Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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The first day of the Washington Legislature included an intra-party drama on the floor of the state senate. It happened during opening ceremonies Monday when an incumbent Democratic Senator tried to block a new senator from being sworn in. 

It’s sink or swim time for Washington state ferries. That’s the message from Governor Chris Gregoire. The nation’s largest ferry system is under water financially. 

Washington voters elected him state superintendent of public schools. Now Governor Chris Gregoire wants to takeover his portfolio. Randy Dorn is fuming over the Governor’s proposal to create a cabinet-level Department of Education.

Washington lawmakers are singing the blues over the state’s budget woes. The legislature convenes Monday for a 105-day session. Once again, majority Democrats are confronted with a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

In the current budget year, the state of Washington is on track to pay 60-million dollars to settle damage and personal injury lawsuits filed against the state. That has some lawmakers alarmed, especially in light of the state’s multi-billion dollar budget crisis. Now, one state representative has an idea for a 9-11 style victims’ compensation fund.

John Froschauer / AP

The amount of money the state pays out in lawsuits has doubled in the last four years to more than $50 million dollars a year. This spike in legal costs comes as Washington reduces funding for education, healthcare and other state services. But cutting Washington’s legal bills is no easy task.

Northwest soldiers are expressing mixed opinions over the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The U-S Senate voted over the weekend to end the 17-year old policy that allows gays to serve, but not openly. The bill now goes to the President.

Austin Jenkins / N3

Welfare dollars are supposed to help the poorest of families pay for the necessities of life. But Washington welfare recipients are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each month on ATM surcharges. That’s what correspondent Austin Jenkins found through a public disclosure request. The finding comes as Washington’s welfare program faces budget cuts. 

Wang family photo.

The state clemency board will recommend that Gov. Chris Gregoire not commute the sentence of a juvenile killer. Barry Massey was just 13 years old when he participated in a brutal murder. The board's 3-2 vote Thursday night reverses a previous clemency board recommendation that he should be let free.

A hue and cry has erupted in response to Washington Governor Chris Gregoire’s proposal to slash billions more in anticipated state spending. The Democrat Wednesday unveiled her plan to close a $4.6 billion budget shortfall.

Ten-dollar gate fees at state parks and 100,000 more Washingtonians without health insurance. Those are just two examples of how Governor Christine Gregoire proposes to close a $4.6 billion budget shortfall with her budget released Wednesday.

Chris Lehman / N3

Some Washington welfare recipients are withdrawing cash at out-of-state liquor stores, smoke shops and even strip clubs. That’s the finding of a public radio investigation into welfare debit card use outside Washington’s borders. The finding comes at a time when the state’s welfare program is $82 million in the red.

Governor Chris Gregoire is proposing to consolidate 12 state agencies and in the process eliminate 125 jobs. It’s part of her plan to reduce the size and, what she calls, “complexity” of Washington state government. The state faces  a $4.6 billion gap between anticipated revenues and spending in the next two year budget.

About 90,000 Washington state retirees have been getting annual cost of living increases during the great recession. Now Governor Chris Gregoire says it’s time to halt to those automatic raises. The proposal is already generating an angry response. 

Lawmakers hope they’ve taken a sizeable bite out of the state’s one-point-one billion dollar budget shortfall. The legislature met Saturday in what’s been called an unprecedented December special session. Governor Chris Gregoire demanded the lame-duck meeting saying she couldn’t solve the problem alone.

It was short and bittersweet. Washington lawmakers convened Saturday in a rare, lame duck special session. Their job: take a bite out of the billion dollar hole in the current two-year budget. Lawmakers passed three pieces of legislation. 

Washington's lawmakers will meet in special session on Saturday to start chopping away at a billion-dollar budget shortfall. The governor and legislative leaders emerged from a closed door meeting yesterday with a budget deal. 

The plan is for a one-day special session. Legislative leaders from both parties and Governor Chris Gregoire have agreed to an immediate round of fresh cuts. The goal is to reduce the current $1.1 billion budget shortfall by about half. 

The number of poor children on the waitlist for preschool in Washington has tripled over the past three years. And now the problem may get worse. Governor Chris Gregoire’s across-the-board budget reductions threaten to cut more than 100 kids who are already enrolled.

Washington State Parks mismanaged contracts resulting in a “gross waste of public funds.” That’s the conclusion of an investigation prompted by a whistleblower into a project at a state marine park on Puget Sound.

Governor Chris Gregoire says she will call a budget-cutting special session of the legislature before the year is out. As the state’s budget crisis worsens, the governor and lawmakers are looking to save money anywhere they can. One target in the crosshairs: lobbyists for state agencies.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire says she will call a special session of the legislature to address the ballooning budget crisis. The Democrat made the announcement Monday afternoon following a meeting with legislative leaders from both parties. 

Washington lawmakers return to Olympia this week, but not for a special session. They're getting organized for the regular session in January. That will bring out advocates who plan to stage protests over looming budget cuts.

Courtesy of Mary Jaskolski.

It was national news when a Washington-based soldier just back from Afghanistan died in a shootout with police in Salt Lake City. That was in August. Around the same time another soldier from the same brigade also died violently. But his death didn’t get much notice. It happened on a dark two-lane road in rural Wisconsin.  

AP (Ted Warren)

It was one year ago that four Lakewood police officers were gunned down in a coffee shop. Their assailant was Arkansas parolee Maurice Clemmons who was later shot and killed by a Seattle police officer. Today Governor Chris Gregoire will help dedicate a memorial to the slain officers at Lakewood’s police headquarters. 

Three years ago Washington voters upheld the Insurance Fair Conduct Act. It allows triple damages when insurance companies are found to have unfairly denied a claim. At the time, the insurance industry warned premiums would skyrocket and lawyers would get rich. Has that happened? 

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Was there a breakdown of leadership in the 5th Stryker Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord? That question is central to a month-old Army review that’s just now coming to light. It’s the latest development in the case against a dozen soldiers recently back from Afghanistan – including five who’ve been charged with murder.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday morning for one of the five Washington-based Army soldiers charged with war crimes while deployed to Afghanistan. 

The union which represents home health workers in Washington is reacting angrily to a move by Governor Chris Gregoire on Friday to cancel several collective bargaining agreements and ordered state employees back to the negotiating table.

McNeil Island
Austin Jenkins / KPLU

Washington's oldest prison will close by April 1st, a casualty of the state's current budget crisis. McNeil Island Corrections Center's 500 inmates will be moved to other facilities. Some of the 245 employees will be reassigned, while others stand to lose their jobs.

In the coming days, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will provide lawmakers with a list of budget-cutting options. It’s a first step in what could lead to a special session of the legislature before the year is out.

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