Monday, November 16, 2009

liveblogging the WEA Chinook Legislative Forum

4:56 p.m.
Why am I at the WEA Chinook Legislative Forum?
a. To hear legislators talk about the issues.
b. To grab my local representatives by the collective earlobes.
c. To avoid the deluge outside.
d. All of the above.

Oh. I guess it was snacks and chit-chat until 5:30. Guess I could've rolled in a half hour later. Gary Gerst emcees, asking folks to "keep it rolling."

In attendance: Brendan Williams (22nd), Sam Hunt (22nd), and Kathy Haigh (35th). Gary Alexander is rumored to be on the way. (And he showed up.)

A question: what should we expect in the upcoming session?

Kathy Haigh: "I think it's going to be short." "Another $2 billion down, and no significant funding coming from the feds.... It's going to be significant cuts.... We should all be keeping a close eye on [the] health care issue." If the feds stepped in to fund our "Apple" health care for kids, that'd help. ECAP is the "absolute wrong place" to cut from. I-728, 732 are (still) at risk. Levy equalization funds won't be touched. Higher Ed--expect another tuition increase, even letting schools set their own tuition rates.

Brendan Williams: "At the risk of sounding like a liberal Democrat..." The legislature could have raised taxes, but "the votes were bought to keep that from occurring." "I did not vote for [728 and 732] to be suspended." Cutting programs from K-12 education is "the pricetag for political careerism." "It's time to meaningfully distinguish ourselves, with all due respect, from the opposition."

Gary Alexander: "Unlike my friend to the left, I think our first challenge is to see what we can do to reduce the budget. Government will not pull us out of the recession." "We can't continue to cut around the edges... We have to go back and talk about what our priorities are: public health, public safety, and public education.... This may mean the elimination of entire services... that can be replaced by the private sector." "We have to basically produce results that will be sustainable on a long-term basis." I'm not going to vote for a policy that doesn't have any funding."

Sam Hunt: For years this state has kept the crazy old aunt in the closet... our broken tax system.... We have a "crazy tax system." "The sales go down and the caseloads go up every damn time you look at it... We've cut all the edges, we've cut all the low-hanging fruit." "I have some hope that the feds will help with Title I, and health care."

Question for Gary Alexander: Where do we cut?
Things that aren't basic public health, safety, or education: Public health care assistance that isn't matched by federal dollars. Privatize state liquor control board, state printing operations. (Question: Is that enough to find $2 billion? Answer: I don't know.)

Loopholes are discussed. Sam Hunt notes that it was the Lieutenant Governor's move to declare closing a loophole a "tax increase" that shut down debate at the outset. Kathy Haigh notes that we can't necessarily bank on a tax increase that won't take effect until after passing a plebiscite next November.

What about the recommendation to close the Maple Lane juvenile school?

Sam Hunt: It was unfair to put the option, Do we close Green Hill or Maple Lane? "I was very happy to see that the consultants' study recommended closing neither one; there was no cost savings to closing either one."

There's some further crosstalk on this issue, but I'm not an expert in these matters.

What's going to happen to the last remaining LID day?


David Johnston, OEA, discusses HB 2261, which broadened the definition of basic education--but without any attached funding. (It's the bill Alexander referred to earlier, having voted against it because of its precipitous ratio of expectations to appropriations.) Now that we're "living under it," what will the Legislature do to fund it--or will they repeal it?

Kathy Haigh: if we fund it, it has to be prioritized. Funding will come out of GAU and healthcare for those in poverty, some of the places in the budget where we have the "least accountability."

Brendan Williams: I doubt it'll be funded by its target date, 2018. "I'll bet your PAC $500" that it won't.

There's a discussion about Physical Education and obesity. I'm sitting in a chair clickety-clacking at a keyboard, so I'm not going to opine, simply out of fear of hypocrisy.

Kathy Haigh: "Everybody should do the Thriller dance at 8:05."

Sam Hunt talks about the "Core 24" provision, another unfunded mandate. Teachers aren't thrilled by it. He then answers a question about income tax--talking about a potentially more equitable tax system, a chance to reform a structure that hasn't been seriously debated since Booth Gardner was in office.

A few questions and comments came up after that, but my laptop battery decided it was done.

I may post some concluding thoughts in a while. That is, if the gale outside hasn't made mincemeat of the grid.

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