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Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

New report: State $1.4 billion shy for SR 167 extension

by February 18th, 2013

A new report to the legislature says Washington state is currently $1.43 billion short of what it would take to complete a crucial six-lane, six-mile partially-tolled extension of State Route 167 from Meridian Avenue in Puyallup across Interstate 5 to Port of Tacoma Road and State Route 509. According to the report just issued by the Washington State Department of Transportation, another $1.5 billion is needed for right-of-way purchases, securing permits and building the project, but only $65 million could be raised over 30 years through current plans to electronically toll one lane in each direction. Combined with a long laundry list of other road and transit needs statewide, the findings add to already considerable pressure for lawmakers to approve some sort of transportation funding package in Olympia this session.

AG warns of more “McCleary-esque” suits by county judges

by February 1st, 2013

Washington could increasingly bear the costs of suing itself, having to pay for suits by state-funded public employees such as county superior court judges aggrieved at budget cuts imposed by county officials who may themselves then turn around and sue the state in response. That was the warning from the state’s Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Moran in Olympia this week to lawmakers on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. (See TVW video below).

Moran said a current lawsuit against Grays Harbor County commissioners by the county’s superior court judges has so far cost the state $340,000 for outside counsel it is legally required to provide to the judges, who are state employees and have no funds of their own to sue. Moran, who was accompanied by new Attorney General Bob Ferguson, told the subcommittee the AG’s office will need another $600,000 to pay for the judges’ outside counsel in the 2013-15 state budget, although a settlement may occur before a scheduled trial this June.

Moran added that a similar standoff between superior court judges and county commissioners is looming in Cowlitz County, and that given similar county court funding problems across the state, such lawsuits at state expense could grow. “I would be astounded if the two counties didn’t become three” and then more, Moran told the subcommittee this week. County courts in many instances across the state are badly overcrowded and run-down.

The county has already spent another roughly $200,000 of its own to date with attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick and his partner, former State Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge of West Seattle, to defend itself against the judges and to in turn sue the state – claiming that it has been the real culprit by shirking its responsibility to adequately fund county court facilities. Beyond paying for the judges to sue the county, the state is also bearing additional costs for its own defense by the AG’s Office in the third-party action by the county board. The case is Grays Harbor Superior Court Judges v. Grays Harbor v. State of Washington.

The Grays Harbor judges sued the county in December, 2011 in neighboring Thurston County Superior Court, after their county’s commissioners had made cumulative cuts to the court’s budget over 10 years totaling five percent. The final straw was a planned 8.3 percent cut of $59,020 for the court in 2012 from the 2011 budget of $704,838; plus additional cuts to the budget of the juvenile justice center, The Daily World reported. The judges wanted a promised third courtroom, more court administrative staff to handle a pressing caseload, and basic security. They got the latter after a violent incident in the courthouse last March when an armed intruder shot a deputy and stabbed a judge. Both survived.

As explained in a backgrounder from Ferguson’s Office, the AG would have been able to represent the judges without paying outside counsel to do, except that the AG’s first obligation in the case was to defend the state against the county board’s lawsuit stemming from the judges’ suit against the county. Representing both sides would have posed a conflict.

Parallels to landmark education funding decision
Moran suggested that in calling attention to basic funding problems for which the state holds ultimate responsibility, the Grays Harbor case is “McCleary-esque.” This refers to the landmark McCleary v. State of Washington suit in which the state’s Supreme Court agreed with claims the state isn’t adequately funding K-12 public education, and ordered the legislature to come up with billions more for that in coming years.

Cowlitz County dispute could add to state costs for court funding controversies
There is a March 1 deadline for resolving the situation in Cowlitz; if that does not occur the superior court judges expect to file suit, and have already been granted funding by the county board (whom they would sue) to hire Scott Missall, the same Seattle attorney now representing the Grays Harbor judges. The county board on January 29 approved a proposal in a January 9 letter from Missall to pay him $390 per hour and when needed, another attorney at $280 an hour for representing the judges in negotiations. If the judges file suit against the county and it like Grays Harbor County then sues the state, the AG’s office would again be forced to pay for outside counsel for the judges.

Lawmakers, AG’s office ponder fixes
In the backgrounder, the AG’s office says under current state law its “‘duty to sue’ could extend to prosecuting attorneys and any other ‘state official’ wishing to sue the state, county, and any other official or party.” In the subcommittee hearing, Moran said policy options range from a potentially costly laissez-faire approach to giving the AG more say-so on what “suits it jumps into” on behalf of public employees. State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a member of the subcommittee, responded that another option would for the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees the county superior courts, to have to approve such suits by court employees, and bear the expense.

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Smaller classes no panacea, Washington report finds

by January 13th, 2013

In a new report for Washington state lawmakers pressed to meet a state Supreme Court mandate to better fund K-12 public education, the state’s own policy analysis unit has found that 10 percent class size reductions provide only a very modest gain in key student performance measures in early grades and nearly none in middle- and high-school. This comes not long after similar news from the same source that 10 percent bumps in K-12 spending also have limited bang-for-buck. A broader, related state study will report later this year on whether pinpointing new K-12 money to teacher effectiveness training gets better results.

Rasmussen: Seattle needs transpo levy renewal or increase

by January 10th, 2013

At a meeting this week of the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee, Chairman and Council Member Tom Rasmussen said the city will have no “other choice but to go back to the voters again in two years to ask for approval of extending or perhaps even increasing” the current “Bridging The Gap” levy before it expires in 2016, in order to continue progress on bridge maintenance, repair and replacement, and funding for other city transportation system fixes. His remarks came at the close of a presentation January 8th in which department officials accented some sobering facts. They stressed Seattle has a $1.8 billion deferred transportation maintenance backlog including more than $1 billion for bridges, retaining walls, public stairways and other vertical structures; and that current annual transportation maintenance spending of $40 to $50 million by the city is far short of the needed $190 million per year.

Key state ferry terminal project at Mukilteo $38.7M short

by December 28th, 2012

A new car ferry terminal on the State of Washington’s busiest vehicle run – from Mukilteo in Snohomish County to Clinton on south Whidbey Island – is currently $38.7 million shy of a needed $140.9 million for construction, according to a new report to the legislature from the Washington State Department of Transportation. The current terminal has been a big headache for commuters for years due to poor design which contributes to long backups for vehicles and complications in trying to load cars and foot passengers at the same time. WSDOT says future usage of the terminal is expected to grow 73 percent by 2030. In Washington, car ferries are considered part of the state highway system, particularly where bridges haven’t been built, across scenic Puget Sound. Earlier replacement plans for the strained regional transportation hub were shelved in 2007 due to “funding and constructability” challenges, but then re-started in 2010.

Lynnwood’s struggling city golf course might be offloaded

by December 26th, 2012

The City of Lynwood has in effect permanently diverted funds from its utility account to prop up its money-losing city golf course, in violation of state law, according to a newly-released accountability audit from the State of Washington. The city says in response it will stop raiding the utility fund to keep the golf course solvent – and in 2013 will decide whether to sell the facility, contract its operations out to the private sector, or keep it afloat through General Fund loans or transfers.

Washington in bottom third in on-time high school grad rates

by November 30th, 2012

New rankings that the U.S. Department of Education says are for the first time solidly comparable between states, show that in the 2010-2011 school year Washington ranked in the bottom third nationally in its rate of on-time high school graduation, within four years of 9th grade. Washington was tied with several other states for the 14th lowest rate, of 76 percent, out of 47 states plus the District of Columbia and the nationwide Bureau of Indian Education, for which data were available. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement, “By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed. Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.” Making increased K-12 spending effective is certainly an issue in Washington, one which independent state policy analysts continue to probe.

Cities may seek more delays on green fleet conversion

by November 9th, 2012

Does the lobbying organization for Washington’s cities want to push against a 2018 deadline to convert municipal vehicles to use alternative fuels? The Association of Washington Cities is pondering that question, and expects to be making a decision in early December, said Dave Williams, the organization’s director of state and federal relations. The next legislative session starts in early January, with education funding and another multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall both front and center. But a recent AWC draft memo to members stresses local concerns about rising fiscal pressures on cities, infrastructure and jobs concerns, and state mandates. It says a possible priority in the 2013 legislative session starting in January is to “further delay the deadline or modify the mandate for conversion of local government fleets to alternative fuel vehicles” past 2018.