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Sunday Spin 3: Sin taxes roll in

Nov. 23, 2014 12:33 p.m.

Voters have a way of complicating the state’s revenue forecast by changing the laws on things that provide revenue. After they passed a law abolishing the state’s monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales, the state coffers saw a big bump in booze taxes. In theory that was at least partly because distilled spirits were on the shelves of every supermarket, discount house and big-box retailer, making it more handy to grab a bottle without a special trip to a state store.

That novelty may be wearing off. . . 

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Sunday Spin 2: Other ways to divvy up court

Nov. 23, 2014 9:31 a.m.

OLYMPIA — Legislators may be asked to split the state into districts to elect the state Supreme Court justices, an idea that got a sometimes friendly, sometimes skeptical hearing Friday before the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Jason Mercier, of the Center for Government Reform, likes it, saying the different sides of the state have different industries, cultures and perspectives. Democrats on the committee weren’t enthusiastic, with Sen. Jeannie Darnielle of Tacoma saying some people move around so much that you can’t determine their perspective from their current address.

Justice Debra Stephens is the only current member of the court from the Spokane area and the others were working somewhere in Western Washington before getting appointed or elected to the court. But Spokane is better represented than any other area in one respect – Gonzaga University Law School has the most graduates on the court with three. After that, it’s one each from University of Puget Sound, North Carolina, Duke, University of California-Berkeley, USC and Notre Dame. That’s right, none from University of Washington.

Perhaps some Husky will come up with a proposal for the court to have a proportional representation for the number of graduates its Law School turns out?


Sunday Spin: Could he spend money on a new metaphor?

Nov. 22, 2014 6:27 p.m. - Updated: Nov. 23, 10:03 a.m.

OLYMPIA – Someone please give Senate Republican budget writers a new metaphor for hyperbolic parsimony.

Looking at the state’s less than cheery prospects of matching income to outgo last week, the chief GOP Senate budgeteer deployed the well-worn image of personal thriftiness, the squeezed toothpaste tube.

“I’m the kind of guy who, with toothpaste, I squeeze the tube as empty as I can get it and then I cut it open and scrape out the rest and then I buy a new tube,” Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond said. “That’s the way I approach budgeting this year” . . . 

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Tell me again why Oregon’s ballot system so much better

Nov. 21, 2014 4:13 p.m. - Updated: 4:13 p.m.

Why do we have to wait so long for our results? some Washington candidates and campaigns whine every Election Night. Why can’t we be like Oregon?

Washington counts ballots it receives that are postmarked by election day, regardless of when they arrive. Oregon requires them to be in hand on election day; postmark doesn’t count. This is SOOOO much better, some good government groups say, because the vast majority of Oregon ballots are counted election night, while only about a half of Washington's are, and the rest come in and get counted in the succeeding days (and sometimes weeks.)

So it was with amusement that we note a story out of supposed electoral gold-standard Oregon that one of that state’s ballot issues is now in doubt because of some 13,000 ballots recently counted around the state. They’re “challenge” ballots, meaning there’s something wrong, like their signature doesn’t match the one on file.

But in fact they’re still counting in Oregon and the GMO initiative may be headed for a recount. In Washington, we’re still counting, but nothing’s in doubt.


Kristiansen re-elected House GOP leader

Nov. 21, 2014 2:07 p.m. - Updated: 2:19 p.m.

OLYMPIA — House Republicans re-elected their top leadership today, returning Dan Kristiansen as their leader for the 2015 session..

Kristiansen, of Snohomish, was named to the job earlier this year after Rep. Richard DeBolt stepped down for health reasons. 

Joel Kretz of Wauconda was re-elected deputy leader, J.T.Wilcox, of Yelm, re-elected floor leader and Paul Harris, of Vancouver, minority whip. Matt Shea of the Spokane Valley was re-elected as one of two assistant whips.

Shelly Short, of Addy, was elected caucus chairwoman, replacing Judy Warnick, of Moses Lake, who was elected to the Senate.


Remote testimony: Split high court into districts

Nov. 21, 2014 1:41 p.m. - Updated: 1:41 p.m.

OLYMPIA — A Pasco-based government watchdog made a pitch Friday for district elections to the Supreme Court and two Spokane Valley law enforcement officers told legislators about rising arrest numbers for driving under the influence of marijuana.

That would be fairly normal fare for a Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing except for one thing: The legislators were in Olympia the researcher and the cops were in Spokane, testifying live over the Internet.

The committee was testing a system for remote testimony that chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley,could be used for many legislative hearings during the 2015 session.

Except for a few audio glitches, which a staff member said was a problem with the Internet not the equipment on either end, the test run went smoothly. . . 

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Stuckart’s defense wasn’t “convincing” says Ethics chair, but still considers matter closed

Nov. 20, 2014 3:20 p.m. - Updated: 3:30 p.m.

Troy Bruner, head of the Spokane's Ethics Committee, said City Council President Ben Stuckart's leak of a confidential email had the ability to hurt the city, but there was no evidence of it doing so.

“Certainly there was a potential for harm to be done to the city,” Bruner said. “We had no evidence that harm was done, so we figured that the penalty should be minimal.”

In a unanimous decision by the committee last night, Stuckart was fined $250 for leaking a confidential email dealing with an open lawsuit. 

Bruner said the matter was closed, but noted the committee will write a “strongly worded statement showing our disapproval of his actions and admonishing him.”

Stuckart, who publicly apologized for his actions, said he regretted forwarding the email. In his defense to the ethics committee, Stuckart said the information in the email was already public knowledge.

Bruner rejected Stuckart’s claims, saying they “weren’t convincing to us.”

“He said the email wasn’t bad because its contents were public knowledge. There was no way for us to know that,” he said. “He said you should be able to dismiss this because there was no harm to the city. We had no way to know if there was harm done to the city.”

Bruner said he was convinced that the matter had been resolved, even though he had an unanswered question.

“One personal observation I have, President Stuckart really wasn’t able to provide a compelling reason why he forwarded the email in the first place. That’s something I still don’t have an answer for,” he said. “But he was apologetic for his behavior and he did affirm that he would not engage with such disclosures in the future.”


Stuckart fined $250 for ethics violation

Nov. 20, 2014 10:58 a.m. - Updated: 11:04 a.m.

Spokane City Councilman Ben Stuckart was fined $250 for violating the city's ethics code, but committee members said his action did not financially harm the city.

Stuckart was referred to the committee for leaking what city officials called a “highly confidential email regarding a pending matter of litigation” with a subject line that read: “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED Appeal Decision.”

The matter was referred to the city’s Ethics Committee earlier this month by City Attorney Nancy Isserlis.

“They decided that, yes, they have jurisdiction,” said Mike Piccolo, a city attorney who advises the City Council and sat in on the ethics committee hearing. “They decided that, yes, if the actions in the referral were determined to be true, they violated the city’s ethics code.”

Piccolo said the committee decided that it was hard to determine if Stuckart's actions caused any monetary harm to the city, so it was difficult to impose any monetary penalties. 

Based on the discussion, Stuckart and the committee agreed to a “stipulation,” which means that by admitting fault, Stuckart could avoid a full-blown committee hearing. The stipulation, however, required a fine, which ended up being determined by Stuckart.

“It took about an hour. They decided I had violated the ethics code, but I hadn’t harmed the city, and they fined me $250,” Stuckart said. “I suggested the $250.”

In her letter to the Ethics Committee, Isserlis said the matter of Stuckart's ethics violation “came to my attention inadvertently” when she was performing an investigation about an alleged city code violation at the request of Don Waller, president of Local 29, the city’s fire union.

During this investigation, she found an email Stuckart had forwarded to Waller written by Erin Jacobson, an attorney with the city. Jacobson’s email dealt with pending litigation against the city by the fire union regarding the mayor’s plan to create departments with a fire division. The mayor’s move would have allowed him to appoint people to positions instead of having them go through a civil service process leading to union-protected jobs.

Jacobson’s email was sent to the mayor and council members.

“Within twenty minutes of receipt of Ms. Jacobson’s email, Council President Stuckart forwarded the email, in its entirety, to Mr. Waller at his personal email address,” Isserlis wrote in her referral. “I believe Mr. Stuckart was aware he was forwarding confidential information to the party opposing the City in pending litigation.”

When the referral was made, Stuckart made a public apology and admitted fault. 

This story is developing. Check back later for updates.


The auto row building saved by compromise

Nov. 19, 2014 2:15 p.m. - Updated: 2:20 p.m.

In today's paper, I wrote about the proposed demolition of two historic buildings on Spokane’s storied auto row, part of the conceptual master plan by the Larry H. Miller Group to build a large downtown campus for its auto dealerships.

The buildings to be razed are, without question, historic. The building on the southeast corner of Madison and West Third was built in 1937, and its neighbor at 1023 W. Third Ave, was constructed in 1913. Both meet the 50-year age eligibility requirement for the National Register of Historic Places. But as Megan Duvall, the city's historic preservation officer, said in today's story, the building's aren't really architecturally significant. In other words, they're kind of boring.

The decision to remove the buildings came after Duvall realized she could use a provision in the city’s demolition ordinance allowing for the razing of historic buildings as long as their destruction supported the rehabilitation of an adjacent historic structure.

It's that structure - the International Harvester Company Truck Showroom built in 1929 at 1030 W. Third Ave - that has historic significance as one of the few remaining and unique buildings left on the old automotive row. The row is technically called the West Downtown Transportation Corridor Historic District, and its period of significance stretched from 1890 to 1949. 

The photo at the top of the post shows the Harvester building the year it was completed. Besides how intact the building remains to this day, what's most interesting to my eyes is the huge rock outcropping to the building's east. How'd they get rid of that mountain? Was the rest of downtown marked with similar rocky protuberances, much like how the South Hill remains?

The images below show how the Miller Lexus showroom changed as a result of its dealings with the city and Duvall. Representatives from the company called the compromise to rehabilitate the Harvester building in exchange for demolishing the other two buildings “workable,” but said the process leading to the compromise was “frustrating” because it forced the company to change its designs for a new Lexus showroom.

Instead of obscuring the Harvester building under the metal veneer of a new Lexus showroom, the company now will include the original building in its designs for the showroom. The metal siding has been replaced with limestone and brick in the designs for the new addition.



WA budget forecast: Revenue up, expenses up more

Nov. 19, 2014 12:50 p.m. - Updated: 12:56 p.m.

OLYMPIA — Washington legislators will have a bit more money in the coming fiscal years than they expected when they adjourned in March, but not enough to cover the projected costs of current programs.

Increases in the number of school children, Medicaid recipients, along with a proposed raise for state employees, will help drive the cost of current state programs up by about $2.65 billion in 2015-17. And that's before increased spending for court-ordered improvements to public schools, which could be between $1 billion and $2 billion, and smaller class sizes mandated by a voter initiative.

Continued recovery from the recession, which includes lower unemployment plus stronger collections for sales taxes and real estate excise taxes will give the state about $2.9 billion more in revenue in that period than in 2013-15.

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