Constantine: Time running out for state to save Metro services; King County to revert to ‘Plan B’ if necessary
King County will take its own measures to save Metro Transit services if the state Legislature fails to pass a transportation package in time, King County Executive Dow Constantine said Thursday. “Let me be clear: this is not our first choice,” Constantine said of taking local measures. But time is running out for state lawmakers to act, he said; the Legislature Thursday missed its target day to take up a statewide transportation package. “It’s not happening,” Constantine said. If the state fails to act in the coming days, Constantine said the county will develop its own legislation involving sales tax and a flat annual vehicle fee to put before voters next year. This option is imperfect, as it would leave several state project in King County unfunded, but it will minimize Metro cuts, he said. KPLU, 11-21-13.
Transit union contract would defer raises to help Metro
A proposed union contract for 4,200 transit workers would defer next year’s raise, to help King County Metro survive funding problems over the next several months. If members approve, cost-of-living increases would be 0, 2 percent, and 2 percent over the next three years, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced at a morning news conference, along with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 President Paul Bachtel. If new revenue sources are found to prevent service cuts, the third year would add 1.67 percent that would be skipped in the first year, Constantine said. ATU approved a similar deal right after the recession — making this the second contract in a row to propose a first-year wage freeze. Seattle Times, 11-21-13.
City to pay jaywalker $15,000 in civil-rights suit against Seattle
The city will pay $15,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit that alleged one of the Seattle Police Department’s most decorated officers — the man who fatally shot cop-killer Maurice Clemmons — illegally searched a seven-time felon during an expletive-laced jaywalking incident in 2009. Officer Benjamin Kelly found a cheap .22-caliber handgun tucked in Charles Shateek Smith’s coat that rainy January night. Under other circumstances, it would have been enough to send Smith to federal prison for at least 15 years as an armed career criminal and earn Kelly kudos for a good arrest. But three federal judges have independently found that Kelly had no right to arrest or search Smith for merely jaywalking. One judge threw out a criminal case, and a magistrate judge and federal judge each made recommendations and rulings against Kelly in a subsequent civil-rights lawsuit that Smith filed from prison. Seattle Times, 11-21-13.
King County Jail’s payroll policy is good for workers, bad for taxpayers, KING 5 report claims
Some King County government employees can boost their incomes by taking advantage of vacation and overtime policies—at the expense of taxpayers and at a time of tight budgets at all levels of government. A KING 5 Investigators review of timesheet information for workers at the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention found 2,153 instances since Jan. 1, 2012, in which jail employees received overtime pay on a day they were also using vacation or comp time. A total of 378 employees did it at least once during the time period. Officials interviewed by KING 5 couldn’t say exactly how much more the practice costs the county. The workers are not breaking any rules, but the practice raises questions about why the county has not moved to close the overtime loopholes. KING, 11-20-13.
Kent City Council tells pot entrepreneur who wants to invest in city: Take your 102 jobs and shove them
The Kent City Council told businessman Chris Kealy to take his potential 102 jobs and shove them. The council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to approve a six-month moratorium to keep marijuana businesses out of Kent. Kealy, of Tacoma, told the council he and his partners planned to invest $20 million in the city to start up recreational marijuana production and processing plants that would employ up to 102. “What I plan on doing would be behind closed doors, under gate, lock and key, and it would have no public awareness,” Kealy said to the council. “My business plan is a producer processor level to deliver to the dispensaries that do get authorized that may or may not be in your city.” Les Thomas, Bill Boyce, Dana Ralph, and Deborah Ranniger voted in favor of the moratorium. Council President Dennis Higgins, Elizabeth Albertson, and Jamie Perry were against it. Kent Reporter, 11-21-13.
New water standards may spare Boeing
Unless Washington goes with the most extreme option, water-quality targets based on fish consumption studies should spare Boeing any troubles in the next few years. That assessment came from a state official Thursday. The water-quality issue is taking on new urgency amid concerns that the Boeing Co. will put assembly of a planned new 777X airliner elsewhere. In last spring’s legislative session, Boeing expressed concerns about an upcoming change in state regulations on the level of pollutants that industrial facilities are allowed to discharge into the water. Boeing contended stricter discharge requirements could lead to expensive upgrades to discharge systems (which would be oh, so burdensome for the poor, cash-strapped babies). Crosscut, 11-22-13.
Legislators hear feedback on $12.3 billion transportation proposal, gas tax
Dozens of people testified before the Senate Transportation Committee Thursday about a $12.3 billion transportation proposal that would raise gas taxes by 11.5 cents to pay for major road projects across the state. Committee co-chair Sen. Curtis King (R-14) said the state can no longer ignore maintenance of its roads, and must finish the projects it has started. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it and reap the benefits,” he said. Several city officials urged legislators to quickly approve the proposal so the state can begin working on a list of projects that range from widening Interstate 5 at Joint Base Lewis McChord to finishing the State Route 520 floating bridge. “My biggest fear is that you will do nothing,” said Mia Gregerson, the deputy mayor of SeaTac. The proposal was introduced by the mostly Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. Transportation leaders from the House and Senate say they continue to work on a deal that all parties can agree on. “We are still in negotiations,” said committee co-chair Sen. Tracey Eide (D-30) at the close of Thursday’s meeting. TVW, 11-21-13.
Now lobbying for North Dakota and Montana, McKenna calls Washington coal study unconstitutional . . .
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna has written a letter to Washington state on behalf of Montana and North Dakota that questions the constitutionality of Washington’s Department of Ecology review of a proposed coal-export terminal. “Some of the issues to be evaluated by Ecology transgress the boundaries of the States, infringing on (Montana and North Dakota’s) sovereignty,” McKenna wrote in a letter sent Monday, adding that the review “ranges far beyond the boundaries of legitimate state interest.” He also wrote that the review of the proposed Gateway Terminal at Cherry Point, in Whatcom County, “is unrealistically broad, includes speculative impacts, requires impossible assessments of foreign environmental impacts, and appears to have been designed to hinder the development of that terminal.” The nine-page letter marks a surprising entrance by McKenna into the fight over coal exports, which was a major issue in his unsuccessful 2012 bid for governor against Jay Inslee. Seattle Times, 11-21-13.
. . . while a REAL Attorney General is looking out for Washington
The election may be over, but state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is pressing ahead with an amended complaint that the Grocery Manufacturers Association violated the state’s campaign finance laws, when it raised and spent $11 million to defeat Initiative 522. Big food manufacturers and agribusiness corporations like Monsanto raised and spent a record $22 million to defeat I-522, which would have required labeling of genetically modified foods, seeds and seed stocks sold in Washington stores. The AG said Wednesday that he has raised to $10.6 million the amount that the Washington, D.C.-based lobby group collected in a special account to defeat the Washington initiative. The No-on-522 forces needed every penny of corporate money to buy their election victory. As of Wednesday, I-522 was losing by a bare 38,000 votes — a margin of 51.09 percent to 48.91 percent. I-522 carried in King County by a 100,000-vote margin. Seattle P-I, 11-20-13.
Pierce County Council OKs budget; removes money for Child Evangelism Fellowship after public outcry
The Pierce County Council Tuesday adopted a $271 million budget for core government services next year, but not before a potential sliver of that total ignited an outcry that led to its removal. A half-dozen people spoke out against a $7,000 allocation for Child Evangelism Fellowship of Pierce County from the budget for youth violence prevention. Dozens more had objected via the county’s website. Councilman Jim McCune (R-Graham) added Child Evangelism Fellowship to a list of more than a dozen groups to receive a total of $166,230 for youth violence prevention services and programs. The council, which added the $166,230 to correct a technical error in County Executive Pat McCarthy’s proposed budget, approved the list of recipients by a 7-0 vote Nov. 12. The total youth violence prevention budget for next year is $1.6 million. McCune said the U.S. Constitution permits religious organizations to receive government money. But he said he was “reluctantly” removing the expenditure. “I’m pulling this because I don’t want to have my fellow council members disrupted,” he said. Tacoma News Tribune, 11-20-13.
Harper’s successor not up to voters; or, what led us to an appointment process to fill legislative vacancies
When Nick Harper (D-38) abandoned his state Senate seat earlier this month, you might have thought voters would be the ones to pick his replacement. You’d have been right 100 years ago. Not today. Washington’s original state Constution required that special elections be held to fill vacancies in the House or Senate. A change enacted in 1929 shifted the state to an appointment process, and put county councils in charge of finding suitable successors from any political party. Since 1956, when a state lawmaker leaves office, regardless of the reason, their political party retains control of the seat and dictates who sits in it. Voters themselves put this perq of power into Article II, Section 15 of the state Constitution by approving an amendment placed on the ballot by the Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature. They would need to be the ones to remove it. But lawmakers from the two major parties will probably never give them the chance by offering up a constitutional amendment repealing this provision. Everett Herald, 11-21-13.
Hanford contractors to lay off 450 workers
Three Hanford nuclear reservation contractors told employees Thursday morning they plan to lay off a combined 450 workers between now and fall 2014, with many of the layoffs in the next two months. The Department of Energy is operating under a continuing resolution that keeps funding at fiscal 2013 levels, which included sequestration, or a mandatory federal budget reduction. To deal with sequestration in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Hanford used some saved money and furloughed workers, or required them to take leave. Hardest hit is Washington River Protection Solutions, the Hanford tank farm contractor. Washington River Protection Solutions plans to reduce its workforce by up to 250 employees by Jan. 30. Both union and nonunion workers will lose their jobs. Volunteers for layoffs will be requested before involuntary layoffs are made. Tri-City Herald, 11-21-13.
‘Outsiders’ take aim at Spokane County prosecutor, sheriff seats
Last spring, amid panic about overcrowding, calls for a brand-new jail took over the regional conversation. But soon a different voice emerged. A group of local reformers declared Spokane County didn’t need more jail beds. Instead, they said, we needed to use the ones we had smarter. In the time since, the group “Smart Justice” has seen its ideas embraced by nearly every corner of local leadership. Support for its proposals has been snowballing. So if there’s a time for a reform-focused civil rights watchdog to make a move for elected office, this could be it. “The county prosecutor’s office, in my observation, has been largely absent in terms of leadership on that,” says Breean Beggs, a prominent local attorney who plans to run as a Democrat for Spokane County Prosecutor next year. Meanwhile, Douglas Orr says he’s been preparing for his run for sheriff for years. The Spokane Police Department detective has an MBA, a master’s degree in organizational leadership and a Ph.D. in criminal justice, and now teaches courses at Gonzaga and WSU Spokane. Next, he plans to take on incumbent Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. Pacific Northwest Inlander, 11-21-13.
Reid, Democrats trigger ‘nuclear’ option; eliminate most filibusters on nominees
Senate Democrats and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took the dramatic step Thursday of eliminating filibusters for most nominations by presidents, a power play they said was necessary to fix a broken system but one that Republicans said will only rupture it further. Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades. In the long term, the rule change represents a substantial power shift in a chamber that for more than two centuries has prided itself on affording more rights to the minority party than any other legislative body in the world. Now, a president whose party holds the majority in the Senate is virtually assured of having his nominees approved, with far less opportunity for political obstruction. Washington Post, 11-21-13.
Filibuster decision could reshape influential D.C. appeals court
The decision by Senate Democrats Thursday to change the rules for confirming judicial nominees could dramatically reshape an obscure federal appeals court that renders some of the most influential legal decisions in the country. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — dubbed the D.C. Circuit for short — was at the center of the Senate fight after Republicans had blocked three of President Obama’s nominees to the panel. Those three are now likely to be approved by a simple majority in the Senate. The D.C. Circuit has outsize importance in national legal disputes and has helped determine rules for credit card fees, precautions at meat plants and whether companies must deliver pensions promised to their workers. It is often described as the most important court in the land after the Supreme Court. Washington Post, 11-21-13.
Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley clock ‘nuclear’ win
Ever since they arrived in the Senate, Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) have had one huge, seemingly insurmountable goal: To change Senate rules on the filibuster. On Thursday, they won. “This is a terrific vote for the U.S. Senate,” said Merkley, hosting a solo press conference in front of the Capitol Hill press corps, a rare moment in the spotlight for a rank-and-file senator. “The American people want this institution to function. They want to see it take on the big issues. They don’t want to see the entire calendar of the year eaten up by paralyzing process on nominations.” Filibuster reform has long been a marquee issue for Merkley nd Udall , who are part of a new breed of Senate reformers who have never served in the minority. Now, they’re looking to expand their change to filibuster rules governing legislation — but that’s going to be a much harder sell. Politico, 11-21-13.
Wall Street, not workers, to blame for Detroit’s bankruptcy crisis, says Demos report
Wall Street bankers, bad decisions made by elected officials, and the Great Recession should be blamed for contributing to Detroit’s fiscal crisis—not the pensions of workers and retirees. That’s according to a report released Wednesday by Wallace Turbeville, a former investment banker with Goldman Sachs, now a senior fellow at the liberal think tank group Demos. He said on a media conference call Wednesday that the city’s current cash shortfall for the 2014 fiscal year, estimated to be $198 million, can be traced to declining tax revenues, which dropped 20 percent since the Great Recession began—not pensions and benefits for retired and active workers. The Demos report also said deep cuts in state revenue sharing to Detroit accounted for nearly a third of the city’s revenue losses since fiscal year 2011. The Demos report also eviscerates Wall Street bankers for entering into a series of highly complex swaps agreements with the city worth $1.4 billion in 2005 and 2006, when Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor. The pensions were underfunded by then and needed an infusion of cash to stay solvent. Instead of issuing general obligation bonds, the city created nonprofit entities and corporations to issue the debt, and bought interest rate swaps as a hedge, betting that interest rates would rise. “The 2005 deal was a dangerous doubling-down that pushed the city beyond its legal debt limit,” according to a Detroit Free Press report. Huffington Post, 11-20-13.
To Think About
How a gun dealer sees it: It’s cultural, and it isn’t going to change
Exactly what evidence would change your mind? A reasonable public debate, if all evidence is going to count for anything, always turns on that question. There are a few cases—genocide and mass famine, let’s say—on which there really are not two sides to the question. But there aren’t a lot of them, and most arguments about the right thing in social policy depend, or ought to, on what actually works in the real world. Those of us who have been arguing the case for gun control are so used to the non-responsive response—School buses plunge into ravines and kill people, sometimes! Why don’t you want to ban school buses?—that it’s a real pleasure to find a response rooted in the actual experience of guns and gun owners. It’s good to talk to someone who knows what he’s talking about. Adam Gopnik, New Yorker, 11-21-13.