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.

What's New

House approves tax plan

April 10, 2010 in In the News
Spokesman Review (Spokane)
Spokesman Review (Spokane)
Saturday, April 10, 2010

Property tax increase proposed for community colleges

April 8, 2010 in Blog

What will they think of next?

Today Representative Hasegawa introduced HB 3220: Providing a permanent and stable source of funding for the state community colleges.

According to the bill: 

"Section 3. A community college district under chapter 28B.50 RCW may impose a regular property tax levy in an amount not to exceed twenty-five cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. A community college district must use any taxes collected under this section for the purposes of chapter 28B.50 RCW. Taxes collected under this section may not be used to supplant existing state funds currently allocated to a community college district. For the purposes of this section, "existing state funds" means the amount of funds allocated by the state to the community college district for the fiscal year prior to the fiscal year in which th!
e property tax levy authorized under this section is first imposed."

Meanwhile, a mini-mystery is brewing over the apparent tax deal reached by House and Senate Democrats. Earlier this morning the House Democrats posted on their blog the details of the agreement.

That post has since been removed.

Austin Jenkins has the details:

"I'm amused this morning that the
House Democratic caucus is obfuscating. The  tax plan is out - published here
and here
- and it was even released by
House Democrats via Twitter, but quickly quashed. Melinda McCrady with
House Democrats says the Tweet was a mistake and the tax package isn't finished
yet, thus she has denied my request for a copy. Perhaps the powers that be are
still tweaking some of the finer points of the tax package, but the gist
of the plan is hardly a secret anymore. You gotta love the games politicians
and their staff play."

Stay tuned.

State Supreme Court: "Must" means may

April 8, 2010 in In the News
Seattle PostGlobe
Seattle PostGlobe
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tax package includes soda, beer taxes

April 8, 2010 in In the News
The Columbian (Vancouver)
The Columbian (Vancouver)
Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Washington State tax package, $800 million plus…yeah! (radio)

April 8, 2010 in In the News
David Boze Show (KTTH 770 AM)
David Boze Show (KTTH 770 AM)
Thursday, April 8, 2010

State Supreme Court: "Must" means may

April 8, 2010 in Blog

This morning the state Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of SEIU vs. Gregoire. At issue was the Governor's failure to included specific funding in her budget proposal as required by law. In a 5-4 ruling the court essentially said the Governor has total discretion to do what she wants and the word "must" means may.

In a strongly worded dissent, Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen wrote:

The word “must” in RCW 74.39A.300(1) is mandatory and requires the governor to include requests in the budget document submitted to the legislature for funds to implement compensation and fringe benefit provisions in CBAs entered into pursuant to RCW 74.39A.270 when the prerequisites of RCW 74.39A.300(2)(a) and .300(2)(b) are satisfied. Subsection (b) is satisfied if the request!
reflects the binding decision of an arbitration panel reached under RCW 74.39A.270 (which directs that the mediation and interest arbitration provisions in RCW 41.56.430 through .470 and RCW 41.56.480 apply; RCW 41.56.480 contains the description of “binding decision” for purposes of RCW 74.39A.300(2)(b)).

This court should have granted the petition for a writ of mandamus requiring the governor to submit a revised budget document to the legislature that included a request for funds to implement the compensation and fringe benefit provisions of the CBA entered into under RCW 74.39A.270. Absent its having done so in time for its decision to be effective for the present dispute, it should nonetheless have reached this conclusion to provide guidance in future disputes where there is a question concerning a mandatory duty to include an item as part of the proposed budget that the governor submits to the legislature. At a minimum, this court should not grant the govern!
or unlimited discretion to submit a proposed budget without re!
gard to mandatory duties and should not inject itself into policy questions that are the province of the executive and legislative branches of government.

This isn't the first time a mandatory requirement has been interpreted to be discretionary. According to RCW 43.88.110 (7) the Governor "shall" issue across-the-board cuts at anytime a deficit is projected. The Governor, however, has interpreted "shall" to mean she has the discretion to but not requirement to.

As to the issue in the SEIU lawsuit, the Governor ultimately should have the flexibility to build her own budget as she sees fit. The preferable option, however, would have been to request the law be changed – not to ignore it.  

Based on today's majority ruling, the words of a law requiring a specific action apparently don't have any meaning nor do those !
elected officials charged with a mandatory requirement have a duty to comply.

Tax deal reached?

April 8, 2010 in Blog

It appears Senate and House Democrats have come to an agreement on a $801 million tax increase, or at least their leadership has.

The Everett Herald has posted what is being called the "Go Home Proposal." Here are the details (not all taxes listed):

  • Three year B&O services tax increase to 1.8% = $245.9 million
  • Three year beer tax increase of 50 cents per gallon = $57.8 million
  • Three year pop tax increase of 2 cents per 12 oz. = $38.10 million
  • Dot foods case = $154.7 million
  • Tobacco products = $101.4 million
  • Business nexus changes = $82.4 million
  • Sales tax on bottled water = $35.3 million
  • Sales tax on candy and gum = $29 million
  • Lottery marketing = $15 million
  • Convention center = $10 million
  • DOR regulatory power increase (Tax avoidance) = $8.2 million
  • Property management B&O = $6.9 million

The question remaining for taxpayers, will Democrats give the public the opportunity to weigh in on those new taxes being proposed, which have never been subject to a public hearing this year, or will they instead continue to cut the people out of the process

About those across-the-board cuts

April 7, 2010 in Blog

Two weeks ago Governor Gregoire warned that if the Legislature doesn't adopt a budget by April 13 she would be forced to execute state law which requires across-the-board cuts.

According to RCW 43.88.110 (7):

"If at any time during the fiscal period the governor projects a
cash deficit in a particular fund or account as defined by RCW 43.88.050,
the governor shall make across-the-board reductions in allotments for
that particular fund or account so as to prevent a cash deficit, unless
the legislature has directed the liquidation of the cash deficit over
one or more fiscal periods . . ."

With no deal currently at hand and April 13 just around the corner, I asked the Office of Financial Management today at what point the Governor would be making the threatened across-the-board cuts. The answer was that there is no specific date required and it would depend on how close the Legislature was to reaching an agreement.

I followed up to see if there was any point of no return for lawmaker inaction like by May 1 or anything like that and again was told there is no specific date. 

Based on this information it sounds like the bigger threat for lawmakers failing to get the job done in a timely manner isn't across-the-board cuts but the possibility the State Treasurer may be forced to borrow to pay the bills.  p>

As to the requirements of RCW 43.88.110 (7), it looks like this budget protection isn't as strong as implied and could use some strengthening.