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.