Open Government

WPC's Center for Government Reform's mission is to partner with stakeholders and citizens to work toward a government focused on its core functions while improving its transparency, accountability, performance, and effectiveness for taxpayers.

Open Government Blog

I-960 in legislative crosshairs

May 8, 2009 in Blog

Initiative 960, The Taxpayer Protection Act, loomed large this session as some lawmakers proposed but ultimately failed to adopt any of their tax increase bills. Adopted by the voters in 2007, I-960 (among other things) re-affirmed state law requiring state tax increases be adopted with a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. This threshold proved too high a hurdle for proponents of tax increases to overcome. As a result at least one State Senator has already gone on the record signaling her intention to repeal the law.

TVW's Inside Olympia has the scoop in this video interview with Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle):

2009-11 budget priorities

May 8, 2009 in Blog

With the threat of a special session now over, the next major policy development will be when the Governor takes action on the 2009-11 budget proposal. It is certain that some vetoes will be forthcoming. The State Auditor hopes that his performance audit funding will be restored while the state Lands Commissioner wants his executive plane saved from the chopping block.

What proposed spending from the budget might warrant a line-item veto? Here are some possibilities:

•    Sec 122: $460,000 for Asian affairs commission.

•    Sec 124 (3): Creates a bounty for audit savings to restore performance audit funding – this is a violation of yellow-book standards and the intent of I-900 (budget also raids $29 million from dedicated performance audit account).

•    Sec 128 (9): $40,000 for Spanish TV.

•    Sec 128 (27): $300,000 is raided from the dedicated Auto Theft prevention account for CTED to “contract with a community group” for community building (organizing).

•    Sec 134: $513,000 for Hispanic affairs commission.

•    Sec 135: $487,000 for African American affairs commission.

•    Sec 141: $3,622,000 (all funds) for Office of Minority and Women Business.

•    Sec!
148: $209,323,000 (all funds) for Liquor Control Board.
!

•    Sec 152: $9,548,000 (all funds) for Public Employment Relations Commission.

•    Sec 153: $4,465,000 (all funds) for Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.

•    Sec 155: $117,122,000 (all funds) for state trade and convention center.

•    Sec 215: $6,915,000 (all funds) for Human Rights Commission.

•    Sec 501: $50,000 for OSPI is “provided solely for developing and disseminating curriculum and other materials documenting women's role in World War II.”

•    Sec 610 (3): “At least” $200,000 for Labor Center at Evergreen State College.

•    Sec 619: $6,736,000 (all funds) for state Arts Commiss!
ion.

•    Sec 620: $5,228,000 for state Historical Society.

•    Sec 621: $3,267,000 for Eastern Washington Historical Society.

Here are some other policy decisions from the budget worth keeping an eye on:

•    Sec 303 (4): State parks commission “shall actively pursue transferring ownership of state parks to local governments, tribes, or other entities that have expressed an interest in operating the park.” (Report due on 12/1/09)

•    Sec 307 (9): Fish and Wildlife “shall dispose of all fixed wing aircraft it currently owns . . . Disposal of the aircraft must occur no later than June 30, 2010.”

•    Sec 308 (8): Natural Resources “shall dispose of the King Air aircraft it currently owns. Disposal of the aircraft must occur no later than June 30,!
2010”

•    Sec 402 (3-4): “The stat!
e patrol shall implement a cost recovery method to fully recover costs for operating the two king air airplanes. Users of the plane, including the state patrol and the governor's office, shall be charged an appropriate amount to cover all operating and maintenance costs of the plane. The state patrol shall report on this method, the rates being charged, total operational expenses, and information regarding usage of the planes to the office of financial management and the appropriate committees of the legislature. The 2010 legislature will review the use of king air planes by the executive branch and the adequacy of funding in this budget regarding maintaining and operating the planes to successfully accomplish their mission.”

•    Sec 605 (7): “By September 1, 2009, the state board for community and technical colleges, the higher education coordinating board, and the office of financial management shall review and to the extent necessa!
ry revise current 2009-11 performance measures and targets based on the level of state, tuition, and other resources appropriated or authorized in this act and in the omnibus 2009-11 omnibus capital budget act. The boards and the office of financial management shall additionally develop new performance targets for the 2011-13 and the 2013-15 biennia that will guide and measure the community and technical college system's contributions to achievement of the state's higher education master plan goals.”

•    Sec 612 (1):  “Within the funds appropriated in this section, the higher education coordinating board shall complete a system design planning project that defines how the current higher education delivery system can be shaped and expanded over the next ten years to best meet the needs of Washington citizens and businesses for high quality and accessible post-secondary education. The board shall propose policies and specific,!
fiscally feasible implementation recommendations to accomplish the goa!
ls established in the 2008 strategic master plan for higher education. The project shall specifically address the roles, missions, and instructional delivery systems both of the existing and of proposed new components of the higher education system; the extent to which specific academic programs should be expanded, consolidated, or discontinued and how that would be accomplished; the utilization of innovative instructional delivery systems and pedagogies to reach both traditional and nontraditional students; and opportunities to consolidate institutional administrative functions. The study recommendations shall also address the proposed location, role, mission, academic program, and governance of any recommended new campus, institution, or university center. During the planning process, the board shall inform and actively involve the chairs from the senate and house of representatives committees on higher education, or their designees. The board shall report the findings an!
d recommendations of this system design planning project to the governor and the appropriate committees of the legislature by December 1, 2009.”

•    Sec 906: “The governor shall convene a work group consisting of representatives from the central service agencies and their clients to collaborate on methods for providing commonly needed services to state agencies, including, but not limited to: Human resource management, employee benefits, payroll, accounting, purchasing, information technology, real estate services, facility management, building and grounds maintenance, fleet management, printing services, and office mail distribution. The work group should consider the experience of other states and large organizations and should identify opportunities to improve service delivery and reduce costs, including, but not limited to: (1) Simplifying processes and gaining efficiencies; (2) Using a shared, common service model;(3) Centralizing se!
rvices or activities which may lead to consolidating or eliminating exi!
sting programs or state agencies; and (4) Revising agencies' authority or governance structures. The work group shall submit a proposal that improves the delivery of central services to state agencies, including changes to the current governance structure, organizational changes that improves and simplifies service delivery, and any statutory changes that may be necessary to the governor by October 1, 2009.”

•    Sec 912: “As a management tool to reduce costs and make more effective use of resources, while improving employee productivity and morale, agencies may implement a voluntary retirement, separation, and/or downshifting incentive program that is cost neutral or results in cost savings over a two year period following the commencement of the program, provided that such a program is approved by the director of financial management . . . Agencies are required to submit a report by June 30, 2011, to the legislature and the office of!
financial management on the outcome of their approved incentive program. The report should include information on the details of the program including resulting service delivery changes, agency efficiencies, the cost of the incentive per participant, the total cost to the state, and the projected or actual net dollar savings over the 2009-11 biennium.”

Sunshine Committee still shining

May 7, 2009 in Blog

Though the forecast for the state's Sunshine Committee was dark and stormy during the 2009 Legislative Session, it still exists and will meet on May 12. Charged with reviewing the hundreds of exemptions to the state's public records law, the Sunshine Committee was targeted for elimination under several bills considered this year. Up until the last day of session it was unclear if any of these bills would pass. Since none did the Sunshine Committee is now free to continue its important work.

One of the issues on the committee's May 12 agenda is repealing the Legislature's exemption from the public records act. Committee Chair Tom Carr is proposing the following 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. 

If adopted by the committee, this change would address the Legislature's double standard when it comes to compliance with the public records law. 

Another proposal of note is a recommendation to sunset all exemptions to the public records act after two years unless the Legislature reauthorizes them. This resolution is being offered by committee member Patience Rogge: 

Be it Resolved that it is the sense of this committee that all
exemptions to the Public Records Act and any statutory basis to
withhold information or records be eliminated after two years unless
specifically reauthorized by the Legislature with the exception of
those ten included in the original legislation; and that the
Legislature examine all of the eliminated exemptions individually, and
Further, that all future exemptions be limited to a term of two years
and be examined by the Legislature upon their expiration on a case by
case basis to determine if they merit reauthorization or should be
eliminated or revised.

Here are additional details on the Sunshine Committee's May 12 public meeting

State Auditor asks Governor to veto performance audit changes

May 5, 2009 in Blog

The State Auditor's Office sent Governor Gregoire a letter yesterday
formally requesting that she veto changes in the budget to the
performance audit program. Here is the Auditor's letter in full:

Dear Governor Gregoire:

I am writing to respectfully request your veto of Section 124 (3) of the state operating
budget and to encourage you to work with state lawmakers to restore at least $14
million of the $29 million in performance audit funding being taken from the State
Auditor's budget over the next two years.

As passed, Section 124 (3) of this budget violates government auditing standards, as
explained in the attached letters. This section should be vetoed for that reason alone.
Additionally, enacting this budget into law could have far-reaching consequences, such
as affecting this state's ability to properly account for billions of dollars in American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act money that wil!
l be so important in getting the state's
families and economy back on their feet. Comprehensive oversight of these dollars is
absolutely critical.

Section 124 (3) also sets up a perverse relationship between our Office and state
agencies. Tying our performance audit dollars to actual cost-savings by agencies
deeply compromises agencies' perception of our objectivity and independence.
Regarding funding for performance audits, I wish to re-emphasize that taking away
nearly three-quarters of our budget for that work decimates a program Washington
citizens made very clear they wanted when they approved Initiative 900.

The size of the reduction also impedes efforts we agreed to undertake on a statewide
performance review that we hope will be another step in bringing about true, meaningful
reform of state government. With your advocacy and support, we have been putting
together a plan for this review !
and we remain committed to producing recommendations
to s!
ave money, to streamline operations and to eliminate duplication and outdated
programs.

The $15 million we agreed to have the Legislature sweep from our current performance
audit fund balance would have reduced that budget by about 50 percent, but it was
similar to fund balance sweeps at other agencies, As passed by the Legislature, the
budget reflected a 73 percent cut ($29 million) in our performance audit funds.

We also are disappointed at the Legislature's failure to recognize that our 15 completed
audits identified nearly $500 million in cost savings and unnecessary spending for state
government alone. Considering the cost to conduct those audits, we have achieved a
10-to-1 return on investment.

We remain committed to helping you provide oversight over the stimulus funding and
set state government on a leaner, more effective path for the future and again, request
a veto of Section 124 and!
restoration of at least $14 million to our performance audit
funding.

Sincerely,

BRIAN SONNTAG
STATE AUDITOR

Included as attachments were the following letters explaining how the performance audit proviso violates auditing standards:

Additional Information
Will veto restore performance audit funding? 

Will veto restore performance audit funding?

April 29, 2009 in Blog

Despite the State Auditor’s willingness to share in the budget pain, lawmakers went a step further and raided $29 million from the dedicated performance audit account (a 74% reduction in available funds). This is the account voters created in 2005 when 57% approved independent performance audit authority for the State Auditor. This will leave approximately $10 million in the performance audit account. By contrast, the State Auditor spent $16 million from this account during the current biennium.

The raiding of the performance audit program brought the following rebuke from the State Auditor who sent this letter on April 24 to House Speaker Frank Chopp (in-part):

“The section that sweeps away most of our performance audit funding is ridiculous and offensive both to us and to citizens. The cuts are unacceptab!
le and will severely undercut our ability to do independent performance audits . . . I am deeply disappointed in the way the budget process has worked this year. The lack of clear, on-going communication with your members regarding our budget has led to confusion and, now, this unacceptable budget proposal.”

This wasn’t the first time the State Auditor expressed outrage at the legislative attacks on performance audit funding.

On March 31, the Auditor testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee saying (in-part):

“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 accountable and transparent. They recognize this Office is uniquely positioned to be part of the refor!
m the governance change that everybody talks about and wants.&!
#0160;    

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.”

Ultimately the State Auditor’s pleas fell on deaf legislative ears. But there is still one more chance for performance audits and their potential to help the state down the path of government reform -- the Governor’s veto pen should she choose to wield it to restore the performance audit funding.

Governor's email to state employees on budget

April 28, 2009 in Blog

Here is the full email the Governor sent state employees yesterday (emphasis added):

Dear Fellow State Employee:

As you know, we just finished perhaps the toughest legislative session since the Great Depression.  There may be a special session to complete a handful of items, but the truly heavy lifting is done including passage of the operating budget.

I know the last months have been hard for you and your families too.  There is uncertainty about the future of programs to which you have dedicated your working life, as well as uncertainty about your own future.

Although overall budget uncertainty has ended, there is still a lot of hard work ahead as our agencies absorb and manage their way through budget cuts to balance a $9 billion shortfall.  It is up to us to make this budget work as best we can!

All of us, as a team, must carry out the work ahead with g!
reat sensitivity and care.  I know this is not just a budget document.  It’s about all of you, the families who depend on you, and the citizens we all came to serve.

In the weeks, months and years ahead, all Washingtonians will feel the impacts of the hard decisions the Legislature made – and we are now required to make along with nearly every other state – after the mortgage and financial markets set off the Great Recession we find ourselves in.

You are the men and women who will connect with Washingtonians at very important and personal levels – explaining, helping us set priorities, and serving wisely and compassionately.

This will be hard work, and your skills will be sorely tested.  For example, programs and services may need to be adjusted to accommodate significant reductions in “administrative” spending of about $255 million, which means fewer people to deliver services. 

Meanwhile, the!
budget calls for difficult personal adjustments.  For i!
nstance, we may be asking employees to take unpaid furloughs to save jobs and money.  The funding for our health-care benefits is not sufficient to cover health-care inflation, so we may pay higher co-pays.

Amid these difficult changes, I ask that we continue – and strengthen – the partnership we forged last year when you helped me implement vital budget reductions to better position ourselves for the challenges to come.  Imagine the budget we would have if we had failed to take early action to save money.

I continue to need your skill and creativity to reform and improve how we serve our citizens.  Reform of state government is not only the right thing to do – it’s now absolutely necessary.  We are going to have to reinvent what we do and how we do it, and you have the ideas that can work.

I want and need your ideas. You are the people on the ground, and I can’t do this without you.  !
Please respond to this e-mail, as you did last summer and fall, to share your input.

I’ll close with optimism.

I sense a change in this country that bodes well for us and for society as a whole.  After years of pursuing other, more financially “lucrative” careers, more college graduates are showing renewed interest in public service.  There is a new generation that wants to serve as much as we do.  There is a new respect building for the work we do – which is to serve the greater good.  What we do does matter.  What we do builds the future.

So let’s renew the commitments that brought us to state service in the first place – to serve for the good of our communities.  I’m counting on you, and so are the people of this great state.

Thank you, Chris

Meanwhile the Washington Federation of State Employees put out this summary for its members an!
d noted: ". . . your ongoing step increases remain. The Senate on Saturday night defeated an amendment proposed by Sen. Joseph Zarelli that would have blocked step increases. So if you're eligible for step increases, you will continue to get them."

Step increases are pay raises for individuals that move up the state salary grid; these are different than across the board pay raises.

Additional Information
Whatever happened to government reform?

$270 million in tax and fee increases estimated for 2009-11

April 24, 2009 in Blog

The Office of Financial Management just issued the I-960 tax and fee impact statement for the version of the budget that passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

2009-11 impact: Minimum of $270 million in tax and fee increases.

Not included are some higher education fees: "All other fees imposed by institutions of higher education are as of now indeterminate. SSB 5600 gives authority to institutions of higher education to set other fees, but any fee increases have yet to be determined and approved by governing boards of public baccalaureate institutions."

Details here.

UPDATED: Lawmakers to State Auditor: You don't really need performance audit funding, do you?

April 24, 2009 in Blog

Holy smoke!

I'm reading through the just released state budget compromise and one clear loser is the State Auditor. It appears lawmakers didn't take too kindly to his complaint about their raids on the dedicated performance audit funding authorized by voters.

Consider Section 805: It raids $29 million of the performance audit funds. The original House budget took $12 million; The original Senate budget $15 million. Looks like the compromise response to the Auditor's complaints was to combine the money raided.

Unfortunately for the State Auditor the hits in this budget just keep coming.

  • Section 124 (3) appears to set up a bounty for audit savings. I.E. - Auditor can have some of the money back for any savings implemented as a result of performance audits: "It is the intent of the legislature to reduce the 2009-11 legislative transfers from the performance audits of government accounts to recognize actual reductions achieved in expenditures from the state treasury as a result of these performance audits."
  • Section 927 (2) limits number of audits the State Auditor can do of local governments: ". . . the state auditor shall conduct audits no more often than once every two years of local governments with annual general fund revenues of ten million dollars or less and no findings of impropriety for the three-year period immediately preceding the audit period."
  • Section 928 reduces the amount the State Auditor can charge local governments for their audits: ". . . the state auditor shall reduce the municipal revolving account charges for financial audits performed on local governments by five percent."

I wonder if the State Auditor is now considering changing the "incomplete grade" he gave lawmakers in this TVW interview yesterday to "failing."

UPDATED: The State Auditor just sent over this letter to House Speaker Chopp expressing his disappointment with the proposed budget.

Also, according to legislative sources the raids on the I-900 funds aren't doubled by the proposed budget - the $29 million taken from the performance audit account is the same as in earlier budget versions but is occurring in a different way.

Either way the State Auditor is very unhappy with the budget proposal as evidenced by his letter.

Viaduct: I have altered the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further!

April 24, 2009 in Blog

Did you know the deep bore tunnel reduces capacity from the current six lane configuration to just four lanes? This is not a "replacement" of the viaduct, but rather a reduction in service.

And in classic government fashion, taxpayers will have to pay more for it. Just like Vader's deal to Lando Calrissian, the deal given to taxpayers just keeps getting worse.

State Auditor on "Reinventing Government"

April 23, 2009 in Blog

State Auditor Brian Sonntag was a guest today on Inside Olympia. The interview focused on the theme of reinventing government. Among the topics discussed:

  • Legislative action or inaction on reforms
  • Auditor's budget
  • Statewide performance review
  • Why the auditor doesn't issue press releases
  • I-900 and Tim Eyman
  • Legislative detractors of audits
  • Sonntag's participation at the anti-tax rally on April 15

Here is the video:

Additional Inform!
ation
Whatever happened to government reform?
State Auditor fights performance audit cuts