WPC Hits Target, but Will Washington State Legislature?



Dec. 7, 2011 –


The clock is ticking. The state government spends $41 million each day but the Washington State Legislature has made little, if any, progress in its 30-day special session to solve a $2 billion deficit. Meantime, Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown sent an email to lawmakers warning them action is needed – now.

No floor votes. Nada. Nothing.

At the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire, the special session started Nov. 28. The state is scheduled to spend more money than it will have for policies, programs and salaries.

Earlier, the governor proposed a half cent sales tax increase to raise about $500 million. The events prompted this Biz Coach piece: Budget Debate: Will Legislature Read Seattle News Media Headlines?

Actually, more than balancing the budget, the state needs to reform government for a healthy economic environment.

“While it’s true that state revenues are projected to grow by $2 billion over the previous budget cycle, this time there’s no federal bailout to prop up past overspending,” said a WPC press release.  “Some in Olympia are talking tax increases, yet our state’s fragile economy, and especially small businesses, are struggling to survive as it is.”

The Washington Policy Center (WPC) has some ideas worth adopting – the suggestions were sent in a  letter to Governor Gregoire.

WPC’s recommendations:

  1. Provide the governor discretionary authority to cut spending. Adopt performance-based Priorities of government budgeting to control the rate of spending growth.
  2. Restore the legislature’s ability to amend collective bargaining agreements.
  3. Direct state managers to use more competitive contracting.
  4. Repeal unaffordable programs instead of suspending them.
  5. Bring state employee health care premium contributions in line with those of the private sector.
  6. Ask state lawmakers to set aside a 5 percent reserve when adopting the next biennial budget.

Following its statewide conference to discuss small business issues, WPC sent the legislature these recommendations:

  1. Revisit the voluntary settlement agreement as passed by the state Senate in 2011 – $1.2 billion
  2. Reform the displaced worker retraining program
  3. Simplify sales taxes by using an ‘origin based’ tax (as opposed to a ‘destination based’ tax) and creating a flat rate for out-of-state businesses
  4. Review regulations to ensure that Washington rules don’t exceed federal regulations
  5. Enact Tort Reform
  6. Do no harm in transportation policy – do not reduce road lane capacity
  7. Do not follow Seattle in enacting statewide paid sick leave

From the Coach’s Corner, see WPC’s Coverage of the special legislative session here.

Here are related columns:

“There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

Will Rogers

 

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

How Washington Fails in Filmmaking for Economic Development

Updated Feb. 4, 2012

Film-production workers, actors, and movie fans are suffering the same fate as many businesspeople in Washington state. They are sleepless in Seattle now that the Legislature has canceled its successful program of incentives for production studios in filmmaking.

In 2009, this space congratulated the state for offering a 30-percent tax incentive. During this year’s legislative session, I received almost daily updates from Washington Filmworks regarding its lobbying activities. I never dreamed the Legislature would kill the incentives. It was a stellar approach to economic development. This stunned me.

After all, the state has a troubled economy. Filmmaking creates jobs while enhancing the state’s image. Movies entertain and inspire moviegoers. And the incentives didn’t hurt the state’s treasury – canceling them would.

But effective in 2011, the Legislature killed the incentive program. You can almost envision planeloads of filmmakers flying over the state to make movies in Canada. Enlightened Vancouver still offers advantageous tax breaks to attract film projects. So does Oregon.

For economic development, it doesn’t take a study for me to realize the benefits of filmmaking to the state. Ostensibly, lawmakers see it differently. They think the state will benefit more from by providing incentives for startups in other industries.

Lawmakers fail to understand that the state would not lose anything by continuing the incentives and everything to gain. Published reports of Washington Filmworks’ data indicate some $5.4 million in incentives produced 23 projects last year and $18 million in spending. So consider the multiplier effects.

Nor do lawmakers understand a salient, intangible return on the investments.

Consider: The misery index in Washington is high. The morale among residents in many quarters of the state is low. However, the presence of a film crew on location inspires interest. Movie star sightings are invigorating for movie fans and TV watchers. It’s a mini-fantasy, a vacation from financial woes.

During a downturn in the late 1970s from my office window on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, I witnessed a most-astonishing site: Waves of excited people – thousands of office workers – flooded the street to watch Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers act in front of cameras for an episode of the hit TV show, “Hart to Hart.”

Incalculable image value

It was 35 years ago this month as a radio news director, I covered an event that drew scores of reporters from all over the world to Rancho Mirage, Calif. Frank Sinatra was marrying Barbara Marx. All those reporters waited outside in scorching 118-degree weather for hours just to witness the wedding party of stars and dignitaries leave the ceremony. National media, including the NBC/NIS radio network, eagerly welcomed my freelance reports.

So for me today, any thought of revoking film tax incentives prompts me to react this way: “What a revolting development this is.”

You might recall it was the signature phrase of the character, Chester A. Riley in “The Life of Riley” in a radio show from 1944-1951 and TV show from 1949-1950 and 1953-1958. William Bendix acted as Chester Riley, whom I happily met and to whom I once served food as a teenage bus boy in Palm Springs.

My sense is that all states should keep the tax incentives in place. (Admittedly, I’m predisposed to understand the benefits. In addition to my journalism background, I’ve produced and voiced hundreds of TV commercials.)

For the first time in California’s history, state lawmakers approved a $500 million incentive plan starting in 2009. It included tax credits ranging from 20 to 25 percent. But even that was a bit paltry compared to other states. But California lawmakers knew they had to compete.

As a kid growing up in Palm Springs, it was common to see movie stars such as Mr. Bendix, Lucille Ball and Dean Martin. Although I come from a middle class family, Bob Hope and James Stewart maintained homes less than a block away. It was quite an experience watching Mr. Hope wash his Chrysler. Once, I nearly hyperventilated when he spoke to my brother and me when we were playing in the street after a rainstorm – sailing Popsicle sticks in a puddle.

Later, as an 11-year-old newspaper boy delivering The Desert Sun newspaper, my customers included impresario Billy Rose, comedian Jack Benny, and movie mogul Darryl Zanuck. Each month, it was fun standing outside waiting to be paid by Mr. Zanuck – he threw frequent pool parties with a bevy of starlets.

Serious business

Aside from the fun and glamour of filmmaking, it’s a serious business.

The Washington Filmworks’ program worked this way:

  • Washington Filmworks is a private non-profit that offered cash back in a 30 day-incentive.
  • Washington state businesspeople received business and occupation tax deductions and a source for passive income from their investments.
  • Productions were required to spend $500,000 for feature films, $300,000 for TV shows per episode, and $150,000 for commercials.
  • Filmmakers had to apply with a script, line item budget, proof of funding, a finance plan, and a producer’s letter of intent.
  • Washington Filmworks’ board would either approve or reject the project.

In addition, the Seattle Office of Film + Music offered $25 a day permits when using city owned property. The filmmakers were exempt from sales and use taxes on rental of production equipment, and sales tax on the purchase of production services, unless the production equipment was purchased.

But now, we are sleepless in Seattle for dubious reasons.

We are telling filmmakers we no longer welcome their business. It reminds me of a line in “Rocky IV” during Rocky Balboa’s patented comeback against a superior opponent. Sportscaster Barry Tompkins asserted: “It’s a question of who wants it most.”

In real life, Mr. Tompkins still works as a sportscaster. His line is apropos today. Washington state lawmakers are throwing in the towel. Let’s hope Washington Filmworks is more successful telling their story at the next legislative session.

From the Coach’s Corner, for more information on filmmaking see these helpful Web sites:

“A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
Groucho Marx

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Columnist Terry Corbell is also a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services (many are available online). For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule Terry Corbell as a speaker, why don’t you contact him today?

How to Alleviate Business Uncertainty in Washington State



 July 25, 2010


Washington state is comparatively healthy. But don’t tell that to most employers. They won’t buy it. Washington state has lost more jobs, 16,000, in the past year than 41 other states.

Unemployment rates are a huge drag holding back economic development. There are many reasons why job creation is sputtering.

Actually, it’s symptomatic and related to many economic problems. The overall common denominator is uncertainty – from declining sales revenue, threats of a double-dip recession, tax increases, and unproductive public policies.

Yes, Washington faces another $3 billion shortfall.

A July Op Ed piece in the Seattle Times by State Auditor Brian Sonntag made an excellent case for decreasing the size of state government and improving its inefficient budgeting process.

“We need to resize government’s footprint to reflect what it can and should do, balanced with what it can afford to do,” Mr. Sonntag wrote. “We will not get there unless we stop, now, the petty partisan bickering that erodes citizens’ trust in government and inhibits meaningful solutions to our greatest challenges.”

A frequent complaint on this site is the mega unfunded public pensions. Mr. Sonntag points out Washington state public pensions are skyrocketing and $8 billion is unfunded.

“Our work at the Office of State Auditor uniquely positions us to understand the state’s broad financial condition,” Mr. Sonntag explained. “For example, we know even in good economic times as well as bad, the state has not systematically funded all its long-term financial obligations.”

It’s not just the unfunded aspects of pensions, which I contend are too generous vis-à-vis the retirement plans available in the private sector.

Mr. Sonntag cited a related example: “A $4 billion liability in the health-and life-insurance benefits paid to retired public employees without any accumulation of revenue to pay for it.”

Political “courage” and “leadership” is needed, he wrote.

“It is time to end the current era of political polarization and extreme partisanship. We must transform government together,” he asserted. “We must put aside the premise of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ We must do what is right instead of doing what makes the other side look bad.”

His points are astute and accurate. The tendency, as it is at the national level, is to focus on personalities and not principles. It’s time to stop shooting the messenger instead of the message, and to be honest in campaigns.

For example, it took legal action by the Association of Washington to clean up the ballot title for Referendum 52. To win passage of $505 million in bonds for energy-saving school construction projects, the wording would have tricked voters into extending the new tax on bottled water. A Thurston County judge ruled that the phrase, “job creation,” was disingenuous and removed it from the ballot title.

Alleviating uncertainty

Voters have an opportunity to start implementing solutions this fall. The most salient is transparency and voter protection against disingenuous taxation. In essence, Initiative 1053 will again require a two-thirds majority on any legislative tax increase, and approval by voters.

I-1053 must be passed. Plus, voters have to make it clear to lawmakers that they will not put up with any more games.

Three times voters have passed this protection, and each time the Legislature has circumvented it.

Initiative 1082 deserves voter approval. It would pave the way for private insurers in Washington state workers’ compensation.

Liquor sale privatization is important, too, in I-1100. It would end the state’s monopoly on liquor sales and put it in the hands of the private sector. That includes the 1,500 state-liquor employees.

The class warfare implications of I-1098 are troubling. That’s the income tax on the affluent. A similar 2010 measure in Oregon has failed to help that state’s economy.

Another opportunity to alleviate uncertainty is to comment at two remaining events: The Governor’s Committee on transforming Washington’s Budget. So far, only the special interests advocating the status quo are showing up to comment.

The final two hearings:

  • July 27, 7-9 p.m. in Vancouver – Washington State University-Vancouver, Administration Building Room 110, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue.
  • July 29, 7-9 p.m. in Spokane  – Spokane City Hall, City Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard.

Will you participate.

Meantime, productive public policy will do a lot to alleviate concerns about business uncertainty, and will make it easier for businesspeople to solve their declining sales revenue.

From the Coach’s Corner, admittedly, I haven’t budgeted the time to review the dozens of initiatives on the November ballot, but have read a few others.

For some levity, here are two extreme initiatives:

  • I-1079 – “This measure states that it is an act to require state and governmental agencies, publicly owned companies, and non profit groups to pay all mandatory overtime at the rate of three times the employees’ hourly rate.”
  • I-1069 – “This measure would require the Seal of the State of Washington to be changed to depict a vignette of a tapeworm dressed in a three piece suit attached to the lower intestine of a taxpayer shown as the central figure. The seal would be required to be encircled with the following words: ‘Committed to sucking the life blood out of each and every tax payer.’ The illustration would be selected from submissions submitted by taxpayers.”

And to see dozens other public-policy columns, visit this section.

Tax Increases Will Cost Washington Businesses, Consumers $6.7 Billion Next 10 Years

July 15, 2010

The well-documented lack of transparency and suspension of voters’ rights by Washington state lawmakers in the 2010 legislative session will soak taxpayers an additional $6.7 billion over the next 10 years, according to a new study by the Washington Policy Center (WPC).

“State lawmakers raised taxes at the worst possible time – in the midst of a recession with record-high unemployment levels,” says Dann Mead Smith, WPC President. “We compiled this report to help give taxpayers a clearer picture of the details and cost for each tax increase.”

The respected think-tank’s study is comprised of 12 pages of data, which includes an explanation of each tax increase and details of how each tax increase encumbers businesses and consumers for the next 10 years.

As it has done repeatedly over the years, the Legislature suspended the protections voters passed in Initiative 960, which required transparency and a two-thirds legislative majority vote in order to hike taxes. The Legislature passed SB 6130, which suspended the voter protections against unwanted new taxes.

“The bill temporarily repeals provisions of voter-approved Initiative 960 until July 1, 2011,” states WPC’s report at www.washingtonpolicy.org. “Washington voters passed Initiative 960 on November 6, 2007.”

The $800 million in new taxes include:

  • Business and Occupation taxes
  • Canceling Real Estate Excise Tax exemptions
  • Increasing taxes for Public Utility Districts
  • Hiking the 911 excise tax
  • Hospital Bed taxes
  • Bottled water, soft drink, beer, candy and gum taxes
  • Tobacco taxes including a 500 percent increase on cigars

“Lawmakers increased total state spending by 43 percent in the last five budget cycles, a period in which state population grew only 11 percent, and inflation increased just 19 percent,” states the Report on 2010 Tax Increases in Washington State.

“By repealing the non-binding advisory votes, lawmakers expected their names would not appear in the official voters’ pamphlet for 2010 next to a description of the tax increases they had enacted,” the study notes. “The purpose of this report is to provide much of the information the public would have received in the official voters’ pamphlet if the legislature had not repealed the public disclosure provisions of Initiative 960.

Well,  if you’re unsure how your legislator voted on taxes and other issues, visit: www.washingtonvotes.org.

Meantime, here’s a tip of the Biz Coach cap to Washington Policy Center for its usual fine work.

From the Coach’s Corner, you might be interested in the results of these polls:

  1. More Voters Say Washington State is Headed the Wrong Way
  2. Big Surprise in Washington State Race for U.S. Senator   

If you want to do something about these tax increases, you might also want to consider these organizations:

I-1053: Critical to Washington State Businesses and Workers

 

June 10, 2010

Washington state voters face critical decision-making. The success of the state’s economy and job-creation efforts hinges largely on Initiative 1053. Proponents have been working feverishly to qualify I-1053 for the Nov. 2010 ballot. It would restore monetary protections for businesses and all other taxpayers from the perennial chicanery of the state Legislature.

It requires a two-thirds legislative vote for any new taxes. In my view, it insures a higher degree of transparency, which is constantly lacking in the Legislature.

 “Reinstating the supermajority vote for new taxes has never been more important with the very real threat of even more tax increases in the 2011 session – or earlier,” says Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, which is also known as the state’s chamber of commerce.

“This warning has been confirmed by recent news from Governor Gregoire that a special session may be necessary as the state budget may be in doubt due to lawmakers relying on federal funds that are not likely to materialize,” he adds. 

But it has not yet qualified for the ballot with enough voter signatures.

“With less than a month left to gather signatures some may wonder how many of the initiative campaigns will be successful and qualify for the ballot,” says Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform for the Washington Policy Center.

“One measure, I-1053, may benefit from news from the Office of Financial Management that the state is facing at least a $3 billion deficit in the next budget,” asserts Mr. Mercier.

“This means lawmakers’ first choice to solve the problem next year may be tax increases unless the voters re-impose for the fourth time the restriction that tax increases require a two-thirds vote,” he warns.

Fourth time? Yes, he’s right – a fourth time. For many years, I’ve been writing about legislative chicanery that has damaged commerce and taxpayers. Every time voters approve restrictions on spending, lawmakers find ways furtively and overtly to circumvent the will of voters.

In 2010, lawmakers suspended transparency provisions and the provisos of I-960, which voters passed in 2007. It mandated tax increases could only be implemented by a two-thirds supermajority vote in the Legislature or upon approval by voters. But then, after the destroying voters’ protections and refusing to require efficiencies in state government, the Legislature passed more than $800 million in additional taxes.

But there is some good news. Sixty percent of voters are in favor of the requirements of I-1053, according to the Washington Poll in May, 2010. In another Washington Poll, More Voters Say Washington State is Headed the Wrong Way.

In a sense, that’s encouraging because the Washington State Office of Financial Management echoes a dire warning about future budget issues that I’ve been giving for what seems like forever.

Its budget-writing instructions for state agencies for the 2011-13 Biennium states:

“A preliminary estimate by OFM indicates that a gap of about $3 billion between expected revenues and basic spending pressures (not including any new programs or policies) will need to be addressed to balance the budget,” according to budget instructions by the state office of financial management ( see page 7 of the document).

“Although stronger-than-predicted revenue growth would help remedy this situation, revenues would need to grow by more than 9 percent per year to make up most of the projected gap, a rate which is unlikely to be achieved,” the authors warn.

From the Coach’s Corner, for more information, here are resource links:

Association of Washington Business – www.awb.org

Washington Policy Center – www.washingtonpolicy.org

Enterprise Washington – www.enterprisewashington.org

More Voters Say Washington State is Headed the Wrong Way

 

May 24, 2010

Washington state is headed south when it needs to go north. That’s what a larger percentage of voters is saying.

Disapproval ratings have significantly increased over the last six months, according to a new University of Washington poll. In fact, it’s a 16 percent increase in voter disapproval ratings – 44 percent of respondents believe Washington is “seriously on the wrong track.”

The double-digit increase in disapproval ratings – up from 38 percent in Oct. 2009 – was reflected in the nonpartisan academic poll, The Washington Poll. Forty-one percent say Washington is “going in the right direction.” Fifteen percent answered “don’t know.”

Voter opinions appear to coincide with the state’s economy. Sixty-two percent say “jobs/economy” will be the most important issue in the Nov. 2010 elections.

Twenty-seven percent cite healthcare reform as the No. 1 election issue.

Regarding the performance of Gov. Chris Gregoire, 17 percent “strongly approve” and 27 percent “somewhat approve.” But her disapproval ratings as a Democratic governor are higher than her approval ratings. Seventeen percent “strongly disapprove” and 30 percent “somewhat disapprove” of her performance.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, is favored by 42 percent while 39 percent indicate they’ll vote Republican.

When pitted against potential Republican candidate Dino Rossi, she holds a narrow 44 to 40 percentage lead with a margin error of 3.9 percent. The margin of error in the other contests is only 2.8 percent.

Thirty-five percent favor the income tax initiative on well-to-do state residents. But another 17 percent who lean yes also say they could change their minds, and another 10 percent are undecided. Meantime, 23 percent oppose it. Another 5 percent who lean no, say they might switch. Two percent who are undecided lean no.

Overall, the Legislature received an approval rating of 36 percent but netted a 43 percent disapproval rating.

Conducted in early May, 1,252 registered voters were surveyed in the poll sponsored by the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality at the University of Washington School of Social Sciences.

To view the polling data: statewide, and the party and region.

Certainly, these results are not a surprise. The economy has been worsened by bad public policy. Again in the 2010 session, the Washington State Legislature violated standards of transparency, hiked taxes by $800 million, and failed to take prudent steps to head off another multi-billion dollar deficit in the near future.

What’s needed is reform for good government.

From the Coach’s Corner, to stay current on how state politics affects business, and for a wealth of data and information, visit these sites: www.awb.org, www.businessinstitutewa.org and www.enterprisewashington.org.

EU, California’s Fiscal Demise: Red Flag for Washington

May 14, 2010

Global news events should be a catalyst for government reform in Washington state.

For example:

My son, Brian – an IT consultant who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area – regularly sends me articles. Today, it was proved to be an interesting blog from www.washingtonexaminer.com. However, this particular article dealt with an ominous prediction made several years ago.

The blog mentioned a five-year-old forecast from the National Intelligence Council on the state of the planet in 2020, including the European Union.

In citing the EU’s economic turmoil, which was prompted largely by overspending on welfare entitlements, the article was entitled, “FLASHBACK: In 2005, U.S. intelligence warned of Euro econ crisis and EU’s demise unless welfare states downsized.” It was written by Mark Hemingway.

The writer included a link to the report: “Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 project.”

Sure enough, the unthinkable is actually happening as Europe labors to contain its debt crisis. 

“It’s five years later now, and a major economic crisis is has already engulfed Greece, is spreading to Spain and could potentially drag down the whole EU,” Mr. Hemingway wrote. “Mervyn King, the head of England’s central bank, now says that the EU must undergo dramatic changes in order to survive in its present form.”

Mr. Hemingway’s article and government report were quite an eye-opener.

Then, an hour later I received a news alert from a newspaper 80 miles from my son. The headline in The Sacramento Bee read: “Schwarzenegger budget would eliminate welfare.”

Yes, the governor asked lawmakers to kill California’s welfare program, reduce in-home care for disabled and elderly residents, and slash state workers’ pay.

That’s what Gov. Schwarzenegger feels he must do to solve the state’s $19.1 billion budget shortfall.

Ordinarily, it would be hard to feel sorry for a wealthy-movie-star-turned-governor. But that’s not true in this case. Instead of cutting spending, which is 25 percent higher than revenue, he faces politicians who want to increase taxes.

California already has an income tax as high as 9.3 percent for taxpayers who earn about $47,000 a year, and an 8.25 percent sales tax. In San Francisco, the sales tax is 9.5 percent. Yes, California has a corporate income tax and a property tax.  And California’s gas tax is even higher than we pay in Washington state.

Despite all its beauty and economic advantages, California’s unemployment rate is a whopping 12.6 percent, and the state has a miserable bond rating of A-.

That means California and the EU, not to mention America’s budget woes, are headed down the same fiscal path. And it’s a bumpy, treacherous ride.

Unfortunately, Washington state is headed in the same direction.

Washington will soon face another massive deficit even after the Legislature hiked taxes by $808 million in 2010. Voters will have some difficult choices to make. Currently, activists are trying to qualify 77 initiatives by July 3 on the Nov. 2010 ballot. Washington’s fiscal challenges, too, are mostly exacerbated by unnecessary spending. Remember, the Legislature spent even more money this year than last. Let’s hope voters drink some strong, Seattle-style coffee.

Otherwise, our collective economic and political freedoms will continue to disintegrate as public policies continue to exacerbate a local, state, U.S. and global fiscal crisis.

From the Coach’s Corner, for more information on developments in Washington’s business public policy, consider:

www.awb.org, Association of Washington Business

www.enterprisewashington.org, Enterprise Washington

And watch for continuing news here. We are quietly but diligently working to improve Washington’s economic climate.

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Why Washington Wage Study Creates Brouhaha

 

May 10, 2010

A Washington State Department of Personnel’s survey is unproductive as a public policy tool. The recent study indicated that 82 percent of state workers are underpaid and 18 percent are overpaid. However, as an objective, scientific document it fails to be credible.

A salary survey should help insure compensation is high enough to attract applicants and correspond to the law of supply and demand. Pay and benefits should be equitable and should entice performance. At the same time, a compensation study should help prevent unnecessary costs by analyzing the relative worth of the jobs.

Compensation studies should be performed scientifically – comparing compensation in the government with what’s paid to workers in the community. That includes all benefits.

So, does the study reflect fairness to taxpayers? No.

Sixty percent of the study compared state government with local governments, which have skyrocketing payrolls in Washington state and have left the private sector behind. So, naturally, state salaries will pale in comparison with such pay scales.

More than 60 percent of the study gauged state worker salaries against other union salaries. That’s even though the majority of citizens do not have union jobs, which pay on average 15 percent higher wages.

Compared to the aggregate number of employers, the study only examined the relatively few private sector jobs at Amazon.com, Boeing and Eddie Bauer (which filed for bankruptcy in 2009).

So, the survey’s comparisons were terribly skewed. But please don’t take my word for it. Here’s the survey.

Further, the study did not even bother to include total compensation. State worker retirement pay, pensions, are the highest around; on average 74 percent higher than available in the private sector. So are the healthcare benefits. So much so, the state retiree health benefits, the last time I checked, were unfunded by $7.9 billion. (There are numerous other columns on this and related subjects in this Public Policy section.)

As we all know by now, the state lawmakers heaped $800 million in new taxes and relied heavily on federal government bailouts to offset the state’s $2.8 billion in red ink. Plus, the legislators failed to require efficiencies to prevent another looming budget crisis of the same magnitude in two years. And this means that money expended on the bloated state payroll was cut from taxpayer services.

The Washington Federation of State Employees’ union, www.wfse.org, is already using this so-called study to demand even higher salaries and benefits.

Meantime, if you want to comment, here’s the personnel office number to call: (360) 664-1960.

From the Coach’s Corner, the Association of Washington Business is contesting the wording of Referendum 52 in the Nov. 2010 election. It would allow the state to sell $500 million in bonds for green school projects.

To finance it, the recent legislative session’s new tax on bottled water would be implemented permanently. In filing the ballot title challenge, AWB is calling for transparency of the financing tool imposed by lawmakers.

Why Not Transparency for Good, Open Government in Washington State?

 

March 24, 2010

Even after concluding its regular 2010 legislative session and after nearly two weeks of a special session, there is no balanced budget. There are no efficiencies. Worse, there is little transparency about taxpayer assets. The Legislature hasn’t learned to stop chasing ill health.

By extension, it’s clear that Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown is not passing the transparency test of good, open government. She has failed to spearhead passage of a balanced budget and has largely ignored efficiencies, such as the Opportunities for Washington, recommended by a prominent member of her own party – State Auditor Brian Sonntag.

Instead of focusing on successfully ending the special session, The Seattle Times reports she sent a letter to Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna demanding that he stop his health-care efforts and accused him of being “far outside the mainstream interests” of the state. But my straw poll of businesses and consumers shows a majority in favor of his position.

Meantime, here’s a news flash: There is furtive, dubious activity under her leadership – everything from secretly raising taxes; gutting The Taxpayer Protection Act, Initiative 960; and passing ghost tax bills. There are no efforts to create a good economic environment and private sector jobs.

Actively highlighting the disingenuous behavior has been Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center (WPC), the nonpartisan think tank.

After seeing this TVW video posted on the Washington Policy Blog in which Speaker Brown denies knowing why Mr. Mercier has repeatedly raised concerns about legislative transparency, how could she be so disconnected?

Most state newspapers have commented to no avail, such as The Seattle Times in Gov. Gregoire: Use veto to keep transparency and in The Washington State Senate and the age of hubris.

When Gov. Gregoire failed to honor the request, the newspaper ran this editorial, Governor, Legislature should have kept two-thirds rule on taxes.

Even The Olympian commented in A bad example of legislative ‘transparency’.

There are plenty of other indications about the absence of transparency. How could she not have noticed any of WPC’s analysis? See for yourself at www.washingtonpolicy.org.

Plus, I’ve written numerous Biz Coach columns on the issue.

I cited $65 million in waste in this column, “Will Government Policies Ever Promote Economic And Political Liberty?” State employees are allowed to carry forward and cash out their unused sick leave.

You see, the state paid $65.3 million in unused sick leave from 2007 to 2009. And state workers have received millions of dollars in this budget cycle. This is a perk you will rarely, if ever, see for taxpayers in the private sector.

The largest employer in Washington, 17.6 percent of the workforce, is government. The retail sector is second with 10.8 percent. In the state’s 2009 comprehensive annual financial report, government expenses outgrew revenue.

Another eye-opener in the report: “Governmental activities resulted in a decrease in the state of Washington’s net assets of $2.2 billion.”

Because of the extravagant spending, the gap in unfunded Washington’s retiree health benefits is $7.9 billon.

Meantime, ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Joe Zarelli, has unsuccessfully argued in favor of transparency with Committee Chair, Sen. Margarita Prentice. This TVW video illustrates violations of legislative transparency standards.

All of this employee pork, unnecessary spending, and violations of transparency standards are why WPC is advocating a constitutional amendment for transparency:

BE IT RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, IN LEGISLATIVE SESSION ASSEMBLED:

THAT, Transparency and public disclosure in the legislative process is vital to a representative democracy.  THAT, At the next general election to be held in this state the secretary of state shall submit to the qualified voters of the state for their approval and ratification, or rejection, a new section amending Article 2, an amendment to Article 2, section 19, and an amendment to Article 2, section 22 of the Constitution of the state of Washington to read as follows:

Article II, new section.  No bill shall be eligible for a public hearing until 72 hours after introduction.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action of any kind unless it has first been subject to a public hearing in the same session of consideration.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action on the floor of either house until 72 hours after it has been placed on the floor calendar.  This section may be suspended with two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house. 

Article II, section 19. No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.  No bill shall be eligible for public hearing or legislative consideration of any kind unless the bill shall lay forth in full the changes to any act or sections of law. Title only bills shall be prohibited.

Article II, section 22. No bill shall be eligible for final passage in either house unless copies of the bill in the form to be passed shall have been made available to the members of that house and the public for at least twenty-four hours, unless two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house.  No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the secretary of state shall cause notice of this constitutional amendment to be published at least four times during the four weeks next preceding the election in every legal newspaper in the state.

 Let’s have a discussion about WPC’s suggestion. Implementing transparency is the right thing to do and will promote good, open government in Washington state. Stop chasing ill health.

From the Coach’s Corner, courtesy of Enterprise Washington, click here to find your legislators’ phone number and email address.

Transparency and Why WA Unemployment Rate Jumps to 9.5 Percent

 

March 16, 2010

Universal criticism of the Washington State Legislature’s failure to be transparent is validated once again as the state’s unemployment rate continues to climb – now at 9.5 percent.

The increase stems from another 8,300 lost jobs, including 3,200 in construction and 2,100 in business services.

The timing couldn’t be more symbolic during this national Sunshine Week. The unemployment rate dovetails with the declining transparency at the Washington State Legislature. It’s in a special session to finalize the state budget with seemingly countless tax increases following years of over-spending.

If it weren’t for the watchdog efforts of people like Jason Mercier, Washingtonians would be in the dark regarding the chicanery of the Legislature. Lawmakers have refused to implement efficiencies at the expense of a suffering electorate and business community. They’ve passed ghost tax bills and made many decisions in private, but have not accomplished anything to improve the state’s economy. Mr. Mercier, who is the director of the Center for Government Reform for the Washington Policy Center, has issued countless updates from Olympia.

As a result of the secrecy in passing numerous unnecessary tax increases and other dubious legislation, newspapers across the state are clamoring for good, open government in Washington state.

Here’s a sample:

A bad example of legislative ‘transparency’, Olympian
“In the waning days of the regular legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, a Democrat from Spokane, claimed the Legislature is much more transparent than it was when she entered the Legislature.  Brown is wrong . . .”

Sunshine and Clouds in Olympia, Kitsap Sun
“The bad news is that public access to information and hearings about legislation has been … challenging. There’s been a flurry of ‘title-only’ bills introduced and set for hearings, sometimes on short notice, and with no timely public information on their content. Members of the public deserve better than that — and if they want to get it, they’d better say so this fall to those who seek to represent them in the Legislature.”

It’s National Sunshine Week, but state’s transparency forecast remains cloudy, Longview Daily News
“Shutting down the Sunshine Committee less than three years after it was formed is as difficult to justify as that legislative exemption from public disclosure. It proved too much for legislators to pull off in the light of day. The Sunshine Committee was taken off the bill’s termination list — less than a week ago. Sadly, that remains this legislative session’s single accomplishment on behalf of government transparency.

State government clings to double standard, News Tribune
“Is it any wonder that city and county officials clamor for relief from open meetings and records laws when they see their counterparts in state government behave as they do? State officials profess a belief in public disclosure. They’re just not sure it always applies to them. Lawmakers in particular hold themselves apart from the state’s sunshine laws. They caucus in secret for any reason and insist that their correspondence is somehow constitutionally protected from public dissemination. They also apparently reserve the right to skip public process in the interests of expediency.”

Public input? Who cares?, Everett Herald
“With increasing audacity, key state legislators are taking control from the people and seizing it for themselves. Amid the difficult process of closing a $2.8 billion budget shortfall, they’ve skirted, waived or ignored the public’s right to know what they’re up to and comment on it.”

And there others we can cite.

Meantime, Mr. Mercier offers some excellent solutions for transparency and the Legislature’s practice of passing ghost tax bills.

“Add the preamble of the state’s public records act to Article 1,” he writes. This would help re-enforce this transparency intent for any wayward court.” (See the preamble about the voters’ sovereignty.)

“Add a new section to Article 2 which would require 72-hour public notification before any bill could receive a public hearing, he adds. “While the requirement currently exists in legislative rules, it is often waived.”

Amend Article 2, Section 19 to prohibit title only bills. No public hearing or vote should occur on a “ghost bill.”

Amend Article 2, Section 22 to prohibit votes on final passage until the final version of the bill to be approved has been publicly available for 24-hours.”

He points out it would not be a stretch for the Legislature to be transparent and give the voters adequate notice before passing bills that affect their livelihoods.

“Florida’s Constitution (Article 3, Section 19) requires a 72-hour public review period for appropriations bills before they can be voted on,” Mr. Mercier explains. “Hawaii’s Constitution (Article 3, Section 15) requires a 48-hour review period before any bill can be voted on for final passage.”

Is transparency too much to ask? No. So, why don’t we tell lawmakers how we feel? Otherwise, the unemployment rate and the economic climate will remain unnecessarily unacceptable. Not to mention the theft of Washingtonians’ economic and political freedoms.

From the Coach’s Corner, here’s a link from Enterprise Washington to find your legislators’ phone number and email address.

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Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.