Monthly Archives: December 2009

McGinn decides to keep 3 more city officials in place

Seattle Mayor-elect Mike McGinn is keeping three more high-level officials from the outgoing Nickels administration.

The city announced this afternoon that Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams will continue to serve in his current role. He first took over as interim director in November 2006.

James Keblas will continue as director of the mayor’s Office of Film and Music, and Julie Nelson will remain as director of the Office for Civil Rights.

Report warns that state is relying too heavily on cutting services at time of rising needs

A new report says that the cumulative cuts in state spending are shortchanging opportunity, education and social services in Washington state. The report from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center looks at the cuts made last year and proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire for the coming year.

(Disclosure: Seattle PostGlobe founder Kery Murakami now works for the Budget and Policy Center. He remains an officer with the PostGlobe; he played no role in the decision to write this posting.)

The report examines the all-cuts budget proposed by Gregoire and says a more balanced approach is needed to protect public services in health, education, economic security and communities. Even if the Legislature approves some $700 million in revenue increases Gregoire plans to seek to prevent some of the cuts, the center says that the state’s budget-balancing would have disproportionate reliance on reducing services.

Combined with reductions made last year, the all-cuts proposal would represent a 14 percent reduction in the state’s main budget categories, according to the center. As the center noted, the cuts are taking place at a time of rising needs for services.

The group cited these direct losses for individuals in the governor’s recent proposal:

• Over 65,000 people will lose access to affordable health insurance;

• Over 16,000 children will lose health insurance coverage;

• Over 20,000 people who are unable to work due to disability will lose financial and medical assistance;

•12,300 students from lower income families will lose an important source of financial aid;

• 10,000 working families per month will lose child care assistance;

• 1,500 three-year-olds will lose access to early learning opportunities.

The full report is here.

States face at least $405 billion unfunded liability for retiree health benefits

While states attempt to deal with their short-term budget problems, elected officials must not lose sight of the long term obligations being placed on taxpayers. Highlighting this fact is this report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on state and local government retirement health benefits (OPEB – Other Post Employment Benefits):

“We found that the total reported unfunded liabilities for OPEB (which are primarily retiree health benefits) for state and select local governments exceed $530 billion. The $530 billion includes about $405 billion for states and about $129 billion for the 39 local governments we reviewed. We reported in 2008 that various studies available at that time estimated the total unfunded OPEB liability for the states and all local governments to be between $600 billion and $1.6 trillion, although the studies’ estimates were based on limited government data. It is not surprising that our total is on the low end of that range because we did not review data for all local governments, though we did review reported liability data for the largest local governments and all 50 states. Five-hundred and thirty billion dollars is still a large unfunded liability for governments. As variation between studies’ totals shows, totaling unfunded OPEB liabilities across states and local governments can be challenging.”

To address this problem GAO noted:

“Some state and local governments have taken actions to address their liabilities associated with retiree health benefits by setting aside assets in order to prefund the liabilities and reducing these liabilities by changing the structure of retiree health benefits . . . 

Another action some state and local governments have taken to address their retiree health liabilities has been to change the structure of the health benefits they offer retirees. While governments also make relatively routine changes to the health benefits they offer retirees (such as changing co-payments, deductibles, or covered benefits) that could affect their liability, we identified three key types of changes our selected governments have made to the structure of retiree health benefits: changing the type of retiree health benefit plan, changing the level of the government’s contribution toward retirees’ health insurance premiums, and changing the eligibility requirements employees need to meet to qualify for retiree health benefits.”

According to the Office of State Actuary, Washington’s unfunded OPEB liability as of 2008 was $7.9 billion (including K-12 and political subdivisions). OPEB benefits are separate from and provided in addition to pensions.

Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He serves on the Executive Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News. Mercier also serves as treasurer on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

Police impersonator reportedly robbed three young men after stopping their car

SeattleCrime.com reports that three young men, all in their teens or early 20s, say they were robbed by a man with a very elaborate police impersonation scheme. The impersonator wore a uniform and drove a green Ford Crown Victoria with flashing lights, a siren and an interior made out like a police car.

Before saying he would let the men go (on a supposed warrant for one of them and a tail light problem), the crook took cash, a cell phone and other items. The incident occurred at 9:45 p.m. Dec. 20 in the 7300 block of Beacon Avenue S.

The impersonator is described as a white male, 6 feet 2, weighing 200 pounds. So, how many men of that height have green Ford Crown Victorias in the Seattle area?

Full story is here. 

Art House Beat: Start the New Year with the Entertaining and Enlightening “Vanished Empire

Every generation has its vanished empire, its city of the wind, the one blown away by time. In Karen Shakhnazarov’s magnificent new film, that city and that time is the Moscow of 1970’s, where a group of college friends, with an emphasis on a love triangle involving classmates Sergei, Stepan, and Lyuda, express their youth by rebelling against the rules of the Soviet game.

Contrary to Ronald Reagan’s boast that he effected the fall of the Soviet Union, the truth had more to do with the flowering of a new generation that did not share the fear their parents had of the absolute power of their government to regulate the behavior of its citizenry. “Vanished Empire” follows its characters through various acts of law-breaking and love-making, from busting up restaurants to making out in the lecture hall.

Sergei steals books from his grandfather to raise money to buy black market records and Western clothing. For his girlfriend Lyuda’s birthday, he blows seventy five rubles on what is promised to be an authentic English pressing of The Rolling Stones’ “Goats Head Soup”, only to find a Tchaikovsky record inside the album sleeve. As the college kids cavort in the carefree bloom of their adolescence, the Soviet Union lumbers on. The Russian kids pay little attention to the anti-Western propaganda filling movie theater newsreels and television newscasts, more intent on chasing girls and listening to local bands cover Western pop songs such as “Venus” and “Smoke on the Water” than rallying behind the Communist cause.

 

In the film’s startling and elliptical climax, Sergei finds himself thirty years in the future, confronted by an unrecognizable Stepan, who complains that Moscow no longer resembles the city of his youth, that it has been over-run by evil foreigners, and that he is now happy to be living in Finland. He is reminiscent of the old rebels from our own era of dissidence, who now complain that Seattle has changed too much, and is no longer the city of their youths, when their youth was spent in rebellion against the city as it was in those days.

Shakhnazarov gained international prominence during the “perestroika” era with her 1983 film, “Jazzman.” One of the most enlightening aspects of “Vanished Empire” is its resemblance to films made and set in the 1980’s, such as “Little Vera,” when its story takes place a decade earlier. This shows us how artificial our view of history is. A culture cannot be so conveniently split up into eras given definitions such as “glasnost” or “perestroika.” Change in always happening, and is the result of actual people, not political determinations. As is the case in our own history, with the disaffection of the beats preceding the dropping out of the hippies, the seeds of dissent were sown in Soviet youth long before the rest of the world took notice. By the time Reagan credited himself with the felling of the Soviet Union, that empire had already vanished.

“Vanished Empire” opens Saturday, January 2 at the Northwest Film Forum for a limited run.

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Billboard: “Speeding? Expect a $144 ticket”

One can never receive too many reminders to drive safe during the holiday season… Located on Aurora facing northbound traffic at 47th Street, a billboard features a picture of a police officer with a radar gun next to the words, “Speeding? Expect a $144 ticket.”  And, apparently, this isn’t just an empty threat.  

According to the Aurora Traffic Safety Project’s Facebook page, the Seattle Police Department has written over 3000 speeding tickets since the traffic-safety project, also called the “Expect the Unexpected” campaign, began back in mid-June. (read more)

Beware of fundraising phone calls claiming to seek money in honor of slain deputy Mundell

 Less than 24 hours after the death of Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Kent Mundell — one of two cops shot Dec. 21 in Eatonville — phone solicitors jumped into action claiming to raise money in his honor.  Beware of such calls, say Pierce County authorities, who issued this alert via press release:

Reports are coming in about fundraising donations being solicited by phone in regards to the death of Deputy Kent Mundell.

If members of the public want to make a donation to the cause, it is strongly encouraged they use the Columbia Bank account that has been set up to aid the Mundell family. Here is a list of bank locations: http://www.columbiabank.com/page.aspx?nid=27

The validity of the phone solicitations has not been verified by Pierce County. In many cases, such fundraisers keep the vast majority of the money.

  Another Pierce County press release tells of more ways to make a donation legitimately:

People interested in making a donation, visiting from an out of area law enforcement agency or Honor Guard, or just wanting more information regarding the memorial should email pcsdmemorial@co.pierce.wa.us or call 1-866-977- 2362. While volunteers are not needed at this time, people can assist by donating to Deputy Mundell’s family at any branch of Columbia Bank (for a list of branches, please visit www.columbiabank.com). Additionally, the Pierce County Deputy Sheriffs Guild is accepting donations on their Web site www.pcdsguild.com. Tapco Credit Union has also set up an account, which can accept donation at any of their locations, or online at www.tapcocu.org.

 

PREVIOUS STORIES:

Pierce Co. deputy dies; ‘Tell me when does it end?’

More Pierce Co. cops shot: ‘Dear God have mercy!’

KUOW: Spike in police gunfire deaths in Washington

Regina Hackett: The bones of the world

For every artist who elaborates on the outer edge of experience, there’s another burrowing away at root causes.

This is a small survey of root diggers and bone lovers, those who bring complexity to simple forms and would rather strip bare than decorate… (view art here)

ZZ Top turns 40, debuts its latest hot rod at Japanese car show

ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons recently displayed his latest hot rod at the 18th annual Mooneyes Hot Rod and Custom Show in Yokohama, Japan, the biggest car show of its kind in Asia.

Dubbed The Mexican Blackbird, Gibbons’ over-the-top ride is a 1958 Ford Thunderbird named after a ZZ Top song from the band’s 1975 album, “Fandango!”

By the way, ZZ Top celebrates its 40th anniversary this week. (see car and read more)

Sign of the times: Three boat shows around the region canceled for next year

Three boat shows around the region have been canceled for next year—and that could be a boon for next month’s boat show in Seattle.

The lagging economy prompted the cancellation of the 2010 boat shows in Tacoma and Everett, while the annual boat show in Vancouver, B.C., was canceled to allow for construction of a retractable roof at BC Place, where the event was to be held. (more)