Thursday, December 31, 2009

Predictions for 2010

Happy New Year!

[Ed. Note, see my 2011 Predictions, too]

2010, an even numbered year, can not hide how odd it will be.

Yesterday, one of Seattle Mayor-elect Mike McGinn's media advocacy groups,, posted its ten predictions for 2010.

In light of what passed for predictions, I will make some of my own for Mike McGinn, Seattle City Council, King County Executive Dow Constantine, the Washington State Legislative "short session", and color trends in Seattle (why not),

Mike McGinn set expectations high among his supporters during his mayoral campaign with open access becaming a backstory for someone that was generally unknown a year ago. Here, first, are the McGinn predictable let-downs for 2010.

1. The accessable candidate will substitute a blizzard of press releases as a substitute for actual connectivity (there are way too many citizens). Get used to this:
The new mayor is inviting the public to a "City Hall Open House" between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., that day. According to a news release from McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus, the event will celebrate "the city's commitment to openness, transparency and the spirit of service in Seattle."
From the Seattle Times, McGinn inaugural week includes concerts, City Hall tours, Posted by Jim Brunner

There the "openess" was communicated by a press release, from a staffer. I'll let his fans forgive him for this, and they will, because they love him.

2. McGinn will discover the double-edged sword that is Frank Chopp. They both do not like the deep bore tunnel replacement for the Alaska Way Viaduct. Hooray for McGinn. Sadly, that is where the agreement ends. McGinn wants a surface option, Chopp wanted a Choppaduct.

This is where we were a year ago. So, this is what passes as "Progressive", going backward into a quagmire, if McGinn is successful.
The built-in failure of McGinn's surface option will not slow him down.

3. There will be at least one policy item that I will actively support as much I oppose others.

4. McGinn will make the mistake of worrying way to much about Councilmember Tim Burgess potential run against him in 2013, while Council President Richard Conlin does the real work of moving the councils' agenda past McGinn.

The race to consume the city's bonding capacity began 6 months ago.

5. Councilmember Nick Licata does not want to relive the monorail. This will be an obstacle for Mike McGinn attempt to force an early public vote on his West Side light rail.
For fun, substitute "AWV Tunnel" for "Sound Transit", and "West Side Light Rail" for "Monorail" here: Urban Politics #89.

6, and 7. The Washington State Legislature's "short session" begins January 12, and runs for 60 days. Urbanized counties will "horse trade" levy equalization in "tax poor" rural school distrcts for broader taxing authority in the "tax rich" districts. A lot hangs in the balance for Dow Constantine here, and he will show leadership here.

8. The color is red, though some will claim it is for Seattle University, some for Washington State University, creating a purple backlash from the University of Washington. Lots of red and purple this year.

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Monday, December 28, 2009 The Climate Lobby from Soup to Nuts - Global Climate Change Lobby

The Center for Public Integrity, when it isn't trying to think up a better name for itself is reporting on the lobbying effort on climate legislation in Washington D.C. it appears that low carbon producing industries are not thrilled that the coal industry may get a 15-year free pass in cap-and-trade legislation.
The next round of the battle over climate change policy on Capitol Hill will involve more than the usual suspects. Way more. Watch soup makers face off against steel companies. Witness the folks who pump gas from the ground fight back against those who dig up rock. And watch the venture capitalists who have money riding on new technology try to gain advantage in a game that so far has been deftly controlled by the old machine.
In short, even though President Obama pledged to the world at Copenhagen that the United States is committed to action on global warming, the domestic politics are only growing “curiouser and curiouser,” as Alice might say from Wonderland. An analysis of the latest federal records by The Center for Public Integrity shows that the overall number of businesses and groups lobbying on climate legislation has essentially held steady at about 1,160, thanks in part to a variety of interests that have left the fray. But a close look at the 140 or so interests that jumped into the debate for the first time in the third quarter shows a marked trend: Companies and organizations which feel they’ve been overlooked are fighting for a place at the table.
In other words, as the action moved to the Senate in recent months, still more sectors of the economy waded into the battle. This occurred even though the issue and interests are already so complex that Congress failed to pass legislation this year as hoped, and even though the House more than doubled its draft bill to 1,428 pages to address an array of industry concerns and gain passage back in June. The amount of money involved likely rose as well. Although amounts spent on lobbying by issue are not disclosed, if the groups involved spent just 10 percent of their lobbying budgets on climate, they shelled out $30.5 million in the third quarter — up nearly 13 percent over the previous quarter.
(read more here, it's Mmm Mmm, Good: Center for Public Integrity:The Climate Lobby from Soup to Nuts, An Array of New Interests Joins Washington’s Climate Change Debate
By Marianne Lavelle and M.B. Pell | December 27, 2009

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Sunday, December 27, 2009 Senate Democrats to W.H.: Drop cap-and-trade

Bruised by the health care debate and worried about what 2010 will bring, moderate Senate Democrats are urging the White House to give up now on any effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill next year.

“I am communicating that in every way I know how,” says Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of at least half a dozen Democrats who've told the White House or their own leaders that it's time to jettison the centerpiece of their party's plan to curb global warming.

Bruised by the health care debate and worried about what 2010 will bring, moderate Senate Democrats are urging the White House to give up now on any effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill next year.

“I am communicating that in every way I know how,” says Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of at least half a dozen Democrats who've told the White House or their own leaders that it's time to jettison the centerpiece of their party's plan to curb global warming., Senate Democrats to W.H.: Drop cap-and-trade

With "moderates" like that, they might as well be Republicans. I think the White House should push every item they can, while they can. The Dems are going to lose the 60-ish majority in the Senate. They might as well clean house on their terms (that's you, Leiberman).

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daily Kos: State of the Nation, 20 Answers

The Daily Kos has a pretty good "Q&A" about the federal legislation churning through that other Washington.

Kos' answers are to Nate Silver and his 20 questions For Bill Killers.

Read the Kos answers (and questions) here.

Why this matters to this Washington: states form their policy, and resulting legislation, around what the federal government is, or is NOT, supporting. Had the feds done their job and passed Healthcare Reform Washington State attempting to fund some of those things that might be covered in the federal legislation. The delay tactics by Republicans, and Democrats (DINOs, in particular), cause states to just keep cutting things they know will not get supported, or might not be supported, or could be supported.

Washington State's "short"100 day session starts in January. It requires hacking 2.6 billion dollars out of the budget of the state or out of the budget of tax payers. The bigger problem is that if/when federal legislation shows up there will be holes between the feds and state where real people will not get support, or, there will be overlap in policy and the state budget is projected to cover something already covered by the feds. We waste our legislator's time, and possible enact taxes, on actions that will just go away in 2014.
A simplistic view would be to just say that we can adjust later. That one point is true, and ignores the complete waste of time, money, and effort, to enact state legislation. IT IS WASTEFUL.

So, why would Republicans want to delay, other than pushing this into an open campaign season?
Well, let's look at the federal stimulus package that was eventually passed this year. The stimulus package was going to pass no matter what Republicans said or did. What the republicans were able to do in many cases is force state to complete their budgets without knowing exactly what the federal government would "stimulate" (though they could guess on some of it). So, states may have cut things they didn't need to, or support things that were eventually covered (overlap). It was, in a small way, a way to force cuts on states.
Washington State pretty much ran in place on the budget waiting for the the federal legislation, and then passed the state budget at the end. Worse yet, much like this short session, you have state Republicans calling for cutting right now, in a Special Session, without the benefit of knowing what the federal government is planning to do. It is true that there will have to be cuts, but cutting something you can support temporarily until the feds take over just impacts people, you know, people.

The shorter and simpler answer to much of this is that Republicans hate government (name the part they like... see) so having bad government is good for killing government. The people, the majority does not call its self Republican, debate the size and shape of government but want it to be good and work.

Right now, government is not working as well as it could, that's what Republicans want. Is that what you want?

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On the state chopping block, "property-poor" School Districts, Red Districts with Republican Reps

The Gov submitted the required balanced budget. She has identified programs that both could be cut, but should be funded. As I mention a few days ago, those that "have not" will not have school district levy equalization money scooped up from all over the state (via the general fund) and given to district that either do not have the tax base for levies, or have chosen not to raise taxes. The last group, usually represented by like minded Republicans will be beggng on the House and Senate floor for a redistribution of wealth.
Her budget would eliminate the Basic Health Plan, a state-subsidized insurance program for the working poor, saving about $161 million over the next fiscal year. About 65,000 people are current enrolled.

Also zeroed out would be the General Assistance-Unemployable (GAU) program, which provides a temporary safety net for people unable to work because of mental or physical disabilities. That would save $207 million.

It would suspend funding for school levy equalization, which provides money to "property-poor" school districts, saving $143 million, and suspend state-subsidized all-day kindergarten, saving another $33.6 million. State-subsidized all-day kindergarten has been offered at a few school districts with the intent of expanding the program.

The budget also would cut $146 million in financial aid for college students and lower the qualifying income threshold from 70 percent of median family income to 50 percent. That means the money would only go to low-income families. The size of the grants would be smaller as well.

All told, the governor's budget would reduce spending by about $1.7 billion. The rest of the $2.6 billion shortfall would be filled by shifting money from certain funds and tapping reserves.
read the story here, in Seattle Times, Facing $2.6 billion shortfall, Gregoire to seek tax increase to balance budget

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

News Flash, "a family of three needs at least thirty-six thousand to get by in Seattle"

Yesterday I wrote about the Washington State Legislature preparing for the "short" 60-day session in January. As the state makes cuts, and King County makes cuts, and the City of Seattle makes cuts, will the differences between those that "have", and those that "have not" become greater?

The answer has been "yes" for a couple decades, and it will grow. The reality is that these is a different standard of living, depending on where you live, as well as how you live.

In today's Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat provided us with the story of a woman who does not make enough money to live in Seattle, though she does live in Seattle.
It all started a year ago, when Porcaro, a 32-year-old mom with two boys, was summoned to the Seattle office of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). She had been flagged for an audit.

She couldn't believe it. She made $18,992 the previous year cutting hair at Supercuts. A few hundred of that she spent to have her taxes prepared by H&R Block.
. . .
"They thought she must have unreported income. That she was hiding something. Basically they were auditing her for not making enough money."

Seriously? An estimated 60,000 people in Seattle live below the poverty line — meaning they make $11,000 or less for an individual or $22,000 for a family of four. Does the IRS red-flag them for scrutiny, simply because they're poor?
. . .
Rachel's returns weren't all that complicated. At issue, though, was that she and her two sons, ages 10 and 8, were all living at her parents' house in Rainier Beach (she pays $400 a month rent). So the IRS concluded she wasn't providing for her children and therefore couldn't claim them as dependents.
Read the whole story in The Seattle Times, $10 an hour with 2 kids? IRS pounces.

60,000 people, 10%, of Seattle can not afford to live in Seattle.

I used a cost of living "wizard" at to compare living in Seattle on $18,992 in Seattle vs Richland (population 46,000 as of 2008)..
Employers pay 4.7% less in Richland, but the cost of living is 19.4% lower.

So, let's understand something here before the Washington State Legislature gets together, know that there are more "poor" people in Seattle than there are people in Richland. That the cost of living is lower, and your personal wealth is worth more in smaller cities, like Richland. When legislators representing Seattle, and King County, propose bills to allow their municipalities to have access to broader taxes, tourist taxes, untility taxes, stadium taxes, whatever, to get more return for the communities they have invested in, understand why.

Seattle is a nice place to visit, and some of us live here.

Have a great day,
Mike Baker

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

2010 Leadership and "Followship": McGinn, Conlin, Constantine, Brown, Chopp, Gregoire

This week the Washington State Legislature held meetings in Olympia in various sub-committees to prepare for the upcoming "short" session in January. The state's projected budget shortfall of 2.6 billion dollars is the number 1 topic.

Decisions will be made that will put an end to the state being all things to all people. The question becomes, will the state deny some things to all people?
The state may want to stop supporting "tax poor" school districts by cutting some, or all, of Levy Equalization. Will it also deny "tax rich" school districts the ability to raise higher levies?

As it cuts support to counties for health and human services for its citizens will it deny counties different taxing sources to not only make up for the state's shortfall, but the same shortfall counties are facing?

Further, will the state grant authority to counties and cities to choose to raise, or extend local taxes for non-essential services?

As we travel down this road of hard choices, and we answer no, are we denying local control over communities? If we are answering yes are we creating a stark contrast between those that "have", and those that "have not"?

To a great degree we are already living this way. The challenge for the state is to decide what they will commit to supporting, and ensure that power and authority is passed to local jurisdictions to allow them to pick up the pieces not supported by the state.
This is not entirely different than the relationship between the states and the federal government (see Medicare), or the relationship between the county and its cities.

Hopefully those that let go of the responsibility for somethings also let go of the authority, so local communities will be able to say yes where the state says no.