Friday, April 30, 2010

House Democrats: Creating and keeping jobs in Washington

Our greatest challenge this legislative session was to adjust our budget according to the economic forecast while at the same time helping our citizens survive and bounce back stronger from this recession. While it will be a slow recovery for our nation, every major business and economic publication indicates Washington State will help lead the U.S. out of this downturn.

This is due in large part to the smart investments in and stewardship of our state and its resources. The House Democrats know real leadership means making tough choices sometimes. Choices that will, in the long run, provide the support our citizens need, and foster the entrepreneurial spirit that’s always been high here in Washington.

With that in mind, House Democrats set out to spur economic growth here in Washington by helping build the next generation of economic drivers – everything from schools, to roads, to high-tech centers and aluminum smelters.

We know that small, local businesses are the key to our economic recovery. So we took steps this session to protect those companies, even as it became necessary to increase revenues. You’ve heard a lot, for example, about the coming increase in the tax on beer. But that increase will only apply to the giant, out-of-state breweries, not our small, local ones. In fact:
  • We raised the B&O tax credit for many small businesses, helping them create new jobs.
  • We closed loopholes in the tax code that benefit out-of-state companies, helping to level the playing field for our home-grown businesses.
  • We extended the rural county sales tax deferral program until 2020 to spur manufacturing and high-tech investment all over Washington.
Check out the document below for more information about the legislation House Democrats passed this session to create an estimated 54,000+ jobs, as well as the investments in Washington’s people, businesses, and clean future that will prove those publications right.

How is managing government different from managing a business or family?

Is there any other entity that experiences dramatic increases in demand for services during a time of budget cutbacks and national economic decline?

Here's just one example: The Spring 2010 Budget Driver report for our state's higher education institutions shows that, overall, enrollment is 14% higher than what we budgeted for the 2009-10 year.

32,111 additional people are seeking education at our state's colleges and universities - many of them laid-off workers seeking to retool and retrain (note the 121% over-enrollment in retraining programs).

Despite double-digit increase in demand for services, steep declines in state revenue have meant double-digit cuts to our higher education budget. How's that for a frugal business model?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finally! A preferred option for the Westside

After more than a decade of discussion and planning efforts, the SR 520 bridge over Lake Washington emerged as this session’s biggest transportation story. With SB 6392, the Legislature gave its OK for the ready-to-go Eastside projects to proceed, as discussions continued on the Westside span.

This afternoon, WSDOT came forward with a preferred alternative design that it calls a “major milestone” in the project’s history. State Reps. Judy Clibborn and Scott White joined the press conference.

This announcement is based on a draft environmental impact assessment released in January that has since drawn hundreds of neighborhood, city and agency comments. Recurring criticisms are that the bridge’s proposed design might adversely affect the local Montlake neighborhood and doesn’t allow for sufficient transit.

WSDOT says the preferred alternative addresses these issues, noting that the bridge’s footprint and profile have been scaled back in several areas and that light rail could be accommodated at a future date. Planners made special efforts to reduce traffic and noise around the Arboretum and the Portage Bay Bridge.

Although today is indeed a project milestone, the planning process isn’t over. SB 6392 set up several state-local workgroups to take closer looks at transit and neighborhood mitigation issues and to make recommendations later this year. WSDOT will also use the next few months to settle its plans and issue a final environmental impact statement. Check out more information here or read this morning's Seattle Times story.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is higher ed's business model broken?

Our state's higher education institutions certainly took some budget hits these past two years as legislators worked out how to fill a multi-billion-dollar budget hole.

Last session, when it was clear state colleges and universities would be on the receiving end of double-digit cuts in state funding, legislators approved a temporary increase in tuition-setting authority to soften the blow.

The end result, however, was that for the first time in our state's history, colleges and universities are now more reliant on tuition revenue than state funding. The significance of such a shift can't be underestimated. Though the prospects of fully restoring funding are dim, legislators are currently discussing various tuition models that might better reflect the cost of higher education and how to pay for it.

But Washington's schools aren't the only ones facing significant declines in state support.

Earlier this week, UW's soon-to-be-ex President Mark Emmert hosted a regional meeting of higher education leaders to talk about future funding for state public research institutions, including the possibility of seeking more federal support.

Then, last night, higher education leaders from throughout the country met for a public debate, largely agreeing that the industry's business model is simply broken, and at a time when we need to boost the numbers of college graduates, we risk staying flat and falling behind other nations that are beefing up higher education investments.

The debate also displayed the sharp divides that have emerged as public schools compete with private schools for students, and two-year colleges compete with four-year universities for funding.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great recap of the debate, which will also be posted online. Clearly, tuition issues - in most states - are becoming an increasingly urgent issue in the world of higher education.