Financial Management, the governor’s budget agency, tells all agency directors to describe the work their agency does, the number of employees the work takes and the amount it costs the state’s general fund.
Most agencies must submit their reports by today, although the Department of Social and!
Health Services, one of the state’s biggest agencies, has until next week.
Agencies must indicate whether mandated activities are required by a constitutional provision, federal statute or court decision or by a requirement of the federal Recovery Act, or are “essential for preventing loss of life, addressing imminent issues of public safety or avoiding immediate and catastrophic loss of state property.”
The agencies must report whether functions not covered by those requirements, and therefore “non-mandatory,” are required by state statute or a contract such as a labor agreement, necessary to secure federal matching funds, or work that generates money for the state.
Here are additional details from the OFM memo (in part):
tember 23, I sent instructions for 2010 supplemental budget su!
bmittals that communicated the need for information regarding “mandatory” General Fund-State activities.
I have attached a spreadsheet that shows a list of activities for your agency that have been identified (via the Activity Inventory) as being supported all, or in part, by General Fund appropriations. We are now asking that you distinguish which, if any, activities are mandatory. For this purpose, “mandatory” is defined as an activity that meets one or more of the following criteria:
1. required by constitutional mandates, court decisions, or federal law;
2. required by Maintenance of Effort provisions under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009;
3. essential for preventing loss of life, addressing imminent issues of public safety, or avoiding immediate and catastrophic loss of state property; or
4. necessary for the governance of mandato!
OFM will use this information as part of consideration of the Governor’s 2010 supplemental budget proposal. We may ask for additional data or decision packages as necessary to expand on policy outcomes and other implications. A designation of “mandatory” or “non-mandatory” does not automatically translate into any particular budget decision. We know that many agencies will not have any activities that are considered mandatory under this narrow definition. This information is being requested because it is clear the state will need to focus on the most essential services as the budget is further adjusted to new revenue projections.
In the new donation program, vehicle owners’ license tab renewal notices have an automatic $5 donation added to the total due. Those who do not wish to make the donation simply subtract it from the total due, as outlined on state Department of Licensing renewal notices and payment coupons.
The Legislature projected that State Parks would need $28 million in donations over the two-year budget period starting July 1, to make its budget and keep state parks open. The program started with September renewals, leaving only 22 collection months instead of!
24. Because of this, the agency needs to collect an average of $1.25 million each month over two years to meet its budget. The September 30 total includes donations that were made in July and August – from people who paid their September renewals early and from some who made donations under the preceding donation program.
Despite the dramatic increase in the number of motorists contributing to state parks, the new opt-out provision has not been without controversy.
In fact, whether opt-in or opt-out, it is difficult to see the nexus
between motor vehicles and fees for state parks. Perhaps some of these
proposals for park funding should be considered instead: Securing the Future of Washington's State Parks
The Department of Revenue (DOR) today published an updated comparison of state and local tax rankings. According to DOR's press
Washington ranks 26th highest nationally in state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income, and 32nd highest in property taxes, according to newly released federal data covering Fiscal Year 2007.
Washingtonians paid $109.25 in state and local taxes per $1,000 of personal income, compared to a national average of $113.32. Of that, $29.25 went to property taxes, compared to a national average of $34.04.
Washington ranked 15th in state and local taxes per capita at $4,269, $35 more than the national average of $4,234. Washington ranked 27th per capita in property taxes at $1,143, $129 less than the national average of $1,272.
The FY 2007 figures do not reflect the current downturn in the economy, which largely won’t show up until the Fiscal Year 2009 information is available for all states.
The Department’s annual report, Comparative State/Local Taxes, is ba!
sed on data published by the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis. The full report is available here.
Here are a couple of tables of note from the report:
No other program considerations cause fees to be inappropriate
As noted by the State Auditor, all of these best practices can be used by other agencies.
Here is the video of Commerce's testimony today responding to the audit:
The new fee policy Commerce is developing in response to the performance audit could serve as a good model for other agencies. Especially against the backdrop of the current budget situation, the state should have a fee policy based on best practices in place to help determine which services can be switched from general fund support to a direct user-fee model.
Weaknesses in the economy and financial markets—and the government’s response to them—have contributed to near-term increases in federal deficits, which reached a record level in fiscal year 2009. While a lot of attention has been given to the recent fiscal deterioration, the federal government faces even larger fiscal challenges that will persist long after the return of financial stability and economic growth. GAO’s simulations continue to show escalating levels of debt that illustrate that the long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable. In little over 10 years, debt held by the public as a percent of GDP un!
der our Alternative simulation is projected to exceed the historical high reached in the aftermath of World War II and grow at a steady rate thereafter . . .
Another way to measure the long-term fiscal challenge is the fiscal gap. The fiscal gap is the size of action needed—in terms of tax increases, spending reductions, or some combination of the two—for debt as a share of GDP to equal today’s ratio at the end of a certain period, such as 75 years. For example, under our Alternative simulation, the fiscal gap is 8.5 percent of GDP (or more than $62 trillion in present value dollars). This means that revenue would have to increase by about 47 percent or noninterest spending would have to be reduced by 33 percent on average over the next 75 years to keep debt at the end of the period from exceeding its level at the beginning of 2009 (40.8 percent of GDP).
Policymakers could phase in the policy changes so that the tax increases or spending cuts wou!
ld grow over time and allow people to adjust. However, the lon!
ger action to deal with the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook is delayed, the greater the risk that the eventual changes will be disruptive and destabilizing. Under our Alternative simulation, waiting even 10 years would require a revenue increase of about 58 percent, a noninterest spending cut of about 39 percent, or some combination of the two.
The Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court has ruled for Secretary of State Sam Reed in the dispute whether or not to release the R-71 petitions in response to a public records request. Here is the Court's order:
The court, after consideration of the record and briefs of the parties, and oral argument, has determined that the district court’s Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction (the “Preliminary Injunction Order”), filed September 10, 2009, relies on an incorrect legal standard and, therefore, must be reversed.
It is therefore ordered:
1. Appellants’ motion for a stay pending ap!
peal is granted and the Preliminary Injunction Order is hereby stayed, effective immediately, pending final resolution of these appeals.
2. An opinion setting forth the reasons for the court’s reversal of the Preliminary Injunction Order shall be issued expeditiously and in due course.
This court previously held that the PRA does not apply to the judiciary and the legislature acquiesced to that decision by not modifying the PRA. We see no reason to violate the doctrine of stare decisis here. The trial court correctly held that the PRA does not require the City to release the judicial records requested by Koenig, and we affirm.
Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Justice Debra Stephens dissented saying:
="blockquote" style="margin-left: 40px;">In the end, I believe we do a disservice to interpret the PRA, a broad mandate for open government, to exempt entirely the judicial branch of government. Nast is not stare decisis on this question, and courts plainly meet the statutory definition of “agency” in RCW 42.56.010. It seems to me the PRA speaks for itself:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy and to assure that the public interest will be fully protected. In the event o!
f conflict between the provisions of this chapter and any othe!
r act, the provisions of this chapter shall govern.
Based on today's decision it is now up to the Legislature to overturn this court carved exemption from open government and amend the law to explicitly say the third branch of government (judiciary) is subject to the same disclosure requirements as the other two (executive and legislative).
The state Sunshine Committee this morning unanimously adopted a recommendation that any new exemptions from public disclosure undergo a sunset review. Here is the recommendation as adopted by the Committee:
The Committee makes the following recommendations for new legislation:
1. The Legislature incorporate all existing and further exemptions into the Public Records Act by express reference.
2. The Legislature limit all future exemptions to a term of five years and be that such exemptions be examined by JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee), the Sunshine Committee, or other competent body, a year prior to their expiration on a case by case basis to determine if they merit reauthorization or should be eliminated or revised.
Be it Resolved that it is the sense of this committee that all
exemptions to the Public Records Act and any statutory basis to
withhold information or records be eliminated after two years unless
specifically reauthorized by the Legislature with the exception of
those ten included in the original legislation; and that the
Legislature examine all of the eliminated exemptions individually, and
Further, that all future exemptions be limited to a term of two years
and be examined by the Legislature upon their expiration on a case by
case basis to determine if they merit reauthorization or should be
eliminated or revised.
Tim Eyman's initiative that would limit government spending could hurt Washington's credit rating, which would cost the state tens of millions of dollars, state Treasurer James McIntire says . . . McIntire said credit ratings consider numerous factors, including initiatives like Eyman's.
"They want to know how your economy is doing, they want to how your revenues are doing, they want to know what your balance sheet looks like...and they ask about things like initiatives," he said in an interview. "Any!
thing that restricts taxes or spending, that's going to have a long-term structural impact to come to resolution about financial management, is something that they worry about."
Credit raters like Moody's say "Voter initiative activity adds element of fiscal uncertainty,” and is a challenge for the state, but the adoption of a tax or spending restriction did not make Moody's list of things that would reduce the state's credit rating. According to Moody's July 10 report on Washington's credit outlook:
What would change the rating - UP
Sustained trend of structural budget balance, plus restoration and maintenance of strong reserve levels.
Economic expansion and improved industry diversification.
Reduction of debt ratios to levels closer to Moody's 50-state medians.
What could change the rating - DOWN
Deeper and longer recession that restrains consumer confidence, leading to prolonged revenue weakness and employment erosion.
Protracted structural budget imbalance.
Increased reliance on one-time budget solutions.
Cash flow narrowing, leading to strained liquidity.
Failure to adopt plan to cover expenditures once federal fiscal stimulus monies are no longer available.
Perhaps the reason adoption of a tax or spending restriction didn't make the list is the fact Washington already has both. In fact, the state's credit rating didn't drop after passage of I-601 (tax and spending restriction) in 1993 or I-960 (tax restriction) in 2007.
Based on the criteria described by Moody's, it looks like the biggest devil for the state’s credit rating will be whether or not the state lays out a plan for balancing the budget once the federal bailout funds are gone and stops resorting to one-time fixes.
The Open Government Task Force created by State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Attorney General Rob McKenna met this morning to discuss alternative ways to enforce the state's open government laws. Currently the only option available to citizens is to file a lawsuit if they disagree with an agency's opinion on whether a record should be disclosed.
Opening the meeting State Auditor Brian Sonntag noted there has to be a better way for citizens to access government records without having to resort to lawsuits. Attorney General Rob McKenna agreed highlighting the fact that every other area of law has an administrative mechanism for addressing concerns. The reason is administrative mechanisms are faster and more cost effective than relying solely on court relief. Unfortunately, Washington lacks this type of recourse!
for enforcement of the state’s open government laws.
The Task Force's heavy hitters (including House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, Rep. Chris Hurst, Rep. Joel Kretz, and Sen. Bob Morton) heard a presentation from Terry Mutchler, Executive Director of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records. Mutchler described how Pennsylvania's administrative process works for citizens and agencies to resolve public records dispute.
The administrative review processes in other states was also discussed at the meeting. Working with the Attorney General's Office I reviewed the public records laws in the states with administrative options for citizens and created this handout for the Task Force.
Here is a sampling of how enforcement of open government laws !
works in those states:
Kentucky - Attorney General review of records dispute and subsequent opinion has the full force and effect of law.
Nebraska - If an agency ignores the opinion of the Attorney General that a record should be disclosed, the Attorney General must sue the agency on behalf of the citizen if requested.
New Jersey - Government Records Council offers mediation services to resolve records disputes.
North Dakota - If an agency ignores the opinion of the Attorney General that a record should be disclosed, the agency or public official is personally liable.
Next up for the Open Government Task Force is working on a draft report laying out its recommendations for the Legislature to consider next session.
The House State Government committee held a work session today focused on how to improve agency efficiency. Rep. Sam Hunt, Chair of the committee, opened the meeting by asking, "What do we do to make government more efficient?"
One of the solutions provided by the Governor's Office is for agencies to spend more time on their core missions versus "back office" activities. Here is the info from one of the Governor's handouts:
Governor Gregoire wants state government to meet the demands of the 21st century economy. One key to success is for state agencies to focus on their core missions.
Reduce the size of government
Provide 21st century customer service
Streamline agencies and operations to get best value for cost
The goal is to better serve the public with a more nimble and efficient government. The public will continue to receive service from the experts in the field, and departments will receive the same: business services from the agency expert in the field. It’s the old example: why should the head of DSHS have to be a real estate guru as well as a social services expert?
We will align our systems to achieve economies of scale and improve efficiency across the spectrum of government.
This is a matter of aligning programs and positions, not judging the people in them. The driving force behind this is maximizing limited resources. The work people in central service fields do is valuable and needed. State agencies must have email to function. The question is whether an agency should be running its own email system when taxpayers are also funding a Department of Information Services.
We know it will be hard. Change when resources are scarce is diffi!
cult. We know savings may not be instant, and the steps have to be incremental. But difficulty is not an excuse for the status quo. Constant improvement is a hallmark of successful organizations.
We are committed to it. The governor has made this a priority, and so has the cabinet. We’re accepting the challenge and expect to meet it.
Also discussed was the joint effort between the State Auditor and the Governor to review ways to improve agency efficiency.
Jason Mercier is Director of the Center for Government Reform at Washington Policy Center and is based in the Tri-Cities. He serves on the boards of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and CandidateVerification, and was an advisor to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee. Jason is an ex-officio for the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce. In June 2010, former Governor Gregoire appointed Jason as WPC’s representative on her Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Panel.