By John Stark
Lottery players sometimes rationalize their expenditures by telling themselves, “It’s for a good cause.” That is partly true, but the amount of lottery revenue that goes to public services is surprisingly small in some states.
This report from John Schoen of NBC News says that in Rhode Island, just 11 cents of every lottery dollar goes to public purposes. At the other end of the spectrum is Oregon, with 50 cents.
Washington state’s lottery reported 32.6 cents per dollar for public purposes in fiscal year 2012.
Schoen’s lengthy report contains much criticism of lotteries as another regressive tax that gets paid by lower-income people. If the lottery is a tax, it is the only optional tax I am aware of. But it is a fact that few lottery dollars come from the two percent. If you’re already rich, what’s the appeal of a lottery ticket?
(I recall reading a news feature, many years ago, about a woman who won an enormous lottery prize that ruined her life–not because it ruined her relationships with other people or any of that stuff, but because her main entertainment in life had been buying lottery tickets and going to bingo games, and once she became rich she had no idea what to do with herself.)
A bill that will move up the state’s primary election by two weeks is on its way to the governor after a unanimous vote of approval in the State Senate Thursday, April 14. Secretary of State Sam Reed says the bill will make it easier for overseas voters, including members of the military, to cast their ballots.
Here’s the press release from Reed’s office:
Washington lawmakers have voted to move the state’s primary election two weeks earlier and to make it easier for our military and overseas voters to cast ballots electronically. Secretary of State Sam Reed, who championed the legislation, hailed the Senate’s unanimous vote Thursday that sent the measure to Governor Gregoire for her signature.
The measure, Senate Bill 5171, allows service members and Washington voters abroad to return their voted ballots by fax or email, as many states do. Currently, ballots can be sent electronically to the voter, but the final voted ballot must be returned “snail mail” before the vote will be counted.
Another key feature of the bill, also aimed at serving military and overseas voters, is moving the state’s Top 2 Primary two weeks earlier in August. That would help the state’s 39 counties meet new federal mandates that all military and overseas ballots go out at least 45 days before Election Day. Currently the state’s relatively late primary makes it difficult for some counties to get the ballots in the mail on time. (After each primary, it takes three weeks to have results certified, followed by state certification, possible recounts or court proceedings, and preparation of a wide array of ballots.)
Last year, the state got special federal permission to keep its 30-day advance mailout deadline, since Washington accepts military and overseas ballots for three weeks after the Election Day. That gives the state over 50 days total transit time. However, the feds advised Washington that the 45-day pre-election deadline is important and that the state shouldn’t try to get by with annual requests for waivers.
The measure, sponsored by Sens. Steve Hobbs, Pam Roach and others, also moves filing week earlier and revises candidate filing provisions in the event of a vacancy.
The earlier primary will begin next year.
Reed said: “We appreciate the virtually unanimous support in our Legislature for changes that will bring us into full compliance with federal law, which we have long supported. Senator Hobbs, Rep. Chris Hurst and other key legislators were extremely helpful in moving this legislation forward. and we thanks them.
“We have a long and proud history in this state of providing strong voter services to our military and to the many people whose jobs take them abroad or serve so well in mission and relief work.”
Washington has roughly 50,000 military and overseas voters, and the fifth highest military population in America. We have five military installations.
While taxes are not and never will be popular, the idea of taxing the rich does have some obvious appeal to everyone who is not rich. Oregon voters recently approved a tax hike for the wealthiest citizens, although a similar measure failed in Washington, where voters apparently saw a tax-the-rich ballot proposal as the nose of the income tax camel.
Meanwhile, states that have long relied on taxing the wealthy have been among the hardest-hit during the economic slump. Why? Because the incomes of the wealthy are the most volatile, dropping rapidly during stock market and real estate busts and thereby punching big holes in state budgets.
The Wall Street Journal offers this report centered on California.
A few years ago, the Washington State Parks imposed parks fees of $5 per car or, I believe, $30 for an annual permit. The fees proved unpopular (who could have known?) and the legislature repealed the fees before long–but not before I paid for an annual permit that was no longer needed. I tried and failed to get a refund.
The trauma of that personal tragedy has faded with time. But fees are making a comeback, and based on the current condition of state finances, nobody should be surprised to face them at favorite parks in the not too distant future. What are your thoughts about this approach to state services?
Here’s the press release from three state agencies asking the Legislature to create a permit that would be good at state parks as well as Department of Natural Resources and Fish & Wildlife sites:
OLYMPIA – The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the state departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) today announced they are co-requesting legislation that will reform state land management and maintain public access to state recreation lands.
SB 5622 addresses the growing demand for recreation opportunities and the impacts of recreation on natural resources and wildlife by developing a reliable source of funding and improving law enforcement on state lands managed by the agencies. All three agencies have seen sharp declines in their budgets to provide adequate maintenance, improvements, and enforcement for recreation. The Governor’s proposed budget removed state General Fund support for recreation on state lands in favor of a user-supported funding approach.
“As lawmakers discuss the most drastic budget cuts in state history, we need to align our revenues with our expectations about our quality of life,” said State Senator Kevin Ranker (D-40th), the prime sponsor of the bill, said. “We need to talk about not just how much our outdoor recreation services cost, but also about how much it costs to lose them. Without this legislation, we will witness widespread closure of state parks and other public facilities. I am grateful for the leadership provided by Parks, DNR, and WDFW on this critical issue.”
A companion bill, HB 1796, has been introduced in the House by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D-24th). One of the key components of the bill is the annual $30 pass that will enable the public to visit state lands managed by all three agencies with just a single pass.
“With State Parks moving off General Fund tax support, we need a new way to fund recreation, and a user-pay model seems to be the fairest—those who use parks pay for them” said State Parks Director Don Hoch. “Working together with all three agencies that offer recreation on state lands is a great value for citizens. The public doesn’t have to worry about whether they are on lands managed by State Parks, WDFW, or DNR. One permit gets them access.”
“State general revenues are no longer a stable source of funding for outdoor recreation on state lands,” said WDFW Director Phil Anderson. “This proposal will bring a greater degree of stability to state land maintenance and operation, and will ensure the public’s ability to access state lands and waterways for outdoor recreation. We’re eager to work with legislators and our fellow natural resource agencies to improve the legislation as we seek sustainable funding for state lands.”
“DNR plays a significant role in providing recreation opportunities on state trust lands,” said Bryan Flint, DNR’s Communications and Outreach Director. “Places such as Mount Si, Tahuya State Forest, and Lake Spokane are very popular recreation areas that we manage.”
The bill, as introduced:
- Creates an annual, singular pass—called the “Discover Pass”—that will enable the public to visit lands managed by Parks, WDFW, and DNR. The pass will cost $30 per year per vehicle or $10 for day use.
- Improves public safety, by giving law enforcement officers from each agency the authority to issue natural resource infractions on land managed by any of the agencies.
- Provides a free annual pass to volunteers who donate 40 hours of their time working on volunteer projects sanctioned by the agencies
- Specifies how each agency must spend the revenue generated by the Discover Pass.
Revenue from the sales of the pass will be split among the three agencies in the following manner: DNR and WDFW will each receive 7.5 percent and State Parks will receive 85 percent. Both DNR and WDFW would receive an estimated $5.5 million per biennium and State Parks would receive $61 million. Revenues in excess of $71 million would be distributed evenly among the agencies. The pass proceeds would partially offset reductions in state General Fund support to all three agencies.
A new report from the state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board says the sick economy is infecting Washington’s young people, with a rising number of young adults who have finished school but have never been able to find a job.
The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board describes itself as is a partnership of business, labor and government, dedicated to helping Washington residents obtain and succeed in family-wage jobs, while meeting employers’ needs for skilled workers. Its report was commissioned by the State Legislature.
A summary of the report, culled from the board’s press release:
- The recession-battered job market has left many Washington young adults, 18-24, unable to land their first job. Over 75,000 young adults are neither attending school nor working.
- Early in 2010, when Washington’s unemployment rate was 10 percent for adults 25 to 64 years of age, the rate for young adults was more than 22 percent, the report states. Studies show young people who enter the labor market in a recession are at risk of not moving forward in their chosen careers, lowering their lifetime earnings and delaying milestones, such as buying a home, getting married and having children.
- The “disconnected” (not working, not attending school) population represents over 13 percent of the state’s young adult population.
- The greatest portion of this group (80 percent), have education that stops at high school.
- Young men are more likely than young women to be out of work and out of school.
The report highlights the importance of providing work experience through volunteer and community service opportunities, noting “work does not have to be paid to be valuable for youth.”
“Even during good times, young people struggle with significantly higher unemployment rates that can be double that of other workers,” said Workforce Board Executive Director Eleni Papadakis. “The recent recession has only widened that gap, making it that much more difficult for youth to get the type of experience that builds positive work habits and focuses them on career planning.”
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-40th, is among 17 sponsors of SB 5274, which would regulate the operations of “pregnancy centers” maintained by pro-life groups that encourage women not to choose abortions. A similar proposal is HB 1366 in the House.
Pro-choice advocates contend that these centers masquerade as health clinics and promote their anti-abortion agenda to women who should be getting information about all their legal and medical options.
According to NARAL, a national pro-choice group, the bill:
- Requires the centers to disclose that they do not provide service or referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control and that they do not provide medical care for pregnant women.
- Requires the centers to keep any medical information they collect private.
- Requires the centers to provide pregnancy test results immediately.
The groups operating these centers argue that they are now providing millions of dollars’ worth of pregnancy testing and counseling to women in need, and that the provisions of the bill create potentially threatening civil liability for them. Among other things, the bill authorizes civil suits from women who contend they were damaged by the center’s activities, and give courts the power to triple any actual damages awarded.
The Washington Republican Party chose former radio talk show host Kirby Wilbur as state chairman over the weekend, unseating former chairman Luke Esser in a 69-36 vote.
Esser’s resounding defeat came despite the backing of Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is widely believed to have a legitimate shot at the governor’s mansion in 2012.
Will the moderate McKenna need to shift further to the right to win his own party’s gubrnatorial nomination? If he does that, will it make it harder for him to pick up the moderate votes he needs to win a still-hypothetical general election?
The Strange Bedfellows blog at SeattlePI.com does a good job of explaining the implications.
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and his counterparts in 25 other states have mounted a constitutional challenge to the health care reform act on constitutional grounds.
As a recent McKenna press release puts it, the new law contains “the unprecedented and unconstitutional requirement that all Americans must obtain or purchase private health care insurance or face a fine.” (italics added.)
But it turns out that in 1798, the Fifth U.S. Congress approved a measure setting up a health care system for privately-employed U.S. merchant marine sailors. The sailors paid for this health system themselves via mandatory pay deductions. The health system established for that purpose evolved into the U.S. Public Health Service.
Among other things, Ungar notes that members of the Fifth Congress did not have to ponder the intent of the Constitution’s framers. Many of them WERE framers. Ungar’s blog contains links to the 1798 legislation, which takes up one and one-quarter pages. It was a simpler time.
Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham-Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called my attention to this via Facebook.
In this lengthy analysis for the Seattle Times, Andrew Garber reports on the newfound budget-cutting zeal of Gov. Chris Gregoire as she tries to close the state budget gap while arguing with fellow Democrats about what must be done.
Her comments on the education system are perhaps the most interesting. She complains that she added huge amounts of money to the education system but saw little or no results.
“I came in here determined to make the system work better,” Gregoire says. ” To invest more money. I put a lot more money into K-12. But then you sit there and say, ‘Why have I not been able to get the result I set out to achieve?’ ”
Later in the article, she accuses education interest groups of putting their own welfare ahead of students:
“No matter how hard you try to make change, there are always those who want to protect something or another,” she said. “I’ll use education because I think it’s a perfect example. Do they want to protect it because it’s right for the kids? Do they even think about whether it’s right for the kids?”
As U.S. House Republicans move toward a repeal vote on health care reform, Democrats are launching a vigorous effort to defend the bill — an effort that seems a lot more coherent than anything they were able to muster while the bill was before Congress, or while Democratic Congressmen were before voters last November.
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is offering a state-by-state analysis of what health care repeal would mean. And HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Gov. Chris Gregoire have scheduled a joint conference call to discuss how many state residents are benefitting from the reforms.
Here’s a link to HHS statistics for Washington state.
At the same time, there is evidence that health care reform is getting some grudging support in unexpected quarters. A recent AP poll showed that while opposition to it remains strong, that opposition is waning and even opponents see things they like in the complex legislation.
The AP report on poll results includes this: “Among Republicans support for repeal has dropped sharply, from 61 percent after the elections to 49 percent now.”
That’s striking. One can speculate that many conservative Republicans may be realizing that the reform bill contains benefits for them. Millions of Americans have pre-existing medical conditions that are costly to treat, and the health care reform law eventually will make it easier for them to get affordable coverage. You don’t have to be a liberal to find that prospect attractive. The Los Angeles Times has a report.
Another sign that politicians on both sides of the aisle are taking a more nuanced approach: Via Huffington Post, physician and former GOP Senator Bill Frist says his party should get beyond the repeal effort and focus on using the existing law as a platform to build a better health care system for everyone.
In red state Oklahoma, a poll in the Tulsa World indicates that many Sooners feel as conflicted on this issue as a Ron Paul supporter cashing a Social Security check. Two-thirds favored Oklahoma taking legal efforts to block the health-care reform, but only 37 percent said the entire law should be repealed. And, even among those who said the entire law should be repealed, about two-thirds then identified at least one element of it they thought should be retained.
By John Stark
Political parties hate it, but voters approved it, and so has U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour in Seattle.
David Ammons, blogging on the Washington Secretary of State’s website, reports here.
update: The state GOP seems to be ready to fight another round:
Bellevue – Washington State Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser issued the following statement regarding Judge Coughenour’s ruling on the Top Two primary:
“We are pleased the court ruled in our favor on the PCO election issue, but we believe the judge erred in not recognizing the confusion created by the Top Two primary infringes on our constitutional rights. We remain convinced that our constitutional rights will ultimately be vindicated and protected, and we will be considering our next steps in the coming weeks.”