Washington State is Coming Up Short

in so many ways… but let’s start with revenue. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, svilen.milen

The Olympian reported (so it might be true) that the Gov is calling the legislature back in special session to deal with a revenue shortfall of at least 1.3 billion dollars. It’s probably a 2 billion dollar deficit, but the accountants are still penciling that out.

So the legislators are coming back sometime in November to address the shortfall. The tea party tax initiative that passed last general election cycle requires a super majority for the State to raise taxes, and the repub side has not yet warmed to the necessity of taxes for essential services, so this is likely to be another session devoted to finding things to cut. The activists who like education and essential services like medical care, disability services and more will be doing all they can to oppose another all-cut budget, but it’s going to be a struggle. There are arguments over whether the super-majority initiative is constitutional, whether closing tax loopholes (that could produce the 2 billion) are subject to the super-majority rule, but it’s an uphill battle. You have to give the Norquist puppiteers credit for creating a wildly successful and destructive political agenda, but what is the end game? When the success of trickle down, unregulated, free market economics is the meltdown of 2008, it does raise the question of “where do we go from here?” Further down the right wing rathole? I would rather not.

Activists, including Washington Can, have been organizing and gearing up for the next legislative session, but will now need to hustle to put an agenda together for the special session. I think we need to focus not just on posing loopholes that can be closed, let’s look at budget cuts that will truly share the sacrifice. How about:

  • Immediate cuts in pay to State Legislators of 25%
  • Immediate 100% cut of travel budget for legislators
  • Let’s sell the Governor’s mansion and cut the expense of maintaining that big house
  • Let’s set the thermostats at 55 degrees in cold weather and 85 degrees in hot weather for the office and meeting space that the legislators use. (apologies to the staffers)
  • Let’s convert the Capitol campus to public garden space and save the cost of mowing that big lawn

Just some ideas off the top of my head. What are your ideas? What services should the legislature cut in this special session? Shared sacrifice anyone? Can we make the legislators uncomfortable enough to challenge the super-majority rule? Or to vote as a super majority to do the right thing and raise revenue?

Or if you insist, what loopholes need to be closed to fix this mess?

Come to Olympia if the Economy has Put You on the Street

What better place than Olympia to gather if the Washington State economy hDo you know where your children are?as put you on the street? Come to Olympia to assemble and petition for redress of grievance. Come and sit on the streets of Olympia as a demonstration and act of free speech. Come to Olympia and greet the legislators and the policy makers who will have to step over you, or walk around you, as they move around in their daily lives. The City of Olympia is criminalizing poverty in the downtown area, but the First Amendment comes in… uh… First! We have the right to sit, recline, sing, grieve, and beg for good public policy in Washington State. Come to Olympia.

Camera and I not getting along yesterdayIf you get hassled by the Olympia Police Department for exercising your free speech rights, email the particulars: Where, when, police officer name to olympiacopwatch@gmail.com and we will challenge the City and the Police Department to justify the violation of your first amendment rights.

I know that some folks get scared when they have to be close to houseless people. I encourage those folks to come down to the Artesian Well during daylight and introduce themselves to the people who move through that setting. There are lots of tattoos, piercings, and a fair amount of cursing, but there is also a lot of openness, music, support, and community. There are scary, dangerous folks everywhere, on the street, in the burbs, in the police force, but most of the folks everywhere are just human being like you and me. Make the effort to connect and see what happens. Stop thinking, “there but for the grace of God, go I” and start thinking “there by the grace of God, go I.” Really attempt to connect with the folks and see what happens. If they ask you or tell you to leave them alone, leave them alone. It ain’t rocket science.

I have no problem Empty Houses, have you seen any? with an ordinance against aggressive panhandling. I am politely asked to share what I have in my pocket regularly and I share what I can. When I say, hey, wish I could, but I am short, I almost always get an “ok, thanks” type of response. I don’t want to be harassed when I say no, and it doesn’t happen to me. I suspect it doesn’t happen because I really engage with the people asking, I look them in the eye when I tell them I am short. I don’t avoid the folks. I treat them with respect and they respond in kind.

Although I am not keen on the whole idea of prohibition (I have some libertarian impulses) I think I am supportive of a ban on fortified wines in downtown. I hope for a day when there alcohol, drug consumption and possession are not a crime and when the money saved from the “war on drugs” is redirected to substance abuse treatment on request, fully funded. I guarantee you that this approach to dealing with drugs will be more cost-effective and humane.

Come to Olympia. I will see you in the streets.

Talkin 'bout a Revolution

if you’re talking about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out…

I share John Lennon’s ambivalence about the revolution, but I think there are revolutions coming.  Maybe a revolution doesn’t have to include the choreography and armament to take the Bastille?

How about a revolution in agriculture?  We watched a video about colony collapse disorder last night: Vanishing of the Bees.   Well done, sobering, broad review of the situation for our pollination partners.  I used to keep bees.  Most beekeepers develop a pretty strong connection to their hives, to the collective being that is a beehive.  The beekeepers in this movie certainly showed that connection.  I don’t want to give the story away, so I will just say that I think the filmmakers are correct to identify bees as “canaries in the coal mine.”  I think we need a revolution in the way we approach agriculture and food.   Global food.  What should it look like?

Also thinking about our global economic system.  Tikkun has a piece by Leonardo Boff on the Crisis of Capitalism.  This is an interesting read.  I do have a sense that the current global economic crisis is qualitatively different from previous downturns.  We face some pretty staggering demands from the natural world.  We now live in a world of more extreme weather and the likelihood is that the trend to more extreme weather is just getting started, so the solution is a really major retooling of the world economy where sustainability rather than profit is the goal. Stabilizing the environment is going to require more than a game of three card monte based on cap and trade.  The shell game has always been entertaining, but the game is fixed and the outcome is about fleecing the mark.   (if you look around and you can’t spot the mark, you are the mark).  Here’s a little taste of that Boff piece:

I believe the present crisis of capitalism is more than cyclical and structural. It is terminal. Are we seeing the end of the genius of capitalism, of always being able to adapt to any circumstance? I am aware that only few other people maintain this thesis. Two things, however, bring me to this conclusion.

The first is the following: the crisis is terminal because we all, but in particular capitalism, have exceeded the limits of the Earth. We have occupied and depredated the whole planet, destroying her subtle equilibrium and exhausting her goods and services, to the point that she alone can no longer replenish all that has been removed…

The second reason is linked to the humanitarian crisis that capitalism is creating.

Before, it was limited to the peripheral countries. Now it is global, and it has reached the central countries. The economic question cannot be resolved by dismantling society. The victims, connected by new venues of communication, resist, revolt and threaten the present order. Ever more people, especially the young, reject the perverse capitalist political economic logic: the dictatorship of finance that, through the market, subjugates the States to its interests, and the profitability of speculative capital, that circulates from one stock market to another, reaping profits without producing anything at all, except more money for the stockholders.

So our gaze in the US of A is currently fixed on the three card monte game that is the national election cycle.  Here we go, keep the cards rotating, let the media cover the “debates” and comment on who won and who lost, like a winner could be found in this crowd (Huntsman?  What is he doing in the GOP?) The media talking heads perform like they have one lonely brain cell in their pretty little heads, they stay away from any significant, in-depth questions, or if they ask a good question, they watch as somebody pulls the string so the candidate can recite a talking  point that may or may not have anything to do with the question or the underlying and significant issue.

Just think about how bad it is when the country is having trouble deciding whether Obama is a better choice than a candidate like Perry or Bachman.  Yikes!  Obama has made some disastrous choices, starting with his choice of Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner and he’s turned out to be sort of an Eisenhower Republican, though maybe some of us were hoping to get a democrat in the WH or even a Rockefeller Republican.  Can’t get there from here.

Imagine this country electing an FDR type democrat?  That would be a revolution (and would probably spark one as well).

Texas calls for help as wildfires worsen

Texas calls for help as wildfires worsen

“Gov. Rick Perry complained about the slow pace of assistance from Washington and Ft. Hood as Federal Emergency Management Agency officials arrived in Bastrop, where 600 houses were burned, to survey fire damage.”

“the governor, a Republican presidential hopeful who’s made his mark blasting federal spending, asked Washington for help.”

Global warming contributed to the fires?

Journal editor resigns over 'problematic' climate paper


The editor of a science journal has resigned after admitting that a recent paper casting doubt on man-made climate change should not have been published.

The paper, by US scientists Roy Spencer and William Braswell, claimed that computer models of climate inflated projections of temperature increase.

It was seized on by “sceptic” bloggers, but attacked by mainstream scientists.

Wolfgang Wagner, editor of Remote Sensing journal, says he agrees with their criticisms and is stepping down.

“Peer-reviewed journals are a pillar of modern science,” he writes in a resignation note published in Remote Sensing.

“Their aim is to achieve highest scientific standards by carrying out a rigorous peer review that is, as a minimum requirement, supposed to be able to identify fundamental methodological errors or false claims.

“Unfortunately, as many climate researchers and engaged observers of the climate change debate pointed out in various internet discussion fora, the paper by Spencer and Braswell… is most likely problematic in both aspects and should therefore not have been published.”

We Can't Live with Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power Plants

The annual peace walk to the Ground Zero Center in Bangor is wrapping up today with a talk by Dennis Kucinich at 6:30 pm. I was able to speak with Senji Kanaeda for a few minutes on July 31st and am finishing up a short video with Senji’s thoughts front and center.

I still have a little tweaking to do on the video, but it’s almost finished and I wanted to get this up. I am also using the video to publicize the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant event at Traditions on Monday, August 8th at 7 pm. We have to stop nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. This is a road that leads nowhere.

Oil Subsidies and the US Debt: Where to find $77 Billion

by Japhet Koteen

Editor’s note: This post was written by Japhet Koteen, a community builder, urbanist, and real estate developer in Seattle. He wrote this post as part of a project for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

It’s not the trillions elected leaders are looking for today in Washington, DC, but I know where they can find $77 billion: outdated subsidies to the oil and gas industries.

Oil and gas are two of the largest, most profitable industries in history. Yesterday, the big five oil companies, ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Shell posted combined profits of over $35 billion for the year to date. Yet US law treats them like fledgling businesses in need of public support. Ending their preferential treatment could trim the federal debt by tens of billions of dollars over the next five years. Here’s how:

1.) End the “Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit” — The VEETC gives refiners 45 cents for each gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline. Because US ethanol is mostly made of corn, this subsidy drives up food prices. Clipping the VEETC would put $31 billion in the US Treasury (over five years, as in each figure in this article).

2.) Fix the Accounting Rule for “Intangible Drilling Costs” — Since 1918, a bizarre and illogical accounting exception has persisted in the tax code, allowing oil companies to include all expenditures incidental to drilling a well as “current expenses” rather than “capital expenses.” This elementary accounting mistake, canonized in law, makes all the difference at tax time: Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation says ending this handout would supply the Treasury $9 billion.

3.) Correct Errors in “Oil and Gas Royalty Relief” — Oil and gas companies that drill on public lands, whether onshore or off, pay royalties for the fuel they remove, but the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act of 1995 mandated royalty-free extraction when market prices are in the basement. Clerical errors—or corruption?—at the famously mismanaged (and subsequently abolished) Minerals Management Service of the US Department of Interior left a batch of 1998 and 1999 contracts written to exempt drillers from royalties at all prices. The result has been a windfall for holders of those leases. Fixing the contracts would yield almost $7 billion for the Treasury.

4.) Stop “Expensing” Refining Equipment –The Energy Policy Act of 2005 let companies deduct as expenses half the capital cost of investing in certain equipment used to refine liquid fuels. As for drillers’ Intangible Drilling Costs (see #2) so for refiners, “expensing” capital costs dramatically lowers tax bills. The Energy Reform Act of 2008, extended this credit to include refineries that are processing fuel derived from oil shale. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that putting a halt to this accounting lie would direct $2.3 billion into public coffers.

5.) Deep Six the “Geological and Geophysical Costs Tax Credit” — Included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and modified in the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005, this credit gives extractors a handout for their spending on the search for oil and gas deposits. Ending this subsidy would yield for the treasury about $700 million, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Beyond these subsidies that specifically favor oil and gas are others, general business tax rules that allow energy companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes:

6.) Bar “Last In, First Out (LIFO) Accounting” for oil and gas — LIFO permits oil companies to tally each barrel sold as though they had bought it at today’s price, even if they bought it for half as much. That rule understates their profits and slashes their tax bill. For example, if a company bought a barrel of crude 2 years ago at $35, and bought another last year at $75, then sold both barrels at today’s price of $100.  The actual profit would be $90, but under LIFO they can claim that both barrels cost $75 to buy, so their taxable profit is only $50. (More details here.) Barring LIFO would augment the Treasury by $11 billion from the oil and gas industries alone.

7.) Cut off the “Foreign Tax Credit” — The US tax code allows multinational companies to receive a 100 percent credit on their US taxes for foreign taxes paid. Many of the payments made to foreign government are not taxes, but rather royalties or access fees. These are a legitimate cost of doing business, which should be deducted from their income, but should not be eligible for the 100 percent credit. Requiring oil companies operating overseas to honestly report royalty and lease payments would add $5.2 billion to the Treasury.

8.) Stop abuse of the “Domestic Manufacturing Tax Deduction” – Designed to slow the offshoring of US manufacturing jobs, this law allows companies to deduct 9 percent of their income as an expense of doing business in this country. But oil and gas fields cannot move, so the Domestic Manufacturing Tax Deduction shouldn’t apply. Excluding them from the deduction would direct $6.2 billion to public coffers.

Ending a raft of other handouts in the tax code like the “Passive Loss Exemption”, and allowing “Expensing of Tertiary Injectants,” boosts the total savings to $77 billion over 5 years. Learn more about them here and here.

One other upside to this deficit-reduction strategy: it will won’t cut jobs or hurt consumers. Because the annual subsidies are only a tiny fraction of the profits, and have no effect on gas prices.

Again, the trillions of dollars of deficit and debt that Washington, DC, is currently debating won’t be wiped out by a measly $77 billion. But, you know, $77 billion here . . . $77 billion there . . . pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

Source for subsidies:Subsidy Gusher: Taxpayers Stuck With Massive Subsidies While Oil and Gas Profits Soar,” prepared by Taxpayers for Common Sense, May 2011.

We can’t do this work without you!

Originally published at Sightline Daily

WSDOT vs. Reality

(originally published at Sightline Daily, reprinted with permission; check out their website http://daily.sightline.org/ for other good articles)

by Clark Williams-Derry

I wish I were making this up. The Washington State Department of
Transportation continues to insist that traffic volumes on the SR-520
bridge across lake Washington are going up up up—even though actual
traffic volumes have been flat or declining for more than a decade!
Here’s a chart that makes the point.

In a charitable mood, you could forgive the 1996 projections.  Back
then, rapid traffic growth on SR-520 was a recent memory: up through
about 1988, traffic growth was both steady and rapid.

By 2011, however, it should have been perfectly obvious that the old predictions were proving inaccurate. Yet WSDOT just kept doubling down on their mistakes—insisting
that their vision of the future remained clear, even as their track
record was looking worse and worse.  So now they’ve wound up with an
official traffic forecast, in the final Environmental Impact Statement no less, that doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

It would be funny—if the state weren’t planning billions in new
highway investments in greater Seattle, based largely on the perceived
“need” to accommodate all the new traffic that the models are predicting
will show up, any day now.

In case you don’t believe me about the numbers, feel free to check out the sources directly.  I’d be happy to be corrected.

The data on recent traffic volumes—the blue dots—come from three sources.  I start with WSDOT’s biennial Ramp and Roadway Report.  Then, to add in the missing years I factor in data from the Annual Traffic Report series and Seattle’s Traffic Flow Data. The blue trend line is just the basic linear regression of the blue dots, as calculated by Excel.

The pink line is based on a projection that dates back to 1996, which
was mentioned in WSDOTs 1999 Trans-Lake Washington Study.  Since that
report is only available on CD-ROM, but not online, I’ll quote the
report directly:

Under the No Action solution set, Trans-Lake travel
[on SR-522, SR-520, and I-90] is expected to increase by about 168,000
daily person-trips…in the year 2020…Because capacity is limited on SR
520, only about 20,000 additional vehicle…trips are expected there.

(If current trends hold, the projections of 20,000 additional vehicle
trips will be off by about 20,000 additional vehicle trips.)
The orange line is from the 2002 Trans-Lake Washington Project
report, also available on CD-ROM, which projected that traffic under the
“No-Action Alternative” would grow by 20 percent through 2030.


The red line—127,400 cars by 2030—is from the recently released
Final Environmental Impact Statement for the SR-520 bridge replacement
project.  It’s based on the projections described in part 1 of the “transportation discipline report”
(see Exhibit 5-3 on p. 92 of the pdf, and the projections for SR-520 at
Midspan under the 2030 No Build Alternative: 127,400 vehicles by

I could have included another projection from the 2006 Draft
Environmental Impact Statement—127,860 vehicles per day by 2030, as
claimed in Exhibit 10-8 in Appendix R part 6. But it was getting hard to fit all the wrongness on a single chart.
Now, I know that total traffic volumes aren’t the only traffic trends
worth paying attention to. The traffic models make projections about
peak-hour delays as well, which are probably what commuters care most
about.  But given that the models have proven so stubbornly and
preposterously wrong about traffic volume trends, it’s hard to believe
that they have much of value to say about future traffic delays.

[Thanks to Jake Kennon and Pam MacRae for help with the numbers!]

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