Politics & Government

Under the Dome for Jan. 22

Good morning. Today is Friday, Jan. 22, the 12th day of the 60-day legislative session.

BUDGET CUT VOTES

House Democrats plan a mid-morning vote on about $47 million in “early” budget cuts. The measure, sponsored by House Ways and Means Chairwoman Kelli Linville of Bellingham, is largely an enactment of cuts that Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered agencies to make in an executive order issued early last summer.

The House also will recognize the Washington National Guard and its leaders, and it is scheduled to vote on several bills dealing with military issues. Included is House Bill 2483 – requested by Secretary of State Sam Reed – which lets overseas and military voters cast ballots by fax or e-mail.

The early-action efforts in the House and Senate are in four separate bills and are worth about $120 million in state savings, said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. That includes Senate Bill 6503, which closes most state agencies once a month until June 2011.

The House expects to start work on a separate bill next week that blocks workers from receiving bonus pay or other extra compensation based on performance. About $1.9 million in bonuses went out to workers in agencies in 2008, according to the Department of Personnel, including four awards of more than $10,000 to people with the State Investment Board.

TAX EXEMPTIONS

House Speaker Frank Chopp says an excise tax on airplanes is among the possible tax exemptions lawmakers could repeal in a bid to close a $2.6 billion budget gap this year.

The Seattle Democrat gave few details of what might be part of an eventual tax package. He said in a meeting with reporters Thursday at the Capitol that his majority Democrats are looking at exemptions first as a way to raise extra funds, but they also want to see what they can cut and how much they need to raise. He also called Gov. Chris Gregoire’s request for $779 million “a good start” that identified children’s health, the Basic Health Plan and aid to college students as priorities for the new money.

Closing the airplanes exemption and imposing a 0.5 percent excise tax might raise $10.8 million over two years, based on data in a legislative audit report. But Chopp said the biggest exemption likely to be close – worth about $154 million – deals with taxes on food wholesaling that became broader than lawmakers intended when the state Supreme Court ruled in the Dot Foods case.

Taxes on bottled water or soda sales would fall into a second-tier category of options, and a general sales tax remains “on the edge of the table” for discussion, Chopp said.

In the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane sounded skeptical about whether lawmakers can salvage enough programs from cuts by repealing tax exemptions alone. She laughed at a reporter’s question about whether she believes in the “tax-loophole fairy.’’

Both Chopp and Brown suggested that they are open to considering tax exemptions that provide jobs, but Brown said “targeted” incentives don’t always bear fruit. She also did not close the door on a Republican proposal that could lift the threshold when small businesses must start paying the business-occupations tax on gross receipts.

ELECTIONS BILLS

Several elections bills were heard in Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee, and one requiring paid signature-gatherers to register with the state Public Disclosure Commission was passed on to its next committee stop.

Senate Bill 6665 would raise the fee for filing initiatives from $5 to $250 but would allow a $200 refund if a measure were to qualify for the ballot. A similar measure, HB 2615, is pending in the House, and Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia plans to take it to a hearing at 8 a.m. Thursday in his State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee.

Hunt has other bills to hear: HB 2613, aimed at requiring training and registration for signature gatherers; HB 2614, to fine initiative sponsors if petitions are not signed on the back by paid signature gatherers; HB 2615, which raises the filing fee to $250; and HB 2579, to let a person remove his or her signature from a signed petition.

“This jihad continues,” professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman said after the Senate hearing. “These bills clearly make the process tougher. They certainly don’t facilitate them, which makes it unconstitutional.”

TODAY

 • It is Hispanic/Latino legislative day, with gatherings from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda and Columbia Room.

 • Radical Women of Seattle plans a noon rally on the Capitol steps on the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The group, which arrives three days after abortion opponents drew about 5,000 people to the Capitol, is demonstrating in favor of abortion rights and speaking out against cuts to the state-run Basic Health Plan.

COMING SATURDAY

A candlelight vigil for Lindsey Baum, the missing 11-year-old McCleary girl, is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. in Heritage Park.

Compiled by Brad Shannon, staff writer

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