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December 6, 2013 at 2:02 PM
What is the likely effect of the rise in the minimum wage in SeaTac to $15, or some other increase? I was cleaning out my paper files preparatory to retirement, and under “Minimum Wage” was a study dated January 1991 from the University of Washington’s Northwest Policy Center. The principal investigator was James McIntire, who is now Washington state treasurer, the official responsible for floating state bond issues on Wall Street.
The study’s aim was to judge the effect of a 1968 state ballot measure that increased Washington’s minimum wage in two steps to $4.25 ($7.59 in today’s money) by January 1990. The effective minimum in Washington for most workers had been the federal minimum of $3.35.
This was a 27 percent increase over two years, which was fairly big, but less than half the 63 percent increase between the 2013 state minimum of $9.19 and the 2014 SeaTac minimum of $15.
December 4, 2013 at 5:38 AM
On the eve of my retirement, Times Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley suggested I pick my favorites from the 342 columns I’ve written for The Times since 2000. Here are 10, with my own headlines:
1. “Games With Words,” April 12, 2000. This was my takedown of the World Trade Organization protesters, who used loopy logic to justify their disruption of an international conference.
2. “A Republican War,” April 9, 2003. I hated the Iraq war and wrote three columns against it before President Bush started it. This one was written while U.S. soldiers were on the way to Baghdad. In it, I predict that the conquest of Iraq would result in an electoral disaster for the Republicans in 2004. I was wrong; the disasters came in 2006 and 2008.
November 27, 2013 at 6:00 AM
A representative of the oil refiners was talking to Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday about something called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Washington doesn’t have a LCFS but California does, and the Golden State’s ideas tend to migrate here. And the oil refiners say the California experience is none too good so far.
The LCFS is explained to me as a rule that alcohol be mixed into gasoline or biodiesel into diesel to lower the percentage of carbon, because carbon heats the Earth. Upon hearing this I said, sure, I’d seen the sticker on the pump where I buy gas. The fuel contains up to 10 percent ethanol. No, no, they said; that’s the federal standard. We can satisfy that by mixing some stuff in. No problem with that. The LCFS is much more complicated.
California’s LCFS wants to know how much carbon was burned to create the ethanol or biodiesel. To calculate that, it wants to know what the feedstock was, how much energy it took to refine it and how far it was moved. This is particularly a problem with ethanol, said Kevin Adams of the Boston Consulting Group, which is working for the Western States Petroleum Association. It means that ethanol from corn, which is the sort of ethanol in the gasoline I buy, doesn’t help you enough. Too much carbon was burned to create it. (more…)
November 26, 2013 at 1:36 PM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times Editorial Page. Here editorial writers Lynne K. Varner and Bruce Ramsey come down on opposite sides of a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling supporting state law forbidding guns to persons arrested for, but not yet convicted of, a gun crime.
Lynne, take a look at the case of Roy Steven Jorgenson of Woodland, Cowlitz County, which came down Nov. 21 from the Washington Supreme Court. He was arrested of shooting someone and was about to be tried for first degree assault. Out on bail, he was arrested for having a 9-mm handgun and AR-15 rifle in his car. He wasn’t threatening anyone and wasn’t defending himself. He just had them. And under the state law forbidding possession of weapons by anyone charged with a serious crime, he was convicted of illegal possession.
At the Washington Supreme court he argued that the law violated his constitutional right to bear arms. Five justices—Steven González, Barbara Madsen, Debra Stephens, Susan Owens and Mary Fairhurst—disagreed, and the court ruled against him. They did not argue that the law was needed to defend the public, but that the Legislature thought it was, and that the court should defer to the Legislature under a rule of “intermediate scrutiny.”
Justice Charles Wiggins wrote the main dissent, signed by justices Charles Johnson, Jim Johnson and Tom Chambers. (Apart from González, Lynne, this is a case of the women versus the men.) The law was unconstitutional, Wiggins argued, because it applied to everyone charged for certain offenses, and that violated due process of law—the 14th Amendment. In Wiggins’ view, this was not about the right to own guns. “It is entirely appropriate to prohibit some individuals accused of a serious crime from possessing firearms,” Wiggins wrote (italics mine). But he argued that an accused person accused ought to have the chance to argue for himself and have a judge make a decision specific to him.
Jim Johnson, the court’s conservative, said he agreed with Wiggins on due process, but another thing bothered him. The majority had used “intermediate scrutiny.” When a fundamental right is at stake, he said, the court should use strict scrutiny, which means the law had to be “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “compelling governmental interest.” Washington’s law isn’t.
I agree with Wiggins and Jim Johnson. Firearm ownership is an individual right, whether we like it or not. (And the majority opinion by González admits this.) The judge should have been allowed to suspend that right for Jorgenson (and probably would have, too) by citing risks specific to him. A blanket prohibition pokes too large a hole in a constitutional right.
Bruce, I’ll take your argument apart in a second. But first, let me start with the question of why anyone would need to drive around with a 9-mm Tokarev and an Olympic Arms AR-15 rifle in their car? Is he on the lam from the mob? Does he have a Napoleon complex and need the extra metal, so to speak?
I know about our Second Amendment rights. But I am tired of gun owners ending up on the front page crying about how they did not know fill-in-the-blank-name-of-shooting-victim would get a hold of the weapons and shoot themselves or others. Then, once their lax gun ownership responsibilities have created a mess, they look to taxpayer-funded emergency and social services to clean it up. Want to know what I’ll be thankful for on Thursday? When I do not have to hear another gun owner tell me why they have the right to walk around armed like they’re headed to Afghanistan.
But I digress.
The case before the state Supreme Court was about intermediate versus strict scrutiny, the difference between narrow application of a goal needed to achieve a compelling public interest and something broader. State law prohibits people from having a firearm if they have been released on bond after a judge has found probable cause to believe the person committed a serious offense. The law is a preventative measure erring on the side of pubic safety.
“The State has an important interest in restricting potentially dangerous persons from using firearms,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in the majority opinion.
You note that Roy Jorgenson was arrested under suspicion of shooting someone. It was more than that Bruce. He was released on bond after a trial court found probable cause that he had indeed shot someone. The justice system weighed the evidence against Jorgenson and found it credible enough to continue moving the case forward. As the majority opinion noted, when a trial judge finds probably cause, public safety justifies temporarily limiting a person’s right to possess firearms. Note the word “temporary.”
Firearm ownership is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution. But your right to bear arms should not extend to putting the public at greater risk. State law, reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, strikes the right balance.
November 25, 2013 at 5:56 AM
If your neighbor’s tree dumps leaves on your roof, who is responsible?
Cy Baumgartner (whose name felicitously means “tree gardener” in German) received that message Nov. 21 from King County District Judge Arthur Chapman. It was a happy note for Baumgartner, because the tree in the dock was his. He lives and works on Mercer Island, running an insurance agency from his home and growing a tree in his yard.
Baumgartner’s tree is a bigleaf maple, a big bigleaf maple, which around here is the Paul Bunyan of leaf-producers. His neighbor had had enough of Baumgartner’s detritus clogging his gutters and leafletting his lawn. The neighbor raked Baumgartner into court. At the trial Oct. 24, the judge asked Baumgartner what he had to say for himself. Baumgartner replied that he never thought “nature’s disrobing” imposed an obligation on him.
The judge took it under advisement, consulted the law and a few days later dismissed the case with prejudice.
“The law in Washington makes no provision for such a claim,” the judge ruled. A branch that breaks and damages someone else’s property is another matter, he said, but “falling leaves are considered to be a natural occurrence.”
If owners are bothered by branches overhanging their property, the judge said, “the remedy is to trim the branches back to the property line at their own expense.”
For a moment I wanted to argue against this ruling. I was thinking of one tree from one owner. I have a tree like that, a mountain ash that scatters leaves and little red berries all over a parking lot, and several times this fall I have swept them up because it’s my tree.
But the law has to apply to the forest, not just one tree. Think of a windy day in November, with leaves blowing all over, mixing together and flinging themselves onto yards, roofs, sidewalks and streets. Think also of the work of the courts, and how they could be clogged worse than a downspout if they had complaints from every homeowner who refused to climb a ladder.
The law makes sense. Wind-blown leaves on your property are your problem.
POLL: What do readers think?
November 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM
Washington’s tax advisory votes, which were on the November ballot, are under attack in Olympia. The House Government Operations & Elections Committee is having a work session at 10 a.m., Nov. 22. The chairman of the committee is Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, a regular opponent of the activist who created those votes—Tim Eyman.
If I were testifying about the advisory votes, here is what I would say:
The votes were part—a minor part—of two state ballot initiatives sponsored by Eyman and passed overwhelmingly by the people of Washington: Initiative 960 and Initiative 1185. The major part of those initiatives was the requirement that raising taxes required a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature or a vote of the people. Some Democrats challenged the two-thirds rule at the Washington Supreme Court, and they won. The court said the rules for passing a tax increase are set out in the state constitution, and in Washington we can’t amend the constitution by initiative. (more…)
November 15, 2013 at 12:01 PM
The apparent victory of Kshama Sawant over incumbent Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin proves something other than that a socialist can win election in lefty Seattle. It also shows that Seattle Proposition 1, taxpayer financing of city council campaigns, was not necessary.
It’s losing, narrowly, and that’s good. Taxpayers of Seattle, who are taxed heavily already, don’t need to pay for politicians’ campaigns.
The point of taxpayer financing, according to its advocates, is not to allow big money to buy elections. Consider Sawant. She is foreign-born with a foreign name. She had never held elective office. She is a socialist, and proudly says so. And she raised $105,630, according to the latest reports, in individual contributions no larger than $700. The total is less than half of what Conlin raised, but it was enough to beat him.
There were other radicals on the ballot, but they raised nothing. It wasn’t because the doors were shut to them. It was because they didn’t want to do the work.
Public financing is a law for lazy candidates.
The passage of Charter Amendment 19, for the election of most of the council by district, will make it easier for challengers to run, further undermining the case for taxpayer-financed political campaigns.
November 14, 2013 at 6:14 AM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times editorial board. Here Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner offer different takes on a proposal in Switzerland for a guaranteed minimum income.
Apologies in advance if this gives you indigestion, but I just read that Switzerland is thinking about offering a monthly allowance to every citizen. No strings attached.
Americans will immediately think of Social Security, but Swiss citizens of all ages, not simply the elderly, would receive a check from the government. Others might think of public assistance, but Switzerland is not trying to help the poor here. There would be no means-testing. If advocates of the proposal gather enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot, and if it passes, every Swiss citizen could count on a check.
Bruce, I’m intrigued by the plan’s author, German-born artist Enno Schmidt, and his invitation to consider what kinds of lives we would all lead if we could count on a small, but consistent, monthly stipend. Schmidt is part of the basic-income movement getting notice in many parts of Europe and among socialist political circles. It has its roots in income-inequality debates but unlike the minimum-wage battle here in the U.S., basic-income proposals do not rely on recipients participating in the workforce. So it’s not about improving incomes by raising working wages, but rather achieving the same means with a monthly check from the government for as long as you live.
This New York Times story compares conversations surrounding the idea to talk in the U.S. about Robin Hood taxes and single-payer health care. The article notes that “certain wonks on the libertarian right and liberal left,” are coming together around the idea, although they differ on whether the money should be an unconditional stipend or a means-tested minimum income to supplement the earnings of the working poor.
And from the same Times story, Charles Murray, darling of the conservative right wrote in his books, “In Our Hands: A plan to Replace the Welfare State,” guaranteeing $10,000 a year to all Americans over 21 and who stayed out of jail.” Let me take a moment to fantasize about what I would do with my check.
In the end Bruce, this is not an idea for America. But Switzerland is a smaller country with one of the most stable economies in the world. The Swiss are a socially conscious lot. Guaranteeing every citizen the ability to feed and shelter themselves without the stigma attached to welfare may work for them. What do you think, and more importantly how’s your digestion?
My digestion is fine but my dander is certainly up. The Swiss are a levelheaded people, and I hope they vote this idea down.
Life requires work. The government should not give able-bodied and able-minded citizens an idleness option in the prime of life. It’s bad for them. It’s bad for the people around them, especially their kids.
The chief promoter of this bad idea argues that the receipt of free money will “unleash creativity and entrepreneurialism.” And guess what? Enno Schmidt’s an artist, which is one of the few occupations on earth that millions of people will pursue even if not paid. Put on a stipend, many an artist would go on making art. (Indeed, there was a sculptor in Norway who had a deal like that with the local authorities, and Oslo has a park full of his work.) But, put on a stipend, would a watchmaker go on making watches? Would a waitress go on serving table? Would your garbageman go on picking up trash?
On this matter, we’re expected to trust the social imagination of an artist?
Or a libertarian, namely Charles Murray. In his book “In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State” (2006) he proposed a grant of $10,000 a year to every American over 21 and not in jail–but provided that we give up all other benefit programs. But it wouldn’t be done that way. And he knew that. And the author of “Losing Ground” (1984), the famous indictment of the welfare state, should have known better than to make a such a proposal.
Paying people not to work results in less work done. I trust myself here. I’m about to retire. If I didn’t have sources of money, I wouldn’t do it. I’d keep working. I can stop working now, in my 60s, because the system under which I’ve worked, and the decisions I’ve made under that system, give me an option of idleness. That I have this option after almost 40 years of work is one thing. But should the young have it?
And if we’re talking about a payment too small to live on, but big enough for a fling—what would be the social purpose of that? Imagine something like Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, which this year pays $900 to qualifying residents. Suppose every adult American had it, adding $200 billion to the deficit every year. Would that be a wise expenditure?
It might, as you say, provide everyone an income “without the stigma attached to welfare.” But the stigma is good. It is a sign of cultural health. We shouldn’t want to end it.
November 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM
I don’t share the media cynicism about the five tax-advisory questions the people of Washington voted on last week. Media folks are parroting politicians, and politicians have motives that are different from those of ordinary people.
It’s true that the advisory votes don’t determine anything. The tax is in effect already. If the people vote “Repeal,” the tax is not repealed.
Why have a vote, then? To tell the voter, who hasn’t been paying attention to this stuff, that there have been tax increases. How many people knew that there had been five such increases, or tax breaks erased, in the 2013 legislative session? Not one in 100 knew this. Three of the five changes were tiny taxes and four applied only to a few people. Still, they were increases that added up to hundreds of millions of dollars over 10 years, and the Voters Pamphlet told citizens about them.
“They made people think. How can that not be good?” says Tim Eyman. The advisory votes were last defined and put into law in Eyman’s Initiative 1185, which voters supported in 2012. The other part of 1185 was the rule that the Legislature required two-thirds of both houses to raise taxes, or a simple majority plus a vote of the people. The Washington Supreme Court nullified that part. The advisory votes are all that’s left of this measure to slow down tax increases.
Initiative 1185 includes a part of the Voter’s Pamphlet that lists the legislators and how they voted on tax increases. For example, in the 26th district, you could see that Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, and his challenger, Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, had voted “Yes” on the three little increases. They had voted “No” on the increase in the telephone tax, a fairly substantial increase that affected a lot of people. On the retroactive enactment of an estate tax, a big increase to a small group of people, Schlicher had voted “Yes” and Angel had voted “No.”
Was that worth knowing? Maybe it was, if you were in the 26th district. (more…)
November 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM
The Times reports that Initiative 522 “trails in all but four counties.” Which four? Knowing that 522 appealed to the left side of the house, let’s use some history to guess which counties.
In 2007, Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960 required a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for tax increases, or a vote of the people, and also required the tax-advisory votes we just had. Progressives disliked it. I-960 passed in all but four counties: King, San Juan, Jefferson and Thurston. King is the home of liberal Seattle, Jefferson is the home of Port Townsend and Thurston is the home of state government and Evergreen State College. San Juan is the islands.
In 2004 Jim Johnson, a conservative attorney, ran for the Washington Supreme Court. He won in 35 counties and lost four: King, San Juan, Jefferson and Whatcom. Whatcom is the home of Bellingham and Western Washington University.
Also in 2004 in the double-recount gubernatorial contest between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi, Gregoire won five of 39 counties: King, San Juan, Jefferson, Thurston and Whatcom. (And for her, five was enough, barely.)
In 2000, when Maria Cantwell unseated Sen. Slade Gorton, she won in five counties: King, San Juan, Snohomish, Jefferson and Thurston. Snohomish is her home county.
Fast-forward to 2013. With some confidence, our guess about where 522 passed would be King, San Juan, and Jefferson—and that’s right. Between Thurston and Whatcom we flip a coin. (It’s Whatcom. In Thurston, as I write, Yes on 522 is at 49.81 percent, making Thurston the “No” closest to “Yes,” and it may become a “Yes” before the day is out.)
P.S., 6:10 p.m. : Thurston has flipped to “Yes.”