Morning Fizz

The Senate's Assumption

By Morning Fizz April 14, 2011

1. After experimenting with the idea of sitting out in the front half of his council office, traditionally an area reserved for staffers, Council member Mike O'Brien has formally abandoned his inner council office and converted it to a conference room, setting up shop with his staffers in the front room for good. (O'Brien told PubliCola he felt "isolated" in the big back office and wanted to be more accessible).

The change has produced some unintended consequences. For one thing, because the city council books all conference rooms through a central system, O'Brien's former office, the "O'Brien conference room," is now technically available to everyone on the second floor. Last week, city council member Nick Licata's staff jokingly took advantage of the oversight, booking O'Brien's office for his staff meeting.

A staffer for O'Brien says the room is only available to O'Brien's office.

O'Brien's move to the antechamber has been controversial among some council staffers, who grouse that trying to gossip with O'Brien underfoot is like trying to go on a date with your mom sitting in the back seat of the car. And some joke that O'Brien moved because he (like his ally Mike McGinn) is trying to be "closer to the people."

"He's now five feet closer to the people," one council staffer jokes.

2. There's a footnote to the state senate budget that hasn't gotten much attention, but could end up being one of the biggest brawls of all: The senate's assumption that the workers' comp bill—passed by the senate back in early March and estimated to save the state $1.2 billion in the next biennium—will be part of any budget deal.

[pullquote]The bill hasn't even gotten a hearing in the house yet, languishing in the house labor committee for over a month. However, Fizz wouldn't be surprised if house leadership revives it.[/pullquote]

The workers' comp bill gives companies the opportunity to make lump-sum settlements instead of paying ongoing claims mandated by the state. Labor’s fear, confirmed by the $1.2 billion in estimated savings: Those settlements will fall short of the real medical costs that successful claims would mandate.

But here's an important footnote of our own: The $1.2 billion savings (and $240 million a year after that) aren’t a savings to the state budget; it’s a savings to business, which pays into the worker’s comp fund. That fund is not related to the current $5.3 billion shortfall.

The bill hasn't even gotten a hearing in the house yet, languishing in the house labor committee, which is dominated by pro-labor Democrats, for over a month. However, Fizz wouldn't be surprised if house leadership revives it.

3. Fizz hears the University of Washington and city of Seattle have struck a deal in their long debate over whether the UW---which subsidizes bus passes with parking revenues---should be exempt from all or some of the city's 12.5 percent commercial parking tax.

Last month, state Sen. Curtis King (R-14, Yakima) added a poison pill to the senate transportation budget that would have forced the city to exempt the UW from half the tax---or lose all future regional mobility grants and forfeit its right to raise the tax higher in the future. We don't have details of the deal, but we hear it could involve killing the Curtis amendment and setting up a city subsidy for the UW's UPass program.

4. As Fizz reported, King County council member Bob Ferguson announced a couple of days ago that he had raised $80,000 in his bid for attorney general---not bad, considering the election isn't until 2012. "Nearly $40,000 raised in March helps bring campaign to over $80,000 raised," Ferguson said in a press release.

However, Fizz noticed that that number didn't square with Ferguson's campaign finance reports at the Public Disclosure Commission, which showed just $65,000 raised through March. The discrepancy, Ferguson's campaign consultant Christian Sinderman said, can be chalked up to the fact that the higher number includes $12,000 raised so far in April, bringing Ferguson's actual reported total (as of the end of the day yesterday) to just over $76,000. Sinderman acknowledged that the press release, which made it sound like Ferguson had raised $80,000 by the end of March, might have been "confusing."
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