An all-star panel participated in a Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) work session today discussing how the public records and open meetings acts should be enforced. Joining the PDC Commissioners on the panel were:
State Auditor Brian Sonntag
Representative Sam Hunt
Representative Marko Liias (sponsor of bill discussed)
Tim Ford, Open Government Ombudsman for the Attorney General’s Office
Toby Nixon, President Washington Coalition for Open Government
Dan Heid, Washington Municipal Attorney’s Association
Ramsey Ramerman, Attorney and state Sunshine Committee Member
Graham Johnson, former Executive Director of the PDC
The focus of the work session was HB 1784 introduced during the 2009 Legislative Session by Representatives Liias, Chase, Hasegawa, Appleton and Ormsby. The bill received a hearing but was not voted on. Here is a summary of HB 1784 from the House Bill report:
In 1971 the Legislature enacted the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). The OPMA requires that all meetings of the governing body of a public agency be open to and public, and all persons shall be allowed to attend.
Initiative 276, passed by the voters in 1972, established the disclosure of campaign finances, lobbyist activities, financial affairs of elective officers and candidates, and access to public records. That initiative also created the Public Disclosu!
re Commission (PDC), a five member, bipartisan citizen commission, to enforce the provisions of the campaign finance disclosure law.
Twenty years later, in 1992, the Fair Campaign Practices Act was enacted following passage of Initiative 134. Initiative 134 imposed campaign contribution limits on elections for statewide and legislative office, further regulated independent expenditures, restricted the use of public funds for political purposes, and required public officials to report gifts received in excess of $50.
Unlike the campaign finance disclosure laws, enforcement of the OPMA and the Public Records Act (PRA) must be pursued through the judicial system.
The powers of the PDC are expanded to include the enforcement of the OPMA and the PRA. The PDC is authorized to investigate, review and adjudicate complaints alleging violations of the OPMA and the PRA. The PDC is also authorized to issue interpretative opinions of the OPMA and the PRA!
. In addition, the PDC can provide confidential consultation r!
egarding a person's or agency's duties under the OPMA and the PRA.
Panelists were provided a work sheet asking their opinions on “Possible Elements of Open Government Oversight Agency” including:
Single agency to oversee open government
Independent of other agencies
Single agency head
Oversee open records
Oversee open meetings
Jurisdiction over state agencies
Jurisdiction over local agencies
Exclusive jurisdiction over disputes
Dual jurisdiction over disputes, with superior courts
Use Administrative Law Judges
Have mediation program
Have ombudsman program
Issue formal written opinions (oral or written)
Operate toll-free number
Track PRA/OPMA legislation
Submit annual report to Legislature
Effective date of agency
The discussion centered around common themes. From the citizen advocates: It is too hard for requestors to take on governmental entities in an open government dispute. From the government lawyers: There need to be more costs/restrictions on citizens to avoid abuse of the laws and burdening governmental entities.
There did seem to be some agreement that an independent oversight entity is needed though the devil is in the details for the panelists.
State Auditor Sonntag announced that he is creating an Open Government Task Force with Attorney General Rob McKenna to continue this discussion. The purpose of the new Task Force is to study and make recommendations on the creation of an administrative board to rule on complaints of violations regarding the state's open government laws. The Task Force meetings are scheduled for October 5, 2009 and November 2, 2009 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Attorney General's Office in Olympia.
Whether it is the PDC or an independent Open Government Ombudsman, citizens and government would benefit from an independent entity charged with enforcing the state's open government laws while also providing training and assistance. We discussed the need for this in our latest Policy Guide (page 8 of pdf).
With the country still at a fevered pitch over the national health care debate, the next controversial policy may already be in the works - changes to private pensions. Last year the Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of alternatives approaches to the private pension system. In a report released yesterday GAO said (emphasis added):
The private pension systems of the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom represent alternative approaches to address these key risks, but they also pose trade-offs to consider in applying them in the U.S. We selected these countries from a larger group after an initial review indicated that their private pension systems addressed many of the risks that U.S. workers face and had the potential to yield useful lessons for the U.S. !
experience. Their systems offer ideas for mitigating risks in accumulating and preserving benefits, such as mandating coverage, sharing investment risk among workers and employers, restricting leakage, and using annuities to drawdown benefits.
Several proposals for alternative pension plan designs in the U.S. incorporate approaches to mitigate the risks faced by workers, such as incentives to increase voluntary coverage or mandating annuitization. However, these approaches also pose trade-offs and costs for workers and employers, and in some cases the federal government. In particular, important trade-offs arise with mandating coverage and contributions, guaranteeing investment returns, and annuitizing benefits. For example, mandatory approaches reduce risks but also raise concerns about the impact of higher benefit costs, particularly on small employers.
Any of this sound familiar to the current health care debate!
The New York Times has an interesting story about the growth in government employment across the nation as the recession hit even as the private sector was shedding jobs. From the article:
While the private sector has shed 6.9 million jobs since the beginning of the recession, state and local governments have expanded their payrolls and added 110,000 jobs, according to a report issued Thursday by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.
The report, based on an analysis of federal jobs data, found that state and local governments steadily added jobs for eight months after the recession began in December 2007, with their employment peaking last August. State and local governments have since lost 55,000 jobs, but from the beginning of the recession through last month they gained!
a net of 110,000 jobs, the report found, in part because of the federal stimulus program.
Government jobs are always more stable than private sector jobs during downturns, but their ability to weather the current deep recession startled Donald J. Boyd, the senior fellow at the institute who wrote the report.
“I am a little surprised at the fact that state and local government has remained as stable as it has in the nation as a whole, given the depth of the current recession,” Mr. Boyd said in an interview.
The report offered several possible explanations for the disparity between the private and public sectors. It noted that there can be a short lag between an economic downturn and the time it hits states in the form of lower tax collections, and an even longer delay before the problems hit local governments in the form of reduced state aid and lower property tax collections.
This appears to also be the case in Washin!
gton. As shown by this table from fiscal.wa.gov, full-time equivalent positions at the state level grew rapidly during the previous budget only to be reduced in the current budget once projected revenues began to show the impact of the recession.
Here is one of the most striking tables from the Rockefeller Instituteemployment report.
The Office of Financial Management (OFM) has posted the 2009 Personnel Detail Report listing individual state employee salaries. According to OFM:
"This edition of the Personnel Detail Report includes those employees on the state payroll as of January 2009. The general salary information listed in the Personnel Detail Report is the pay rate effective January 31, 2009 as paid on February 10, 2009.
The report is compiled by the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) from information provided by the state's payroll systems. The information OFM receives from the payroll systems is entered and maintained at the individual agencies."
Washington state Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers has put together a nifty transparency resource providing details on federal earmarks, stimulus spending and transparency legislation. Here is what her website says about Sunshine.gop.gov:
"I wanted to let you know about a new and cutting edge tool giving you greater access to how the federal government spends our tax dollars. I developed sunshine.gop.gov to allow you to track stimulus dollars, banks that received Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, and earmark and authorization requests on one site.
Six months ago, lawmakers rushed through a $787 billion stimulus package and before that a $700 billion TARP program. With all this record spending, you should have the right to see how their tax dollars are being spent. Not only will this website give you more insight but it will ultimate!
ly hold the federal government accountable for how it spends our money."
The section on earmark requests is worth the visit alone. According to the site:
"Each year Members of Congress submit requests to the appropriations subcommittees for specific projects to be funded in bills that keep the federal government operating annually. These provisions are known as earmarks; once they are written into law, federal agencies must carry them out. Earmarks are present in other pieces of legislation as well, but those in appropriations bills have recently been the subject of much controversy.
In the past the information about who submitted these requests was not available to the public. This year all members who chose to submit earmark requests to the Appropriations Committee were compelled to disclose those requests on their Office website. We’ve compiled all of those requests into a searchable database here. Please peruse the database and feel free to share your thoughts in the !
Here are the earmark requests for Washington's Representatives (click on link):
restricting the use of attorney-client privilege to deny records release;
creating an independent open government ombudsman;
requiring open government training for government employees and elected officials;
archiving electronic records; and
stopping abuse of third-party injunctions.
Here is the link to all the candidate surveys returned so far. Though the deadline was July 31, surveys will continue to be posted as received.
According to the Coalition's website:
The Washington Coalition for Open Government represents individuals and organizations intent on preserving and protecting Washington’s open government laws. Members of the Coalition represent a broad range of interests including news media, public affairs, law, academia, labor, business, current and retired public officials, community activists, and others. Its mission is to represent the public in matters where open government issues are raised, are threatened, or deserve broader exposure.
The Coalition desires to make known to its members and to the general public the positions of candidates for public office on open government issues. To that end, we have cr!
eated the candidate questionnaire.
Washington Policy Center is a member of the Coalition. Here are the open government recommendations from our latest Policy Guide:
Create a Public Records Ombudsman authorized to enforce the Public Records Act.
Clarify the use of the attorney client-privilege exemption.
Create criminal penalties for willful violation of the Public Records Act.
Require audio taping of executive sessions.
The legislature should make itself subject to the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act.
Adopt a constitutional amendment placing the preamble of the Public Records Act into the constitution, and require a 60 percent vote of lawmakers to enact a new exemption from disclosure to take effect.
The Reason Foundation has published its 23rd Annual Privatization Report detailing "the latest trends and examples of how public officials are reducing costs and improving service delivery through public-private partnerships, outsourcing, and performance-based government."
"Governments are swimming in red ink and realizing the effects of the recession will be felt long after the economy recovers," said Leonard Gilroy, editor of the report and director of government reform at Reason Foundation. "Interest in privatization is sky-high and rightly so. Now more than ever, policymakers need to study their priorities, re-examine what are really core government functions, and then tap the private sector's experti!
se in all of the areas where they can save taxpayer money and improve the quality of services."
The Annual Privatization Report highlights developments across the country, including:
Florida's Council on Efficient Government identified 511 outsourced projects in 2008. A review of 21 potential privatization projects forecast $94 million in savings for taxpayers.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal established a Commission on Streamlining Government that is using privatization to help reduce the size and cost of state government.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a public-private partnership law that enables and encourages the private sector to fund and manage road, prison and courthouse projects.
New York Gov. David Paterson created a Commission on State Asset Maximization to identify areas where public-private partnerships can save the state money.
New Jersey policymakers are achieving a major environmental goal by privatizing the cleanup of nearly 20,000 contaminated properties in the state.
The report highlights this positive development for Washington:
The Washington State Legislature approved a pilot project in performance-based contracting for foster care that the governor signed into law May 18. Under the plan, the first pilot programs will be launched statewide in July 2012. After two and a half years, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy will evaluate the pilot program for the governor, who will then decide whether to expand or terminate it.
By January 1, 2011, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) must consolidate and convert its existing contracts for child-welfare services to performance-based contracts linking the contractors’ performance to the level and timing of reimbursement for services. DSHS, as well as private contractors and Indian tribes, may provide child-welfare services, including case-management ser!
vices, under performance-based contracts. Nonprofit private contractors must receive primary preference over for-profit contractors.
With the exception of this effort, the zeal for competitive contracting was in short
supply in Olympia this year. A proposal to create a Washington competition council
(SB 5409) didn't receive a public hearing. Also, the Washington Federation of State Employees is suing to weaken the state's already underused competitive contracting process. A decision by the Appeals Court on that case is pending.
The national health care debate is setting up an interesting compare and contrast back home concerning the strategies of neighboring congressional Democrats Rep. Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) and Rep. Brian Baird (D-Vancouver). Smith is making himself available to constituents while Baird is canceling his town hall meetings.
This comes against the backdrop of news wires abuzz with phrases such as "astroturf protesters" and "anti-government radicals" at town hall meetings voicing their displeasure over how the health care debate is unfolding in Washington D.C. It seems that for some in D.C. and the media, only those Americans who don't have strong opinions and don't try to organize are worthy of having their voices heard.
It should not surprise elected officials that when they push controversial policies there will be some heat back home. Assuming the policy is well thought out a!
nd the typical member of Congress understands what he is advocating, he should have no fear answering even the most hostile question.
Whether a union packs a town hall or tax protesters, these individuals are still constituents and, more importantly, they are Americans participating in representative government.
While some in Congress may prefer that town hall meetings be more like an echo chamber it appears that Rep. Adam Smith has not lost sight of the fact that all of his constituents have the right to be heard and not just those that agree with him.
Commenting in this story about Rep. Brian Baird canceling his town hall meetings to avoid the "lynch-mob mentality" of those opposed to the proposed health care changes, Smith said:
“They aren’t protesters. Th!
ey are constituents speaking their minds.”
said even if the protests are organized, “what’s wrong with that?”
Absolutely nothing. Kudos to Rep. Smith for not hiding from the people he represents.
UPDATED (8/13): Rep. Baird has changed his mind and now will hold townhall meetings. Additional details here.
One of the few benefits of the current economic situation is the renewed interest by government officials to base policies on the ability to reach performance expectations. Of course, to hit performance goals you need to know what benchmarks to use. It looks like the state Department of Retirement Services (DRS) is taking this fact to heart. Here is a copy of a proposed sole source contract posting DRS issued this morning:
"The Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) contemplates awarding a sole source contract to CEM Benchmarking, Inc. (CEM) for a twenty-four month period to provide complete public pension administration benchmarking services. This contract may be extended for up to an additional two, twelve-month periods. Services include preparation of a benchmarking report analyzing and comparing public pension administrative and business functions, coordinating a !
conference for public pension systems, providing 'best practices' on a common public pension administrative aspect, and, providing a peer network forum.
The benchmarking report includes analysis of performance and cost data from a minimum of fifteen public pension administrators, each having more than 200,000 active members and annuitants; analysis of at least twelve common public pension administration activities; analysis of at least five factors contributing to cost differences; and, sufficient statistical analysis to enable DRS to validate these conclusions. CEM will also coordinate a conference for public pension systems, which will cover current issues of interest to public pension administrators; prepare one best practice analysis on a common public pension administration service; and, provide a peer network forum of other public pension systems.
CEM specializes in providing benchmarking services for public pension systems that administe!
r defined benefit and/or defined contribution plans. CEM has a!
lmost twenty years of experience in pension benchmarking and currently maintains over 500 clients worldwide. CEM is the only known specialist able to provide independent analysis of the factors that make public pensions unique.
The contract will be issued on or about August 25, 2009. Offerors contemplating the above requirements are required to submit capability statements detailing their ability to meet DRS’ requirements within five (5) calendar days of this announcement. In the absence of other qualified sources, it is DRS’ intent to make a sole source award of the contract."
It will be interesting to see how Washington's pension system compares. One recent analysis of the state's pension system indicates Washington may be out of the norm in how it invests its portfolio. According to a report by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation:
"The Washington State Investment Board was considered a 'daring, cutting-edge investor,' according to Institutional Investor Magazine, because of its decision to risk more of its pension portfolio on private equity than any other major state plan.
In 2007, the private equity market began to falter, and $154 billion worth of leveraged buyouts were pulled. Private equity investors were warned they could expect lower returns. Despite these facts, the board’s trustees voted to increase the state’s private equity allocation from 17 percent to 25 percent—significantly outpacing the next-most-aggressive state funds in Oregon and Pennsylvania, at 14 percent.
Wilshire Associates reports that across all 125 state pension plans in 2008, the average private equity asset allocation was 5.6 percent. Washington’s 25 percent allocation is more characteristic of an endowment fund than a pension fund.
The state’s priv!
ate equity losses could prove to be worse than what is shown on paper b!
ecause they are illiquid—meaning they are traded infrequently and values are hard to establish. In December 2008, the investment board’s then Executive Director Joe Dear said in an interview that 'private equity is valued on a lag basis, so we haven’t begun to see the real effects of the downturn in the private equity portfolio.'"
A report released earlier this summer could fundamentally alter the state's IT (Information Technology) Governance if acted on by state lawmakers. Among the recommendations include eliminating up to 832 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) IT employees and centralizing the state's IT systems. Titled "An Evaluation of Washington State’s Approach to IT," the report notes:
The State budgeted approximately $1.39 billion on IT personnel, goods, and services for the 2007-2009 Biennium – a 20% increase over the previous biennium. In the face of the current fiscal crisis, now is the time to evaluate ways to improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of IT. However, efficiency and cost effectiveness alone is not enough. Ultimately, IT must support the business of government. As Gove!
rnor Gregoire stated in the 2009-2011 Budget Highlights:
“These are hard times for everyone. Our families are tightening their belts, and that’s what government needs to do. The State must squeeze every ounce of value out of every taxpayer dollar while maintaining our priorities…”
Here is a summary of the findings and recommendations:
IT reforms are!
high on the Governor's agenda for the coming session and will be part of the State Auditor's statewide performance review. These efforts coupled with this report could mean the state's IT systems are in store for a major reboot.
40 years ago this month the brave crew of Apollo 11 landed on the moon with Neil Armstrong famously saying, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” With this feat America won the race to the moon. Now President Obama is hoping states will shoot for the moon again, this time in a “Race to the Top” for education excellence.
At stake for states is access to $4.35 billion in federal education funds. The catch, however, is that access to these funds is dependent on states demonstrating that they have several education reforms in place.
While some states are in a position to take advantage of these funds and take one giant leap for education performance, Washington unfortunately, is closer to the experience of the failed Apollo 1 mission than the success of Apollo 11.
Confirming this fact, Go!
vernor Chris Gregoire has indicated that Washington is unlikely to satisfy the eligibility requirements for the federal funds.
According to the federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
“Under Race to the Top guidelines, states seeking funds will be pressed to implement four core interconnected reforms.
To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common, internationally benchmarked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in college and careers.
To close the data gap — which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction — states will need to monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional practices.
To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals — and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren’t up to the job.
Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and leadership to changing the school culture.”
Washington’s grade for each of these criteria sadly is failing because powerful leaders of the teachers’ union have consistently opposed bringing constructive change to public schools.
Washington will likely miss out on the first round of “Race to the Top” funds but, like Apollo 11, we can achieve success if state leaders shoot for the moon through real education reform, instead of holding our state back and shooting for just keeping the teachers’ union satisfied.
Today's GMAP (Government Management Accountability and Performance) public meeting was on the state's stimulus efforts. Lots of interesting tidbits were reported including:
$4 billion has been allocated to the state - $827 million spent so far.
The Governor believes the states are being used as pawns in a political fight in D.C. on whether the stimulus package is working; she complained that some Senators were questioning the value of the stimulus package prior to her testimony yesterday in Congress on green jobs.
The Governor reported that her colleagues expressed concern at the national governors meeting about what type of information is to be reported to the feds and the time line for those reports.
The bulk of the state’s stimulus jobs are at Hanford. The Governor is concerned that some of those jobs aren’t being filled by Washingtonians; instead the contractors are hiring out of state workers.
The Department of Transportation expects to create or retain 5,000 jobs as a result of stimulus funds.
The State has obligated the 4th highest amount of transit funding in the country.
The transportation construction market may have hit its saturation point as recent bids are coming in at or above engineer estimates in contrast to previous bids coming in below.
There is a high correlation with “legislative earmarks” and projects not coming in on time or on budget due to the circumvention of the normal vetting process and review.
Depending on your perspective, the decision yesterday by the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) to raise premiums, deductibles, and co-pays for public employees is either a "travesty" or common sense reality.
"Due to the state’s budget shortfall, the HCA required that the medical plans meet a budget target that would keep the average employee contribution at around 12%. To do this, the plans increased the costs of certain benefits, deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums. The employer will continue to pay 88% of the premium costs, based on enrollment across all PEBB medical plans."
This "average employee contribution at around 12%" compares very favorably to those in the private sector that still have jobs and health insurance. According to a 2008 study on state health care costs by the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy:
“State employee health care benefits are generous, and the 12 percent share of prem!
iums paid by employees is low. A recent Towers Perrin survey of 200 large employers found that the average employee’s share of health care premiums was 22.6 percent in 2008, up from 20.1 percent in 2003 (Towers Perrin 2008).”
“This today is an absolute travesty...They (the Legislature) won’t tax anybody else, but they’ll tax state employees…I think it’s a crime. The Legislature didn’t have the guts to provide the health care funds. They are destroying the quality of the workforce in this state.”
"In what is becoming an annual ordeal
for policyholders, Regence BlueShield is raising premiums for 135,000
individual health-plan members in Washington by an average 17 percent
on Aug. 1.
It is the third consecutive year that the state's largest provider of
individual coverage has boosted rates by double digits. And it comes
after two other insurers, Group Health Cooperative and LifeWise Health
Plan of Washington, recently imposed similarly steep premium increases."
Considering the average public employee versus private employee health care costs, was the PEBB's decision "a crime" or instead grounded in economic reality?
It appears the only alternative would be taxes increases or additional service cuts to provide the benefits demanded by Devereux and others.
Although the new fiscal year and biennium are only 1 day old, it's not too early to start thinking about next year's supplemental budget. Based on yesterday's caseload forecast, the Governor is already hinting at what agencies can expect to be proposed.
Here are details on the caseload forecast as reported in The Olympian:
"More Washington residents will receive Medicaid and children’s health assistance in the next two years than earlier forecast, creating a $250 million shortfall in the state’s already-strained budget.
The new forecast was released Wednesday by the Caseload Forecast Council, and Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office released an analysis showing that $113.4 million of the expected increase is in aid to needy families that qualify for Medicaid.
An additional $69.6 million!
is for children’s health care, including some children whose families qualify for Medicaid and others whose citizenship has not been verified. General Assistance Unemployed costs also are up $12 million, and nursing-home costs are up by $6 million."
Coupled with last month's poor revenue forecast, the state's new budget is already projected to be in the red. In response, the Governor's budget office (OFM) sent a memo to agency directors yesterday detailing her strategy:
"On June 18, the Governor directed the following administrative actions by cabinet agencies:
Full Time Equivalent (FTE) reductions equivalent to a 2 percent reduction in 2009-11 budgeted GFS FTEs.
Continuation of specific GFS savings in out-of-state travel and training, personal services contracts, and equipment purchases.
Spending restricted to only critically necessary activities.
She also has encouraged non-Cabinet agencies to impose similar measures.
The Governor’s reductions are intended to create savings that mitigate the effect of the June revenue drop. OFM will continue to watch revenue collections and caseload/enrollment projections as we approach the September and November forecast updates for GFS revenues. Ongoing expenditure and revenue pressures will very likely require further action, including revisions in a 2010 supplemental budget. The reductions in this memo represent the first steps toward supplemental budget changes for expenditures funded by the GFS."
Included in the memo are two tables showing the projected FTE and spending reductions. These figures are a good first look at what the Governor may propose in a supplemental budget.
If enacted by agencies, the Governor's proposal would reduce FTEs below budgeted numbers by approximately 642 and spending by $374 million.
While this is a good first step, additional spending corrections by the Legislature next session will be necessary to rebuild the state's rainy day account. Otherwise we may not be able to respond effectively to any future curve balls the struggling economy may throw our way.
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.