1. City lobbyists briefed council members yesterday on the city's 2012 legislative agenda, which consists, basically, of trying to convince the legislature to give Seattle more taxing authority and begging them not to cut city funding any further. The state is facing a $2 billion revenue shortfall.
Specifically, the city is asking state legislators to:
• Let the city continue to collect liquor profits from the state. Currently, the city receives around $7 million a year from liquor sales in a profit-sharing agreement with the state; the money is meant to help offset the local impacts of alcohol abuse. Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget proposal would eliminate those revenues. And last year, facing a similar shortfall, the state tried to raid the liquor account.
• Push for new revenue sources at both the state and local levels. Because Tim Eyman's I-1053 requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes, legislators will likely have to put any new revenue source on the ballot. Even if they did, and even if state voters decided to tax themselves to close the shortfall, new taxes wouldn't be a panacea. "I would be really surprised if [legislators] came up with a $2 billion revenue package," city lobbyist Craig Engelking told the council. "What that means is that even with new revenue in the mix, there would still be devastating cuts."
As for new local taxing authority, Engelking said that although legislators "say it's definitely on the table, when we try to pursue it more ... it sort of disappears."
And even if legislators did give the city the ability to ask voters for a new tax, there's no guarantee that it would pass. "One of the concerns I've heard expressed is [that the legislature is] going to shift a whole bunch of responsibilities to the lcoal level and then [they're] only going to give [cities] the possibility of getting resources from them, and if that possibility doesn't pan out, we've just taken on more responsibility" from the state," Engelking said.
• Seek legislation making it easier for the city to crack down on the misuse of disabled parking placards, particularly by what Engelking called "serial offenders."[pullquote]Going all 99 Percent, Conlin said he'd like the legislature to change a law limiting cities' investment in credit unions, "in keeping with some of our thinking about both local economic development and social justice."[/pullquote]
2. After getting briefed on the facts on the ground by the city's expert full-time lobbyists, a couple of council members brought up their own wish lists for the city's legislative agenda in Olympia, including council president Richard Conlin, who got all 99 Percenter:
• Conlin said he'd like the legislature to change a law limiting cities' investment in credit unions (as opposed to banks, the target of ongoing demonstrations at Westlake Plaza and across the country) to $100,000, "in keeping with some of our thinking about both local economic development and social justice."
• Tim Burgess wants more money for the Department of Corrections' Neighborhood Corrections Initiative, a program that allows state and local police to monitor felons assigned to parole. "If the state is going to release prisoners early and lower its cost, some portion of the cost savings should be used to buttress the Neighborhood Corrections Initiative," Burgess said.
3. Speaking of the the the $2 billion budget crisis in Olympia, stay tuned for today's PubliCola ThinkTank: We've got the conservative brains from the Washington Policy Center vs. the liberal brains at the Washington State Budget & Policy Center squaring off over what should be done.
4. When we interviewed Seattle Port Commission candidate and Democratic activist Dean Willard for our 2011 Election Guide, he told us one of his priorities was to "change the role of commissioner to watchdog board member rather than globe-trotting deal maker."
When we asked him for some examples of excessive travel budget expenditures, particularly from his rival, incumbent Republican Port Commissioner Bill Bryant, Willard demurred.
But bam! Seattle Times port reporter Bob Young has a story this morning about a report issued by a Port investigator (hired by the Port itself) to review Port expenses. The review found $3,000 in improper personal expenses on Port credit cards. All five commissioners racked up improper charges—and all have paid the Port back.
First-term Commissioner Rob Holland ran up more improper expenses than his peers, according to Coskey's review. He also had an inappropriate photo on his cellphone.
Holland charged at least $1,200 to his Port credit card for personal expenses, much of it involving several international and domestic trips.
Coskey's 31-page review does not detail the expenses. Holland says most were for food and drink and travel items such as magazines. (The Times has requested detailed commission travel records from the Port.) Holland said he "was not aware" of Port policies prohibiting such spending.
Coskey noted that some of Holland's improper expenses came after he had been "instructed by staff on appropriate expenses."
Holland repaid the Port, but it took him several months in most cases. He was unemployed, he said in an interview, and "down and out." He now works for an employment program run by King County.
Holland also had a photo of a man's naked rear end on his Port cellphone. It was discovered by a Port employee when Holland brought in his phone for a service upgrade.
A friend took the picture as a "prank," Holland said, adding he didn't know it was on the phone.
As for Bryant, the Times reports:
Bill Bryant charged the Port $115 for meals deemed improper. Coskey also noted that two commissioners asked if Bryant had a potential conflict when he visited Eastern Washington as a Port of Seattle ambassador because the private company he founded helps food growers export products.
The Port's chief lawyer had advised Bryant, the commission president, that he didn't have a conflict. But that opinion was "apparently not shared with the entire commission," Coskey wrote.
"I took it seriously," Bryant said of making sure he didn't have a conflict. "And I did it beforehand."
In our candidate evaluation of Bryant, we noted: "Bryant also founded and heads up a successful food trade consulting company, Bryant Christie Inc.—which frankly, we see as a demerit because it gives him a personal business interest in the Port."
Overall, we gave Bryant an "Above Average" rating, our second highest score out of our of six ranks, while rating Willard "Acceptable," our third highest score.
Willard's canny spider senses have us wondering if we should have bumped his score up a notch.
5. Fizz was at NARAL's annual masquerade ball/auction on Saturday night. (We proudly admit our editorial bias on a woman's right to choose and acknowledge that a certain Cola staffer bid on—and won!—a signed Lauren Jackson Storm jersey).
Erica already wrote a post about Gov. Gregoire's attendance at the event. But here are a few other noteworthy moments from the evening:
• "This is the only time I've ever heard this room go silent," NARAL director Lauren Simonds said after the costumed and incorrigibly chatty crowd observed a moment of silence for state Sen. Scott White, who died suddenly two weeks ago, and for Ron Bonlender, a former member of the Yakima City Council, who also died recently. Both men were hailed as pro-choice legislators.
• Overall, the auction raised $135,000---$22,000 more than last year's event. "Fund a first-trimester abortion"---which, last year, went for $550---sold at this year's auction for $800.
• Auction coordinator Charla Ojala gave a stunning keynote speech about her own experience getting an abortion nearly ten years ago. Ojala discovered she was pregnant just after her college graduation, and realized immediately that "this was something that would affect me and my future forever.
"I had always wanted children, but not like this. What kind of live would I be providing for this child?" After a few frustrating efforts---a visit to an anti-choice "crisis pregnancy center" and a trip to a Planned Parenthood clinic, where she learned that the facility didn't provide abortions---Ojala went to a costly private provider with financial support from her boyfriend and friends, "who were there for me 100 percent.
"[But] there was another group of people I was grateful to, though I didn't realize it at the time, and that was all of you," Ojala told the pro-choice crowd. Since then, Ojala started her own company, bought a home, and married her boyfriend, with whom she's currently six and a half months pregnant.