Washington Policy Blog

House Ways & Means budget amendments

April 7, 2009 in Blog

Today the House Ways & Means committee adopted numerous amendments to the proposed House budget. Among those adopted:

  • 1244-PS AMH WAYS DRIV 195: "Requires the Evergreen State College to expend $200,000 in 2009-11 on the Labor Education and Research Center."
  • 1244-PS AMH WAYS DRIV 167: "Removes the state support enrollment targets for the four-year universities and colleges and the State Board for Community and Technical College system."
  • 1244-PS AMH WAYS GAVC 031: "Requires the parks and recreation commission to not close any state parks during the 2009-11 biennium, and to report to the legislature by January 10, 2010, on its budget and resources related to operating the parks for the remainder of the 2009-11 biennium."
  • 1244-PS AMH WAYS PAME 039:
    "Directs the State Auditor to conduct biennial audits of local
    governments with revenues of $10 million or less and no findings for a
    three year period." (Currently these entities are audited annually under federal grant requirements if they spend $500,000 or more of federal money)

The first two amendments are of particular note in light of this blog post we did last week highlighting the budgeted enrollment slots for higher education (the amendment removes those targets from the budget) and this audit finding calling into question the legality of the Evergreen State College's Labor Center activities.

Though K-12 school spending will increase by 4-5%, school districts may be forced to lay off teachers

April 6, 2009 in Blog

School districts are complaining about having to lay off teachers. 

If these layoffs happen, it is not due to lack of funding, but rather because school districts have little control over the way they spend their money.  Under either the House or Senate budget proposal, taxpayers will be providing increased funds to public schools.  The numbers demonstrate that under either budget proposal, total public school spending will increase.  The House budget would increase state spending on public schools by 5.3% and the Senate budget by 4.5%.  (Remember that the state provides approx 70% of all spending on public education, as local districts and the federal government provide the rest.  Total per pupil funding from all sources was $9418 in 2008.)

                                                            House Budget                        Senate Budget

                                                            Total Budgeted Funds             Total Budgeted Funds

                                                    Basic Ed and NonBasic Ed             Basic Ed and NonBasic Ed

2007-09 Estimated Expenditures            $15,167,950,000                            $15,167,950,000

2009-11 Budget                                     $15,979,517,000(5.3% increase)     $15,858,968,000(4.5%incr.)

Teacher layoffs, however, may happen despite these increases in spending because school districts are forced by funding formulas to spend their ample resources in ways dictated by the legislature.  School districts should be allowed to use increased funding to Basic Ed, the largest silo of money (which amounts to 81% of K-12 funding by the state), to offset reductions to NonBasic Ed, a smaller silo of money for programs such as Initiative 728 (class size reductions of approx one student per class statewide) and Initiative 732 (teacher pay increases).

The House and Senate budgets both increase General Apportionment (82% of Basic Ed)  as follows:

                                                        House Bill                                    Senate Bill

2007-09 Estimated Expenditures        $9,265,714,000                             $9,265,714,000

2009-11 Budgets                             $10,465,371,000(13% increase)      $10,747,319,000(16% increase)

School districts will have plenty of money with which to avoid layoffs to teachers, but may be prevented by their funding formulas from doing so.      

Our legislators continue to increase spending on public schools.  They should be giving local districts the flexibility they need over spending.   

Money (and Green Jobs) for Nothing

April 6, 2009 in Blog

Today, Rep. Hans Dunshee will announce his $3 billion spending plan for "creating jobs by funding construction of safety, health and energy-saving improvements to public facilities." The goal is apparently to provide spending similar to the federal "stimulus" package. Since the state budget must be balanced, however, the money must be bonded as future debt to be paid by taxpayers.

If the bill passes the legislature it would go to the public in November.

The sponsor claims that the bill will pay for itself. Half of the energy savings from spending on energy efficiency in public buildings will be placed into an account to pay off the bond. Further, he says that the bill would create 90,000 jobs, although he does not say how long each of those jobs would last or describe the quality of those jobs.

Several questions and challenges come to mind.

  • Past claims of energy savings have proven false. In 2005, Rep. Dunshee predicted that his legislation requiring schools to meet "green" building standards would reduce energy costs by 30 percent. Our research in the four years since the bill passed shows that green schools don't reduce energy costs and, in many cases, actually increase them. The Superintendent of Public Instruction recently admitted that the data do not support the previous energy savings claims.
  • Some energy efficiency projects are extremely expensive. When the City of Seattle looked at putting solar panels on Qwest Exhibition Hall, officials estimated that the project would break even only after 40 years. If money is spent for inefficient, but politically popular, projects the return on investment will be low or negative.
  • Most of the funding will likely come from increased taxes. Of the $3 billion budgeted, only $500 million applies to the "Washington Works"account created to capture half of the energy savings. To cover the full $3 billion, those expenditures would have to yield a more than a 12-to-1 return on investment. This is optimistic in the extreme. For a 20-year bond, excluding interest costs, this is about the pace of the growth of Google's stock price since its IPO in 2004.
  • The bill assumes school districts are mismanaging their schools. Undoubtedly school district officials will support this bill. Who can resist the temptation of free money, especially in tough times? The assumption of the legislation, however, is that there are massive energy savings to be had that are simply being ignored by school districts. Some districts may make this mistake, but my experience in speaking with facilities directors at school districts is that they know their buildings very well and identify opportunities for energy savings quickly.
  • It is unclear how energy savings would be counted. Schools and universities could come to regret taking the money if the accounting of energy savings is expansive. One-half of the energy savings will be returned to the state to pay off the bonds. Determining, however, what are actual savings may be difficult. This will involve establishing a baseline of energy expenditures for each building when energy costs can vary from year to year for a variety of reasons. It will also involve determining why any energy savings against that baseline occurred. Was it a mild weather year? Did teachers turn out the lights? These are not trivial considerations. One "green" school found that the temperature preference of the principal increased energy costs by thousands of dollars. Will they claim energy savings, and therefore payments, even if costs go up, arguing that costs would have been even higher? The City of Seattle made exactly this argument when !
    it turned out that the new "green" City Hall actually used more energy than the old one. Charging school districts in that circumstance could add insult to injury.
  • It could pit schools and universities against the state. Further, since part of the savings associated with state spending would have to be paid to the state, school districts will have an incentive to minimize the claimed savings. The state, on the other hand, trying to claw back as much as they can, will want to exaggerate the savings. Who wins this accounting tug-of-war will determine whether schools are winners or losers in this program.
  • What happens if cost-effective projects aren't found? Any effort to spend a certain amount of money is likely to breed waste. At the end of each biennium, afraid to lose remaining funds, agencies find ways to spend them. It is likely that this program will see a similar rush to spend, regardless of the utility of projects. The money offered in this program doesn't expire, so it will be used for increasingly inefficient purposes. There is no standard for return on investment, only the requirement that the money be spent. It is likely that the return on investment of some projects will be negative, spending ten dollars to save one. This is a good deal for those who receive the money. Since taxpayers, not the districts or other beneficiaries, are liable for the costs, any new savings, however meager, is found money. Thus, districts will be happy to put forward any project that saves even $1 a year because they receive at least half of the bene!
    fits and none of the costs.

We've addressed the "green jobs" ecofad in the past. Additionally, the goal of government spending should not just be to create jobs, but to create prosperity. For example, which makes more sense, 1) a project that generates 1 MW of energy and creates 10 jobs, 2) a project that creates 1 MW of energy and creates 100 jobs, or 3) a project that creates no energy but creates 500 jobs? If jobs are the goal, we could simply pay people to dig and fill in holes.

Ultimately the quality of the project is the key. We want to create productive jobs, not make-work jobs. This is especially critical since the funding for those jobs will come from businesses who are already creating jobs. An unproductive "green" job is worse for economic recovery than a productive job in another sector like health care.

We'll see how many of these questions are answered when the proposal is formally unveiled today.

House capital budget priorities

April 2, 2009 in Blog

Not to get lost in all the debate about the state's operating budget, the Legislature's capital budget proposals were also released this week. In years past the capital budget has been referred to as the "Fun Budget."

So what are some of the House capital budget priorities?

•    Apple Awards (for schools) - $250,000
•    Washington State Historical Society - $12,250,000
•    Eastern Washington State Historical Society - $1,939,000
•    Admiral Theatre-No Theatre Left Behind - $140,000
•    Artspace Everett Lofts - $1,000,000
•    Building a Foundation for Discovery - $250,000
•    Campus Consolidation (Cornish) - $375,000
•    Convert Key!
Bank To Everett's Plaza Theatre - $500,000
•    Cottage Renovation (Hedgebrook) - $20,000
•    Downstairs at the 5th - $800,000
•    Federal Way Performing Arts Center - $325,000
•    Gateway Center (Lummi) - $150,000
•    James Ctr for the Performing Arts (Sequim) - $150,000
•    Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center - $475,000
•    Legacy Project (Imagine) - $200,000
•    Modular Classrooms for Dance (Gladish) - $30,000
•    Museum Expansion (Maryhill) - $1,500,000
•    New Hands On Children's Museum  - $1,000,000
•    Phase II Renovation (Mt. Baker Theatre) - $1,000,000
•    Reconstruction of First Stage, Issaquah - $400,000
•    Seattl!
e Opera Center - Phase I Design - $650,000
• !
60;  Stage Two (Whidbey) - $450,000
•    Vashon Arts Center - $1,115,000
•    Visual Arts Education Center (Sno Co.) - $1,000,000
•    Viva Vera Capital Campaign - $70,000
•    WA Hall Acquisition and Rehab - $400,000
•    A Home for Opportunity - $325,000
•    Building the new Eastside Clinic - $1,900,000
•    Community Center for Sand Point Housing - $350,000
•    Donald G. Topping HOPE Center - $1,934,250
•    Dove House - $240,000
•    Duvall Multi-Service Center - $617,985
•    East Central Community Facilities Expansion Project - $231,500
•    El Centro de la Raza Safety & Systems Improvements -$250,031
•    Emmanuel Family Life Center - $!
400,594
•    Eritrean Community Center Expansion - $300,000
•    Family Services Center - $1,265,000
•    Ferndale Boys & Girls Club - $752,847
•    Giant Step - $520,761
•    Greenbridge Early Learning Center - $1,419,281
•    High Point Neighborhood Center - $2,000,000
•    Highline YMCA - $2,000,000
•    Milgard Work Opportunity Center - $1,850,000
•    Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood Education and Training Center - $881,847
•    Northeast Community Center Expansion - $1,800,000
•    Pierce County Therapy Center - $128,000
•    Rainier Vista & Rainier Valley Teen Center - $3,906,000
•    Repurposing Daybreak Star - $87,500
•  &!
#0160; Riverwalk Point Community Building - $79,253
• !
60;  Rotary Support Center for Families - $3,500,000
•    Technology Access Foundation Community Learning Space - $1,500,000
•    The Keller House Services Center - $600,000
•    YMCA/YWCA Central Spokane Facility - $3,500,000

Having fun yet?

(NOTE: CAPITAL SPENDING DOES NOT CORRELATE DIRECTLY TO SPENDING IN OPERATING BUDGET)

About those budgeted higher education enrollment cuts

April 2, 2009 in Blog

We've all heard that the proposed state budgets reduce enrollment slots at higher education institutions. True?

Yes and no.

Consider the current budgeted enrollment figures for 2007-09 (Section 604 of HB 2687) and the proposed budgeted enrollment for 2009-11 (Section 604 of HB 1244):

State Support for Annual Full-Time Equivalent Student Enrollments 

School

2007-08

2008-09

2009-10

2010-11

UW – Main

33,782

34,197

34,197

34,197

UW – Bothell

1,760

1,980

1,980

1,980

UW – Tacoma

2,109

2,349

2,349

2,349

WSU – Main

19,112

19,272

19,272

19,272

WSU – Tri-Cities

800

865

865

865

WSU – Vancouver

1,888

2,113

2,113

2,113

CWU

8,952

9,322

9,322

9,322

EWU

8,996

9,184

9,184

9,184

Evergreen

4,165

4,213

4,213

4,213

WWU

12,022

12,175

12,175

12,175

Community College

136,102

139,237

139,237

139,237

Total

229,688

234,907

234,907

234,907

Budgeted enrollment, though not increasing, is not cut under the proposed House budget. So how is enrollment being reduced?

The problem is not with a budgeted reduction but the fact that higher education institutions "over-enrolled," meaning they admitted more students over the past few years than the Legislature budgeted for.

In other higher education budget news, it appears Senate Democratic budget writers were not swayed by this recent damning audit of the Evergreen State College's Labor Center; the Labor Center receives $200,000 in the Senate budget (Section 610 [3] of SB 5600).

You Can't Predict the Future. But I Can. With Your Money.

April 2, 2009 in Blog

The latest version of the state's climate change bill, E2SSB 5735, includes a number of efforts to favor the technologies politicians believe will be the key to reducing CO2 emissions in the future. The bill calls for creating an "alternative fuels corridor" using government funding and property. In building the corridor, the Department of Ecology will:

Limit renewable fuel and vehicle technology offerings to those with a forecasted demand over the next fifteen years and approved by the department;

To understand what a fool's errand this is, think back fifteen years, to 1994. California was trying to mandate all-electric vehicles, an effort they abandoned in 2007. Hybrid vehicles were unknown. Today, every car company offers hybrids and the Prius outsells the most popular SUV.

Only three years ago, legislators argued that biofuels were the carbon-free fuel of the future. Today that view seems naïve as the biofuel industry struggles and studies show significant costs and carbon emissions associated with the most popular biofuels. The pace of technological change is remarkable and predicting the future is extremely difficult.

Ironically, one of the advocates of the bill agrees.

The Sightline Institute, one of the more thoughtful environmental groups, falls into the trap of believing it can predict the future while criticizing opponents for believing the same thing. In a recent blog entry, they criticize opponents of the President's stimulus package, saying:

Everyone knows something about the bailouts, Obama's "handling" of the economy, how health care will play out, or the timing of federal climate policy. Note to everyone: shut up ... But whatever else you may know, you do not know what will happen in the future.

The irony is that while criticizing others' inability to predict the future, the climate policies they advocate expressly rely on the ability of politicians to predict what technologies will be viable in the future and spend taxpayer money on that bet. The problem is that politicians are very poor at this and fail again and again as evidenced by their support of all-electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles and biofuels. As a result, politicians, unsure of where to place their bets, bet on every number on the roulette table. They lose large amounts of money on every spin, but can always claim to have picked the winning number. Uncertainty breeds bad decisions.

How do you address this uncertainty? Sightline argues that since the market doesn't always work perfectly, government must step in:

The only sensible thing to do when you see something that's clearly, inherently unsustainable is to do your best to stop it before someone gets hurt. ... Unsustainable things will stop, by definition.  Once we come to grips with that fact, we can start planning a smoother and more gentle transition to a set of expectations, and way of life, that can really last.

In other words, we cannot predict the future, but when politicians see something they believe to be unsustainable, they should step in and stop it, using government planning. What if politicians guess wrong? What if they can't predict the future? There are two ways to deal with this uncertainty.

We can distribute power and hold those who make poor decisions responsible for those decisions, like in the market. Or we can consolidate power and separate decisionmakers from the consequences of those decisions. If individuals make bad decisions in the first approach, they bear the burden and the consequences are distributed. If politicians make bad decisions in the second scenario, the consequences are multiplied by the consolidation of power and the burden is borne by taxpayers.If politicians choose wrong, as they almost certainly will, when it comes to climate change spending, we will find ourselves years from now with higher carbon emissions and having wasted billions.

If we create a broad incentive to reduce carbon emissions, like a stable carbon price, millions of Washingtonians will take large and small steps. Some will succeed and some will fail. The competition of the market, however, will produce the most efficient and effective solutions as it did when it favored hybrids over the government selected all-electric vehicles. Those who fail will have done so with their own money. Even if most choose wrong, those who choose correctly will benefit and spread their innovation.

The future is uncertain, and there are ups and downs. But consolidating power in the hands of politicians turns ordinary risks into all-or-nothing bets, betting taxpayer money on their ability to do something they admit they cannot – predict the future.

Distributing power limits the cost of bad decisions and increases the diversity of thought and creativity that is critical to finding the technological solutions that are at the center of all environmental solutions.

State income tax: deja vu all over again

April 1, 2009 in Blog

State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) would like to create what she calls a "millionaire's tax" on high-income people living in Washington. This is exactly what happened in 1913 when the federal government created the income tax. The first income tax started at 1% and it applied only to the wealthiest people. Back then supporters of the tax said that most people would never have to pay it. As we know, within a short time paying the federal income tax became an all too common experience for Americans.  Even if Sen. Kohl-Welles' "millionaire's tax" at first applied only to Bill Gates, you can be sure that in no time we would all be paying it.

State Auditor fights performance audit cuts

March 31, 2009 in Blog

State Auditor Brian Sonntag testified today against the Senate's proposed raid of dedicated I-900 performance audit funds. The House budget also raids I-900 funds. From the House budget summary:

Performance Audit Account Program Funding (-$13.5 million General Fund-State; $13.5 million Performance Audits of Government-State)

Funding for JLARC, GMAP, WSIPP, K-12 budget driver audits and conservation district audits is provided from the Performance Audits of Government Account for the 2009-11 biennium rather than with General Fund-State.

Here is a copy of the State Auditor's testimony:

Brian Sonntag
Testimony on Proposed 2009-2011 Budget
Senate Ways and Means Committee
March 31, 2009

Thank you for giving me an opportunity t!
o explain the consequences of this proposed budget on the Office of State Auditor.

Certainly, this budget period is extraordinarily difficult. I respect and value the responsibilities you have and the tough decisions you must make.

I recognize that our Office along with every other state agency must share in the pain of those decisions.     

But the budget you have proposed goes beyond funding reductions or a one-time sweep of our cash balance. To take more than half of the revenue that voters permanently designated for performance audits and use it to fund other programs undercuts the performance audit authority that citizens directly gave to their independent State Auditor.

That change contained in Section 927 of the budget and the precedent it sets is absolutely unacceptable.    

It is unacceptable to me. It is unacceptable to citizens who in such a time as this!
look to us more than ever to ensure that government is accoun!
table and transparent. They recognize this Office is uniquely positioned to be part of the reform the governance change that everybody talks about and wants.      

What particularly disappoints me is that the effects of this budget come at a time when our Office is looked upon to be part of the solution. Every discussion we’ve had with legislative leadership and the Governor centered on how we can help bring about meaningful, cost-saving government reform. 

We’ve already got several performance audits underway with the intent to identify immediate cost savings as well as long-term efficiencies.

We also have launched a statewide performance review, which we were called upon to do by the Governor. It will focus exclusively on state government, its governance structure and back-office functions such as information technology and leasing office space. Many in the Legislature recognize its potential!

Just like successful performance reviews in other states and nationally, we’re going into it with the full intention of finding and recommending significant spending reductions and proposed ways to reshape and recreate what state government does and how state government does it.

We will settle for nothing less than true, meaningful reform.

The time for thinking outside the box is over. There is no box.

I’m disappointed in another respect. This budget does not recognize the value our performance audits have produced so far.

To date, we have completed 15 performance audits of state and local governments that have produced a ratio of 10 dollars saved to one dollar spent. That’s a wise investment.

For state government alone, our audits have recommended nearly $500 million in potential savings.

One audit concluded that four of the largest state agencies could collect $320 million in del!
inquent debt owed to the state simply by following industry best practi!
ces. That’s an additional $320 million that should be in the state’s pocket. 

Our audit of Department of Health transformed how the state licenses and disciplines health care professionals keeping vulnerable patients safe from predatory practitioners. While it did not identify a nickel of specific cost savings, it certainly minimized the risk of potentially costly tort claims against the state.
 
Let’s be clear, our audits have proven their worth. They have real value, and they are meeting the expectations of citizens. 

We worked diligently and constructively with the Governor to reduce our budget – both in our state financial audit work and in performance audits. The budget proposed by the Governor reflects a reduction of 20 percent in our state appropriation.

I view the diversion of revenue designated for performance audits as nothing short of an assault on what citizens expect the state to do when t!
hey gave us that authority and the funding stream to carry it out.

We need accountability now more than ever and citizens demand and deserve it. We’ve seen the consequences of no oversight and no accountability in our free-falling economy.  State government accountability is what’s at stake and it’s absent in your budget proposal.

Thank you very much.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee members had no questions for the Auditor after his testimony.

Senate budget proposes increases to Basic Education spending and decreases to Non Basic Ed spending

March 31, 2009 in Blog

Since 2004, the state has increased spending on K-12 education by 30%. Now that revenues are not growing at double-digit rates, the Legislature has to reduce its rate of spending on education. 

Under yesterday's proposed Senate Budget, state spending on Basic Education would increase, and spending on Non-Basic Education programs would be reduced, with an overall reduction to state spending on K-12 education of 3.5%.  This budget describes federal "stabilization funding" totaling $1.42 billion for education. You can read an overview of the Senate budget here.

 

Here is a quick summary of this budget: 

In 2007-9, the total budget for public schools approximately $18 billion from all state, local and federal sources.  

 

Of the $15.1 billion provided by the state in the last biennium, about $11 billion is for Basic Education programs.  The balance of about $2.6 billion is spent on Non-basic education programs, which include  I-732 (teacher pay increases) and I-728 spending (class size reduction and other efforts), and a miscellany of education reform and other programs. 

The Senate budget released yesterday would increase spending on Basic Education by 16% to $12.9 billion. 

 

The Senate Budget would reduce Non Basic Education spending by $1.87 billion.  These reductions would include elimination of I-732 costs ($396.3 million), reducing I-728 (by $728 million, though maintaining $300 million in I-728 spending through federal funding), saving $297 million on K-4 reductions in class size (possibly restored in part through increased staffing ratios under Basic Education general apportionment), and saving $410 million on eliminating local effort assistance, professional development, and other education reform programs.

 

It is unclear from this budget exactly how the $1.42 billion in federal funds and $360 million from a one-time state funding source will be allocated to offset these reductions. 

 

More on this as budget discussions continue.

 

Liv Finne, Director, Center for Education, Washington Policy Center

What's in the Senate budget?

March 31, 2009 in Blog

A lot of attention is being provided to what isn't in the Senate budget. Since those activities are already receiving scrutiny, what did the Senate decide to include in its spending plan? Here are some examples of those priorities that apparently are recession proof:

  • Asian-Pacific-American Affairs - $315 thousand

  • Commission on Hispanic Affairs - $371 thousand

  • African-American Affairs Commission - $343 thousand

  • Arts Commission - $6.7 million (all funds)

  • State Historical Society - $7.8 million (all funds)

  • East Wash State Historical Society - $6.4 million (all funds)

  • Liquor Control Board - $245 million (all funds)

  • Archaeology & Historic Preservation - $4.7 million (all funds)

  • Convention and Trade Center - $117 million (all funds)

  • Funding is provided to Star USA to assist hosting the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, scheduled for Jan. 14-24, 2010 - $200 thousand

  • One-time funding is provided for a grant to KCTS Public Television to offer Spanish language programming. The programming will be offered through "V-me", a program service modeled on public television, with children's, arts, history, science, biography, nature, movies, pop culture, and public affairs genres - $40 thousand

  • Funding is provided to implement ESSB 6035 (rating plans). The legislation requires the department to make changes to the retrospective rating program requirements for how sponsoring entities or associations use retrospective rating refunds - $788 thousand (all funds)

  • Higher Education Coordinating Board - $551 million (all funds)

Slow going so far but hope to finish reviewing the Senate budget today and start on the House proposal next.

Economic Stimulus from All Sides

March 31, 2009 in Blog

Washington's Employment Security Department today released a statement announcing the formation of a grant program that would help at-risk youths receive job training and summer employment. The $23 million program is funded by federal stimulus dollars as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in February. 

Governor Gregoire said, "It's especially hard to find a job right now if you are a teen or young adult who dropped out of school and has few work skills."

I couldn't agree more. This is a difficult environment for finding work, particularly if you do not have much work experience. But here's an idea:

Lower the minimum wage -- especially for young workers (15-18 year olds).

This would open up positions for the young and inexpe!
rienced workers that need jobs. Some employers simply cannot afford to pay the $8.55 per hour to someone who has absolutely no work experience, but they may be willing to pay a little less. This would bring opportunity to those who are priced out of jobs because they are young or inexperienced. 

Many supporters of a high minimum wage use scare tactics to try and drastically increase the minimum wage. Most often they use an anecdotal example of a person with a spouse and children trying to survive on $8.55 an hour. But those examples are the extreme, as backed up by BLS data. 

Cutting the minimum wage, particularly for entry-level youth workers, would help grow the economy and hopefully direct these youths toward lives of production and responsibility. That is a win-win stimulus plan.

Budget snapshot

March 30, 2009 in Blog

We'll have more to say about the Legislature's budget proposal after we've had time to read it line-by-line but for now here is a broad overview of the balance sheet.

Near General Fund Spending 2003-05 to 2009-11
*As proposed by Senate
(Dollars in Millions)

Biennium

Spending

% Increase

2003-05

$25,607.5

4.3%

2005-07

$30,171.2

17.8%

2007-09*

$32,581.0

 8.0%

2009-11*

 $31,270.0

 <4.0%>


Change in 2007-09 Near General Fund Spending
(Dollars in Millions)

Current

$33,655.0

Senate
Proposed

$32,581.0

Difference

<$1,074.0>

 Change in 2007-09 to 2009-11 Near General Fund Revenue Forecast
(Dollars in Millions)



 

2007-09

2009-11

February
2008

$31,558.8

$34,158.0

March
2009

$30,437.4

$30,503.4

Difference

<$1,121.4>

<$3,654.6>

Here is the Senate Ways and Means summary of the budget proposal.

Stay tuned for more details and analysis in the coming days.

North Korea Appreciation Day

March 27, 2009 in Blog

KoreaREU121006_548x700 Tomorrow is North Korea Appreciation Day, sponsored under a different name by environmental group WWF and endorsed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and many others. Remember to turn your lights out tomorrow in honor of the example set by that country.

Secretary Moon is from South Korea. Looks like his country has some work to do.

Opt-in or Opt-out for state parks?

March 27, 2009 in Blog

Back in 2007, a bill was introduced to require a mandatory $5 fee be added to vehicle registration fees to help support state parks. According to the bill summary for the original version of HB 2275:

The Department of Licensing (DOL) will collect five additional dollars at a motor vehicle's initial registration or renewal. The fee will be deposited into the State Parks Renewal and Stewardship Account to be used for the operation and maintenance of state parks.

When registering a vehicle, the owner may certify that he or she does not intend to use the vehicle to visit state parks. The DOL will not collect a $5 fee from vehicles not intended to be used to visit state parks.

Essentially this means that those paying their vehicle registrations fees would have been permitted to opt-out of paying the $5 park fee if they certif!
ied they didn't plan to visit a state park.

The substitute version of the bill ultimately adopted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, however, changed the funding scheme to opt-in:

The Department of Licensing (DOL) will provide an opportunity to donate an additional $5 at a vehicle's initial registration or renewal. The fee will be deposited into the State Parks Renewal and Stewardship Account to be used for the operation and maintenance of state parks.

Despite this give and take by lawmakers in 2007 making the $5 park fee affirmative (you must opt-in), some lawmakers are now talking about changing the fee back to permissive (you must opt-out). According to The Olympian:

Flipping the rules on a $5 donation program could keep dozens of state parks open for use over the next two years, b!
ut critics say it's a sneaky way to essentially raise taxe!
s.

Currently, residents can check a box volunteering to pay the fee. A proposal that calls for charging the fee on vehicle tab renewals unless residents check a box allowing them to opt out has met stiff opposition in the Legislature.

But why stop at state parks? Why not opt-out of higher taxes and fees for education and health care?

The answer may rest in the fact that the higher the fees you are asking taxpayers to "opt-out" of the more likely they are to pay attention and do so.

The collective wisdom of the Legislature was correct in 2007 by focusing on an opt-in process after hearing arguments for opt-out and deciding not to pursue that scheme.

As for allowing those who want to send more of their money to Olympia, at least eight states currently have "Tax me More" funds where voluntary opt-in donations can be sent. It looks!
like Virginia's taxpayers have been lining up to take advantage of the opportunity to send the state more money:

The Commonwealth of Virginia wishes to recognize the following individuals and businesses who have made donations to the Commonwealth's General Fund.

    * Delegate Robert B Bell
    * Andrew K. Kohlhepp
    * John E. Meyers
    * D. Nick Rerras
    * George M. and Milena S. VanSant

A Smooth Transition

March 26, 2009 in Blog

With the closure of the P-I, a number of reporters are looking for jobs. Two environmental reporters have a new employer.

Seattle environmental think tank Sightline announed that the two will now be working there. They noted on their blog: "In addition, two veteran reporters from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer -- Jennifer Langston and Lisa Stiffler -- will be teaming up to edit our Sightline Daily news service."

The transition from environmental reporter to environmental advocate should be seamless.

In one of Stiffler's last blog entries at the P-I, she lamented having even reference those who disagree with her, noting "I hesitate to give even virtual ink to the more extreme climate change naysayers" when talking about a conference in New York of climate scientists who disagree with the projections of climate alarmists.

Two years ago, she and another P-I environmental reporter bragged about an award they received. They noted that "we were awarded the Warren G. Magnuson Puget Sound Legacy Award by the environmental activism and education group People for Puget Sound." They promised that they wouldn't "hang up our, uh, keyboards and declare victory." They didn't say what "victory" looked like for reporters. Interestingly, the blog entry was circulated at the Seattle Times to reinforce their rules against reporters accepting awards from groups they cover.

Langston covered a number of environmental issues, including this unintentionally humorous story about a couple who made a "zero-carbon" move.

When addressing environmental issues, many wonder whether the news they read is being presented in thoughtful and complete manner. When reporters transition so quickly and easily to the payrolls of groups they previously were "objectively" covering, it adds to these doubts.