Expensive Cloud, Silver Lining…

Mike Siegal | Seattle Times March 25, 2012

One of the key responsibilities for the state is running the prison system. Overall we spend about $1.5 billion on the entire corrections system, including medical care for inmates. The US Constitution requires that inmates receive healthcare that meets the same standards as is available to the rest of the community.

Two new drugs have recently become available for treating Hepatitis C, an infectious disease that affects up to 20% of the prison population. The drugs are a miracle – and may save lots of money in the long run by avoiding the liver damage that comes from Hepatitis C. Of course, there’s a “but” to this silver lining. As you can see in this NPR story, it can cost up to $150,000 for a course of treatment for a single patient.

Our estimate for the cost to the Washington corrections system over the next three years is about $210 million, plus about $20 million a year out into the future. Wow. Not a place I’m excited about spending money, but a clear constitutional requirement and an opportunity to have a huge positive impact on the health status of a troubled population.

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Dire Future for State Budgets?

Graph showing state and local health care costs vs. payroll costs over timeThe Washington Post has an article today (or some recent day – I only read online) about the long-term pressures faced by state and local governments.  The article compares growth in key revenue sources with growth in costs and projects a dire future. The title is “GAO: Without draconian cuts, states face decades-long fiscal crisis“.

Key concerns they have include

  • The sales tax continues to decline as a fraction of GDP. This means that over time people buy less stuff (as a percentage of their income) that is taxed.
  • Tax revenue in general will not return to pre-recession levels, as a percentage of GDP, until 2058.
  • State and local healthcare costs for employees and retirees, as well as Medicaid costs, will grow from 3.9% of GDP to 7.4% of GDP by 2060.

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Posted in Budget, Education, Health Care, Tax Policy | 2 Comments

Rep. Hunter reelected to chair House Appropriations Committee

December 11, 2014

Olympia - Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina will again head the key budget-writing efforts of the majority House Democrats in the 2015 Legislature, serving as chair of the Appropriations Committee.

The Appropriations Committee is responsible for writing the two-year state operating budget, which pays for general government expenditures like teacher salaries, health care services, prison operations, and the higher education system. It also handles global fiscal issues such as pension policy as well as bills with significant fiscal impacts.

“We have a difficult challenge ahead of us,” said Hunter. “Education funding will be our top priority this session, but it’s not our only obligation. We have other responsibilities to communities like mental health, seniors and low-income families, and foster kids that we cannot put off any longer. We need to ensure that we deal responsibly with long-term obligations like pensions and bond payments, and we need to invest in efficiency improvements in our IT infrastructure.

“An all-cuts budget like the ones we passed the last three cycles will not lead to a more prosperous Washington. I look forward to working with the other members of the House, Senator Hill, and Governor Inslee to find bipartisan, fiscally responsible solutions to our budget challenges that preserve our values and ensure all Washingtonians have opportunities to succeed.”

The 105-day 2015 session of the Legislature opens January 12 in Olympia.

For more information
Rep. Ross Hunter, 360-786-7936, ross.hunter@leg.wa.gov
Staff: Andy McVicar, 360-786-7215, andrew.mcvicar@leg.wa.gov Continue reading

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WA State Budget – Ross to talk, show charts, take questions

map to NW Arts CenterI’m planning to give an update on the state budget situation Wednesday December 10th at the 48th District Democrats December meeting. The meeting starts at 7:00 PM. It’s not a super-long talk, but I’ll take questions for half an hour or so. They have a section on the bylaws that starts at 8:00 that I’m sure is important, but sounds deadly to me. It’s fine for people that come only for the budget talk to leave at 8:00. I’ll do at least one more of these, and all three 48th District legislators are having a town hall meeting on Jan 10th, though that won’t have as much detail on the budget as this will.

Northwest Arts Center
9825 NE 24th St., Bellevue

Wed. Dec 10th, 7:00 PM. 

There is limited parking, so if it gets full wander up the hill to Clyde Hill elementary school and park there.

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Man Bites Dog

I got the following email from WA State Auditor Troy Kelley today. It’s part of the performance audits his office does to improve the functioning of state agencies. The audits have skewered lots of agencies over the years since initiative 901 passed. We don’t see too many emails like this because the auditor tends to (quite appropriately) go after programs that look like are struggling. There are a few suggestions for improvement which sound rational to me, but the report praises Washington for having the sixth highest payment accuracy rate in the nation.

This skewers a long running meme about welfare fraud…

I wanted to let you know that today our Office published a performance audit of the state’s efforts to prevent misuse of electronic benefit transfer cards. These cards provide residents with safety-net benefits such as money to buy food.

Our review found the Department of Social and Health Services is effectively managing several areas vulnerable to fraud, including use of invalid Social Security Numbers, replacement cards and use of benefits at prohibited businesses like casinos. We also made recommendations to improve prevention of card use by ineligible persons, such as increased use of data-matching for identifying high-income clients, discontinuing payments sooner after the death of the client, and scrutinizing out-of-state card use, and emphasizing cost-effective investigations.

The Department is to be commended for its high payment accuracy rate, which is among the best in the nation. Strong controls give people in our state assurance their tax dollars are being properly safeguarded and the people who need help are getting it.

You will find this report on our website here. I hope you find the information useful. We welcome comments and suggestions for future reports. 


Troy Kelley
Washington State Auditor

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Scary “Drones” or Annoying Neighbors with Model Airplanes?

I’ve gotten a lot of mail recently from ACLU members supporting regulation of drone use in Washington, which I support. However, I won’t support ANY bill on drones. I think the environment is more interesting than just the current ephemeral technology concern of cheap ubiquitous model airplanes. There was a bill last year on this topic that I thought could be kindly described as a mashup of the black helicopter concerns of the far right with bizarre changes to how the 4th amendment is interpreted. The process of getting to the floor at the last minute resulted in something that was anything but clear. I voted no, and the governor vetoed it in its entirety and said that folks should start over.

I think we should create standards that are technology independent and that affect things beyond just a remote-controlled flying platform for a camera. Any bill should include:

  1. Clear language that affects legal searches and privacy invasions from paparazzi or nosy neighbors. This would be independent of the manned or unmanned status of the airplane involved. I’m just as concerned about a cop in a helicopter as I am about a cop with a model airplane.
  2. Data retention standards for the results of surveillance. This would apply to traffic cameras, toll collection, private security cameras, airplanes that fly around pretending to be cell towers, actual data from cell towers, etc. The government certainly should not be building a huge database of information about our private lives that can be mined at their leisure.

We’re going to use the law that gets written here as the standard for criminal investigations for decades, and we should think about it in a rational way and work through the legal scenarios.

The work done by Gregory McNeal at the Brookings institution is interesting and could perhaps be the basis of a reasonable bill that would provide a more consistent platform for ensuring our privacy without becoming outdated in 5 years. http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports2/2014/11/drones-aerial-surveillance-legislators. It’s a long paper, but a summary available here (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/11/brookings-institute-to-legislators-stop-worrying-learn-to-love-drones/) might entice you to wade through it.


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Printable version of budget post

2015-17 WA State Budget (PDF File, requires Adobe Reader)

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WA Budget 2015-17: High Degree of Difficulty

Recession Job Recovery graphWhen writing about the budget it’s important to share good news as well as bad. First the good: (it’s short) the revenue forecast picked up a little bit. The bad is that we face one of the most difficult budget cycles of my time in the Legislature, and perhaps worse than we’ve seen in many decades.

The budget is showing strains from the slow recovery from the recession, we are seeing a slew of court cases that require us to spend significant amounts of money, and we are going to have to make significant progress in meeting our constitutional responsibility to fund public education.

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Posted in Budget, Education, Health Care, Public Safety, Tax Policy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Super-Interesting Changes in The Amount of Driving We Do

Vehicle Miles Travelled Forecast ComparisonWSDOT released a new forecast of gas tax revenue based on a new forecast of how much people are likely to drive in the future. Less.

There are a lot of factors that drive this change, and you can read more about them on Sightline, The Seattle Times, or the actual wonky report itself, published by the Office of Financial Management.

This is a major change in how we look at the future, and will have big implications. Basically, raising the gas tax by a penny will get you a lot less revenue. Of course, you won’t have to build as much highway infrastructure if it’s true, so maybe that will work itself out. I think the uncertainty leads us to depend less on borrowing against the projected revenue stream. If we were to increase the gas tax and not borrow against the new stream of revenue we would build fewer projects at the beginning, but have more flexibility in the future to respond when we see how drivers really behave.

Changes my thinking some about how we should build a transportation package and what should be in it.

Posted in Transportation | 2 Comments

Golden Crayon Award

Golden CrayonsThe Early Learning Action Alliance gave me a “Golden Crayon” award for my efforts last session to pass the “Early Start” bill. The bill had a lot of moving parts, but the main idea was to focus on improving the quality of the childcare we have now so that we reap the benefits down the road in improved outcomes for at-risk youngsters.

Somewhere there are a lot of children who have boxes of crayons with no gold ones.  This is the sad part of an otherwise lovely award. It came with a nice plaque too:


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