House Democrats' move to save roughly a half-million dollars by merging the Executive Ethics Board into the Public Disclosure Commission is hitting heavier resistance.
House Bill 2028 moved out of the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee this morning on a 6-to-5 vote. One Democrat, Rep. Mark Miloscia, joined minority Republicans against it.
Miloscia, worried about a credibility gap state government has with voters on its use of funds, said “we have to show them we are the most ethical government on the planet.” Miloscia also did not think it will work, as he put it, to shove the agencies together.
Ranking Republican Rep. David Taylor of Moxee doubted the bill saves any of the money that committee chairman Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said it might.
The Executive Ethics Board, which is under the Attorney General's Office, enforces state ethics law against state employees and executive branch elected officials, issuing fines or reimbursement orders when state resources are misused for personal gain or political purposes. A separate Legislative Ethics Board enforces ethics law against legislators and their staff.
The PDC enforces campaign finance rules, which are an entirely different body of law and expertise, according to testimony by chief deputy Brian Moran of the AG's office. He weighed in against the bill when it stalled in committee a week ago.
The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee on its way to a House floor vote. More detail on it is here.
Even if majority Democrats can move it from the floor it faces greater uncertainty in the Senate. Democratic Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver chairs the Senate's government committee and said his caucus is skeptical of all consolidation bills, finding some don't save funds and instead look more like a rearrangement of deck chairs on a sinking boat.
But Rep. Zack Hudgins of Tukwila sponsored the bill, believing the Executive Ethics agency can continue enforcing rules against misuse of state resources while doing it more cheaply. The agency operates on a budget of nearly $1 million every two years and has four staffers who might lose jobs in the merger.
The PDC is officially neutral about the move.
Hudgins reiterated this week that he has no interest in weakening the work of the board. And Hunt said before the vote that it would not weaken the agency.
"We have found ways to do this and do it for less money and still maintain (enforcement)," Hunt said. "It will not wipe out all the money for the Executive Ethics Board'' functions at the PDC.