Friday, May 29, 2009

Forming a more perfect South King County: SKC House Ds talk economic development

Talk of stimulating the economy with targeted investments and streamlined efficiencies has been on everyone’s mind since the economic downturn began. And it was a priority of the House Democrats during the recently concluded 2009 legislative session, who pushed through a plethora of new policies and reforms to weaken the downturn’s effect and prime the state for a recovery.

On Wednesday, a few legislators, including a couple of our very own House Ds, met with South King County leaders to recap the ’09 session and talk economic development during a meeting of the SKCEDI. City councilors, managers, ED officials, even representatives from the Port of Seattle listened as Zack Hudgins (Tukwila) and Dave Upthegrove (Des Moines) explained some of the accomplishments of the session, as well as ways to collaborate in the future.

Dave covered the massive new investments in Transportation passed this year totaling $7.5 billion for 2009-11, and expected to generate about 43,000 jobs at the time our economy and our families need them most.

Zack followed with a roundup of new programs, services, and regulatory reforms the state has adopted over the past few years designed to encourage economic development. Even in the context of a massive budget shortfall, Zack explained, the Legislature was still able to spur the growth of “green economy” jobs, help local governments form local-tourism promotion areas, encourage the growth of minority-owned businesses, and expand access to high-speed internet throughout the state.

Zack also mentioned he’s personally doing everything he can to stimulate the local economy, more specifically, the South King County marriage industrial complex… Zack married his sweetheart, Gabriela, earlier this month.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jacks is selected as one of only forty 2009 Henry Toll Fellows

A relatively new Vancouver lawmaker has already been tapped to join an elite group of the nation’s emerging legislative leaders.

State Rep. Jim Jacks is one of 40 state leaders from across the nation selected for membership in the prestigious 2009 Toll Fellows Program. The national program is sponsored by the Council of State Governments.

Named in honor of Henry Toll, a Colorado legislator who founded CSG back in 1933, the Toll Fellows Program helps develop the next generation of leaders from the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the nation’s state governments. The 2009 Toll Fellows Program will be held this September in Kentucky. The program will focus on trends analysis, policy development, media and constituent relations, and leadership and institutional changes.

“It’s a tremendous honor to represent our region and Washington state in this program,” said Jacks. “I’ll have an opportunity to learn from leaders from around the country about how they solve problems in their communities and states.”

The Clark County lawmaker was selected by a panel of state leaders on the look-out for the most-promising emerging leaders of state government. This year’s applicants included officials from all three government branches, representing 40 states and two U.S. territories. Past Toll Fellowship graduates include governors, U.S. senators and representatives, and leaders in state government. The first-term lawmaker was nominated by state Rep. Jeff Morris. He was endorsed by state Reps. Sam Hunt and Larry Springer.

Jacks is an Assistant House Majority Whip. He is also a member of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, the House Capital Budget Committee, and the House Technology, Energy & Communications Committee. A former citizen-advocate for the City of Vancouver, Jacks also served as Gov. Chris Gregoire’s representative in southwestern Washington. He established the Clark County Juvenile Court’s Victim-Offender Mediation program, and he currently works in business development for the engineering, surveying and planning firm of MacKay & Sposito.

Having joined 146 colleagues in wrapping up the 2009 legislative session back in April, Jacks is glad to be back home from the state capital these days in America’s Vancouver.

Funding colleges based on degree completion?

USA Today takes an interesting look at numerous attempts throughout the country to shift the way states provide funding for public colleges and universities.

As states grapple with budget challenges and making consequent cuts in higher ed, some states are experimenting with ways of basing funding on degrees completed (or some other desired outcome) rather than the more common calculation based on number of students enrolled at a school.

The intent is to move to a results-based system that rewards colleges for meeting certain goals such as graduating students in a timely manner, producing more degrees in certain fields, etc.

According to USA Today the results are mixed:
Ohio and Indiana are targeting degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

Missouri's department of higher education has proposed a plan to finance schools based on how students in allied health and other fields fare on state licensing exams.

Washington state's board of community and technical colleges plans to reward schools when students cross certain hurdles, such as completing 15 credits and passing math, along the way toward earning a credential.

Some early adopters, such as Florida, have seen results. From 1997 to 2007, Florida's community-college completion rates shot up 43% while enrollments rose 18%.

Even so, of 26 states that enacted performance funding since 1979, about a dozen, including Illinois and South Carolina, have abandoned it, says researcher Kevin Dougherty of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.

The Washington program mentioned in the article is the Student Achievement Initiative. It was adopted in 2006 and is aimed at helping colleges increase student success in one of the four Achievement measures:
  • Building towards college level skills (basic skills gains, passing precollege writing or math)
  • First year retention (earning 15 then 30 college level credits)
  • Completing college level math (passing math courses required for either technical or academic associate degrees)
  • Completions (degrees, certificates, apprenticeship training)
The program is still relatively young and samples of early analysis can be found here. Given Washington's own challenges in funding our higher ed system, this is an interesting new way of driving dollars to our public colleges.

It's certainly a trend to keep an eye on. As pointed out here:

President Obama set a national goal that the United States would have the highest percentage of postsecondary degree holders in the world by the year 2020. And the feds are looking to invest $2.5 billion into efforts to boost college completion rates. If we are going to hit those goals, we need to turn out significantly more college graduates.
With states experiencing mixed levels of success, we'll see how this new model plays out here in Washington.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To toll or not to toll?

That was the question for the Joint Transportation Committee which is meeting this afternoon in Olympia.

Tolling was an intense topic of the recent debate about 520 and I-90. But the tolling issue extends far beyond this one corridor.

As reported by Niki Sullivan of TVW:
The state is commissioning a study on tolling — how it should work, how much it will cost to implement, etc. — that is scheduled to be done in July.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the Transportation Committee, just said the study needs to be broad. This isn’t just about I-90 tolling, she said, but about how the state should and will implement tolling across the state, like the Columbia Crossing in the south.

Surprised? Lawmakers have talked about the future need of tolling since signing the transportation budget, which called for early tolling on I-90. Supporters say that it will allow the project to be built sooner and with less debt.

As for the Portland-Vancouver connection, at the beginning of today’s conversation, Vancouver Rep. Jim Moeller specifically requested that Columbia Crossing be a part of the conversation for the sake of fairness and continuity.
Crosscut recently posted an excellent overview of some of the other tolling-related legislation and policy discussions taking place, including a broader look at how HOT lanes and variable tolling might help (or not) the two main problems facing our transportation agencies: congestion and revenue.

The Joint Transportation Committee's tolling report is due in July. We'll post details when they're available.

UPDATE: Seattle PostGlobe has a good follow-up piece featuring comments from House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn.