Thursday, June 18, 2009

BusinessWeek: Greenest economic pastures in Yakima, Tri-Cities

Looking for a fresh start and don’t mind packing your bags to do it?

With the recession continuing to take its toll on families across the country, BusinessWeek magazine has some tips for people looking to kick start their lives again. After combing through the latest data and trends, the magazine recently compiled a list of the five best areas for people to successfully “start over.”

Turns out, two of the five are here in Washington. Both Yakima and the Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick and Pasco) feature robust manufacturing and food processing sectors, along with low-to-moderate home prices and several other favorable indicators.

Check out BusinessWeek for more details.

When it comes to the economy "sideways is good"

That's what Arun Raha had to say about certain trends indicating that we're nearing the end of the recession. Certain revenue streams such as the Real Estate Excise Tax are starting to move "sideways" instead of "due south" which Raha says is the first sign of recovery.

But that doesn't mean it's all good news. At today's meeting of the Economic Revenue and Forecast Council, Dr. Arun Raha shared his current analysis of the state's economy. He pointed out that there are mixed signals from the economy and acknowledged that the June forecast is weaker than his forecast from this past March. He said that consumer spending won't likely start to increase until the end of this year, and that will result in a lag on business investments, resulting in a "U-shaped recovery." Dr. Raha also predicted that unemployment numbers will continue to grow, though at a slower rate, and housing prices will continue to drop through 2010.

The bottom line: Without any action from the Governor or legislature, we're on track to be short $194.5 million by the end of the upcoming 2009-2011 biennium. That represents a pretty small number when compared to the size of the state budget and council members from the governor's office and legislature seem to think there's time to take administrative actions to address the shortfall.

Dr. Raha concluded his presentation by stressing that we'll have far more clarity about economic trends in September when the next forecast is due. "The crystal ball is not as foggy as it was in March, but it's still not entirely clear."

When asked by the Associated Press whether Democratic lawmakers see a need for a special session, Rep. Ross Hunter, who serves on the council, said that if the governor's office feels they can manage this without a special session, then he's comfortable with that. "It feels like we're hitting the bottom of the slope and I'm willing to wait a few months for more clarity on the numbers."

You can read all the details of Dr. Raha's presentation here.

New revenue forecast to be released this morning

At 10 a.m. this morning, Arun Raha, our state's chief economist, will deliver the state's latest revenue forecast.

Raha's report will shed some light on where we're heading in terms of unemployment, housing, tax collections, and more. Last month in his preliminary report, he predicted that we'd start coming out of the recession this summer. We'll see if he thinks that's still the case.

TVW will air the meeting live both online and on-air, and we'll post details when we have 'em.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What do Medicaid and the Puget Sound Partnership have in common?

Not much, actually, but they're both on the agenda for today's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee meeting starting at 10 a.m.

JLARC members oversee audits and and program evaluations to make sure agencies and programs are running efficiently and effectively.

First up is an overview of the state's Medicaid Rx "preferred drug list" created by the Department of Social and Health Services to help manage costs of the Medical Assistance program. JLARC reports that "while exact savings cannot be accurately calculated, JLARC staff found six positive indicators that suggest costs savings are likely ocurring due to use of the PDL." You can check out the summary report here.

The committee will then move on to discussions of the Puget Sound Partnership and preparations to
"conduct two performance audits (December 2011 and December 2016) which are to address: a determination of the extent funds expended to implement the Action Agenda have contributed to meeting the scientific benchmarks and goals of the Action Agenda; the efficiency and effectiveness of the Partnership’s oversight of Action Agenda implementation; and any needed improvements in the Partnership’s performance and structure."
That seems like a lot of words to essentially ask whether the Partnership is actually meeting the goals laid out in its Action Agenda.

TVW will be there to capture the excitement live for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The cold realities of warmer summers

In 2007, the Legislature passed legislation aimed at tackling climate change and encouraging more use of green energy.

The legislation, known as the Energy Freedom bill, included a provision directing the University of Washington to complete a climate change assessment and an analysis of the potential human health impacts of climate change.

The draft report has just been released and represents the most comprehensive look ever at the impacts climate change will have on our state's agriculture, human health, coasts, energy, forests, urban stormwater infrastructure, salmon and water. Some of the conclusions are particularly sobering, such as predicted increases in mortality rates due to hotter summers.

According to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which participated in the study:

The study projects that, by 2020 and into the 2080s, Washington will experience higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and lower summer water supplies. The report also details the potential economic impacts of these changes on families, businesses, and communities.
The report states:
Preparing for (or adapting to) the impacts of climate change is necessary to minimize the negative consequences of climate change in Washington State, including an increased risk for drought, forest fires, habitat loss, and heat stress. Adapting to climate change also creates opportunities to maximize the benefits of climate change, such as a longer growing season and increased winter hydropower production.
The report is intended to help guide local and state governments in making the "regulatory, legal, institutional, and cultural changes to reduce the barriers that limit building a more climate resilient Washington."

This is a good read for anyone wanting a local take on a global problem.