Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The first step to fixing the $5.7 billion budget problem

The $5.7 billion budget hole announced last week is what you'll hear lawmakers describe as a "three-year problem" - finding a way to balance the books for the remainder of this year, and then drafting a balanced budget for the next two years.

The first (and most urgent) step is cutting an additional $385 million from this year's budget which ends in June 2011. After September's revenue forecast, Governor Gregoire trimmed $520 million using across-the-board cuts, but last week's forecast necessitates yet another round of reductions.

When the Governor learned of the new shortfall, she asked leaders from all four corners of the Legislature (the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate) to provide a list of ideas by November 29. Yesterday, she revealed her list which includes:
  • Delay financial aid funding to 2012 for State Need college grants ($76 million)
  • Eliminate the Basic Health Program on Feb. 1 ($33.7 million)
  • Eliminate state funding for more resources for grades K-4 on Sept. 1 ($81.5 million)
  • Reduce levy equalization property-poor school districts by 6.3 percent ($18 million)
  • Eliminate the state-only food assistance program on Feb. 1 ($9.6 million)
  • Eliminate the highly capable student funds for next year ($7 million)
This $300 million+ list doesn't even touch the surface of the kinds of cuts legislators will have to make next session to bridge a $5.7 billion shortfall.

Contrary to popular cliche, this first step won't be the hardest.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snowed in?

Looking for something to do? The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is looking for feedback about the state's education reform efforts.

According to the Governor's office, OSPI is trying to identify specific steps to help us meet the four state goals laid out last June in our state's application for the Obama Administration's Race to the Top grant program:
  • Students entering kindergarten will be prepared for success in school and life;
  • Students will compete in math and science nationally and internationally;
  • Students will attain high academic standards regardless of race, ethnicity, income or gender; and
  • Students will graduate able to succeed in college, other higher training and careers.
Washington ultimately was not selected as a recipient, but reform efforts continue.

So take a few moments, see how quickly you can decipher some of the wonky survey language, and give your two cents on education reform.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hitting the road for the holidays? Look up traffic conditions, weather, closures before you go

Today’s snow is causing traffic snarls in many areas, but they probably won’t be the last this week as families hit the road all over the state for Thanksgiving. The Department of Transportation (WSDOT) estimates that traffic volumes could reach “five times the typical level” this Wednesday.

So save some stress (and probably gas, too) by visiting WSDOT’s enormously helpful website to learn about traffic patterns, weather conditions, alternative routes, best time to travel popular routes, and general winter driving tips.

And regardless of the time of year, you can always visit WSDOT's traveler information page or dial 5-1-1 for up-to-date info on accidents, congestion and more.