Washington Policy Blog

Wrapping up the 2009 Legislative Session - Small Business Style

May 21, 2009 in Blog

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.

Governor refuses to save DNR's executive plane

May 20, 2009 in Blog

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.”

Myers points to this statement by University of Washington climatologist Cliff Mass:

 “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.

Teacher layoff process in Seattle fails students and benefits senior teachers

May 20, 2009 in Blog

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.

68 bills exempted from people’s right of referendum in 2009

May 20, 2009 in Blog

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.

Additional details here: Emergency clause usage ticks up 

Governor restores performance audit funding

May 19, 2009 in Blog

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:

More fuel efficient cars means higher gas taxes are on the way

May 19, 2009 in Blog

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
relatively low.

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.

A federal fuel tax increase is now inevitable.

Traffic relief via "behavior modification"

May 19, 2009 in Blog


Ray Lahood, Transformed

Secretary of Behavior Modification

George F. Will


From the magazine issue dated May 25, 2009

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.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/197925

Is the economic downturn leveling off?

May 19, 2009 in Blog

Today's Unemployment Level report from the Employment Security Department (ESD) may give some hope to economists whose job it is to prognosticate on the health and well being of Washington's economy. The unemployment rate in April remained essentially unchanged with March's rate (both at 9.1%).

This is good news in that for the first time in almost 15 months the unemployment level did not get worse (it did not technically get better, but a tie is a win in this situation).  Consider that a year ago the unemployment rate in the state was 4.9%, so we are still almost double where we were not too long ago. Obviously, not everything is smiles and champagne. And there are still many serious concerns with the lack of credit for businesses, as well as no s!
ign in the construction industry
that things are turning around soon.

However, even the state's chief economist, Dr. Arun Raha, seems cautiously optimistic. Listen to his remarks yesterday on KUOW.

Sound Transit's ridership is up and down

May 18, 2009 in Blog

In the world of transportation policy analysis, there is a lot of anticipation for the first quarter ridership reports on public transit.

Most agencies ended 2008 with large increases in transit use. The larger demand placed pressure on budgets and had policymakers calling for higher taxes to expand service. The larger demand also had some suggesting that society had fundamentally shifted behavior away from the personal automobile, which has federal officials calling for massive spending increases in traditional transit and high speed rail with the next reauthorization bill.

In her weekly email update, Joni Earl gave us a preview of Sound Transit's first quarter results:

Despite the shaky economy, ridership on our Sound Transit buses and trains was up the first three months of this year.

Through March, Sound Transit trains an!
d buses carried an average of about 55,500 every weekday, an increase of 10 percent from a year earlier.  The average weekday boardings for ST Express buses increased 10 percent, Sounder commuter trains 5 percent and Tacoma Link light rail 5 percent.

In the month of March alone, ridership was up 6 percent from the same month a year earlier.

When compared to the same quarter last year, ridership is higher, but what Sound Transit does not say is overall transit demand is down. Sound Transit ended 2008 with an average use of 57.7 thousand trips per day. During the first quarter of 2009, Joni Earl says the agency now serves about 55.5 thousand trips per day. Comparatively, that is nearly a 4 percent drop.

Given current fuel prices and high unemployment rates, transit demand should continue to fall throughout the rest of the year. Th!
is should relieve most of the pressure on transit budgets but !
I'm skeptical that policymakers will slow their call for higher taxes. The legislature just passed SB 5433, which gives transit agencies the ability to raise car tab's by $20 per vehicle, subject to voter approval. The same bill also gives King County the authority to raise property taxes by 7.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, without asking voters, to increase transit service.

Just like honey bees in a spring garden, these new taxes just might be too much sweetener for lawmakers to resist.

HB 2261 will not improve student performance, says Dan Grimm, Chair of Basic Ed Task Force

May 15, 2009 in Blog

Austin Jenkin's excellent TVW interview of Dan Grimm, Chair of the Basic Education Task Force, reveals that the big new education reform bill, HB 2261, does not provide the structural reforms needed to genuinely improve public schools in Washington State. These are his words:

    "Even if there is additional money (to fund HB 2261), without significant structural reforms, we won't see significant improvements in student performance, which is the ultimate goal of all this effort."

Dan Grimm appears at 35:41:

Dan Grimm says we need to change the way we train and pay teachers, give administrators incentives to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom, and other key reforms, none of which are addressed by HB 2261.  HB 2261 instead creates working groups to look at some of these matters.  Mr. Grimm says this is just a way to avoid real structural reform, as any changes are sure to be delayed, refined, amended and minimized.   

He also points out that part of the problem is that the public seems to be generally satisfied with the status quo in education, and for this reason legislators are not passing real structural reforms to improve education.

How frustrating.  And depressing, as Austin points out. 

Dan Grimm and Austin discuss the power of the teacher's union, which is so powerful and well-funded that neither Democrats nor Republicans will pass real structural reforms for public education, short of an uprising from parents and the public.     

Parents are naturally inclined to believe that the public schools are doing fine.  How can parents get the real facts?  One source is our Education Reform Plan.  We describe the true state of public education (for example, did you know that public education officials are producing a generation of students less educated than their parents??) and we offer real systemic reforms to education, reforms that do not require new taxes amounting to $4-8 billion per biennium.

Payday lending bill would reduce access to credit

May 15, 2009 in Blog

The governor is thinking about vetoing a bill that would limit access to credit by placing new regulations on payday lenders. Political activists attack the 2,600 people working in the state’s 571 payday lending stores by calling them “loan sharks,” and say that a short-term loan works out to 2,700% when calculated on a yearly basis. First, they are manipulating their example to make the percentage rate look abnormally high. The fee for a $100 payday loan is $15. The average loan term is 20 days, which is 274% when calculated on an annual basis.

Second, they forget that if you are late by one day in paying your property taxes, the state will charge you 1,825% Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on a $100 tax bill. Here are some other common examples.

Overdraft fee: 912%. For a bounced check of $100 a typical bank will charge an overdraft fee of $35. Although the account holder might pay the original check amount plus the overdraft fee within a few days, the APR for this “loan” is 912%.

Credit card late fee: 652%. For a past-due amount of $100 a credit card company may charge a $25 late fee. If the cardholder pays the amount owed plus the late fee within two weeks, the APR charged by the credit card company is 652%.

Electricity bill fee: 560%. If Seattle City Light charges $30 plus its reconnect fee of $16 for a $100 electricity bill that is 30 days overdue the APR is 560%.

Late rent fee: 365%. Landlords typically add a 5% fee if rent is paid more than five days late. On an overdue rent payment of $100 this works out to an APR of 365%.

The political activists are playing a game by treating three-week loans as if they lasted a year.  Try it yourself.  The mathematical formula is: Loan fee divided by loan amount divided by loan term (in days) times 365 times 100.

If you lend a friend a dollar and the next day he pays you back $1.05, you just charged him 1,825% interest on an annual basis.

The math works the other way too. The borrower of a $100,000, 30-year mortgage at 5% will pay back $193,255 over the life of the loan – or 93% more than the amount he borrowed. A payday borrower will only pay back 15% of the original loan. So who got the better deal? The answer is both. Lenders provide different credit products for different purposes, depending on what the borrower needs. A payday loan makes sense if the borrower needs money for 20 days to pay a property tax bill that carries a stiff late penalty.

Across Washington, payday lenders employ 2,600 people, have a yearly payroll of $60 million, provide health coverage to 3,500 people, create $1.4 billion in easy-access credit, pay $5 million a year in taxes to the state, and are tightly regulated by the Department of Financial Institutions.

People working in payday lending stores don’t fit most people’s idea of “loan sharks.”

With the economy the way it is this is not the time for the governor to: 1) make it harder for people to get access to credit; 2) add new burdens to a business that is actually employing people; 3) reduce tax revenues by stifling a legal, profitable business sector – hey, these days the state treasury needs every dollar it can get.

What It Means to be Green?

May 15, 2009 in Blog

A number of stories and comments crossed my screen yesterday addressing what it means to be "green," and it is unclear to me why anyone would see these as positive.

First, a local environmental group posted this quote on Twitter from environmental activist Stephen Viederman:

"Climate change isn't an environmental issue. It's an issue of equity and justice."

I thought this was a strange quotation to highlight. It indicates that environmental issues are only useful as tools to achieve other leftist goals, like government intervention to impose a particular view of "equity and justice." It also demonstrates a point we made yesterday that leftists, like the NDP in British Columbia, will toss environmental concerns overboard to achieve other goals. Why else would they make protecting the environment contingent on supporting other leftist values?

Second, the people of India can celebrate their position as "greenest" citizens. What got them there also says a lot about what environmental activists, in this case the National Geographic Society, think "greenness" is.

The news story highlighting their achievement begins this way:

That cold water bath many Indians have because there's no electricity...that 'matka' they use because they can't afford a fridge...and the long walk they take to work and back because private transport is expensive and public transport shoddy. There's an upside to the hard life. Indians may be green with envy at the consumption-driven lifestyle in the West, but their own frugal ways and modest means have catapulted them to the top spot in the world's Green index, making them the most environmental-friendly denizens of Planet Earth.

Environmentalists too frequently glorify poverty as a "green" way of life and this is just the latest, and most honest, evidence of that. Many greens, however, still choose to live here rather than such a "green" paradise. Remember this link between poverty and "greenness" the next time you hear promises of "green" jobs.

We've noted many times before that rich countries have better environmental records than poor ones. I'd be willing to bet that Seattle's air quality (or New York's) is better than Delhi's. Poverty means suffering and environmental degradation.

At an environmental breakfast yesterday morning, one of the more extreme local environmentalists told the audience that "Environmentalists can be difficult but they make great ancestors." The comment, from an activist who inherited her wealth, made me laugh. The reality is that environmentalists like her exist because their ancestors were successful entrepreneurs. Across the world, wealth creates the ability to become an environmentalist.

Finally, someone pointed me to this article in Psychology Today. It addresses how our minds misapprehend risks from a variety of sources. One of the ways we get it wrong is when comparing risks of "natural" products to man-made products. The article notes:

The word radiation stirs thoughts of nuclear power, X-rays, and danger, so we shudder at the thought of erecting nuclear power plants in our neighborhoods. But every day we're bathed in radiation that has killed many more people than nuclear reactors: sunlight. It's hard for us to grasp the danger because sunlight feels so familiar and natural.  Our built-in bias for the natural led a California town to choose a toxic poison made from chrysanthemums over a milder artificial chemical to fight mosquitoes: People felt more comfortable with a plant-based product. We see what's "natural" as safe—and regard the new and "unnatural" as frightening.

This is why groups like the Washington Toxics Coalition and others stir up fear of the latest "toxic" threat no matter how small. Natural is good. If people made it, it is bad. They prefer their faulty seat-of-the-pants assessment to actual scientific assessment.

Is this what it means to be green? Does promoting the environment mean promoting poverty? Are environmental issues simply tools to justify government expansion? Does being green mean ignoring science and an honest assessment of costs and benefits in favor of an unsophisticated commitment to an idealized version of the "natural."

If so, it is not surprising that support for their views is in decline.

Dwindling support for costly environmental pursuits

May 14, 2009 in Blog

According to the latest Rasmussen Report, a nationally recognized polling firm, only 42% of Americans believe that a major lifestyle change is needed to save the environment, while 44% disagree and believe no such lifestyle changes are unnecessary.
Not surprisingly, the Rasmussen Report shows that there is a partisan divide on the issue.  The survey found that 57% of Democrats surveyed believe that change is required to help save the environment, but 58% of Republicans disagreed.  Interestingly the survey also finds that:

For those not affiliated with either major political party, 36% believe lifestyle changes  will be necessary, while 49% take the opposite view.

Of additional note, a Rasmussen Report released just last month revealed a reversal of opinion for the cause of global warming.  Among those surveyed the number of Americans that believes global warming was caused by humans has drastically declined.  In that report, only 34% believed global warming was caused by humans.  48% believe that global warming was caused by “long-term planetary trends.”  The survey notes:

These numbers reflect a reversal from a year ago when 47% blamed human activity while 34% said long-term planetary trends.

The Rasmussen Reports show that Americans are not satisfied by the current political pursuits, such as cap-and-trade, to stop global warming.

BC Vote Shows Opportunity for Conservatives on Environment

May 13, 2009 in Blog

Last night BC Premier Gordon Campbell won a rare third term in power, campaigning on his leadership on the economy. But he also benefited by taking action on climate change in a smart way, taking the issue away from the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP).

As Premier, Campbell implemented a carbon tax, with rebates to taxpayers, as the best method to address CO2 emissions. It was an alternative to the bureaucratic cap-and-trade and the myriad of regulations being offered elsewhere, like Washington State. The NDP, seeing a political opportunity, attacked the tax, hoping to raise populist ire. That strategy, however, backfired.

In a preview of the race yesterday, the Toronto Globe and Mail noted:

The first week of the election campaign was a complete disaster for the NDP, dominated by news stories about environmental heavyweights like David Suzuki denouncing the NDP for selling its soul in a populist bid to exploit some short-term voter anger. The message from many of the province's most influential environmental groups couldn't have been clearer: If you care about the earth, vote Liberal.

Last night's election losses are the culmination of the NDP's game-playing on the environment.

We have advocated a stable carbon price with offsetting cuts in property, investment and other taxes, as the best way to address carbon emissions. The package must not raise overall taxes and our preference would be a tax cut. The individual decisions of businesses and families will more effectively reduce carbon emissions, and do it in a way that preserves freedom and promotes prosperity.

Even though the BC model is slightly different than our approach, there are two key takeaway lessons.

First, too often the left treats environmental policies simply as tools to win election. The environmental community jumps on eco-fads with an eye first to political gain and second to environmental benefit. This is why greens continue to support failed environmental policies like the Kyoto Protocol and "green" building mandates in Washington. When the NDP saw what they thought was a more politically expedient route, they threw environmental policy overboard.

Second, the election shows that when conservatives take a serious and responsible approach to the environment, they can take the issue away from the left and win. We shouldn't enact a carbon price just for the politics, but it is another example that good policy is also good politics.

Allowing the left to dominate these issues leaves the debate as a choice between supporting or ignoring the environment. Engaging gives voters a choice between responsible environmental policies that promote prosperity, or the ineffective environmental policies of the past that rely on government forcing lifestyle changes and hurting prosperity.

BC voters made that choice last night and the conservatives are enjoying a third term.

Legislative records exemption vote postponed again

May 12, 2009 in Blog

The Sunshine Committee's discussion on repealing the Legislature's exemption from the public records act is beginning to morph into the movie sequel of Groundhog Day.

After a very spirited discussion about the resolution pitting the lawmakers in attendance (Sen. Kline and Sen. Roach) against the other committee members, by a 4-3 vote the Sunshine Committee voted to table Chairman Carr's proposal (at his request) and move the final vote on this important issue to its July 15 meeting. Here is Carr's original resolution:

The Committee recommends that the legislature eliminate the Legislative exemption, which excludes from public scrutiny personal!
records of the legislature, including e-mails, correspondence, except when designated as a public record by a “official action of the Senate or House of Representatives.”  Every other legislative body in the state of Washington is fully subject to the public records act.  There is no principled reason why the state legislature should be exempt. 

This is not the first delay. The issue of the Legislature's exemption from public disclosure was first presented for consideration back in October 2007. At that time the Four Corners of the Legislature (Democrat and Republican Leadership) asked the Sunshine Committee to delay action until the Supreme Court could rule on whether a Legislative privilege exists in the state Constitution. Here is one of the briefs filed in that case by the Washington Coalition for Open Government and American Legislative Exc!
hange Council

The Court, however,  did not rule on this issue leaving the law unclear. Then the Committee decided that no vote should occur until all four legislative members were present (Sen. Kline, Sen. Roach, Rep. Kessler, and Rep. Rodne). Unfortunately that prerequisite to date has not occurred. 

Chairman Carr's proposal was then added to the March 18, 2009 meeting but since none of the legislative members were in attendance the vote was postponed until today's meeting. Although Carr hoped to have a vote today, the agenda failed to note that a vote was scheduled, so he felt it best to postpone action once again so the agenda could explicitly show a vote would occur.

One of the more interesting exchanges today about the legislative exemption focused on the!
state's and Seattle's budget shortfall. Committee member Ramsey Ramerman said that although Seattle's deficit is $43 million, the city council is being forced to discuss the options in public. Ramerman noted, however, that when it came to the state's $9 billion budget shortfall conversations about the options happened behind closed doors.

As for his proposed resolution, Carr is exactly right when he said today, "Open Government is not easy but it is best.”

Hopefully this principle will prevail when the Sunshine Committee finally holds this long overdue vote.