Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We're here, but not here...

We'll post an occasional bit of news during the next couple weeks but your faithful HDC bloggers are rotating between holiday time off, furlough time off, a pre-session office shuffle, and other not-so-blogworthy distractions.
In essence, we're just like George. Here, but not here. Unlike George, we're not trying to avoid you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ross Hunter's virtual town hall

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coming Soon: Virtual Town Halls

Want to learn more about the upcoming legislative session and the budget challenges facing our state but can't make it to Olympia? Well, here's your chance to do so from the comfort of your own home or coffee shop or wi-fi hotspot - pretty much anywhere you sit and stare at a computer screen.

In conjunction with the upcoming tele-town halls for Reps. Brendan Williams and Ross Hunter, we'll be liveblogging the events right here. So follow along, submit questions or comments, and bask in the electric glow of Democracy's future...

Monday, December 14th: Brendan Williams
Watch the replay here

Tuesday, December 15th: Ross Hunter

Or follow along on Twitter:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Budget balanced, but "unjust"

No more Basic Health. No more maternity services. No more levy equalization. No more prescription drug assistance for low-income seniors. No more GAU.

Those were just a sample of the cuts Gregoire laid out in her press conference that ended just moments ago. In presenting her budget she said, "Let me be very clear: I do not support this budget. As required by law, it is balanced. For me, it is unjust.”

This budget is called "Book I" by insiders, as it is considered the first budget, required to be balanced with no new revenue.

Here's a breakdown of how Gregoire proposes to bridge the $2.6 billion shortfall without new revenue.

Use of $904 million from "other" revenue
- This includes $229 million from the Budget Stabilization Account (Rainy Day Fund), $110 million from the Savings Incentive/Education Savings Accounts (funds agencies didn’t spend in the previous year), $52 million from PEBB Reserve (state health benefits) and lowering the Ending Fund Balance to $310.5 million.

$1.7 billion in program cuts:

- $375 million including the elimination of levy equalization funding, all-day kindergarten, I-728 (classroom size initiative) and K-4 staffing enhancements.

Higher Education
- $370 million including reducing the State Need Grant, across-the-board reductions, and suspending the Work Study program and eliminating other smaller financial aid programs.

Other Education
- $13.8 million including eliminating ECEAP (early learning) for 3- year-olds, eliminating the Career and Wage Ladder, and reducing funding for the Arts Commission.

Health and Human Services
- $850 million including eliminating the Basic Health Plan and the General Assistance program, suspending Maternity Support Services, and reducing Apple Health Eligibility to less than 205% of Federal Poverty.

Natural Resources
- $25 million including eliminating funding for watershed planning, reducing funding for water resource activities, and reducing Fair Funding.

General Government
- $41 million including reductions in growth management grants, state library services, and the Crime Victims Benefits program.

: Decrease state employees by an additional 1,500 FTEs. From Fiscal Year 2009 (last year of the prior biennium) through Fiscal Year 2011 (second year of this biennium), it is anticipated that state FTEs will decrease by 4,500.

Mandatory Spending
: This budget spends an additional $760 million for caseload increases and other mandatory costs like forest fires, increased utilization of medical services, etc.

Additional Spending
: There is about $86.5 million in additional spending in the budget that is not related to mandatory increases. It includes restoring $12 million for Juvenile Rehabilitation, $11.5 million for worker retraining in the community/technical colleges, and $50.7 million for state employee health insurance to address a shortfall in the PEBB funds.

The Governor stated she will introduce another budget in January in which she will "buy back" or restore some of these cuts using increased revenue. This will be her "Book II" budget.

She did not announce which revenue sources she will endorse but expressed that she is very conscious of not wanting any new revenue source to interfere with or slow down our state's economic recovery. When asked for an example of such a source, she cited an increase in the B&O tax.

Gregoire's list of buybacks would cost about $700 million. Her list includes:

  • Basic Health Plan
  • Apple Health for children
  • A scaled-back version of General Assistance (6 month eligibility with $250/month grants)
  • Levy equalization
  • State Need Grant (financial aid for college)
  • ECEAP slots and all-day kindergarten
  • Adult medical, dental, vision and hospice programs
  • Developmental disability and long-term care services
Other Proposals: The Governor will introduce legislation that address a number of areas:
  • Local Government Finance: She would like to give local governments more flexibility in how they use their revenues.
  • Levies: She suggests allowing school districts to raise their levy lids up to 36 percent.
  • Hospitals: She endorses the proposal from the Washington Hospital Association to set up a hospital assessment fee, which allows the state to capture additional federal funding.
  • Juvenile Rehabilitation: None will be closed, however there will be downsizing at Maple Lane, Green Hill and Naselle, with additional community placements instead.
  • Corrections: Several institutions will close – Pine Lodge, Larch and Ahtanum; McNeil will be converted to minimum security; and the stacks at the Walla Walla penitentiary will be closed and rebuilt. Additional beds will be opened at the new prison at Connell, where costs are lower.
  • Developmental Disabilities: Frances Haddon Morgan Center would close in 2011 and Rainier School in 2014.
In addition, the Governor has already laid out proposals to consolidate certain agencies and cut down on the number of state boards and commissions.

You can read the Governor's press release and related budget materials here.

Governor to release all-cuts budget proposal this morning

If you've been paying any attention to state politics over the past several months, you already know that the national recession continues to pummel state budgets across the nation. As typically happens in a recession, revenues shrink while caseloads in state services grow. Here in Washington, the result is a projected $2.6 billion shortfall for the last half of the two-year 2009-2011 budget.

This morning at 9, Governor Gregoire will reveal her budget proposal. As required by law, it will be a balanced budget based on existing revenue. In other words, it will be an all-cuts budget, and it follows on the heels of a
budget that already included about $4 billion in cuts.

Gregoire has
stated plainly that the kinds of cuts required to balance this budget is unacceptable. Her office prepared a "Budget Story" presentation that lays out several examples of what it would take to cut $2.6 billion from the remaining biennial budget.

If we eliminated all mental health and disability services, for example, we'd only save $1.6 billion. Want to eliminate all state-funded environmental clean-up efforts and parks and recreation services? That will save us $364 million. Shut down the Department of Commerce? There's another $103 million. You get the picture - $2.6 billion is a tough number to get to.

Mumblings that programs such as financial aid for college, levy equalization for property-poor school districs, the Basic Health Program and General Assistance Unemployable might be completely eliminated have a lot of folks very, very worried.

Tune in to
TVW to watch Gregoire's press conference. We'll post additional details later today.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Looking into the transportation crystal ball

We’ve mentioned before that 2009 is a banner year for transportation investments. The construction season that just ended was the largest in state history, as our investments from 2003 and 2005 hit their peak. The federal economic recovery funding also provided a boost.

At the same time, as we peer into the future, challenges emerge. Page nine of the
transportation budget passed last spring shows that revenue projections over the 16-year planning horizon dropped a couple of billion dollars over 2008’s projections.

Why? The major factor is the changing habits of drivers. People are driving less and are using more fuel-efficient vehicles, which is causing fuel-tax revenue to dip. Moreover, fuel taxes are flat rates, resulting in decreased purchasing power as years go by. These fuel taxes revenues form the large part of the transportation budget.

Recognizing these long-term trends, transportation leaders last session called for a study of potential financing methods for the future. The Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee earlier this week heard the findings of the
“draft final” report on this topic, prepared by a transportation consulting team.

The report shows some drastic numbers. For example, in 2025 the average driver will pay about 15 percent less in taxes (in 2025 dollars) compared to 2009. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about 38 percent less! The reduced revenue accounts for about $10 billion.

How to address this issue? The report explores myriad options, including fuel, system use, vehicle and driver funding methods. At this point, the report is intended simply as a look to the future, along with an array of potential options for the Legislature to consider in future sessions. Nothing is binding, and aside from starting a dialog, little to no action is expected this coming session. For now, it’s an intriguing look at our challenges and opportunities for funding the transportation system of Washington’s future.

Boards and commissions on the chopping block

The House State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee will meet today at 1:30 to review plans for saving more public dollars. As alluded to in our earlier post, the committee is scheduled to discuss the potential elimination of additional state boards and commissions.

In the 2009 session earlier this year, the Legislature passed
Engrossed Senate Bill 5995 to abolish 18 of these public bodies. Governor Gregoire announced yesterday that she’s eliminating 17 more boards and commissions by executive order and is asking the Legislature to axe another 78 when they convene for the 2010 session in January.

Gregoire's office is sending folks to today's committee meeting to discuss her proposal. Committee chair Rep.
Sam Hunt wants the committee to hit the ground running with specific cost-saving proposals.

The committee will also hold a work session to talk about the
Washington Management Service (WMS), which was set up in 1993 and “… is a decentralized personnel system established separately for civil service managers in state government. Agencies have delegated authority under the law to create management positions. [The WMS] recognizes the unique nature of management positions and the importance of strong management skills to effective state government.”

Regarding the Washington Management Service and other aspects of state government, the Legislature earlier this year approved and the governor signed Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2049. This legislation calls for yearly public reports from every state agency on the number of classified workers the agency employs, as well as the agency’s WMS employees and the agency’s exempt employees. The agencies must also report the number and cost of bonuses and performance-based incentives that have been awarded to agency staff.

Today's committee meeting line-up

Today marks the End of (Assembly) Days with committee meetings in full swing until 3:30 today. The next time legislators convene in Olympia will be for the start of the 2010 session on January 11.

This morning, the
Education Committee is talking about numerous issues including the status of changes to the state's student assessment program (formerly known as the WASL).

At 10, the
Human Services Committee will take a look at the savings and efficiencies underway in the GA-U program. GA-U is a cash and health care assistance program for people who are physically or mentally are incapable of working, and is one of the programs considered at-risk in the midst of growing budget challenges.

Finance Committee will meet at 1:30. Their agenda includes a look at the 2009 Performance Review of Tax Preferences. Tax preferences (also called tax breaks or tax incentives, depending on your point of view) are essentially money the state is choosing not to collect for some reason, usually to help a struggling industry or lure new businesses to the state. These will get very close scrutiny as legislators determine whether we can afford to keep many of them in place.

And on the heels of some
major news from Governor Gregoire yesterday, the Government & Tribal Affairs Committee will be looking at the elimination of certain state boards and committees. More details to follow in a separate post.

As always, follow the action on

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rescue tug to the rescue…again!

Last session, the Legislature appropriated $3.6 million to fully fund an emergency response tug stationed at Neah Bay. It was the last time taxpayers will pay to protect the Strait of Juan de Fuca from oil spills and other environmental accidents; beginning in July of 2010, the maritime industry will be required by law to fund the vessel year-round. Rep. Kevin Van De Wege sponsored the House version of the legislation that Governor Gregoire signed on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

An incident just this week off the Washington coast underscores how important a permanently-funded emergency response tug is for our state. The state Department of Ecology says that on Wednesday a chemical tanker lost power about 45 miles off the coast. The rescue tug
Hunter left its berth at Neah Bay and is heading towards the disabled tanker, prepared to render assistance if needed.

In September, Rep. Van De Wege, along with Speaker Chopp and members of the state Senate, had a tour on board the Hunter and learned about the devastating impact of one of our state’s worst oil spills. Click the video below to watch the tour, which includes interviews with the Vice President of Operations for Crowley Martime, which owns the Hunter, and Chad Bowechopp of the Makah Office of Marine Affairs.

Gregoire and capitol press reporters give their take on the coming session

Tonight's episode of Inside Olympia is a must-see for anyone interested in what's to come in the 2010 session.

During the first half of the show, Austin Jenkins interviews Governor Gregoire who will be
releasing a supplemental budget proposal to the Legislature next week.

Her proposal, as required by law, will be a spending plan based on estimated revenues, which for the remaining half of the 2009-2011 biennium are down $2.6 billion. Since already cutting $4 billion from our budget last session, Gregoire plainly states that an additional round of deep cuts would be devastating for the people of our state and raising revenue is an option that is now on the table.

During the second half of the show, Jenkins speaks with two of the (rapidly shrinking number of) Capitol press corps reporters, Rachel LaCorte from the Associated Press and Brad Shannon from the Olympian.

Tune in at 7 and 10, or watch it online

Today's committee meeting line-up

Assembly Days continues with a full slate of committee meetings. A few meetings that might be of particular interest to folks:

This morning the Committee on Health and Human Services will talk about sustaining public assistance services to clients during difficult economic times. Topics include the
primary care safety net and food programs in the safety net.

Later this morning, the
Education Appropriations Committee will focus on higher ed, looking at how to keep the Guaranteed Education Tuition program solvent, tuition policy issues and more.

Transportation Committee will meet this afternoon for an update on tolling operations, the SR 410 mud slide and the transportation budget.

Ways & Means will meet at 3:30 for a 2010 budget outlook. TVW will air the meeting live.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like session...

Everywhere you go there are legislators milling, meeting and huddling. It's Assembly Days and lawmakers are here in Olympia for the first of three days of committee hearings and work sessions.

With the start of session just around the corner, legislators use this time to really start digging in to the work of updating the state's two-year operating budget.

One particular meeting of note is the joint Ways & Means, Education, Education Appropriations and Early Learning & Children's Services committee. The five committees are
meeting jointly right now and getting an update on HB 2261, the big basic education bill passed last session.

Of particular interest might be the
draft early learning plan presented by the Department of Early Learning. DEL spent months gathering input from a wide array of stakeholders, parents, providers and more to draft this proposed long-term plan to ensure all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed. You can also learn more about the recommendations coming from the funding formula work group, potential changes to the teacher certification process, and improvements to data collection in the K-12 system.

TVW is airing the meeting live right now.

Check out the full list of today's meetings

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quality Education Council meeting today

The Quality Education Council is about to convene the second of a two-day meeting here in Olympia.

The QEC is the group overseeing the implementation of last year's big
education reform bill. The QEC will listen to recommendations from various work groups assigned to work on issues such as how to pay for the expanded program of "basic education," improving the teacher certification process, and more. After reviewing the work groups' recommendations, the QEC members are tasked with submitting a complete set of recommendations to the Legislature for the upcoming 2010 session.

At the end of the noon hour yesterda, Reps.
Pat Sullivan and Skip Priest, who sponsored HB 2261 will led a discussion about the QEC's recommendations to the Legislature. You can look at their presentation here.

TVW is airing the meeting

Monday, November 30, 2009

For the families of Mark, Tina, Ronald, and Gregory

They need our support through this difficult time. Let us honor their memory by supporting the families left behind, and stand with the fellow officers of the Lakewood Police Department who continue to serve and protect despite their deep personal pain.

Donations can be mailed to:
Lakewood Police Independent Guild
PO Box 99579
Lakewood, WA 98499

Donations can also be made on their Web site,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Town hall meeting tonight for SR 520 project

Last week the Legislative Work Group voted 10-2 to move forward with the A+ design option for SR 520.

Yesterday, the King County Council voted unanimously to endorse the same option.

Tonight, the work group is hosting a town hall to let the public weigh in.

The town hall runs from 6-8 with a presentation at 6:30 at Seattle's Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 NE 41st St.

Tacoma schools the rest of the state

Today’s Tacoma News Tribune editorial highlights an incredible state program that’s incredibly underutilized right now: The College Bound Scholarship program created by the Legislature last biennium.

Despite twenty Republican House members voting against it, the program passed the Legislature overwhelmingly, and is setting thousands of students across the state on the path to a better life thanks to an opportunity for a higher education.

Eligible students just need to meet one of the following:
  • Are eligible to receive free and reduced-price lunch
  • Receive TANF benefits
  • Are a foster youth
  • Meet the income standards
The problem, as the TNT points out, is motivating students to pursue those dreams of higher ed as 8th graders. College can seem a long way off at that age, especially for a student whose daily struggles keep them from focusing on anything else.

Recognizing that difficulty, the Tacoma School District and the Tacoma Housing Authority have teamed up to raise awareness of the program and keep kids on the right path to reach their higher ed goals. Their efforts are showing great success: 77 percent of eligible Tacoma public school students and a whopping 83 percent of eligible THA residents were enrolled in the program, compared to 46 percent of eligible students in the rest of the state.

Click here to learn more about the College Bound Scholarship Program or enroll.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Healthy brains AND healthy bodies

Last month we learned that Washington ranks third for healthy brains and that the Seattle-Tacoma area ranks as the 7th smartest metropolitan area in the nation. This week we got another high mark as one of the healthiest states.

America`s Health RankingsTM rated Washington as the 11th healthiest state in the country—up from number 13 last year. The report has tracked the health of the nation for the past 20 years, providing a unique, comprehensive perspective on how the nation - and each state - measures up.

A wide range of factors are taken into account to determine a state’s health ranking including infant mortality rates, deaths from heart disease and cancer, smoking and obesity rates, education, pollution and violent crime.

These “health determinants” are good indicators of whether the health status of a state’s residents is likely to improve or grow worse.

Our state scored well because, among other things, only 15.7 percent of Washingtonians smoke – a pretty significant difference from 21.4 percent just ten years ago. Also, the percentage of children in poverty declined from 19.1 percent to 13.2 percent during the past five years, and the infant mortality rate in Washington is 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

But if we want to get a better ranking next year, it’s time to start burning calories and eating healthy foods – in only 20 years the prevalence of obesity among Washingtonians has increased from 9.4 percent to 26.0 percent.

Vermont ranked first this year thanks in part to its low rate of obesity, high number of doctors and a low rate of child poverty, and Mississippi came in last for the ninth consecutive year.

Go to this interactive map to see how other states ranked.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The numbers

The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council adjourned a short while ago. The news was as not-good as expected.

Some key numbers:
  • $760 million: Revenue projections are down another $760 million from September's forecast.
  • $4.6 billion: Overall, the revenue forecast is down $4.6 billion since February of last year.
  • $28 billion: The state can expect to collect about $28 billion for the 2009-2011 biennium.
  • 9.8 percent: Next spring unemployment will peak at nearly 10 percent statewide.
  • $2.6 billion: The total budget hole is now $2.6 billion if you account for both declining revenues and increased caseloads.
For more information, check out ERFC's press release and Chief Economist Arun Raha's (lengthy, er, comprehensive) presentation. You can also read the press release from the Office of Financial Management.

Lawmakers bracing for deficit to top $2 billion

If you're a legislative junkie, your eyes will be glued to the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council meeting this morning at 10 a.m.

Washington's economy, like most other states, is struggling. Last session legislators approved more than $3 billion in cuts to the two-year 2009-2011 operating budget. It's now appearing they'll have to cut an additional $2 billion (or more) to make sure we break even at the end of 2011. The ERFC report will provide more specific information about how much of a shortfall we're looking at.

This information is crucial to helping the governor and lawmakers as they start drafting budgets. Governor Gregoire will be the first to release her budget, sometime in December.

It's sobering when you realize what it takes to cut more than $5 billion from our two-year budget. As Rep. Reuven Carlyle pointed out from a presentation given by the Office of Financial Management,
you could eliminate all state funding for the University of Washington, Washington State University as well as Central, Eastern, Western and the Evergreen State Colleges, and cut all state funding for the Department of Health and that only gets you $1.53 billion.

Tune in to TVW at 10 to watch the meeting. We'll post an update later today. Following the meeting, TVW will air an interview with Rep. Ross Hunter who sits on the ERFC and is chair of the House Finance Committee.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SR 520 gets an A+ from lawmakers

That's the option the SR 520 Legislative Workgroup voted 10-2 to endorse at today's meeting.

Ten lawmakers voted in favor of the option that will result in a wider Montlake interchange and a second north-south drawbridge over the Montlake Cut. The two legislators who opposed this option were House Speaker Frank Chopp and Rep. Jamie Pedersen, both representatives of Seattle's Montlake area.

The Seattle Times just posted a
summary of the meeting. You can also check here for a look at the materials from today's meeting and background on the various design options considered by the workgroup.

UPDATE: Rep. Ross Hunter provides a bit of background on where we've been with this process and what's next, both in terms of the bridge design and a tolling policy. He writes:

This is progress. Incremental, painfully slow, torturous progress, but progress nonetheless. Our next challenge will be to get the bill implementing these recommendations passed in the 2010 legislative session. This will be difficult, but I look at it as work to get done. We are ready to move forward on the project and the construction jobs are desperately needed in today’s economy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where, oh where, can we find $1.7 billion?

With the start of the 2010 legislative session just a couple months away, discussions are definitely heating up about how to handle a $1.7 billion budget shortfall (thanks in large part to continually lagging sales tax revenues and increased caseloads for state services).

Legislators already cut more than $3 billion in our budget this past session and finding another $1.7 billion in savings is not an easy task.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle posted his thoughts and puts $1.7 billion in context:

To put it in perspective, how big is $1.7 billion?

Here are three symbolic but legitimate examples of public services and programs that add up to about $1.7 billion:

Example one:

We could close all 34 community and technical colleges statewide that serve 470,000 students: $1.4 billion

Close Department of Commerce: $103 million

Close Department of Revenue: $218 million

Total: $1.72 billion

Example two:

Eliminate all state funding for the University of Washington, Washington State University: $1 billion

Eliminate all state funding for Central, Eastern, Western and the Evergreen State College: $337 million

Eliminate all state funding for Department of Health: $193 million

Total: $1.53 billion

Example three:

Close the Department of Corrections: $1.6 billion. (How’s that for perspective?)
Nothing is decided yet, but it's clear that more cuts are coming to programs people care about. Earlier this week we pointed out concerns about potential cuts to early learning programs for low-income children. Talks are underway about closing corrections facilities.

For helpful background about the budget and some of the not-so-great choices facing legislators, check out this
presentation from the Office of Financial Management. It has some great information. For example - did you know that $21.6 billion of our $31 billion is protected by constitutional or federal mandates? That means the $1.7 billion we have to cut must come from a tiny $9.3 billion slice of the budget pie.

And don't forget your role in all this. Your legislator would love to answer your questions and hear about your ideas and priorities. Send a note or call. Really. What else do you have to do on a rainy weekend?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The state WorkSource centers: One-stop job shopping

For a good amount of Americans, it’s tough these days trying to land the right job. But thanks to a state and federally funded job-search assistance service, some are finding it a little easier.

The WorkSource centers located around the state have helped unemployment-insurance claimants become as much as 37 percent more likely to find work than those who didn’t receive the services. What’s more, those who used WorkSource job services were on pace to earn as much as $3000 a year more than job seekers who didn’t visit WorkSource.

The results of the study were announced yesterday at the Renton WorkSource Center, where Rep. Steve Conway joined Karen Lee, the Commissioner of the state Employment Security Department, and successful WorkSource job-seekers.

WorkSource is a partnership of Employment Security, other state agencies, local governments, colleges and nonprofit organizations that work together to provide free employment and training services to job seekers and businesses. More than 270,000 people in Washington received assistance from WorkSource in 2008.

“In a tight labor market, these WorkSource centers are valuable resources,” said Conway who chairs the House Commerce and Labor Committee. “It’s been our goal to create these centers as ‘one-stops’ to meet the needs of both the unemployed, those looking to return to school or gain new skills, and for employers looking to fill jobs.”

WorkSource centers can help job-seekers:
  • Find job openings
  • Learn strategies for finding a job
  • Get job referrals and job search assistance
  • Get help preparing your résumé and getting ready for job interviews
  • Post your résumé online for employers to see
  • Share job-search strategies with other job seekers (job club)
  • Assess your skills and get career guidance
  • Get referred to a training program
  • Learn how much jobs pay and what jobs are in demand
Each WorkSource Center has a resource room for job seekers with:
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Telephones
  • Fax Machine
  • Copy Machine
  • Video Viewing Stations
Call or visit a WorkSource Center for more information.

For more information, visit a local WorkSource career center or read about it online at

To read the full report, click here.

Budget could cut kids from health care and early learning programs

In cutting $9 billion from the state budget this past session, lawmakers took nearly $12 million from the Department of Early Learning, 8.8% of the agency's total state funding.

Because federal funding helped make up some of the shortfall, children were spared the effects and the cuts went primarily towards materials and resources for parents and care providers.

It's estimated that legislators will have to slice yet another $1.8 billion budget from the 2009-2100 budget they passed in April. This time, however, children will certainly feel the impact, according to Paul Nyhan at Thrive by Five.

In preparing her new budget proposal, the Governor has asked state agencies to submit recommendations on how to make additional budget cuts. The Department of Early Learning was asked to find $1.9 million in reductions.

This is tough for an agency where 92% of their state funding goes directly to providing early learning for low-income children through the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), our state version of Head Start. Nyhan references a
memo from the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP which spells out what the additional cuts would mean:

proposed $1.9 million in reductions:
  • Reductions to ECEAP ($761k), which would result in the elimination of 100 ECEAP slots
  • Elimination of state funding for the Career and Wage Ladder ($750k)
  • Reduction of state funding to Child Care Resource and Referral Network ($425k)
  • The letter also notes an “offsetting error” in the ECEAP budget bill proviso amount in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, stating that the amount was $818,000 too high.
Additional possible cuts to other programs affecting children include:
These are only a small sample of the tough budget decisions facing legislators when they return to Olympia in January. The Governor will be first to present a budget proposal, due in December, and you can monitor her office's work here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cody, Morrell and Moeller prove information saves us money - lots of money

Technology is improving health care in many ways, but it comes at a cost and not all health care technologies are doing a good job of delivering on their promise to make us healthier.

Washington state provides nearly $3 billion worth of health benefits every year to public employees, people on workers' comp, Medicaid recipients, inmates, and others. But is that $3 billion being spent on care that is proven to be cost-effective?

The Department of Labor & Industries uncovered an interesting news story in the latest New England Journal of Medicine highlighting
Washington's innovative Health Technology Assessment program.

The Legislature created the HTA when it passed HB 2575 in 2006. The legislation was co-sponsored by Reps. Eileen Cody and Dawn Morrell, who both work as nurses and head the House Health Care Committee, as well as Jim Moeller.

They wanted to bring an evidence-based approach to figuring out what kinds of medical devices, procedures and tests are effective and deliver the outcomes promised by manufacturers. This information is intended to help the various state agencies that administer health care programs make more informed coverage decisions.

The HTA has only completed about a dozen assessments to date, due largely to their comprehensive nature. But those assessments have uncovered an estimated $21 million in savings.

For example, in screening for colorectal cancer, the HTA determined that a CT colonography isn't as cost-effective as a colonoscopy, which would have to be done anyhow if a colonography finds polyps. By not approving CT colonographies, the state will save an estimated $11 million a year.

The HTA is now planning their next round of assessments. If you have feedback, let them know.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reducing prison beds in our state – what do you think?

During the 2009 session, the Legislature asked the Office of Financial Management to draft recommendations for closing or consolidating institutions in the Department of Corrections, and in the Department of Social and Health Services’ Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration and Division of Developmental Disabilities programs.

These reductions had to consider capital costs, economic impacts on communities, impacts on facility staff, projected savings and availability of alternative services for individuals with developmental disabilities.

The consultant hired to manage the review issued their preliminary report last month, causing quite a stir in numerous local papers. The final report was issued this week and the Legislature will take it under consideration in January.

As the list below shows, the prisons population in Washington has climbed precipitously the last few years – we incarcerate nearly three times as many people today than in the 1980s, despite the fact that crime has actually decreased.

Prison inmates per 1,000 residents (18 to 49 years old)

1980: 2.3

1990: 3.1

2000: 5.2

2006: 6.1

2020: 7.5*

2030: 7.7*

(*forecasted rates, if policies stay the same)

Why? A big reason is mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes.

The increased prison population comes at an increased cost. Each prison cell costs about $100,000 in taxpayer dollars to build and each prisoner costs about $35,000 per year to feed, clothe and guard.

To make our streets safer, lawmakers have passed reforms over the last decade to give longer prison sentences to sex offenders and violent criminals. To make room for these bad guys, we are helping non-violent drug offenders get clean and stay out of jail.

Now, with the budget so tight, some are suggesting additional reforms, such as giving judges more leeway when they hand down sentences instead of making it strictly a mathematical process. This is in addition to the three options for DOC and DSHS facilities recommended in the study. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Snohomish County legislators urge Congressman Larsen to support strong public option for health care

Four Snohomish County legislators sent a letter to Congressman Rick Larsen last week, expressing their support for a strong public option in federal health care legislation.

Representatives Marko Liias (D - Mukilteo), Mary Helen Roberts (D - Lynnwood), John McCoy (D - Tulalip) and Mike Sells (D - Everett) wrote on October 28: "We cannot continue to allow hardworking Americans to be ruined by the high cost of health care. Hundreds of our constituents are forced to declare bankruptcy every year due to unpaid medical bills."

The purpose of the letter was to let Congressman Larsen know how important a public option is for constituents of Snohomish County, because it would serve as a fallback option for those who have no other coverage. As the health care debate continues in Washington DC, state legislators are hearing from people in their districts about lack of coverage or coverage that is too expensive for them to afford.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 47 million Americans are currently uninsured. The Washington State Insurance Commissioner announced in June that 876,000 Washingtonians lacked health care coverage, a 21 percent increase over the previous year.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tolled express lanes on I-405 topic of public meetings next week

What could be more fun on a drizzly gray evening than talking about tolled express lanes?

An invitation from the Washington State Department of Transportation:
WSDOT invites residents and drivers to share their thoughts about the possibility of adding an additional lane on I-405 that, combined with the existing HOV lane, could operate as two express toll lanes...

The I-405 express toll lanes would connect with SR 167 HOT Lanes, creating a seamless “expressway within a freeway.” Carpools, vanpools and transit would be able to count on a more reliable toll-free trip, while solo drivers could choose to buy into the newly-expanded express toll lane system.

The express toll lanes would function similar to the 2008 SR 167 HOT Lanes Pilot Project now underway in south King County. Solo drivers can access the SR 167 high occupancy toll lanes for a fee, freeing up space in the general purpose lanes. In its first year, the SR 167 HOT Lanes Pilot Project increased travel speeds by 8 to 10 percent.
Tuesday, Nov. 3 at Kent-Meridian High School (10020 SE 256th St., Kent)

Thursday, Nov. 5 at Kirkland City Hall (123 5th Ave., Kirkland)

People can drop in to the meetings between 4 and 7 p.m.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rep. Jeff Morris on Boeing's 787 announcement

Rep. Jeff Morris serves on the Legislature's Aerospace Task Force. Read here for his take on Boeing's announcement to locate the second 787 assembly line in South Carolina.

His statement includes a
review of what the Legislature has done to support our aerospace industry during the past six years.

By the numbers: $10.4 million and 280,927 hours

September’s employment statistics from stimulus-funded transportation projects have just been released by Washington State Department of Transportation, and the news is good: the best month yet for Washington workers. Transportation workers logged 280,927 hours and earned $10.4 million in wages. These numbers are up 11 percent and 12 percent, respectively, over August.

Transportation officials have been working hard to make sure these projects are swiftly advertised and completed, in accordance with the goals of the stimulus funds. WSDOT reports that 59 transportation projects across the state are now complete. Another 107 projects are currently underway.

Want to learn more? Head on over to WSDOT’s stimulus newsletter, updated weekly with fresh statistics.

Tuition, technology and more at today's higher ed committee meeting

The House Higher Education Committee is meeting this morning and the agenda includes reviewing recent studies about our state's tuition structure, the higher ed system design and how we can increase use of technology.

For background, you can check out the Higher Education Coordinating Board's
draft report on tuition policy and check out our prior coverage on the issue.

Here's some information about HECB's
system design plan which will help lawmakers figure out the best investments for educating more students to higher levels. The process is already causing some (ahem) lively discussion among certain stakeholder groups.

And if you're interested in technology issues (and some legislators are
very very interested), here's a link to the Technology Transformation Taskforce site.

TVW is airing the meeting which just started.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lawmakers to discuss more flexibility for judges, more plea options for defendents

Should judges get more discretion when handing down sentences -- and should juries have another option aside from not guilty, guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity?

Lawmakers are considering both issues today when the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee meets at noon.

Giving j
udges more flexibility
One of the reasons the number of prisoners in Washington state have tripled -- despite crime dropping to historic lows -- is that laws passed in the early 1990s required judges to han
d down mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Are those long mandatory sentences cost-effective? Or should we give judges more flexibility, to give shorter sentences or longer sentences, depending on the circumstances?

One example of disparity is in other states, the severity of your prison sentence for drug delivery depends upon how much illegal drug you were caught with. Two kilograms of cocaine will get you a much longer sentence than two grams of cocaine. That's not how Wa
shington state law is set up, and proponents of reform say that bigger dealers and small-timers shouldn't get the same long, one-size-fits-all sentence. Big dealers should do more time; small-timers should get less time.

Insanity defense
Here's some background on the insanity issue: Phillip Paul strangled and killed a 78-year-old woman, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity – and instead of going to prison, he went to a mental hospital and a halfway house, where he fathered a child. While in the mental hospital, he escaped twice. The first time he escaped, Paul put a sheriff's deputy in the hospital.

Earlier this year, Paul escaped from a field trip to the Spokane County Fair and was captured 200 miles away, armed with a sharp weapon and captured by the sheriff deputy who Paul put in the hospital the last time he escaped.

Under Washington state law, a defendant may plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” by asserting that they suffer from a mental illness that either 1) caused them not to know the nature or quality of the criminal act they are accused of, or 2) they did not know right from wrong while they committed it.

When a defendant asserts this defense, the judge or jury is left with only two options; finding the defendant guilty of the crime charged, resulting in prison, or “not guilty by reason of insanity,” resulting in a hospital stay as a medical patient.

Proponents of reform say other states give juries another, smarter option for dealing with people like Phillip Paul: guilty but mentally ill. People convicted under this option aren't treated like regular inmates, nor are they treated like normal, non-criminal mental patients.

Interested in listening in on the hearing? TVW will be airing it live.

Health care town hall tonight in Ballard

As the folks in the other Washington get closer to an agreement on a federal health care bill, many questions remain about the impact of federal efforts to our state programs, particularly in the face of increasing budget challenges.

36th district legislators Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Reps. Mary Lou Dickerson and Reuven Carlyle are hosting a town hall so people can speak with Senator Karen Keiser and Rep. Eileen Cody who chair the Legislature's two health care committees.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Ballard Swedish Medical Center (5300 Tallman Ave NW), Room A on the first floor. Everyone interested in health care issues is welcome!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rep. Deb Eddy does the electric slide

Powerpoint slides about electric vehicles, that is.

Today, Rep. Deb Eddy spoke to a packed room of entrepeneurs, policy leaders and others who are leading the charge in designing the next generation of automobiles.

Smart-minded and green-minded folks around the world are looking to electric vehicles (EV) as the likely mainstream choice for car consumers in the near future. There are numerous policy and technological challenges yet to be resolved, and Rep. Eddy has spent countless hours working on the policy pieces.

Last session she passed HB 1481 which sets in motion the effort to create the infrastructure needed to encourage use of electric vehicles. Rep. Eddy plans to continue working on this issue in the upcoming 2010 session.

Other speakers at the Sustainable Communities Initiative and Clean Cities Conference included former Governor Slade Gorton, Congressman Jay Inslee and former King County Executive Ron Sims. There were numerous cars and technology models on display as well.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rep. White joins with local Seattle folks for education discussion

State Rep. Scott White wanted his North Seattle constituents to really understand the funding challenges facing Washington’s schools, so he tried something new: a first-ever joint town hall with Seattle School Board Directors Sherry Carr and Peter Maier.

White’s Oct. 20 Town Hall on Education Funding let people get a complete picture of how state and local budget realities are impacting our paramount constitutional duty to fully fund basic education.

More than 40 people, including parents, teachers, PTSA leadership, the President of the Seattle Education Association and more came to Seattle’s Olympic View Elementary School to listen and speak their minds.

The lively discussion focused on how the current state budget crisis is impacting funding for K-12 and on the future of the education reforms outlined in HB 2261. One point on which everyone agreed: the state needs to do a better job of funding schools—even during recessions.

“Parents and teachers are frustrated and they have a right to be,” White said after the event. “We need to do a lot more to restore trust in the state’s commitment to fully fund our schools, and the proof has to be more dollars, not just more words.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rainy day reading list

Want some fun legislative reading to pass the time on this drizzly Friday?

Rep. Reuven Carlyle reflects on the need for transformational systems change in our state's higher education system and wonders where all the organizers for change are hiding.

Rep. Ross Hunter has the 520 bridge project on his mind and wants to know whether you think we should toll I-90 to help pay for it.

A consultant's recommendations is making headlines with their suggestion to get rid of more than 1,600 beds at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, or close a prison for the old and infirm, and more.

You've probably read lots about the legal fight to disclose the signatures of those who signed petitions for R-71 or I-1033. The Secretary of State's office is providing some interesting background on why initiative and referendum petitions should be considered public records.

The Attorney General's office is hosting lots of free shred events. Check their calendar for locations near you and read their tips for preventing identity theft.

Happy reading and happy Friday!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A hands-on look at the viaduct replacement project

The 36th District delegation of Reps. Reuven Carlyle and Mary Lou Dickerson and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles last Friday afternoon hosted the second in a series of hands-on community tours exploring the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. More than 30 community members and representatives from stakeholder groups attended the event, which focused on the central waterfront and seawall portions of the mega-project.

The three lawmakers held the tours so that the public has a baseline level of information about the project. Carlyle notes that they want an “engaged, open, transparent process” that adequately addresses the concerns of all stakeholders, from commuters and freight businesses to bicyclists, transit riders and more. Dickerson said Friday’s event “really helped people to listen to one another, which is important as we move forward.” In late July, the lawmakers held the first event, focusing on tunnel access points for NW Seattle.

Ron Paananen and Mark Bandy of WSDOT, Bob Chandler and Steve Pearce of Seattle DOT, Ron Posthuma of King County DOT, and Mike Merritt of the Port of Seattle were on hand on Friday to explain the current stage of the project and what the next steps will be. Utility relocation work has already begun, and an environmental impact assessment and soil testing are currently underway. Meanwhile, WSDOT on Sept. 15 issued a request for qualifications to contractors interested in the bored-tunnel project.

Participants met at Carlyle and Kohl-Welles’ office at the base of Queen Anne for a presentation, followed by a walking tour of several points along the waterfront to see where the proposed changes could occur.

To learn more about the viaduct replacement project, visit WSDOT’s viaduct project Web site.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Coincidence? I think not...

What do you know... One moment we're listed as one of the best states for brain health in the country. And the next, devastatingly smart.

According to the Daily Beast's new report, the Seattle-Tacoma area ranks as the 7th smartest metropolitan area in the country, thanks to a ravenous appetite for books while the sun hibernates for the winter.

As we mentioned in our previous post, DHA's Index of Brain Health might attribute our braininess to our fish-rich diets, but to that I say, if our smarts are attributed to fish, then how come fish aren't smarter?

Take that, Science.

Attention Washingtonians: You live in one of the brainiest states in the nation!

Washington state has just been named in another “best places” survey – this time, the best place for brain health.

That’s right, Washington ranks third in the nation for healthy brains, thanks to our appetite for fish, our love of reading, and our high percentage of breastfed babies. These are our brainy strengths, according to the DHA Index of Brain Health. The study evaluated the 50 U.S. States and the District of Columbia, and based its findings on 21 indicators in the areas of diet, physical health, mental health and social well-being. Only DC and Maryland topped Washington.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is required in high levels in the brain as an essential nutrient for optimal functioning (learning ability, mental development.) The more fish you eat, the more Omega 3 you will get into your system, and, theoretically, the healthier your brain will be.

The 21 categories of brain health measures include consumption of DHA-fortified foods, supplements and fish, breastfeeding rates, amount of sleep, smoking rates, Alzheimer’s disease prevalence, religious, spiritual and community involvement and education state rankings.

To learn more and to see how other states ranked, go here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Photos from Rep. Eddy's community forum on 520 project

With so much in the news about the SR 520 floating bridge project, Rep. Deb Eddy has been fielding a growing number of questions from constituents. Last night she hosted and facilitated a community forum so Eastsiders could get an update on the project and speak with local political leaders and project staff from the state Department of Transportation.

WSDOT presented an overview of the project and Rep. Eddy talked about the political landscape related to decisions such as the design for the west side of the bridge and how to fully fund the project.

About sixty Eastside residents showed up, including Rep. Judy Clibborn, chair of the House Transportation Committee. Eddy's fellow legislators from the 48th legislative district, Senator Rodney Tom and Rep. Ross Hunter, also participated.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The train in Spain...

Last month, Rep. Marko Liias experienced life in the fast lane in Spain. That is, the high-speed train lane. As a guest of the Spanish Institute of Foreign Trade, Liias was invited to visit the new Spanish high-speed rail system - one of the fastest in the world - which zips along at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour. He also gave a presentation to a gathering of Spanish companies on Washington's progress in establishing the Amtrak Cascades service.

As vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee, Liias takes a keen interest in anything that can move people and goods from one place to another quickly and efficiently. His itinerary included a visit to the Spanish rail system's high tech control center, and a tour of a deep bore tunnel project in the city of Barcelona. When complete, the project will connect two train stations with a tunnel that will run under the center of the city.

"I was impressed with Spain's investment in their rail system," Liias said last week in Olympia. "It's both inspiring and motivating to see how other countries tackle their transportation challenges. I also believe Washington state can be a leader in transportation innovation, and look forward to working with my colleagues on the House Transportation committee this fall."

In the photo above, Rep. Liias is pictured on a tour of a manufacturing plant operated by the Spanish rail operator RENFE. With him are state Senator Katie Sieben of Minnesota and RENFE's Alberto Gonzalez.