Friday, December 12, 2008

A bit of good news for businesses: Lower taxes in 2009

Washington's Employment Security Department is reporting some welcome good news for business owners across the state.

"For the first time ever, more than half of all Washington employers will be in the lowest unemployment-insurance tax bracket in 2009, with tax savings totaling some $45 million...

The department is currently mailing 2009 tax-rate notices to more than 150,000 businesses. All told, about 25 percent of employers will see rate decreases, with just 18 percent seeing rate increases."

The department says the reason for the improved 2009 tax rates is the relatively low unemployment rate over the past four years.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

House Democrats elect additional leadership posts

Washington House Democrats have selected more members of their leadership team. Joining Speaker-designate Frank Chopp, Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, Caucus Chair Bill Grant, Majority Whip Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Speaker pro tem-designate Jeff Morris are:
Majority Floor Leader: Zack Hudgins
Majority Caucus Liaison: Larry Springer
Caucus Vice Chair: Dawn Morrell
Assistant Majority Floor Leader: Tami Green
Deputy Majority Whip: Kevin Van De Wege
In 2007-08, Hudgins and Springer shared Floor Leader duties while Morrell served as Deputy Majority Whip. Van De Wege was an Assistant Majority Whip.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting to Wasteless in Washington

The state Department of Ecology just reported that, although the recycling rate remained the same at 43 percent of municipal waste in 2007, the amount of waste generated per person in Washington declined for the first time in six years.

According to Ecology's press release, Washingtonians averaged 7.9 pounds of waste per person each day in 2007, down from 8.0 pounds in 2006.

While that translates into 4 million tons of material recycled, that still leaves us with 5.3 million tons of waste sent to landfills.

Click here for more information on Ecology's Sustainability, Waste Reduction, and Recycling programs.

And download your own Pocket Guide to Sustainability here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A computer with a view [of the future Viaduct]

A story from yesterday's Seattle Times included a very cool online tool for visually-comparing the eight Viaduct options (and did someone mention a possible new ninth option???).

Give your computer a few minutes to download all the images, but trust us, it's worth the wait!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rep. Kevin Van De Wege hits the road

With the 2009 legislative session on the horizon, Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (Sequim) is on a two-day tour of his district to meet with constituents. Van De Wege’s district, the 24th LD, is geographically the largest in the state. It covers all of Clallam and Jefferson counties, plus the upper third of Grays Harbor County. This morning, Rep. Van De Wege is in Port Angeles visiting ACTI Composites and Kenmore Air.

But the real fun comes this afternoon, when he drives over to the community of Forks. Forks has become rather famous lately, thanks to the immense popularity of the “Twilight” book series (now a major motion picture as well). We’re not sure if Rep. Van De Wege has read any of the books, especially since they are most popular with teenage girls, but “Twilight” has definitely provided an economic boost to Forks, where the vampire series takes place. In fact, the Forks Forum wrote in its November 19 issue that state accommodation tax revenues from the town and surrounding area are up 50% thanks to all the “Twilight” buzz. Not bad for a small timber community in Grays Harbor County Clallam County (thanks to Steven Friederich of The Daily World for catching the error).

Rep. Van De Wege’s visit to Forks today will begin with a 2:30 visit to Dazzled By Twilight, a Twilight-memorabilia store on N Forks Avenue. Stops at the Forks Chamber of Commerce and Forks Middle School will follow. He will finish off today’s itinerary with a 7:00 p.m. Town Hall Meeting in Aberdeen (Port of Grays Harbor port chambers).

Tomorrow’s stops include tours of Imperium Renewables (the nation’s largest biodiesel plant) and the Paneltech manufacturing plant in Aberdeen, as well as the Estrella Family Creamery in Montesano. Rep. Van De Wege will wrap up his tour Tuesday evening with a Town Hall Meeting at the Sequim Library at 7:00 p.m.

Basic Ed Task Force has a full two days ahead

The Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance is meeting in Olympia today and tomorrow. Despite the group's wonky name, this is a group that anyone interested in Washington's education system needs to keep an eye on.

These are the folks tasked with figuring out a) how we should define "basic education," and b) what kind of funding system it will take to fully fund basic ed. At this point, five separate proposals have been developed for the task force to look at (including one proposal from legislators serving on the task force). Members are looking at each in detail and trying to finalize one comprehensive proposal to send to the Legislature.

You wouldn't think defining "basic education" would be tough but get ten people in a room and ask them each how they'd define it. You'll probably get ten different answers. Is it just reading, writing and arithmetic? Should it include things like art and music? What level of support for pupil transportation should the state provide? What level of experience with computers and technology should we expect of students? Current definitions were drafted in the 1970s when nobody thought that computers would be as basic an education tool as pencils and paper.

It was in the 70s that we also developed a series of funding formulas (14 of 'em, if you can believe it) to calculate what the state pays a district for everything from transportation and instruction for children with disabilities to operations and administration. The formulas are outdated, complicated, and fail to account for today’s real costs of educating our children.

Which brings us back full-circle to the work of the task force members. Tune in for what will certainly be a lively conversation about the future of education in our state.