WSDOT threatens sanctions against tunnel contractor
Washington state transportation officials Monday ordered Seattle Tunnel Partners to take definitive steps to include more minority- and women-owned businesses in the $1.3 billion Viaduct replacement project. WSDOT informed STP that it is in breach of its contract with the state. Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson said that finding means the two international contractors that make up Seattle Tunnel Partners, Tutor Perini and Dragados USA, might have a harder time working in the state again. “A breach of contract finding is a very serious finding and so just that finding alone will have severe impacts on their ability to do business (in WA state),” said Peterson. At this point, the agency is not taking additional advice from an expert it hired to investigate STP and to advise on what punitive steps WSDOT should take against its contractor. A special attorney general, Seattle attorney Richard E. Mitchell, recommended that STP be fined and held responsible for the state’s investigative and administrative costs. KING, 1-13-14.
County Executive, Council to announce money-raising Metro/road proposal
Hours before Tuesday night’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition event, one of the participating governments will be making a big announcement at a media briefing. According to the King County press release: “With no action by the Legislature on a statewide transportation package, King County Executive Dow Constantine, four King County Council members, and several other local and regional leaders will make an announcement Tuesday regarding funding to save Metro Transit and maintain and improve local streets.” the County Council’s Transportation Committee was already scheduled for a briefing this Thursday on the potential formation of a “transportation-benefit district” that would seek a fee and tax to raise the money. Also on that Thursday agenda, official introduction of Metro’s June service-change plan in case funding is NOT secured – including the route cuts/service reductions outlined here, eliminating four local routes. West Seattle Blog, 1-13-14.
Court date continued again for Kent City Councilman Sharp
Kent City Councilman Ken Sharp had his latest court date for first-degree theft charges continued to Feb. 19. Sharp had a King County Superior Court hearing Monday continued for further investigation, said defense attorney Mark Prothero in an email. At a hearing, a trial date can be set or attorneys can ask for more time to prepare the case and receive a new hearing date from the judge. Sharp, 66, began his four-year term on the council Jan. 7. He faces seven counts of first-degree theft for reportedly stealing $297,500 from his 93-year-old mother’s bank account and putting the money into his account. If convicted as charged, Sharp faces a prison sentence of 22 to 29 months. He also would have to give up his council seat. Sharp pleaded not guilty to the charges Aug. 29. Kent Reporter, 1-13-14.
House passes Dream Act, fate up to Senate
The state House of Representatives, on a bipartisan first-day vote Monday, passed the Washington Dream Act, which would make undocumented students eligible to apply for state grant money to attend college. But the legislation faces a Republican-dominated coalition in the state Senate. The bill has a Republican sponsor and GOP support, but faces a hostile committee chair. State Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-10), chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, refused in 2013 to allow a vote on the legislation. Bailey told the Seattle Times Monday that “a lot of things take priority over this.” The Dream Act passed the House on a 71-23 vote, with 16 Republicans voting in favor. The pro-Dream Act Republicans included State Reps. Norma Smith and Dave Hayes, Bailey’s GOP seatmates in the 10th District. Seattle P-I, 1-13-14.
Bill would phase out pensions for public employees in state
After Boeing’s successful campaign to pressure Machinists into surrendering their defined-benefit pensions, some state lawmakers are renewing calls to phase out public-employee pensions, too. Taking a page from Boeing’s playbook, state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42) said he planned to introduce legislation Monday that would offer a $10,000 incentive to state workers who agreed to move from the state pension system into a 401(k)-style retirement package. His plan would end pensions for new state hires in addition to offering the incentive to current workers. Legislation to curtail public pensions is unlikely to pass in the 60-day legislative session that began Monday. Top Democrats say the state pension system is in good shape and that they’ll oppose any move to end pensions. Seattle Times, 1-12-13.
Machinists yank endorsement of Larsen over pension comments
The union representing Boeing Machinists has rescinded its endorsement of Congressman Rick Larsen (D-2), saying he took Boeing’s side by pressuring the union to accept a contract that ended its pension plan. The action is largely symbolic since Larsen, an Everett Democrat, has no major opposition for his re-election campaign this year. Still, the action exposes a rift between some top Democratic politicians and a key labor ally. Machinists were angered at the role many prominent Democrats took in urging a vote on a contract extension that guaranteed 777X work for Washington but extracted union concessions, including replacement of the Machinists pension with a 401(k)-style retirement plan. The union narrowly accepted that deal this month. Leadership of the Washington Machinists Council cited Larsen’s comments leading up to the Machinists vote, saying he sided with Boeing over the union. In particular, they point to a news release issued by Larsen on Dec. 13 in which he said the Boeing contract was needed to control costs for the company. Seattle Times, 1-13-14.
Grocery group claims its civil rights violated by Washington campaign-finance laws
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is raising alarms over a grocery-industry group’s challenge of Washington campaign-finance laws. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is trying to invalidate some state restrictions on spending by out-of-state political committees, arguing that the laws violate its civil and constitutional rights. The arguments were made in legal filings this month combating the state’s effort to penalize GMA for attempting to conceal donors to its record-setting spending campaign against the food-labeling Initiative 522 last year. “They did not just say ‘We haven’t broken the law.’ What they’re saying is some of your campaign finance laws are unconstitutional. That raises the stakes,” Ferguson said in an interview Monday. Ferguson sued the group in October, alleging it illegally concealed the identities of donors to a $10.6 million fund opposing I-522. Ferguson said the case could drag out for months or years. “From my standpoint there is no compromise on this. The voters expect and demand transparency,” he said. Seattle Times, 1-13-14.
Op-ed: Stop funding school construction with clear cuts
Education and nature are sacred in Washington. Yet when we build new schools, tens of thousands of trees on state trust lands are felled to fund their construction. An archaic article in our state constitution requires it. It is a tragic irony that we educate our children in schools built with money earned by denuding and despoiling the very environment we want them to learn to cherish and protect. Also tragic is that few citizens know our state still clear-cuts forests, including old-growth, to fund school construction and remodels. Lawmakers should abolish our state’s obsolete, frontier-era, “timber for schools” funding scheme because it hinders our Legislature’s ability to fulfill its constitutional duty to “provide for a general and uniform system of public schools” and unnecessarily threatens our states’ wildlife, fisheries and public lands. Crosscut, 1-13-14.
Why House Democrats
might should kill Obama’s big trade deal
President Barack Obama’s international trade agenda is dead in the water if he doesn’t do a better job engaging with Democrats in Congress, and his administration appears to be getting that message, Democrats said Friday. Congressional Democrats have often been frustrated by his lack of attention to their concerns, but they’ve been especially disturbed lately that in his grand pivot to Asia and push for a 12-nation trade pact dubbed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they and the rest of Congress largely have been cut out of negotiations. “We want transparency. We want to see what’s going on there,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters. “We have a problem with that.” As a result, many Democrats fear the actual terms of the deal do not reflect traditional Democratic Party policy priorities. (DUH! Ya think?) Huffington Post, 1-11-14.
Calls for oversight in West Virginia went unheeded
The accidents kept coming, and so did the calls for a plan to improve West Virginia’s chemical safety regulations. Last week’s massive chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River was the region’s third major chemical accident in five years. It came after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known dryly as Chemical Valley. And it came on the heels of repeated recommendations from federal regulators and a local environmental advocacy group that the state adopt rules embraced in other communities to safeguard chemicals. All of those recommendations died a quiet death with barely any consideration by state and local lawmakers, federal regulators and local environmental groups said. “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia, we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out,” said Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizens group that formed after a 2008 explosion and fire that killed two workers at the Bayer plant in Institute, WV. New York Times, 1-13-14.
Democrat George Miller of CA will retire after 40 years in House
Veteran Democrat Rep. George Miller of Martinez, one of Congress’ most influential and senior members, will leave behind a 40-year legacy of key water, labor, education, and health care legislation, supporters said after Miller’s surprise announcement Monday that he will not seek re-election in November. Miller, 68, made his decision public Monday in Richmond, the blue-collar town where he was born and the heart of the East Bay congressional district he has represented for almost four decades. Miller’s announcement triggered excitement over the prospects of a coveted open congressional seat, although his retirement will have no bearing on the balance of partisan power in the House of Representatives—Miller’s successor in the heavily Democratic district almost certainly will share his party affiliation. Longtime Miller supporter and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said Monday he will run. Contra Costa Times, 1-13-14.
Democrat Alex Sink rises to top in FL special election
It has been called the clearest barometer of the public’s mood heading into this year’s midterms: a special election battle for a 50-50 congressional district in the famously 50-50 state of Florida. But upon closer inspection, the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, occupied by Republican Bill Young for more than four decades until his death in October, is not quite the bellwether it seems. More than a dozen operatives and officials from both parties were almost unanimous that Democrat Alex Sink, her party’s 2010 nominee for Florida governor, has emerged as the unambiguous favorite in the race. The primary, in which Sink has run unopposed as a group of Republicans have slugged it out, is Tuesday. The general election is on March 11. Democrats need to gain 17 seats to win the House majority in November. An early win in Florida would give the party ammunition to argue they‘re in for a better year than political handicappers expect. A loss, on the other hand, would be widely seen as a serious blow. Politico, 1-12-14.
Yes, voter ID laws are nakedly political
Over the last three years, anyone who has followed the pitched battle over letting eligible American citizens vote or not should be familiar with the political dynamic behind it. Following the 2010 midterm elections when Republicans made major gains across the country, a tsunami of bills were introduced that were clearly designed to throw up obstacles to voting for traditionally Democratic constituencies: African Americans, low income people, immigrants, among others. Remarks made by a number of Republican officials—like Pennsylvania state House Republican leader Mike Turzai, who came straight out and said the state’s voter ID law would “allow” Mitt Romney to win in 2012—hardly helped make the objective behind these laws a secret. Important new empirical research published in December in the journal Perspectives on Politics by Keith G. Bentele and Erin E. O’Brien at the Univeristy of Massachusetts-Boston, however, shines a bright light on just how crass this effort has been, and how clear the motives of the Republican state lawmakers have been in proposing and passing laws that would deny eligible citizens the right to vote. Talking Points Memo, 1-13-14.
To Think About
Where is the Democrats’ outrage about unemployment?
Shame on Republicans for blocking the resumption of long-term unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans. And shame on Democrats for letting them. The GOP cannot be allowed to cast this as a bloodless policy debate about “incentives” that allegedly encourage sloth. Putting that spin on the issue is disingenuous, insulting, and inaccurate: As Republicans well know, individuals receiving unemployment checks are legally required to look for work. Republicans should also know that the jobless desperately want employment. For some, a new job might be just weeks or months away. But the benefits cutoff may make it impossible to keep house and home together in the meantime. But while Congress inches forward, probably toward some kind of extension, lives are falling apart. All day, every day, Democrats ought to be making a loud and righteous noise over this disgraceful state of affairs. Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, 1-13-14.