"The WPC suggests lightening voters' load by reducing the number of statewide elected policy posts to five, and having candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run jointly, just as those who run for president and vice president do. Voters would also still elect the attorney general, treasurer and auditor, "watchdog" offices that should be made nonpartisan, because voters don't expect politics to influence how they're run. (Voters would also still elect judges.)
The other currently elected offices would be appointed by the governor, just as the heads of Cabinet-level offices are now.
Generally, we like the idea. Why, for instance, does it make sense to elect the lands commissioner, but not the secretary of transportation? Why elect a state schools superintendent when key policy issues regarding education are decided in the legislative process?"
Click here to read our full report recommending the changes.
In response to unsustainable budget increases and the then largest tax increase in state history, voters in 1993 adopted Initiative 601 (I-601) to restrict the growth of the budget and place restrictions on tax increases.
Reviewing state spending increases before and after I-601 took effect, it is clear the measure was successful in limiting the size of state spending increases. This is true at least until the law was amended by the legislature in recent years, changing the calculation of the spending limit established by the voters in 1993. The table below shows a 30-year trend in state spending increases.
Here's another way to look at state spending increases since 1980.
Unfortunately, little is left of I-601's original taxpayer protections. In fact, the Senate Majority Leader is currently suing to have the tax restrictions on the books since 1993 thrown out by the State Supreme Court.
Since state officials have shown little desire to leave I-601 in place, it may be time to push for a constitutional amendment to limit the growth of spending to inflation and population growth. Reasonable budget limits similar to those of Initiative 601, but as part of the state constitution, would protect taxpayers and bring greater discipline to public finances. The recent adoption of the constitutional rainy-day amendment could serve as the model for putting I-601 into the constitution.
Back to state spending increases, how does Washington compare nationally? Great question.
In the coming days we'll post a blog comparing Washington's spending increases since 2003 with the rest of the nation to see how we rank.
Just in time for the 2008 Primary we've released a report recommending a change in the number of statewide elected policy offices.
On August 19, 2008, Washingtonians will vote in the state’s first top-two primary election. Not counting local races, voters will be asked to decide which candidates will advance to the November ballot for nine separate statewide offices. These offices are:
1. Governor; 2. Lieutenant Governor; 3. Secretary of State; 4. Treasurer; 5. State Auditor; 6. Attorney General; 7. Superintendent of Public Instruction; 8. Commissioner of Public Lands and; 9. Insurance Commissioner.
Other than the nine elected positions, all other senior officials in the executive branch are appointed by the governor. They make up the governor’s cabinet and include many key positions, many as important as some elected offices.
The Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Public Lands and Insurance Commissioner are policy offices, much like those currently in the governor’s appointed cabinet. Direct election of these offices does not necessarily create greater public accountability, because most Washingtonians don’t know the names of these officials.
The Treasurer, Auditor and Attorney General, however, carry out an oversight role, working to ensure government agencies are following the law. It is because of this distinction that independent election of these offices makes sense.
As “watchdog officials,” it makes sense for the Treasurer, Auditor and Attorney General (if provided enforcement power) to function as nonpartisan offices as is the case for State Supreme Court Justices. In fact, bills have been introduced over the past few years at the request of the State Treasurer to make that office subject to nonpartisan elections.
According to State Auditor Brian Sonntag: “Citizens certainly don’t expect partisanship in an office like this. The work of the State Auditor is about government accountability and transparency, not politics. Our audits are – and should be – independent and fair without even a hint of bias.”
With fewer statewide elected offices, voters would choose the five highest state officials in four elections, as follows:
1. Governor and Lieutenant Governor 2. Attorney General 3. State Treasurer 4. State Auditor
If problems arise with public education, insurance regulation, or management of public lands, voters would know that the solution lies with the governor, who could change the top managers of these policy areas at any time. If the governor fails to use his or her appointment powers to improve the management of these departments, voters could take that failure into account at election time.
Reducing the number of statewide elected offices would shorten the length of the ballot and more importantly, focus public accountability in a way that people can understand and remember. This would increase accountability both during a governor’s term and in election years when voters are assessing candidates for the state’s top offices.
The U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report yesterday focusing on the federal government's use of performance management. According to the report:
"According to GAO surveys, since 1997 significantly more federal managers report having performance measures for the programs they manage. However, despite having more performance measures available, federal managers’ reported use of performance information in management decision making has not changed significantly, as shown below.
For the collection of performance information to be considered more than meaningless paperwork exercises, it must be useful to and used by federal decision makers at all levels—including Congress. To reach this state, GAO believes that the next administration should promote three key practices that we have identified in our work over the last 10 years:
(1) demonstrate leadership commitment to results-oriented management;
(2) develop a clear 'line of sight' linking individual performance with organizational results; and
(3) build agency capacity to collect and use performance information.
In addition to encouraging agencies to employ these practices, the next administration should: (1) adopt a more strategic and crosscutting approach to overseeing governmentwide performance; (2) improve the relevance of performance information to Congress; and (3) build agency confidence in assessments for use in decision making."
These conclusions are very important for Washington State as well. We've made progress towards focusing on performance results with the adoption of independent performance audit authority for the State Auditor and monitoring agency performance with the GMAP reform. The key now is to put these tools together and to start budgeting based on the performance outcomes identified and holding government accountable to delivering those results.
The Olympian this morning highlights the ongoing problem with forcing state employees to join a private organization as a condition of employment with the state. According to the article:
"The largest state employee union is suing up to 1,900 of the workers it represents for unpaid dues.
'We pursued those folks after many years of trying to persuade them to pay their fair share,' said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
The lawsuits are the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute over mandatory union dues for state workers, which began in 2005 as part of the first contracts to set pay and benefits.
The lawsuits have been filed for months, but a conservative think tank recently found the total number of sued workers listed in the meeting minutes of a federation local.
The union represents about 40,000 state government and college employees. Dues are a percentage of salary, up to $76.50 a month . . .
The union asked the state to fire workers for not paying dues in 2006, turning in a list of 779 potential candidates. Just six workers were terminated before a lawsuit and public protest by the workers prompted the union to drop its demands."
There is nothing wrong with a private organization suing its voluntary members if it so chooses (though it may reduce its membership). The problem with this situation is the fact state workers who don't want to join this private organization are being forced to by their employer in order to keep their job.
As an employer the state should not be forcing individuals to join selected private organizations. However, if such a requirement does exist, the unions should be treated as public entities and be subject to all applicable laws and disclosure requirements. State workers and the public should be fully informed about union activity.
Also, automatic deduction from state worker paychecks should be ended. If government union leaders collected voluntary dues from their members, instead of resorting to mandatory automatic payroll deductions, they would be more responsive to their members’ needs and views. It would also encourage union officials to be more transparent and accountable for how they spend their members’ money.
If we are going to continue the current union/state contract scheme the legislature should reassert its authority over state employment policy to ensure greater accountability and transparency, and it should advance improvements that reduce costs while rewarding the excellent work of state employees. At a minimum state collective bargaining contracts should not be negotiated in secret. Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for funding these agreements. They should be allowed to monitor the negotiation process and to hold state officials accountable for their actions.
Danny Westneat writes a must read column today for elected officials titled "They call this tax restraint?"
"Remember when 2008 dawned? There were murmurings this was the year local government might give us a break from a ceaseless stream of tax ballot measures.
King County Executive Ron Sims, hardly known to suffer from taxophobia, said this year was 'a bad time to put out a tax' and 'there has to be a relief period.' The bad economy means government 'must proceed with caution,' seconded Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.
City Council members reassured us that they, too, feel the pain of $4.50-a-gallon gas and $5 loaves of bread.
Here's what's coming at you as a result of all this caution and concern:
A $75 million Pike Place Market levy. A $146 million Seattle parks levy. A $17.6 billion, tri-county light-rail package. Roughly $300 a year, in total, for the average Seattleite."
Earlier this month Seattle Times editorial writer Joni Balter wrote an article titled "Do the city council members wear purple crushed velvet, too?"
"Average citizens have changed their behavior in response to the harsh economy, yes, even in Seattle, which is faring better than the rest of the country.
But there is one place where they are still partying like it's 1999 — Seattle City Hall.
Down at Fifth and James, the logic seems to be: Hatch an idea for something we need or want, then don't flinch. Ask voters to raise their property taxes and they probably will . . .
Most elements of the economic slowdown are beyond our control. We cannot slow the increase in price for gasoline and food. We cannot raise our own salaries. The mayor and council could, however, recognize people are having a hard time and take a break from constant piling on of the property tax.
They can, but they won't."
Sam Taylor writing for the Bellingham Herald has also been chronicling efforts in Whatcom County to raise taxes. Details here.
And at the state level the Senate Majority Leader is trying to make it easier to raise taxes by suing to have the taxpayer protections from the 1993 voter-approved I-601 thrown out.
Can't you feel the love for the taxpayer? Or maybe that's the love of your money by government.
The Seattle Timesran a report yesterday titled "How state spending rose $8 billion under Gregoire." The in-depth article provides a nice background on what has happened with the state budget under Governor Gregoire. One thing not discussed, however, is the impact of the voter-enacted tax and spending limit, Initiative 601, adopted in 1993. For example, the article says:
"Gregoire, though, certainly isn't the biggest spender in recent history. The budget grew 36 percent from 1981-84 under Republican Gov. John Spellman. And it soared 45 percent during Democratic Gov. Booth Gardner's second term, from 1989-92."
The context for state spending since 1993 is the fact I-601 has restricted how fast the budget could grow and limited the ability of lawmakers to increase taxes. At least until 2005.
There was a significant drop in the percentage increase in state spending after Initiative 601 took effect during the 1993-95 biennium. Up until the major changes to the law by the legislature and governor in 2005, these percentage increases were relatively stable. After 2005, the rate of spending increase rose sharply.
The other thing about the article worth noting is the selective respect paid by the governor to the will of the voters. Talking about I-728 and I-732 (education spending), the governor is quoted as saying, "I'm not one who disregards the voice of the people."
While a commendable position, the problem with this statement is that to fund I-728 and I-732 the governor and the legislature overrode, using an emergency clause, I-601 and I-402 (estate tax reduction). Further complicating this is the fact that both I-728 and I-732 were advertised to the people as not requiring tax increases.
" Without raising taxes, I-728 lets schools reduce class sizes, expand learning opportunities, increase teacher training, invest in early childhood education, and build classrooms for K-12 and higher education."
"We can afford to invest in our schools and our future without raising taxes or taking money away from other programs. I-728 is funded by lottery proceeds, surplus state revenues and by returning a portion of state property taxes to local school districts."
"I-728 is both necessary and fiscally sound. It invests surplus revenues in education without hurting the state budget."
"I-728 does not raise taxes. I-728 maintains ample reserves and funding for other state services."
"With a $1.1 billion surplus, let's use existing resources for more competitive salaries."
Statements opposing I-728 and I-732:
"I-732 adds no state revenue – it only consumes more of existing resources."
"I-728 would remove $2 billion from the state's general fund over the next six years."
"The governor's budget office projects basic expenditure needs will exceed state revenues in the next biennium. I-728 takes a bad budget outlook and makes it much worse, requiring cuts in services or tax increases to meet basic needs."
What's left of I-601 is now being challenged by the Senate Majority Leader in court.
The Department of Information Services (DIS) put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) on July 14 to provide the state with "a web search tool that assists with strengthening the relationship between lawmakers and their constituents by maximizing transparency of the work of government."
This positive development seeks to implement the recommendations we made to the Director of DIS and the Governor's Chief of Staff at an April 23 meeting this year.
In a meeting with DIS last week to review the draft RFP, Director Gary Robinson indicated DIS hopes to re-design the state's web portal (Access Washington) and improve the search functions on state agency websites. The goal is to have this reform done by November.
"DIS is now soliciting Proposals from interested, best-in-class Search Tool vendors to update the tool which supports the Ask George search. DIS is seeking an offering that can improve the success and effectiveness of the Ask George search both on Access Washington and in the individual agency specific tailored searches. DIS is committed to providing a web search tool that assists with strengthening the relationship between lawmakers and their constituents by maximizing transparency of the work of government. The ideal solution is one that enables citizens’ access to government data in a manner that is straightforward and easy to use.
DIS will continue offering Ask George as a service offering to Washington state agencies, boards and commissions, local governments, tribal organizations and qualifying non-profits. Therefore, DIS intends to solicit qualified vendors to provide a licensed search application for a search tool that can quickly initially collect up to 3 million documents, and can easily be segmented into the agency specific tailored searches . . .
DIS is seeking an updated Search tool to provide a toolset to assist in the transparency of government. Search tools can provide assistance to constituents to be able to 'search' government information on web sites. Transparency will improve citizen access to information in government. The search tool function that DIS is seeking to acquire is a tool to assist in providing transparency."
This encouraging development builds on the successful adoption of WPC’s recommendation to create a searchable budget website earlier this year (SB 6818).
Kudos to DIS for moving forward with this effort to improve government transparency!
Earlier this year we pointed out a disagreement between the Governor's budget office (OFM) and the legislative committee tasked with keeping track of state spending (LEAP) on just how much the state is spending. LEAP maintained the state is spending $33.7 billion during the 2007-09 budget. OFM said it was actually $32.5 billion - a $1.2 billion difference.
Based on an article in the Spokesman Review this morning, it looks like OFM and LEAP are in agreement now:
"Spending: The main state two-year budget has risen 31 percent in four years, according to Gregoire's budget office, from $25.6 billion to $33.65 billion."
It looks like the new area of disagreement now centers on just how bad the state's budget outlook is. The nonpartisan staff of the Senate Ways and Means Committee say the state is facing a $2.7 billion spending deficit. While OFM isn't saying what its forecast shows, the Governor believes the Senate Ways and Means Committee is "overin!
flating" its deficit forecast.
Looks like the only way to resolve this new controversy is for OFM to put its numbers on the table.
Yesterday Governor Christine Gregoire called in unexpectedly to the Dori Monson show on KIRO 710. The 16 minute interview is very enlightening. The first half deals with the gaming compact she signed with the Spokane Indian Tribe. The rest deals with the projected $2.7 billion spending deficit. Discussion about the budget deficit starts at 16:00 on this audio link.
The Governor did not think highly of the non-partisan Senate Ways and Means Committee staff's deficit projections:
“We have no idea whether it’s right or wrong right now based on the assumptions we think they used. We think they are overinflating.”
As to whether she would raise taxes if the deficit projections proved to be true:
“You don’t increase the taxes based on the initiative that was passed by the people without a 2/3 majority vote of both the House and the Senate or a vote of the people. So, I cannot raise taxes, period. Secondly, let me just be clear how we do the budget. We do it based on what we call priorities, priority setting, and we spend whatever money we have budgeted to spend based on those priorities. So that means those that are lesser priority don’t get funded. Programs that aren’t working or aren’t working as well as they should, don’t get!
funded. That’s the right way in my opinion to set a budget.”
That's a good answer.
What wasn't answered is whether or not the Governor supports the Senate Majority Leader's lawsuit to invalidate that initiative passed by the people (I-601) and if she is planning to sign legislation again like she did in 2005 (with an emergency clause) to suspend those taxpayer protections.
She also made the curious comment that she hasn't raised taxes. Even if we give her a pass on the gas tax increase she approved since the voters ultimately upheld that increase, it's hard to overlook the hundreds of millions in taxes raised in 2005, like the death tax, that led to a lawsuit being filed against the Governor and Legislature for violating I-601.
". . . is a reference guide to the state Declaration of Rights, found in the Washington Constitution. The authors review the state’s 1889 constitutional debates, newspaper accounts of the convention, and significant cases that have dealt with the rights guaranteed in the state constitution.
The message of the book is that when citizens are educated in the sources of their freedoms, and familiar with attempts in history to limit these freedoms, they are better equipped to recognize new encroachments."
It is an easy read and worth taking the time to look through.
Washington State Supreme Court Justice Charles W. Johnson provided the foreword for the book and noted, "I know and appreciate the incredible amount of thought, research and work necessary to produce this citizen’s guide. The authors are to be commended for their efforts in putting this work together. Those who read and use this guide can be thankful for the time and energy spent on organizing and publishing it."
The full text of the state constitution can be found here.
The nonpartisan Senate Ways and Means Committee staff have updated their six-year budget outlook to reflect the recent state revenue forecast. As expected the previous $2.5 billion deficit forecast has increased to $2.7 billion. Of particular note is the carry forward cost of the recent 2008 supplemental budget increase. Though projected to cost $209 million in the current budget, this new spending is forecasted to cost $609 million in the next budget. The paid family leave program is projected to cost an additional $72 million in 09-11 and $89 million in 11-13. Too bad for taxpayers our elected officials didn't take the opportunity to restrain spending this past session in light of a tight economy. Any guess how they'll try to fix this sel!
f-inflicted spending problem next year?
Earlier this year Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown filed a lawsuit to make it easier to raise taxes by challenging I-601's requirement for 2/3 vote of the legislature in order to raise taxes. Brown believes this supermajority requirement is unconstitutional, a claim opponents of I-601 have made since it was adopted in 1993.
Defending the law the Attorney General argues the 2/3 vote requirement is just fine.
"[I-601] neither amends nor purports to amend article II, section 22, and accordingly, it is not infirm on that basis, as Petitioner suggests. By its plain language, article II, section 22 establishes only the minimum number of votes constitutionally required to enact bills. It does not prohibit the Legislature or the people from enacting statutes that require a larger majority when they deem greater legislative consensus advisable. Indeed, the framers’ recognition of the value of supermajority requirements as part of Washington’s fundamental law supports the conclusion that the framers did not foreclose enactment of such requirements as a matter of statute." (page 9)
"In the 14 years since RCW 43.135.035(1) was enacted, the Legislature has not chosen to repeal the statute or permanently amend its two-thirds vote provision, although it could have. Notably, the Legislature has amended the two-thirds vote requirement of RCW 43.135.035(1) on two occasions to substitute a majority vote requirement for designated periods. See Laws of 2002, ch. 33, § 1, amending RCW 43.135.035(1) to substitute a majority vote requirement for the 2001-2003 biennium; and Laws of 2005, ch. 72, § 2, amending RCW 43.135.035(1) to substitute a majority vote requirement from the effective date of the 2005 act through June 30, 2007. For these reasons, this case presents neither an actual existing controversy, nor the mature seeds of one, and rather posits a speculative hypothetical issue for academic debate." (page 31)
"Article II, section 22 provides, '[n]o bill shall become a law unless . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.' Article II, section 22 establishes a constitutional minimum number of votes for a bill to become law. It only describes the circumstances under which a bill does not pass. In other words, article II, section 22 does not prohibit statutes by which the legislature (or the people) express their legislative policy judgment that certain types of bills warrant greater than simple majority consensus for passage. RCW 43.135.035(1) expresses such a legislative policy judgment—that a two-thirds majority vote of each house should be required for passage of bills raising taxes. The statute hardly conflicts with the constitutional floor set by article II, section 22, as any bill receiving its supermajority support has met the requirement of article II, section 22.
A California court construed its essentially identical constitutional provision in just this way. People v. Cortez, 6 Cal. App. 4th 1202, 8 Cal. Rptr. 2d 580 (Cal. Ct. App. 1992). The constitutional provision at issue in Cortez provided in relevant part, 'No bill may be passed unless . . . a majority of the membership of each house concurs.' Cortez correctly reasoned that a requirement for a legislative supermajority did not conflict with the passage of bills clause of the California Constitution because, 'Clearly a bill which obtains the approval of two-thirds of the membership of each house has also obtained the approval of a majority of the legislators in each house.' The constitution merely restricts the passage of bills to those that obtain at least majority approval, rather than establishing an affirmative rule that all bills receiving a majority must be deemed passed.
Petitioner essentially asks this Court to amend article II, section 22, to treat it as if it read (in common bill drafting format to show changes): '((No)) Every bill shall become a law ((unless)) if . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.' This reading would transform the phrasing from a 'negative' minimum requirement to a 'positive' universal standard. The court should reject the Petitioner’s invitation to rewrite the Washington Constitution in this way." (page 38)
"Both the framers of the constitution and subsequent legislatures and voters have recognized that certain specified actions should command the support of more than a simple majority. Petitioners, to the contrary, urge that the same constitutional convention that embraced supermajorities for some purposes intended to prohibit statutes requiring supermajorities for any other purposes. The Constitution contains no language supporting this notion, however. The framers may not reasonably be presumed to have implied the prohibition of a political mechanism that they themselves adopted through language that does not say so. Given the plenary legislative authority of the people and the legislature, and the absence of a clear constitutional prohibition, the Court should not conclude otherwise." (page 48)
Taxpayers should be encouraged by the Attorney General's vigorous defense of the law. Oral arguments before the State Supreme Court should occur this September. We'll likely know sometime next year when the Court rules if it will allow Brown's lawsuit to "rewrite the Washington Constitution" and strike down the will of the people.
The State Auditor's Office (SAO) today released its Statewide Accountability Report for fiscal year 2007. According to the report, SAO "identified 20 conditions or concerns significant enough to be reported as federal findings." An additional 20 accountability findings were issued against state agencies in fiscal year 2007.
It is important to remember an accountability audit is different than a financial or performance audit. A clean accountability audit does not necessarily mean an agency will not have any findings for financial or performance issues.
On a positive note, of those agencies receiving an accountability audit in 2007, 59 didn't receive any accountability findings. This includes the Office of Attorney General, Department of Corrections, Office of Financial Management, Department of Health, Department of Transportation and Department of Revenue to name a few.
Last week SAO released its summary of fraud investigations for 2007. SAO noted that in 2007 it "reported on 24 [fraud] cases totaling more than $1.7 million at state agencies and local governments." Of those:
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.