Politics & Government

Under the Dome for March 5

Today is Friday, March 5, the 54th day of the 60-day legislative session.

TODAY

Senate Democrats are set to lay out their proposed capital budget plan at 11:30 a.m. in the Cherberg Building. Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County has held up announcing her budget plan for more than a week, waiting to see what kind of baseline operating budget revenue might be available from the House, which released its tax plan this week.

Today also is the deadline for House and Senate lawmakers to pass bills from the opposite chamber off the floor as they prepare for the session’s final scheduled day, Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Margarita Prentice, chairwoman of the Senate budget-writing committee, said she thinks it is still possible for lawmakers to finish on time, even though the House has not approved its budget on the floor and negotiations between the Senate and House have not begun.

Also today, state prosecutors are set to hold a lobbying day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Columbia Room.

CONFIRMED

Harriet Spanel, the former Senate Democratic Caucus chairwoman who retired two years ago, was back in the wings and briefly stood on the president’s rostrum Thursday. The Senate voted to approve her appointment by the governor to the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board.

OILY TAXES

Gov. Chris Gregoire has endorsed a tax increase that would triple the rate of tariff on toxic materials to 2 percent, up from 0.7 percent. But the House Finance Committee scaled that back to 1.1 percent earlier this week, phasing it in by one-tenth of a percent a year and putting the money to work mainly on local clean-water projects.

Environmental backers in the House including Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said the original intent, which put nearly $150 million a year into the general fund, is still alive with some members. He said the lowered rate is too low and he would not vote for it.

Washington Conservation Voters said Thursday that the group was launching a media campaign to bolster support for House Bill 3181 and Senate Bill 6851 in key districts, including the 26th in Kitsap and Pierce counties, the 28th in Pierce County, the 44th in Snohomish County, and the 45th and 48th in east King County.

“Legislators have an opportunity this session to tackle the number one water-pollution problem in the state and create jobs by doing so,” Kurt Fritts, executive director of Conservation Voters, said in a news release. “Washington voters overwhelmingly support action on clean water, and they need to know that these efforts are being thwarted by big oil and special interests.”

Dunshee said that awareness is growing among lawmakers that the operating budget took away money from capital accounts last year, which reduced money available for jobs-producing construction and storm-water projects.

Some Democrats including House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, have opposed the bill on grounds it could affect local refineries. The oil industry, which pays most of the tax levied under a 1988 initiative, opposes increases in the tax.

TECHNOLOGY GRANTS

The Office of the Secretary of State said this week’s $84 million federal grant for high technology is a boon to 57 public libraries statewide that have limited broadband connections.

The agency, which oversees the Washington State Library and assists libraries around the state, put out a news release saying it will help “bring high-speed broadband to rural libraries in the state.”

The agency said libraries in the Timberland Regional Library network, which covers Olympia and much of Southwest Washington, are helped, including those in Timberland Regional Library branches in Centralia, Chehalis, Ilwaco, McCleary, Naselle, Randle, Raymond, Salkum and South Bend.

All told, the broadband project will “provide speeds of at least 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) to 57 libraries, 22 government facilities, 38 medical centers, two tribal service centers and four community colleges,” the agency’s announcement said.

The state agency said the grant was approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and announced Monday.

Compiled by Brad Shannon, staff writer

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