Liquor, pot, budget among year’s top stories

Tax breaks for Boeing, heroin use in South Sound, battle over a plan for low-barrier homeless shelters also on list

Olympian staffDecember 30, 2013 

As we look back on 2013, here are the stories that Olympian staff pegged as the most significant. Each reader will rank these differently, so in no particular order, here they are:

STATE BUDGET

After a frustrating full-length session, it took months of special sessions and the threat of the first government shutdown in state history for lawmakers in Olympia to agree on a budget. Gov. Jay Inslee did not get the revenue increases he thought were necessary, but schools got $1 billion. No agreement was reached on a transportation package for roads and bridges.

BOEING

Boeing Commercial Airplanes announced plans for its next-generation 777X jet, demanding tax and workforce training help from the state that resulted in a three-day special legislative session to give the state’s aerospace sector the largest corporate tax break in history — worth $8.7 billion over 16 years. After the local Machinists union voted to reject a new eight-year contract offer from Boeing, the aerospace giant began soliciting bids for the work from about two dozen states. Who wins the jobs remained unclear at year’s end while Puget Sound-based Machinists prepared to vote on Jan. 3 on a new offer that local union leaders still reject because of changes to pension plans.

HOMELESSNESS

A proposal for a low-barrier shelter in Olympia drew strong protests from residents, and organizers went back to the drawing board. Meanwhile, on Christmas Eve, a long-standing roving homeless community, Camp Quixote, moved into permanent cottages in the Mottman Industrial area.

PRIVATIZATION OF LIQUOR FALLOUT

When the state was taken out of the liquor business by an initiative in 2012, a number of people bought former state liquor stores. However, the business model was dramatically changed with liquor available in grocery stores and big-box stores, and many of the would-be liquor entrepreneurs are struggling to compete.

LEGALIZED POT AND FALLOUT

The federal government decided not to meddle in Washington state’s recreational marijuana market, and the state Liquor Control Board started taking applications for retail pot stores to open in the coming year. Meanwhile, local bar owner Frank Schnarr continues his private pot club at Frankie’s Bar and Grill, where customers bring their own pot into a separate room. The state Liquor Control Board has voted to make it illegal for an establishment with a liquor license to allow marijuana consumption on its premises. Schnarr has contended that members could smoke legally there after the passage of Initiative 502, which made it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in Washington. Schnarr won a legal battle to allow patrons to smoke cigarettes in an upstairs room, provided that they pay $10 in annual dues. Schnarr has spoken out against the rule change and said he’ll ignore it.

HEROIN

Heroin use is on the rise in South Sound and in other communities across the state and nation. It’s cheap, highly addictive, lethal and not feared enough by young adults. A two-part series by The Olympian’s Jeremy Pawloski painted a picture of a drug-use crisis out of control in our community, one that is claiming lives, fueling burglaries and thefts, tearing families apart and taxing the health care and drug treatment systems that addicts turn to by choice or court order.

SHORELINE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

Proposed major changes to development regulations on Budd Inlet and other shorelines were approved after about six years of public process. The Olympia City Council voted unanimously to approve its Shoreline Master Program and transmit the plan to the state Department of Ecology, which requires it. The council approved a resolution that put its blessing on the draft plan, which is far from finalized. It will be sent to the Department of Ecology, which will accept public comments on the plan and could hold its own public hearing. Once the state approves the plan, it will kick it back to the City Council to approve a final ordinance. The plan regulates development on major city shorelines, most notably Budd Inlet. Its goal is to ensure development yields no net ecological loss.

STATE HEALTH PLAN

The federally run health exchanges have had huge problems in many states. Washington is among the minority of states that chose to operate their own exchanges, and despite problems, it has functioned better than many. Washington’s state health insurance exchange reported a spike in sign-ups, swelling enrollments for all plans to roughly 214,000 by last week. Those people — more than a fifth of the state’s 1 million uninsured — can expect to be covered Wednedsay. Officials say they expect more to sign up before March 31, which is the next major deadline and one that triggers potential tax penalties for those who don’t have coverage. The newly enrolled include 65,472 people who purchased private health plans through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange — a figure that nearly doubled since Dec. 12.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

This is a story that’s not over yet. Not to jinx anything, but maybe we’ll be looking at a Seahawks Super Bowl for a top story of 2014.

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