Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for February, 2012

Seattle region U.S. Census office fires confessed sex abuser

by Matt Rosenberg February 9th, 2012

A former employee of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services who worked as a nursing aide in a Shoreline, Wash. DSHS-staffed home for developmentally delayed adults and who admitted in a detailed confession to committing repeated sexual abuse of a patient in his care there, has been released from his position as an American Community Survey field interviewer at homes in north Seattle and north King County for the Seattle Region office of the U.S. Census Bureau.

The decision comes after a just concluded six-week internal review process by the Census Bureau. It was prompted by the detailed confession posted online at a state government Web hub, and made by former DSHS employee Bart Finkbiner, a resident of Shoreline, in a disciplinary proceeding last year with the Washington State Department of Health.

Earlier this week, Seattle Region Census Director Ralph J. Lee in a tersely-worded email provided notice that Finkbiner “no longer works for the U.S. Census Bureau….” The investigation came after a Seattle-area reader notified Public Data Ferret that Finkbiner was continuing to work at the Northwest regional Census Bureau office based in Seattle as a field representative visiting homes for the American Community Survey, despite his posted confession in an Agreed Order at the Washington State Department of Health’s disciplinary documents hub, to sexually abusing a DSHS client in his care.

U.S. out of Afghanistan, WA senate committee urges Obama

by Matt Rosenberg February 6th, 2012

Fueled by a parade of proponents who testified at a public hearing in Olympia Friday, legislation is beginning to work its way toward a possible vote on the floor of the Washington State Senate that urges President Barack Obama and the Congress to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, and help the state accent domestic priorities instead. Senate Joint Memorial 8014, similar to a resolution, says the President and the U.S. House and Senate should end the war in Afghanistan and begin “dramatically shifting our national priorities” by focusing on job creation; more money for social programs, public services and crumbling transportation systems; and addressing climate change.

WA House bill could help pave way for mileage tax

by Matt Rosenberg February 2nd, 2012

Sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Federal Way, Mercer Island, Lynnwood, Spokane and Wenatchee, a bill heard in the Washington House Transportation Committee Wednesday Feb. 1 if passed into law could help revolutionize transportation funding in the state. It would create a special state task force which would intend to “establish the governance structure and groundwork needed to transition” from gas and special fuel taxes to “a system based on a vehicle miles traveled fee.” The committee analysis of HB 2704 says in Washington since 2000 average annual costs of maintaining one lane mile in the state’s highway system have outpaced average annual growth in gas and diesel consumption by a factor of almost 60. The trend toward greater fuel efficiency and alternative fuels will continue, and vehicle miles traveled will continue a slow rise, requiring a new approach to meeting transportation system funding needs estimated at no less than $21 billion over the next decade, the bill analysis says.

The so-called Road User Future Funding Task Force would consist of 17 members, including four legislators, four from state agencies and nine appointed by the Governor. By October 1, 2014 the task force would have to issue recommendations to the governor and legislature on how best to meter miles, collect fees, protect privacy, and address uncertainties and public concerns about charging by the mile. The task force might also develop draft legislation for joint trials with neighboring states, and then if trials go well, help propose final legislation for implementation of a mileage charging scheme by 2022 or 2023.

New report: WA gives taxpayers $29.3 billion in special breaks

by Matt Rosenberg February 1st, 2012

As Washington state lawmakers grapple with either raising taxes or trimming $1.5 billion from the 2011-13 state budget because revenue projections have failed to keep pace with planned spending increases, a new report issued Jan. 31 by the state department of revenue finds Washington grants a wide variety of tax exemptions which add up to $29.3 billion for the current two-year budget period. The biggest single breaks in taxes paid to the state are almost $3 billion in business and occupation taxes on employee income and retail and use sales tax exemptions worth $3.2 billion on personal and professional services, $2 billion on food and food ingredients, and $1.6 billion on motor vehicle and special fuel.

Under state law the detailed report is issued every four years but does not make recommendations on what exemptions to maintain and which to end. Of the 642 exemptions granted, only 452 would be likely to increase revenues, the report states. Exemptions also refer to exclusions, deductions, preferential rates, tax deferrals and credits.

The report warns it’s not possible to say that the $29.3 billion in exemptions would yield the same amount in revenue if ended. (This is because once an exemption is lifted, the associated taxable business activity may decline in volume compared to before). Of the $29.3 billion in tax benefits dispensed by lawmakers, $24 billion is due to exemptions from taxes paid to the state. Exemptions to retail sales and use taxes and the business and occupation tax together account for about four-fifths of that $24 billion in state tax benefits dispensed. Another $5.3 billion in state-authorized tax exemptions come at the local government level.

Included in the report is a summary listing of all tax preferences which would yield some degree of revenue if curtailed. Others which exist but would yield no revenue if ended are so labeled, and marked in red. According to the itemized list, here are some of the largest state-level tax exemptions granted which would produce some amount of revenue if lifted.

Largest business and occupation tax exemptions granted 2011-2013

  • almost $3 billion on employee income
  • $935 million on insurance premiums
  • $673 million on investments by non-financial firms
  • $394 million on health maintenance organizations
  • Largest retail sales and use tax exemptions granted 2011-2013

  • $3.2 billion on personal and professional services
  • $2 billion on food and food ingredients
  • $1.6 billion on motor vehicle fuel and special fuel
  • Largest other tax exemptions granted 2011-2013

  • $1 billion in special fuel tax exemptions
  • $1.1 billion on the real estate excise tax
  • $950.7 million on vehicles used in commerce
  • $843 million on prescription drugs
  • Almost $797 million related to the estate tax
  • To date, there has been no comprehensive state review of the quantifiable economic benefits of the $29.3 billion in state-authorized tax exemptions in the current biennium.

    RELATED: State of Washington spending up 57 percent from 1999-2011, Public Data Ferret.

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