The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) received seven findings in an audit released this morning by the State Auditor's office. Here are details on the audit findings:
DSHS, Children’s Administration and Economic Services Administration paid an adoptive parent, foster care providers and child care providers who had not cleared background checks.
DSHS did not have controls in place to prevent misappropriation and ensure payroll accuracy.
DSHS internal controls over provider payments are not adequate, resulting in misappropriations totaling approximately $230,000.
DSHS does not ensure all payments made through its Social Services Payment System are supported and approved.
DSHS’ Economic Services Administration systems are vulnerable to misappropriation and inappropriate data changes.
DSHS does not adequately monitor access to critical systems.
DSHS does not adequately monitor contracts with Crisis Residential Centers to ensure compliance with state law and contract requirements.
These audit findings may provide new ammunition to lawmakers hoping to reform DSHS. This past session the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee unanimously approved HB 2197 which would eliminate DSHS, replacing the agency with four smaller agencies. The full House, however, did not take action on the proposal.
Rep. Mike Armstrong, prime sponsor of HB 2197, said this about his proposal:
"This agency has simply become too big and unresponsive to the public's needs. The state has tried to put too many governmental functions into one super agency, and it has not worked. It's difficult to administer, costly, and it's very hard to measure whether the agency is actually meeting its goals and responsibilities . . . There are 16 Democrats and 17!
Republicans who have signed onto this bill. That tells me they are as frustrated as I am with the bureaucratic arrogance of DSHS."
Thanks to new policies on government transparency, members of congress who request an earmark in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill (the federal transportation budget) must now list the requests on their official government website. So citizens can now find exactly what transportation projects each member of congress has requested.
Here is a preview with links to each member's full earmark request:
According to a report by Emily Heffter of the Seattle Times, the City of Seattle is removing garbage cans from city parks as part of a cost cutting effort, but also hopes that this move “will morph into an all-out culture shift.” Although the “culture shift” is not spelled out in so many words, one can easily derive that the “culture shift” hoped for by the City is a move to more recycling.
In the Times report the City claims that, “the parks department planned to save about $160,000 by removing 400 more (garbage cans) — some from well-used parks.” Yet, even as the garbage cans are being removed, the City announced plans to move forward with efforts to install recycling bins throughout the City. Heffter reports that the City “put 120 recycling containers at parks…late last year”, and that, “workers now are spreading the containers across the rest of the city.”
But according to a 2007 Seattle Times article, the recycling program comes with its own high costs and may not have that much environmental benefit.
Late in 2007, the City of Seattle announced its plans to begin a recycling pilot program to increase recycling availability at City parks. At that time, the pilot program was estimated to cost Seattleites some $200,000 for start up costs, with an additional cost estimate of $130,000 annually to maintain the pilot program sites, which would cover 106 recycle bins in City parks.
Responding to the cost for operating the recycling program in 2007, Tim Croll, Solid-Waste Director for Seattle Public Utilities, told the Times, “That's a lot of money... seemingly cost-ineffective.” He continued, "As for the benefits to the environment, that's an art rather than science."
In fact, just recently, one citizen living near a busy park where the trash cans were removed told the Times, “the can at a nearby bus stop was overflowing from park users' trash.”
So questions remain surrounding the costs Seattleites are being forced to pay for their part in this “culture shift” and whether or not there are any real benefits?
As part of the effort to enact a range of new restrictions on carbon emissions, many point to the creation of "green jobs," arguing that new government spending and regulation can bring us out of the current recession. The latest version of this is highlighted in the Seattle Times which cites a study saying they can be part of a "green recovery." The study, however, uses a statistical trick to make bad jobs sound good.
The study argues that "government investment produced more 'job hours' than tax cuts or traditional infrastructure spending." There is a reason that the study focuses on "job hours" rather than growth or productivity: green jobs require more labor to do less.
For example, it is sometimes argued that renewable energy is better because it creates more jobs than other energy sources. For instance, a California campaign to promote solar notes "Solar Photovoltaics create more jobs per Megawatt of capacity than any other energy technology."
This is a foolish argument. We could create more jobs in agriculture by banning tractors and requiring human labor to plant and harvest. This would create more "job hours" in agriculture. Would anyone support this? Of course not. It would make us all poorer. The jobs would be horrible and pay poorly and it would certainly raise the cost of food. Promoting a particular policy because it is more labor intensive is a sure path to economic ruin.
The Times article also questions "stimulus" spending on highways, saying "as if peak oil and global warming don't matter." The peak oil theories, which argue that oil is beginning to run out leading to severe economic impacts, have been around for some time and traditionally heat up when oil prices rise, as they did last summer. Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner addressed peak oil hysteria recently on his blog, noting "It is always interesting to watch what happens when the media latches onto a given issue and then, as the reality on the ground evolves — sometimes radically — the media fails to catch up to, or even monitor, the changes. This means the public is stuck with an outdated version of conventional wisdom which, even if it were true in the first place, is no longer so."
The politics of climate change are going the route of many other such issues, with proponents of the policy making dramatic, but inaccurate, claims. When the facts catch up, proponents simply move on to the next outrageous claim, always trying to stay one step ahead of the facts. Claims of green jobs and a green recovery are the latest iteration of that process.
Yesterday, Governor Gregoire issued Executive Order 09-05, which directs state agencies to look for ways to reduce the states greenhouse gas emissions. However, there appears to be significant a difference between what the Governor is saying and the legal authority of Executive Orders.
In the Governor’s press release announcing her Executive Order, the Governor said, “We can’t further delay action on climate change.” She continued:
“This executive order benefits our economy as much as our environment. It will protect our natural resources, while creating thousands of green-collar jobs and strengthening our state’s competitiveness in the global race for a clean energy economy.”
In addition, while speaking at her press conference to discuss the Executive Order, the Governor established a tone of urgency. She said:
“Are we going to simply sit and do nothing and allow the status quo? Or are we going to exercise the kind of leadership…to address climate change.”
Clearly the Governor is conveying a message of action, but does an Executive Order really provide the Governor with the teeth necessary to implement the action she is calling for?
In 1991 the Attorney General’s office issued an opinion, AGO 1991 No. 12, regarding the use of Executive Order that, in part, concluded:
“The legislative authority of the State of Washington is vested in the Legislature. In absence of a statute or constitutional provision that serves as a source of authority authorizing the Governor to act, the Governor cannot create obligations, responsibilities, conditions or processes having the force and effect of law by the issuance of an executive order.”
In light of the AGO from 1991, perhaps the Legislature, which chose not to implement similar policies during the past legislative session, will want to ask the current Attorney General to review Executive Order 09-05 to ensure that the Governor has not exceeded her legal authority.
The Environmental Protection Agency is in Seattle today to hear testimony on their effort to regulate carbon emissions to mitigate the impact of climate change. One theme is emerging in government efforts on this issue -- don't leave legislation to legislators.
"In effect, the prospect of EPA regulation is a bulwark against Congress falling down on the job," said Dan Esty, a Yale University environmental professor.
The philosophy expressed here is that constitutional checks and balances from elected representatives are useful only to the extent Congress does what is "right." Otherwise, the executive needs to step in and do whatever is necessary, other branches of government, and public opinion, notwithstanding.
That general philosophy was put into action today in Washington when the Governor, who previously argued that the legislature must endorse her climate change legislation, suddenly realized that legislative approval was not needed. The Democratic majority in the legislature rejected the Governor's bill. As a result, she today announced an executive order that mirrored many of the elements of the bill lawmakers turned down.
Here is the intent language of HB 1819, which failed to clear the House.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. The legislature finds that Washington should maintain its leadership on climate change policy by implementing a cap on carbon emissions and developing strategies to achieve those reductions, including continuing Washington's participation in the design of a regional cap-and-trade program with the western climate initiative.
The Director of the Department of Ecology to: (a) Continue to participate in the Western Climate Initiative to develop a regional greenhouse gas emission reduction program and to work with the federal Administration, Washington’s congressional delegation and appropriate committees to help design a national greenhouse gas emission reduction program that reflects Washington State priorities.
The Governor herself testified before the legislature in an effort to get support for the above language. The bill, despite that effort, died. In an opinion piece in April, the Governor wrote "Now we need a strong climate action bill from this year's Legislature to grasp the opportunities that await us." The question is, what made the Governor suddenly realize that that legislative support she had sought for a strong climate action bill was no longer necessary?
Interesting column today in the Seattle Times by Joni Balter on taxes and state budget problems. The focus of the article is how politicians in Washington claim if only the state had an income tax there wouldn't be any budget problems and how politicians in Oregon claim the same if only their state had a sales tax. Of course, as Balter points out, California has both and look at where that's left the state.
"Washington and Oregon can trade a sales tax for an income tax or vice versa. But either way, both states will get sick in a down economy. There is no immunization from these tax systems for economic flu."
There is one way to avoid catching the budget flu, however: spend !
healthier (more responsibly) and not stay up all night binging away your savings.
Regardless of how you slice up the tax structure, states need to use a “three-legged stool” of sound budgeting:
Meaningful spending limit;
Protected 10% reserve account (so you don’t have to resort to tax increases or deep spending cuts in the bad times); and
Limiting base expenditures to core functions within the revenue forecast.
Here are the types of questions that should be asked before any activity receives taxpayer money:
Is the activity a core function of government or commercial in nature?
If it is a core function, can the service be provided more efficiently and effectively through competitive contracting?
Does it provide a broad public benefit or only serve a special interest?
Does it duplicate the activities of non-profits or other private initiatives?
Does it duplicate the efforts of other state agencies or programs?
Does the activity demonstrate quantifiable performance?
In fact, you could say that asking and answering these questions combined with utilizing sound budgeting tools is the equivalent of taking budget Tamiflu to head off the cyclical "economic flu" season.
When the Governor signed the budget bills yesterday, she wrapped up the work of the '09 Legislative Session. How did the business community fair? Not bad, considering all the proposals that were in the works.
At the onset of the session I, among many others, were fairly certain that we would see the Legislature push through pretty large tax increases to help shore up the $9 billion budget shortfall. Things came very close there towards the end with the proposed sales tax increase dying in the last stages of the session, and the high-income tax also falling by the wayside. However, there are about $300 million in new "fees" that the business community and citizens will have to fork over during the next biennium (see more on the fees).
For small businesses, there were some baby steps toward improving the!
business climate. SB 5042 will provide a waiver of penalties for small businesses that incur paperwork violations for the first time. Again, baby steps but a step in the right direction. I was encouraged, however, that so many of WPC-type regulatory reform ideas were introduced as legislation (e.g. executive sign-off on agency rulemaking, increasing legislative oversight of rulemaking activities, sunset provisions, and more). As Session progressed and economic stimulus became one of the top issues, WPC asked instead for a "de-regulatory stimulus package." Let's make Washington's morose regulatory climate a little easier for businesses to understand and therefor encourage more entrepreneurs to make that leap into small businesshood.
During the interim the Center for Small Business will continue!
to ascertain what the new rules and regulations mean for small businesses. We are also working on finalizing plans for the 2009 Statewide Small Business Conference, to be held in the Fall. This Conference will also address what happened this year and look ahead to the 2010 Legislative Session and let small business owners contribute their own thoughts and recommendations to the policy process. After all, if, as a small business owner, you are not involved in the policy process, you'll likely be unhappy with the results.
Usually when environmentalists talk about flying and climate-change the discussion focuses on getting rid of executive aircraft, not saving them. When it comes to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 8-passenger King Air, however, Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark asked the Governor to save his airplane, in part due to climate-change.
First some background. In an effort to balance the budget the Legislature decided DNR “shall dispose of the King Air aircraft it currently owns. Disposal of the aircraft must occur no later than June 30, 2010.”
In response to this, Goldmark sent Governor Gregoire a letter on May 6 demanding that she veto this forced sale and save his plane. Goldmark’s letter reads in-part:
“This threatens the state’s ability to effectively fight!
wildfires and respond to natural disasters. It compromises our ability to save the state and its residents millions of dollars each year. This is the wrong direction for maintaining our emergency response infrastructure while climate change is causing increased frequency and severity of wildfires and major climatic events causing floods, landslides, and utility damage . . . Disposing of our aircraft in the face of more wildfires, and climate-change related storms is simply the opposite direction that the state should be headed with its emergency response infrastructure.”
This claim caught the attention of former DNR Communications Director and current Washington Policy Center Environmental Director Todd Myers.
“Two problems. First, the plane in question isn’t an air tanker. It is an executive aircraft that is not part of the ‘emergency-response infrastructure’ in any real sense,” said Myers. “Second, his claim about needing the plane to !
address an increasing number of ‘climate-change-related stor!
ms’ is contradicted by scientists.”
“As an environmental scientist, I am frustrated by the poor information distributed by public officials, the media and others regarding the current and predicted frequency of extreme weather events. It is time for the scientific community to set the record straight . . . How many times have you heard that severe windstorms and heavy rains will increase in the Northwest under global climate change? The truth is, there is no strong evidence for these claims and the whole matter is being actively researched. Some portions of the Northwest have had more rain and wind during the past decades, some less. And initial simulations of future Northwest climate do not suggest heavier rain events.”
“Those who want to use climate change to support particular policies often claim that we must ‘follow the science.’ When there is a conflict between their desired policy and the science, however, they are quick to distort the science or ignore it altogether,” concludes Myers.
It looks like Myers wasn’t the only one not persuaded by Goldmark’s arguments. The Governor refused to veto the sale of DNR’s plane when she signed the budget on May 19.
Today's Seattle Times editorial, "Teacher retention should be based on effectiveness, not seniority," by parent Andrew Kwatinetz, explains why schools are unable to give students the best possible teachers, for every classroom: because collective bargaining agreements prevent schools from retaining only the best teachers.
Parent Andrew Kwatinetz points out that the best young teachers are facing layoffs, even though they are known by parents and students to be highly effective teachers. He states as follows: "But what we struggle to comprehend is the rationale behind the current contractual agreement with the union, which is laid out clearly on the Seattle Education Association Web site under article XII, section A.5: 'The performance ratings (evaluation) of employees shall not be a factor in determining the order of layoff.'"
The union and its spokespeople perpetuate the myth that it is unfair or impossible to fairly evaluate teacher performance, and proffer a litany of excuses for poor teacher performance. Nonsense. Every principal knows who the good teachers are, and which teachers should choose another profession. But principals cannot act on this knowledge. Instead, powerful unions decide who will remain in the classroom, and who will not.
The Legislature’s use of referendum-denying emergency clauses increased from seven percent of all bills passed in 2008 to twelve percent this year – 68 bills out of 583 (the Governor vetoed three of these emergency clauses). Despite the increase, this was the fourth lowest percentage use of the emergency clause since 1997.
To provide a check on the Legislature, the state constitution grants the people the power to veto unwanted legislation through the use of a referendum. According to the Secretary of State, “The referendum allows citizens, through the petition process, to refer acts of the Legislature to the ballot before they become law.” This power applies to any bill adopted by the Legislature except those that include an “emergency clause.”
An emergency clause states that a bill is exempt from repeal by referendum because the bill is, “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, support of th!
e state government and its existing public institutions.” The use of the emergency clause allows bills to take effect immediately once signed by the Governor.
The purpose of the emergency clause is to allow state government to respond quickly to true public emergencies, like a large-scale natural disaster or wide-spread epidemic disease.
Yet over the years lawmakers have routinely abused the exemption by attaching emergency clauses to 813 bills since 1997, including 68 bills during the 2009 legislative session.
The most effective way to end the Legislature’s abuse of the emergency clause is a constitutional amendment creating a supermajority vote requirement for its use. The Legislature would then be prohibited from attaching an emergency clause unless the bill was approved by a 60 percent vote. Budget bills, however, could be made exempt from the supermajority vote requirement, allowing them to pass with a simple majority and not be sub!
ject to referendum.
If a true public emergency occurs th!
at warrants denying the people their right of referendum, a 60 percent vote requirement in the Legislature should not be difficult to achieve. In the case of a true emergency, the public would most likely welcome the use of the emergency clause by the Legislature, recognizing it is intended to be used at just such a time. Political convenience, however, should no longer serve as a reason to deny the people their right of referendum.
With a stroke of her pen, Governor Gregoire today restored the $29 million raided by lawmakers from the State Auditor's dedicated performance audit account. We first raised the prospect of a veto on April 29 after legislators ignored State Auditor Sonntag's request to reduce the 73% reduction in available performance audit funds. On May 5, Sonntag formally requested a veto in this letter to the Governor.
Discussing her veto, the Governor said the State Auditor has agreed to keep $15 million of the fu!
nds in reserve to be transferred the next time the Legislature meets - this is the amount the Auditor had previously agreed to be reduced from the performance audit account.
At stake was whether or not the Auditor would be able to move forward with the comprehensive statewide performance review requested by the Governor while at the same time conducting robust performance audits of state and local governments to help identify opportunities for savings and reforms during this difficult economic time.
After the Governor issued her veto I asked the Auditor what this means for his performance audit work. This is what Sonntag told me: “We can now move ahead in our effort to help bring about real reform to state government programs, and at the same time honor our commitment to the citizens of the state who gave us performance audit responsibility.”
Illustrating the widespread public support for Sonntag's independent performance audit authority granted !
by the people in 2005, the state's newspaper editorial boa!
rds unanimously called on the Governor to veto the Legislature's raid of $29 million from the performance audit account. Here are those editorials:
You might have seen the story that President Obama is proposing to increase fuel efficiency standards, which would add about $1,300 or more onto the price of an automobile. This from CNN:
New fuel economy rules announced by President Obama Tuesday have
already gained support from major automakers, but the challenge will be
getting consumers to play along, especially if gas prices remain
Surprised that automakers support such a plan? You should not be.
While its much easier to get support from an industry in which you own two of the major players, most auto manufacturers welcome one national standard, instead of individual states adopting their own, as has been the case for many years. This lowers manufacturing costs.
While consumers will pay a bit more upfront, proponents argue the overall cost of car ownership will fall because drivers would buy fewer gallons of fuel. This means more people buying cars and more people continuing to drive.
While this seems to contradict signs that the Obama administration is rapidly moving toward aggressive "smart growth" policies that force people out of personal automobiles and into public transit, don't be alarmed. The longer term savings to consumers from having to buy less fuel will be countered with higher gas taxes, (and perhaps tolling at the state lev!
Higher fuel efficiency also means less fuel tax revenue, which again furthers the need for higher fuel taxes.
might think the Department of Transportation would be a refuge from
Washington's inundation of painfully earnest and pitilessly incessant
talk about "remaking" this (health care, Detroit) and "transforming"
that (the energy sector, the planet's temperature). Transportation,
after all, is about concrete practicalities—planes, trains and
automobiles, steel, asphalt and concrete.
Furthermore, the new
transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, was until January a Republican
congressman practicing militant middle-of-the-roadism. He knows what
plays in Peoria, and not just figuratively: He is from there. Peoria is
a meatloaf, macaroni-and-cheese, down-to-earth place, home of
Caterpillar, the maker of earthmoving machines for building roads,
runways, dams and things.
LaHood, however, has been transformed.
Indeed, about three bites into lunch, the T word lands with a thump: He
says he has joined a "transformational" administration: "I think we can
change people's behavior." Government "promoted driving" by building
the Interstate Highway System—"you talk about changing behavior." He
says, "People are getting out of their cars, they are biking to work."
High-speed intercity rail, such as the proposed bullet train connecting
Los Angeles and San Francisco, is "the wave of the future." And then,
predictably, comes the P word: Look, he says, at Portland, Ore.
the aforementioned wave to Portland, which liberals hope is a harbinger
of America's future, has long been their aerobic activity of choice.
But LaHood is a Republican, for Pete's sake, the party (before it lost
its bearings) of "No, we can't" and "Actually, we shouldn't" and "Not
so fast" and "Let's think this through." Now he is in full "Yes we
can!" mode. Et tu, Ray?
Where to start? Does LaHood really think
Americans were not avid drivers before a government highway program
"promoted" driving? Does he think 0.01 percent of Americans will ever
regularly bike to work? Intercity high-speed rail probably always will
be the wave of the future, for cities more than 300 miles apart. And as
for Portland ...
Its government has been, intermittently, as
progressive as all get-out, trying to use zoning, light-rail projects
and high-density housing to cool the planet by curbing automobile use.
This sort of "New Urbanism" is metastasizing. Last year California's
attorney general, Jerry Brown, 71, the state's once (1975–82) and, he
hopes, future governor, was a prime mover behind a new law that would
deny certain state aid to communities that do not adopt "smart growth"
plans. They are supposed to herd Californians into higher-density
living near mass-transit rail lines in order to reduce their carbon
footprints (tire prints, actually).
For many generations—before
automobiles were common, but trolleys ran to the edges of
towns—Americans by the scores of millions have been happily trading
distance for space, living farther from their jobs in order to enjoy
ample backyards and other aspects of low-density living. And long
before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America's
"automobile culture," many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the
automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning
their—supervision of other people's lives. Drivers moving around where
and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving
themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good
could come of this.
Although proponents of the "war against
sprawl" think of it as newfangled, it actually is quaintly retro. In
the 1950s, when liberalism took a turn toward esthetic politics, its
thinkers began looking askance at middle-class America. To the herd of
independent thinkers who deplored it in chorus, suburbanization was
emblematic of the banality of bourgeoisie life. Then, 45 years ago this
week, a Democratic president who had been in office exactly six months
heeded the liberal intellectual's cri de coeur.
On May 22, 1964,
President Lyndon Johnson, speaking at the University of Michigan,
announced plans to transform America by leading it "upward to the Great
Society." Exhorting the Class of 1964 to "indignation," he said America
was in danger of being "buried under unbridled growth." The implication
was clear: Government must put a bridle—and a saddle and snaffle—on
Americans, the better to, LBJ said, "enrich and elevate" their lives
above "soulless wealth" and to serve "the desire for beauty and the
hunger for community."
Once upon a time, government was supposed
to defend the shores, deliver the mail and let people get on with their
lives. Today's far-seeing and fastidious government, not content with
designing the cars Americans drive to their homes and the lightbulbs
they use in their homes (do you know that, come 2014, the incandescent
lightbulb will be illegal?), wants to say where their homes can be. And
to think that Republican Ray LaHood, Secretary of Behavior
Modification, is an enthusiast for this, well, cozy relationship
between Washington and Peoria, and everywhere else, too.