1. March fundraising numbers in city races, including the mayor's race, are due today, but some candidates have already reported their totals. Among them: Albert Shen, a transportation and civil engineering consultant who's running against City Council incumbent Mike O'Brien. Shen, who has never before run for office, has raised nearly $45,000, an impressive amount for a candidate who's virtually unknown in local political circles.
2. AP reporter Mike Baker tried to interview Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Seattle Firefighters Pension Board, for a story about how an overwhelming 88 percent of ex-firefighters who belong to an old pension system, known as LEOFF-1, are on disability, compared to just 9 percent on the new system, known as LEOFF-2. But, Baker reports, Harrell abruptly ended their conversation, hanging up on Baker without answering his questions.
Fizz called Harrell to find out why he hung up on Baker and to learn more about why so many older pensioners are on disability.
The answer to the latter question boils down, basically, to the fact that although the pension payments themselves aren't any larger than non-disability pensions, the federal tax benefits from the disability designation are substantial: Disabled pensioners pay no income taxes on their pensions for the rest of their lives.
Harrell says he hasn't approved a single disability pension since he was appointed head of the pension board in 2010. "The standard for LEOFF-1 was more relaxed than the current LEOFF-2 standard," he says. And says the way pensions are handled after the board grants them is up to the state, not the city. "Once our role is finished, once we approve or disapprove the pensions, they then become state disability pensioners and it’s the state’s obligation to administer the program," Harrell says.
As for the former question, Harrell says he "didn't feel like doing an interview. I directed the calls to Steve Brown, who's the executive secretary of the pension board.
Baker tells Fizz: "I think what I wrote in the story pretty well sums it up. He didn’t respond to my phone messages. When I reached him on his cell to ask him about issues surrounding the pension board, he said he didn’t have any comment and ended the conversation."
3. One part of the Affordable Care Act that has been put on hold is the Federal Basic Health Plan Option. The FBHPO, modeled off Washington state's Basic Health Plan and included in ACA at the behest of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), would provide subsidized care in the exchanges to low-income people who don't qualify for Medicaid—people making between 138 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level, $26,000 to $38,000 for a family of three. (Obamacare expanded Medicaid itself to the 138 level for all poor people up from a lower average range of levels depending other prerequisites such having kids, being pregnant, or having disabilities.)
Sen. Cantwell has already said in a U.S. Senate Committee on Finance hearing that she will not support President Obama's nominee to head up the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Marilyn Tavenner, until Tavenner outlines a plan for instituting the FBHPO.
Yesterday, Cantwell confronted Tavenner herself in a committee hearing, getting a commitment from Tavenner to present a plan next week.
Cantwell: You know, I’ve been very concerned about the failure to implement the Basic Health Plan as part of 2014. I recently received a letter from Secretary Sebelius saying that no later than April 15th of 2013 you would issue a timeline for guidance for how the program would be implemented as the law states. I mean as fully operational with states being able to receive 95 percent of the tax credit value in 2015. First, I wanted to ask you, in general I wanted to ask you about your beliefs about the Basic Health Plan. What do you think is valuable about it and your commitment to that 2013, April 15th deadline?
Tavenner: Yes, we are committed to the April 15th deadline and I realize that’s Monday. So we will have information to you then and we started to work informally with the states on this issue. And we certainly understand that the Basic Health Plan is an important piece of the Affordable Care Act. And so you have our commitment to implement by January.
After traumatizing Tavenner (watch the full video above), Cantwell concludes: "Okay. We’ll look forward to seeing those guidelines then by next Monday. Just to be clear the Basic Health Plan for individuals – so let’s take somebody who’s making just over $17,000 a year .. they would save about $1,161 ...The Urban Institute says that if all states implemented this ... we would save $1.3 billion a year. For example, our state would save something like $173 million per year... What we’ve accomplished here is to be able to bundle up that population that is just above the Medicaid rate, bundle them up and make them interesting where insurers weren’t interested in them before. ... I’ll certainly look forward to seeing that on Monday. I certainly would love to support your nomination throughout the process but definitely want to see this information. So thank you very much."
4. The majority state house Democrats are releasing their budget proposal today at noon; they are expected to deal with the roughly $1 billion budget shortfall and the Washington State Supreme Court's mandate to add about $1 billion to K-12 education on top of current maintenance levels (about $14 billion) by cutting tax loopholes and finding new revenue.
The senate, controlled by the Republicans, released their plan last week; they added $1 billion to K-12 with a plan that includes hundreds of millions in fund transfers and cuts to social services. Their proposal drew harsh criticism from the Democratic house budget writer, Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina), who called it "cruel, " "unconstitutional,' unsustainable," and "shaky."
"There are $157 million in unnamed efficiencies, $40 million in an uncollectable use tax, and $166 million in a school trust transfer that is clearly unconstitutional," he said.
5. This came out after we posted yesterday's On Other Blogs Today: Slog reports on Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's decision to bring a consumer protection lawsuit against a Richmond florist, Arlene's Flowers and Gifts, for refusing to do a gay wedding.
Ferguson said in a press statement yesterday: “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”