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Washington State News Archive

Below are archived news items for the current month. To view a previous month, choose it from the list below.

"Tax woes tie up state lawmakers"--Tacoma News Tribune
Neither the state House nor Senate can quite come up with a solution to the state’s revenue problems. Both chambers seem to agree to tax hikes will be necessary, but the sticking points are which ones and how much. The Senate seems to prefer a mix and match approach, advocating erasing several tax exemptions, raising taxes on some items such as cigarettes, and raising the state sales tax by .3 cents. Governor Gregoire is opposed to raising the state sales tax, because she worries that higher retail sales tax will hurt economic recovery. The House just released its tax proposal this afternoon, which is closer to the tax plan that Gregoire put forth and does not include an increase in the state’s retail sales tax. Their proposal also includes a variety of fund transfers to cover the $2.8 billion revenue gap. The legislature has only 11 days left in the regular session to agree on a supplemental budget for 2010-2011. - 03/01/2010

"Gregoire wants $4.1 million for drought relief"--Tri City Herald
Gov. Gregoire has asked the state legislature to move millions of dollars for drought relief from the disaster response fund into the drought fund. Money for the drought fund was taken away during the budget cuts last year, but may be necessary this year due to lower-than-average snowpack in the mountains. A drought emergency was last declared in 2005, and the state spent $8 million battling a water shortage then. The possibility of drought does not look as dire this year—snowpack ranges between 50 and 83 percent of normal years, compared to 26 percent back in 2005. Nevertheless, both the state House and Senate appear prepared to comply with the governor’s wishes. - 03/02/2010

"State targets landowner's gopher battle"--The Olympian
A landowner in Thurston County may be charged with misdemeanors for trapping gophers on his property. State Fish and Wildlife officers found four gopher traps on the property; the traps are illegal because the type of gopher living on the land, the Mazama pocket gopher, is listed as a threatened species. People familiar with the case have said that the owner was trying to eliminate the gophers because he thought they would prevent him from being able to sell the land to developers. Thurston County Planning officials counter that while developers are required to hire biologists to devise a plan for dealing with the gophers, it does not prevent developers from building there. - 03/04/2010

"Port posts record revenue; commissioners decline pay reward"--Longview Daily News
The Port of Longview broke the $25 million revenue threshold for the first time this year, which according to state law means the three port commissioners are due for a pay raise. State law says that port commissioners’ salaries should jump from $200 per month to $500 per month when port revenues reach the $25 million mark. However, the commissioners have all decided to waive the pay increase, since no other port employees have seen salary increases. Commissioners chalk up the revenue increase to wind-energy imports, log exports, and bulk food and chemical goods traffic. Imports were up at the port by nine percent this year, while exports increased by 13 percent. - 03/09/2010

"Lawmakers act to roll back state ferry workers' travel perk"--Everett Herald
The state Senate decided that ferry union workers should not be allowed to ride state ferries for free during their off hours, among other things. The senate voted to allow Gov. Gregoire more freedom to limit perks written into ferry workers’ contracts, and were especially anxious to get rid of the free-ride provision. Currently, many ferry workers are paid for commuting to and from their work location when they are assigned to cover an area not considered their “homeport.” Media reports show that several ferry employees earn up to $20,000 over and above their salaries in commuting benefits alone. Gov. Gregoire called for an audit into ferry worker salaries and benefits to be completed by August 1, 2010. - 03/11/2010

"Gregoire plans for 7-day special session"--The Olympian
The state legislature adjourned for sine die at 8:42 Thursday evening without settling on a final budget or hashing out tax issues. In response, Gov. Gregoire called a special seven-day session, which is slated to begin on Monday. Gregoire praised lawmakers for passing legislation vital to qualify the state for Race to the Top education grants. The legislature also passed laws banning BPA chemicals in drinking bottles and laws banning cell phone use (including texting) while driving. That new law makes cell phone use a primary, rather than secondary, offense. But the focus during the special session will be on only one subject: the budget, and what types of tax increases will be used to fill the $2.8 billion revenue gap. - 03/12/2010

"ConocoPhillips agrees to pay for 2004 oil spill in Puget Sound"--Tacoma News Tribune
The oil conglomerate reached an agreement in U.S. District Court in which they will pay $588,000 for three rehabilitation projects on Vashon and Maury Islands along the Dalco Passage. The settlement stems from an incident in 2004 in which 7,200 gallons of crude oil damaged South Sound beaches. Although lab tests linked the oil to a tanker called Polar Texas that is owned by ConocoPhillips, the company has not admitted to any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, they have paid fines and court fees, and will now pay for the clean-up projects. Scientists familiar with the spill say it harmed salmon, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife in the Puget Sound area. - 03/16/2010

"Pacific smelt declared a threatened species"--Vancouver Columbian
The Pacific smelt, or eulachon, has officially been named a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife have not yet determined how they will protect the fish, which spawn in Columbia River tributaries such as the Cowlitz and Sandy Rivers during the spring. Numbers in the yearly smelt run have been poor in recent years, and this year there were no smelt gathered in the Cowlitz tribe’s annual eulachon ceremony. There are no smelt currently raised in hatcheries, so protecting the population will most likely prove challenging. - 03/17/2010

"Senate approves jobs bill"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The U.S. Senate approved HR 2847, the job-creation bill, after the U.S. House made modifications, and President Obama signed the bill into law today. The bill gives employers a tax-holiday on Social Security payroll taxes, as long as the people they hire have been unemployed for at least 60 days, and gives employers a $1,000 tax credit for every worker hired on for at least 52 weeks. The law will also transfer $20 billion into highway and mass-transit funding to provide jobs in the construction industry. The package is expected to cost $17.6 billion, but lawmakers hope it will provide a jumpstart to get employment back on track. The national unemployment rate is currently stalled at 9.7 percent. - 03/18/2010

"House sends health care overhaul bill to Obama"--Seattle Times
In a 219-212 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, HR 3590 was passed yesterday by a narrow margin. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a highly contentious piece of legislation, slipped through with no Republicans voting for it and 34 Democrats voting against it. A reconciliation bill now needs to be affirmed by the Senate, and then the bill will go to President Obama to sign into law. Politicos predict the Senate will pass along party lines, and the legislation will probably be in the President’s hands by Tuesday. Congress has been debating different versions of health care reform bills for several months. Included in the bill are provisions requiring all Americans to purchase health care coverage, provisions for subsidies for families that cannot afford premiums on their own, and changes to the Medicaid system. A recent report issued by the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the legislation, if passed, would reduce the deficit by $138 billion over time. - 03/22/2010

"Republican McKenna has Olympia Democrats seeing red"--Seattle Times
Attorney General Rob McKenna announced that he will join a 13-state lawsuit that questions the constitutionality of the health care insurance mandate recently signed by President Obama. The lawsuit is led by Florida’s attorney general, and argues that the U.S. Constitution does not allow the federal government to require citizens to purchase commodities. Gov. Gregoire and other state Democrats have said they do not support the lawsuit. Some state lawmakers have mentioned that they might try to block the attorney general’s office from being able to spend state money on the suit. Legal experts note that the state constitution (Article III, section 21) does not require the attorney general to consult with other state officials while pursuing the interests of the state. - 03/23/2010

"Prosser ConAgra plant to close May 30"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri City Herald
The ConAgra plant in Prosser that processes frozen potato products and employs about 250 people has announced that it will be closing in two months. The company says it has no plans to sell the plant, although that particular type of processing will be moving to a new plant in Louisiana. Area officials say the closing will hit the community hard in agricultural sales as well as in unemployment, because the company will not be buying as many potatoes from farmers in the region. The Washington Potato Commission blames the closure partly on a tariff that Mexico has tacked onto agricultural products imported from the U.S. Mexico is the second largest importer of frozen potato products. - 03/25/2010

"Gov't unveils plan to shrink some home loans"--Everett Herald
People who owe more on their home mortgages than their property is worth may be able to get help from the Federal Housing Administration under a new plan. The plan would allow people to get new home loans directly from the government, but in order to qualify, the homeowners cannot have fallen behind on payments. Also, the new loan program will not cover all homes, such as vacation homes. The plan does provide for up to six months of reduced payments for people who are unemployed. The Obama administration’s previous foreclosure-prevention efforts have received criticism from some, as foreclosures have increased and only a small percentage of people have taken advantage of opportunities offered by the federal government. - 03/26/2010

"Yucca Mountain out: Hanford nuke waste has nowhere to go"--Seattle Times
The federal Department of Energy has withdrawn a licensing request for nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Hanford’s nuclear waste was scheduled to be made into glass, then transferred to what was to be a permanent storage facility for much of the country’s nuclear waste in the Nevada desert. Spectators assume the relationship between the Obama administration and Sen. Harry Reid (D) from Nevada is the reason for the withdrawal of licensing. Nevada residents have been opposed to the idea of housing the nation’s nuclear waste. Many in Washington fear this move means waste will stay at Hanford indefinitely, or that Hanford itself could become a major repository. The states of Washington and South Carolina have petitioned the federal government over this issue. - 03/28/2010

"New direction urged for Columbia River Crossing"--Vancouver Columbian
The ten-lane bridge over the Columbia River that will join Vancouver to Portland and replace the old I-5 bridge is facing further opposition. People are concerned that it’s going to be ugly. After much discussion and debate, a bridge design was finally produced by Oregon and Washington state transportation departments, only to meet with criticism. An informal architectural design panel who met to critique the bridge found that it was too utilitarian and did not seem to mesh with the environment it spans. State officials say that’s because the bridge is trying to meet the needs of several disparate groups, from the state transportation departments to regional transportation boards, to community groups on either side of the river. The current bridge design will be officially studied by an independent review board appointed by governors Gregoire and Kulongoski. - 03/30/2010

"State's ag employment jumped in 2009"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri City Herald
The number of employees in Washington’s agricultural industry grew by over 12,000 people between 2009 and 2010, and wages rose from an average of $8.79 to $9.42 an hour. State officials say that the increase is partially due to the huge cherry and apple crops state farmers hauled in last year. Mild weather this winter might mean more bumper crops this year, which could mean that employment numbers will stay high. North-Central Washington counties saw the highest increases in farm workers over the one-year period. Farmers are concerned, though, that new federal regulations may make it harder to hire workers when they need to, because employers must hire qualified workers who reside within the region before they can hire foreign laborers. - 03/31/2010

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