Washington state is launching a new tax credit for the poor, but lawmakers are waiting until after this fall's elections to tackle the hard...

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Washington state is launching a new tax credit for the poor, but lawmakers are waiting until after this fall’s elections to tackle the hard part: how they’ll pay for the $110 million worth of rebates.

Gov. Christine Gregoire on Tuesday gave final approval to a startup plan for the “Working Families” tax credit program, directing the state Revenue Department to assemble workers and infrastructure needed to administer the possible sales-tax rebates.

If the Legislature finds a way to pay for the benefits, the state eventually will send rebate checks to low-wage Washingtonians who qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

State officials estimate about 337,000 households would apply for a state rebate in the 2010 fiscal year, with a price tag of about $110 million in lost sales-tax revenue during the 2009-2011 state budget cycle.

That could be a problem for state lawmakers, who are facing a projected deficit of $2 billion or more when they convene in January to write the next two-year budget.

On Tuesday, Gregoire acknowledged there might not be enough money to start sending out rebate checks right away — a fact that led the governor to consider at least a partial veto.

But Gregoire said she ultimately was persuaded by lawmakers’ arguments that, even if the money were earmarked today, it could take about two years to set up the program and start issuing checks.

Unalaska, Alaska

Crewman recalls talk of rudder woes

As the crew of the Alaska Ranger assembled in the wheelhouse to abandon their ship, “everybody” was talking about the rudder falling off, according to David Morris, a crewman who testified Tuesday at a hearing into the sinking of the Seattle-based vessel.

Morris said that talk circulated among engineers, as well as the crew.

But under questioning by Coast Guard officials, Morris said he did not know why the rudder was being talked about as the source of the leak and had no first-hand knowledge of what might have caused the leak.

The rudder sticks through a hole in the vessel that is sealed and packed to prevent water from flowing in. So if the rudder falls out, water could pour in through that hole.

The Tuesday hearing was held by a Coast Guard Board of Investigation that is looking into the circumstances surrounding the Easter Sunday sinking of the Seattle-based vessel, claiming five of 47 crew members.

In sworn testimony Saturday, assistant engineer Rodney Lundy testified that he had not been able to reach the flooded stern rudder room to determine the source of the leak.

In his testimony, Lundy speculated that the hole might have been caused by a crack in the vessel and said he had no idea about the fate of the rudder.

The hearings are expected to conclude in Unalaska later this week, then resume later this month in Seattle.

Rome, Italy

UW student won’t be freed, lawyer says

A court has ordered a Seattle woman and two other suspects in the slaying of a British student to remain jailed, a defense lawyer said today.

The Court of Cassation rejected a defense request for the release of University of Washington student Amanda Knox; her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Ivory Coast national Rudy Hermann Guede.

The three are being held in connection with the death of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old student from Leeds University in England who was enrolled for a year of study in Perugia, about 110 miles north of Rome.

Kercher was found half-naked in a pool of blood last November in the apartment she shared with Knox. She died from a stab wound to the neck.

Prosecutors have said she was killed resisting sexual assault, and they are investigating the three suspects on suspicion of murder and sexual violence.

Knox, 20, and Sollecito, 24, have been jailed since Nov. 6. Guede, 21, was arrested in Germany and later extradited to Italy. He is believed to have fled shortly after the slaying.

All three deny wrongdoing.


Brother says fatal shooting accidental

An 11-year-old boy has died in Centralia in what his brother says was an accidental shooting.

Lewis County sheriff’s deputies say the boy was rushed to Providence Centralia Hospital after being shot shortly before 9 p.m. Monday night. He died at the hospital.

Deputies say the boy and his 15-year-old brother were home alone having dinner in different rooms while their parents were at work. The older boy told detectives he heard a gunshot and found his brother wounded. He says his younger brother told him he accidentally shot himself.

The older brother called his father, who called 911. Investigators say the gun belonged to the father.

Seattle Times staff and news services