Thursday, December 29, 2011

Disparity: Mainstream Washington women mainly treading water in wages

Call it the Evergreen Ceiling. Maybe that’s an appropriate and awfully unfortunate new Washington sobriquet -- what with our ranking 41st nationally in the wage disparity between women and men.

So reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to this recent "Disparity in wages puts Washington at No. 41" article in the Spokesman-Review newspaper.  Here’s the specific, state-by-state table on the bureau’s website.

That's right. By a good many measures, the Evergreen State justly prides itself on the accomplishments of citizens who make up more than half of its population:
  • Women U.S. senators? Check.
  • Woman governor? Check.
  • Woman Chief Justice of state Supreme Court? Check.
  • Woman majority leader in state Senate? Check.
  • Women significant percentages in both state legislative chambers? Check.

But when it comes to wages for average working women, that's another story. Consider that in 2010 women totaled 938,000 and men 1,255,000 of the state's workforce of 2,193,000.

Washington women working full time earned $748 a week in 2010, which is 76.5 percent of the $978 that the men here took home every week. On average, U.S. women earned $669 a week, which is 81.2 percent of the median weekly wage of $824 for men.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map…

With only a few days to spare, the Washington State Redistricting Commission released its draft proposal for new congressional district boundaries Dec. 28. Due to population growth between 2000 and 2010, the state earned an additional representative in Congress, so the commission had to carve out a new 10th district.

The commission must adopt plans for Congress and the state Legislature by Jan. 1, or the state Supreme Court takes over those tasks. You can follow the commission’s progress and view more maps on its web site.

The next commission meeting will be covered live by TVW on Thursday, December 29 at 10:30 a.m. Check your local listings or click here to watch the hearing.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

For whom the toll bills

Before the sun rises over Lake Washington tomorrow – in fact, nearly three hours before the sun struggles to shine through the clouds and rain – the first toll will be collected on a car crossing the state Route 520 bridge. 
Although “collected” may not be quite the right word: For a driver who has purchased a “Good to Go!” pass and installed the sticker on his or her vehicle, the toll will be deducted automatically from the prepaid account; otherwise, a camera will record the vehicle’s license plate and send the owner a (higher) bill. 
Visit the Washington state Department of Transportation web site for more information, or the WSDOT blog for the answers to 10 frequently-asked questions about tolling.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Photo: WSDOT

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy holidays from the House Democrats

Snow on capitol campus, Feb. 2011
Expect light blogging from us over the next week as we try to get in as much quality time with our loved ones as we can before returning to our legislative duties in the New Year. 
Although things are fairly quiet around here these days, there is still activity taking place behind the scenes.  The special session adjourned on December 14, but House budget writers have continued to work on an agreement to close the remaining shortfall in the state budget.  Also, bills for the 2012 Session (which begins January 9) are being prefiled this month.  The coming weeks will bring much debate about how best to move our state forward, but we are encouraged by some of the recent economic news here in Washington.
In the meantime, all of us at the House Democratic Caucus wish you and yours the joy of the season.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For some Washington schools, good nutrition pays off. Literally.

By all accounts America is getting heavier and our state is not the exception. Want proof? Just today the AP reported that our ferries are adjusting their capacity guidelines due to the fact that we’re getting bigger.  
Obesity is a problem, but so is the other end of the spectrum and, unfortunately, too many kids in America are either too heavy or too thin.

But here in Washington we’re doing something about it and our efforts have not gone unnoticed. Want proof?  The Healthier US School Challenge recently awarded 21 of our schools in five school districts (Camas, Battle Ground, Highline, Hockinson and Marysville) cash incentive awards based on how they:
  • Improve nutritional quality in food 
  • Provide nutrition education  
  • Provide physical education and opportunities for physical activity
For details on what the awards entail and to see if your school made the cut, read the press release by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Blue-ribbon board named for Probst’s Opportunity Scholarships program

The Opportunity Scholarships undertaking spearheaded by Rep. Tim Probst of Vancouver got a blue-ribbon boost Dec. 20 when Gov. Gregoire named the program’s board of directors.

The five men and two women bring to the board a distinguished record of achievement at some of the state’s leading corporations, including Boeing, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, Costco and Puget Sound Energy.

The program, designed to make college more affordable for middle-class families and approved by the Legislature earlier this year, received a major financial infusion in June when Boeing and Microsoft pledged $50 million for the scholarships.

Additional details can be found on our website here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A tale of two legislators

Rep. Fred Finn
Sen. Adam Kline
They graduated only one year apart, but state Rep. Fred Finn and state Sen. Adam Kline never met while they were both undergraduates at Johns Hopkins University in the 1960's.  It would take almost forty years for their paths to cross again, this time in the Washington State Legislature.

The two legislators - who now also count each other as friends - are featured in an article in the latest issue of Johns Hopkins' Arts & Sciences alumni magazine.  While their districts, constituencies and political philosophies differ, as well as the paths that brought them out west, both Rep. Finn and Sen. Kline agree that our state Legislature is a good place to build consensus.  In fact, we've done a pretty good job here of avoiding the gridlock that often paralyzes the other Washington.

The online version of the JHU article can be found here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Washington jobs increase again . . . and again . . . and again

It might come as a blow to some folks we know who make a living talking about “Washington’s unfriendly business climate,” but the latest data show the Evergreen State added 12,000 new private-sector jobs in November.  
And lest you think this is a fluke, November was the 14th month out of the last 15 during which job growth in the state showed a net gain. 

We’re not out of the woods yet, of course; while the overall unemployment rate dropped again last month, it still tops 8 percent.  And for an unemployed breadwinner, knowing that someone else got a job may be nice, a cause for hope . . . but that doesn’t put bread on the table.  
That’s why House Democrats are continuing efforts to help Washington’s economy return to the upward path it was on before the Great Recession threw the world into turmoil.  It’s clear these efforts are paying off, and new legislation planned for the 2012 session will continue the positive trend.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

And the winner is…

Washington wins up to $60 million in early learning grant money

UPDATE: Washington has won the full $60 million grant award.

Washington is one of nine states that will share $500 million in early learning grant money from the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.
Washington will receive up to $60 million as part of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant. The Race to the Top grant program challenged states to enact reforms that would increase access to high-quality early learning programs for children in low-income families.
Rep. Ruth Kagi, who chairs the House Early Learning & Human Services committee, heard the good news straight from Governor Gregoire this morning.
“This is truly the result of a collective effort by people across the state who have kept a focus on the importance of early learning,” Rep. Kagi said. “It started years ago with the Legislature’s creation of the Early Learning Advisory Council and Washington Learns, and is very promising for the future of education in our state.”
House Democrats championed a number of reforms that have improved early learning in Washington. These reforms, and our continued commitment to ensuring all kids are ready for school, put us in an excellent position to receive Race to the Top funding. A few of the recent reforms that helped push our application to the top are:
  • Implementing the successful WaKIDS program statewide by the 2014-15 school year. WaKids brings parents, teachers, and early learning provides together to help young children transition into public schools.
  • Developing early learning guidelines.
  • Strengthening measurement tools that track student progress from preschool to college.
  • Enhancing professional development opportunities through awards and incentives for early learning providers.
"This Early Learning Race to the Top grant is a huge win for Washington's families, schools, and communities," said Rep. Marcie Maxwell, Deputy Majority Leader for Education & Opportunity. "Quality preschool and full day kindergarten experiences are the smartest program and dollar investments we can make."

For more information about Washington’s Early Learning Plan, click here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cow power: Clean energy and money for farmers

How can you turn a nasty, expensive problem into a huge winner?

Local dairy farmers spend tons of time, energy and money cleaning up the manure generated by their cows. It’s a hazard to human health and the environment if you do it wrong, and it’s just plain costly when you do it right.
But as this KIRO 7 story shows, you can turn cow pies into cow power.

Photo: KIRO TV
Dairy farmer Brian DeGroot told KIRO 7 he spent up to $3,000 a month disposing of all the manure produced by his dairy cows. Even a single dairy cow can produce a heck of a lot of that stuff.

What a feat of human ingenuity. A giant, stinky problem will now be transformed into clean energy and cash.

This is an amazing story of creativity. It’s a win for farmers, a win for jobs and a win for the environment.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Legislature adjourns for the year

The 2011 second special session of the legislature has adjourned sine die as of around 4:00 p.m. this afternoon.

During the 17-day session, legislators made progress towards closing a projected $2 billion shortfall in the state operating budget.  A "down payment" of nearly $500 million in cuts and savings was agreed upon by both the House and Senate earlier this week, and both chambers passed the measure.

There is clearly more to be done, but this is an important step forward. Budget writers will continue to work on an agreement to close the remaining shortfall clear through to the regular session slated to begin January 9.

Additionally, legislators passed a handful of other bills during this special session that will help Washingtonians affected by the tough economy.  One measure will help military families who relocate to our state by allowing for expedited professional licensing of military spouses.  This will enable qualified people to enter our workforce, and support our active-duty servicemen and -women by ensuring that their spouses can more easily find employment in our state.  Another bill makes an important technical fix to last year's Foreclosure Fairness Act in order to ensure that homeowners and financial institutions will continue to have access to required mediation services.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Leading planners name Springer “2011 Legislator of the Year”

Rep. Larry Springer
The future is now.  No one knows better than the American Planning Association (APA)  that our future depends on what our leaders do today.  That’s why the HDC is proud that the Washington Chapter of the APA recently named Rep. Larry Springer as its “2011 Legislator of the Year.”
As announced in the Redmond Reporter and other news outlets, Springer was honored for his leadership on new laws that help local communities save tax dollars and plan for better futures.
The award announcement especially highlighted Springer’s leadership for the homeless and for cost-effective reforms that help local governments maintain parks and facilities, undertake annexations, conserve open space, and build infrastructure for jobs and economic development. 
Jill Sterret, President of the APA Washington Chapter, put it this way, “As a former mayor of Kirkland, well known for its good planning, his long record of public service shows his understanding of and commitment to the principles of good planning.”
The APA’s Legislator of the Year award is a good reminder that Larry Springer not only serves the 45th District, he helps businesses, workers and communities across our entire state in his role as Deputy Majority Leader for Jobs & Economic Development in the people’s House.
Congratulations, Larry Springer!

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Washingtonians are recycling more than ever

The Washington State Department of Ecology announced in a press release today that our state’s recycling rate increased to 49 percent last year – its highest rate ever.  In fact, that puts us within reach of the 50 percent goal set by the legislature in 1989 (the nationwide average was 34 percent in 2010).
In recent years, legislators have passed bills promoting more participation in recycling among local jurisdictions and within state government, and expanding the types of materials that can be recycled in our state.  For example, in 2009 a bill that moved all state agencies toward using 100 percent recycled paper was signed into law. The following year, a product stewardship program for recycling mercury light bulbs cleared the legislature, as well as a bill to give local governments more flexibility to encourage recycling and meet waste-reduction goals in their communities.  It is hoped that these measures can help push our state to the 50 percent – or higher – mark.
Ecology maintains an excellent consumer website with recycling resources and information.  It also staffs a toll-free hotline (1-800-RECYCLE) Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. to provide people with information about where to recycle particular items or where the closest recycling facility is located.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Boeing/Machinists deal is a big deal for Washington’s credit rating

The good news just keeps pouring in! Over the past few weeks we’ve learned that:
All of these are evidence that our economy—while still struggling, is recovering slowly but surely.
After hearing back in August that Standard & Poor’s had downgraded our nation’s credit rating, we are proud to hear that our state’s credit rating is in good shape, according to Nicole Johnson, Moody's Investor Service Senior Vice President.
Photo:  Machinists News Blog
In her report dated December 12, Johnson stated that the deal between Boeing Company and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union, which secures thousands of jobs and provides union members a bonus that could boost sales tax collections, is credit positive for Washington state.
Moody’s rating for Washington is Aa1, which is defined here as “Obligations rated Aa are judged to be of high quality and are subject to very low credit risk. The modifier 1 indicates that the obligation ranks in the higher end of its generic rating category.”
The newly ratified contract will enhance economic stability throughout the entire state. Johnson’s report highlights that the manufacturing sector in Washington accounts for 9.3% of all private sector jobs, and that, of those, the ones that include Boeing machinists are a substantially bigger part of the state’s economy: the durable goods manufacturing component that includes aerospace is 71.4% of all Washington manufacturing jobs compared to 61.3% nationwide.
Also worth noting is that Washington has regained the 5,000 Boeing aerospace jobs that were lost during the recession and the sector is expected to grow as the company increases production (to fill these orders and  these, and these) over the next several years.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Aerospace jobs are well-paying, with an average hourly wage of $37.57 compared to $23.32 for all manufacturing workers. In Washington, Johnson states in her comment, spending from those high wages have a multiplier effect that contributes to the overall strength of our state’s economy.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Budget down-payment clears House this evening

By a vote of 86-8, the House of Representatives took the first big bite out of the budget deficit today with the approval of HB 2058.  The measure now heads to the Senate for approval there.

More information on the plan is available here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wanted: Energetic and enthusiastic students to serve as legislative pages

House pages Myah Dawkins and Ty'zhuan Lewis
serving as flag bearers
The House and Senate are now accepting applications for the Legislative Page Program. Due to limited space, interested students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.
While spending a week in Olympia, pages receive a hands-on and interactive civics lesson at the state legislature. Pages perform a wide variety of tasks such as presenting the colors, running messages, and during debates on the House and Senate floors. Students also spend a few hours a day learning about state government in the page school.
“I really encourage students and their parents to consider this,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist. “This is a great way for school-room study of history and democracy to come alive.  Our pages really enjoy this week in the House.”
To serve as a legislative page, a public, private, or home school student must: 
  • Have permission from a parent or guardian
  • Have permission from school
  • Be sponsored by a current member of the House of Representatives or Senate
  • Be at least 14 years of age and not have reached his or her 17th birthday
Click here and here to watch videos about the legislative page program.
Additional information about the House page program can be found here. Click here to visit the Senate Page Program website.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Calling all 45th District residents…

Feeling a bit disconnected from your state legislature these days?  Wish you could talk directly with your state representative?
Well, if you live in the 45th Legislative District, you’ll be able to participate in a live telephone town hall with state Rep. Roger Goodman tomorrow evening.
Rep. Goodman will be calling households in his district at about 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 14.  To participate in the live town hall, simply stay on the line when you get the call.
During the hour-long event, participants will have the opportunity to ask Rep. Goodman questions and speak directly with him.
Telephone town halls are another way for legislators to communicate with and receive feedback from their constituents.  While they are not a replacement for live town halls in the district, they do provide a way for more people to participate.  In fact, over 6000 constituents participated last month in a telephone town hall hosted by Rep. Ross Hunter in the neighboring 48th Legislative District.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

House Democrats welcome Rep. Pollet!

Rep. Gerry Pollet
Last week a new face joined the House Democratic Caucus: Rep. Gerry Pollet. Rep. Pollet was appointed to the House of Representatives by the King County Council, following Rep. David Frockt’s appointment to the Senate and the untimely death of our colleague and friend Sen. Scott White.
A thirty-year resident of Seattle, Gerry is Executive Director and co-founder of Heart of America Northwest, a 16,000 member organization dedicated to environmental clean-up. Gerry also teaches at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health.
Gerry arrived in Olympia just hours after being sworn in by the King County Council, and has been busy getting up-to-speed with special session.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

House boosts Kittitas County solar project

A bill to give a financial lift to a major solar power project near Cle Elum won easy approval in the House Monday.
The bill, by Rep. Deb Eddy of Kirkland, doubles the renewable energy credits for power from the Teanaway Solar Reserve. That should significantly help backers obtain construction financing for the project, which will create jobs in Kittitas County.
“The entire electrical system is in the midst of a transformation,” Eddy said.  “The introduction of wind power into our grid was only the beginning.  The Teanaway project will bring utility-scale solar generation into the Washington mix, helping raise the profile of this renewable.”
The 80-9 vote for HB1365 sends the measure to the Senate. A similar Eddy bill cleared the House in the 2011 regular session but died in the Senate, as discussed in a June article in The Daily Record in Ellensburg.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Budget hearing at 3:30 today

A bipartisan plan to close nearly one-fourth of the projected $2 billion state budget gap was set for a hearing Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee.
The bill, by Chair Ross Hunter of Medina, spells out $480 million in cuts and savings in the 2011-13 biennial budget, which was initially adopted by the Legislature last spring. Since then, the economy’s sluggish growth has resulted in official forecasts that revenues will fall $2 billion short of what’s outlined in the budget, plus necessary reserves.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Boating association honors Upthegrove for championing copper paint phaseout

Applying copper-based biocides to the underside of boats and other marine vessels helps keep the growth of algae and barnacles in check. But these “anti-fouling” paints  leach copper into our waterways that is toxic to aquatic life, and are extremely costly for boatyards to clean up.
That’s why lawmakers passed a bill last session to begin transitioning away from copper-based anti-fouling paints to other effective but less toxic alternatives.  The bill was a great example of the business and environmental communities coming together in order to protect Washington’s “Evergreen Legacy” – in this case, our precious waterways and marine life - as well as our small businesses.
Yesterday, the Northwest Marine Trade Association – which represents 640 small businesses across Washington – gave its “Legislator of the Year” award to Rep. Dave Upthegrove for his leadership on the bill.  Rep. Upthegrove was the bill's House sponsor, and as chairman of the Environment committee helped ensure its smooth passage.  In his acceptance speech to the NMTA, Rep. Upthegrove noted that Puget Sound has played a large role in his life going all the way back to his childhood, when he and his brother would play at Seahurst Beach in Burien.  His district is also home to boatyards that benefit from cleaner, safer marine vessel paints.
You can read the press release about his award here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

The jobs are coming; now we need the workers

Thousands of Boeing jobs will stay in Washington thanks to a deal struck by Boeing and union leaders last week, then ratified by workers on Wednesday.  It’s an exciting development for the state, as the 737 MAX orders have piled up to 700 airplanes already.  Some big orders and more reasons to celebrate might also be in the works.

With all those good jobs staying and coming into the state, House Democrats want to ensure they are filled by Washington workers.  So we are moving quickly to help train workers for aerospace jobs now and in the future.  Within the next week, we will hear these bills:
  • Provide $1M for the Aerospace Training Student Loan Program The loan program was created to break down financial barriers for workers to receive training for aerospace jobs.  With this investment, loans will train workers for jobs ready now, then be paid back into the fund to keep connecting workers with jobs.
  • Establish Aerospace Training Pathways in Middle and High School Building on the last year’s Launch Year legislation, this will encourage school districts to adopt Project Lead the Way, an innovative Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum, that can combine with aerospace technical courses. 
  • Strengthen Teacher Math and Science Standards More rigorous math and science standards for students entering teacher preparation programs will be set by the Professional Educator Standards Board.
  • Give Higher Education Credit Equivalencies Just as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses in high school become college credit, Project Lead the Way courses would have credit equivalencies at our community, technical and four-year universities. 
Here is a press release with more information.

To read this blog in Spanish, click here.

Helping veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries

Our veterans don't simply put their lives on hold for our country. In many cases, these men and women who volunteered to stand in harm's way for us put their very lives on the line
Tragically and all too often, however, a huge need goes unanswered for some of these injured warriors now struggling mightily to endure traumatic brain injuries (TBI). 

These injuries are very difficult to treat and manage because afflicted individuals might actually feel some kind of normal on the inside. And yet, they have to work terribly hard carving out a new life and overcoming severely curtailed physical abilities on the outside.
Aimed at strengthening services for combat veterans as well as other people enduring TBI is House Bill 1614, which was passed and signed into law earlier this year. 
The Washington TBI Strategic Partnership Advisory Council is working with the Department of Social and Health Services to develop and monitor a statewide, comprehensive plan addressing the needs of TBI patients.
A recent Seattle Weekly article -- "VA Staffers Say They Can't Meet Demand for Soldiers' Mental Health Care" (Dec. 8, 2011) -- reveals a dreadful canyon, the vast ravine between services needed and services received. The Obama administration notes that more than 30,000 troops will be coming home from Afghanistan by the end of next year. 
That's wonderful news in anybody's book, and especially wonderful when joined up with thousands of their comrades in arms coming home from Iraq. The huge question looms, though: Are we, and most pointedly, is the Veterans Administration prepared for the enormous and inevitable population of trauma and PTSD cases?

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hunter’s school funding reform draws notice

Ross Hunter has rolled out his sweeping proposal to reform the school levy equalization program in a couple of settings, and it’s beginning to attract media attention
He went public with it Nov. 19 in a speech to the Washington State School Directors’ Association, and the Ways and Means Committee he chairs held a work session on the concept Dec. 7. 
Hunter’s plan would provide budgetary relief for the state without hurting school districts, and ideally tap future economic growth more effectively. So far, he has not introduced a bill incorporating the proposal.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Texting while driving: a growing danger

Quite possibly as dangerous as driving drunk
A new national report says Driving While Texting – which some experts say is as dangerous as drunk driving – went up 50 percent last year.
Some key numbers from the report, which you can read here:
  • 18 percent of drivers said they’ve sent texts or emails while driving
  •  Half of drivers aged 21 to 24 said they’ve texted while driving
  •  At any giving time, almost 1 percent of drivers are texting
According to the Associated Press story, other places in America saw reductions in this behavior by drivers after new laws were passed.
Pilot projects in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York showed a reduction after a public education campaign was coupled with police enforcement.
Driving While Texting dropped by a third in Syracuse.
It was cut by 57 percent in Hartford, Connecticut.
Here in Washington state, we responded by passing a law banning texting while driving.
It will be interesting to see how our state’s latest numbers compare to the national report.
The AP story quotes a spokesman for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, Jonathan Adkins, as saying enforcement is the best approach: "It is clear that educational messages alone aren't going to change their behavior. Rather, good laws with strong enforcement are what is needed. Many drivers won't stop texting until they fear getting a ticket. The increase shows what an uphill challenge distracted driving remains."

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

SR 520 tolling—Will you be Good To Go?

Breaking news: Tolling on the 520 bridge will start Dec. 29. Being prepared can save you money, time and peace of mind. 
Tolling the current bridge while building the new one will slash public costs and help keep future tolls low, but it will also add traffic to SR 522, I-5, I-90, and I-405 as commuters explore alternative routes. That’s why our state’s Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and local communities are making a massive effort to smooth the transition by giving travelers more tools and choices that you should you know about.

Know your tolling choices. You can always drive your vehicle across the bridge and have a bill mailed to you automatically, but having a GoodToGo! sticker will save you $1.50 each trip—and it works on every tolling facility in the state! The web page makes it easy to get a sticker and offers great tips. Be sure to check out the SR 520 Tolling Video.

Understand bargain tolling. You can get deep discounts for crossing the 520 bridge during non-peak hours. The SR 520 Toll Rates web page gives you an idea of how much you can save.

Know your transit options. Metro and Sound transit are adding nearly 130 bus trips each day to routes that go around or cross the 520 bridge. Metro’s Getting across the 520 Bridge web page offers great tools for finding transit and ride-sharing alternatives to regular tolls, including expanded Cross-lake bus routes and schedules and a handy Eastside Park and Ride Map (PDF).
Know your traffic conditions.  Drive smart and save time with up-to-the-minute traffic info from WSDOT’s Seattle Area Traffic page, or Dial 511 Travel info, and Twitter feeds.

As House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn puts it, “Knowing your choices, planning ahead, and allowing some extra time to reach your destination will go a long way toward making the transition to tolling as easy as possible.”
To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Want help selling your stuff in the rest of the world? You got it!

Our state is still facing financial challenges, but two recent announcements show Washington has a brighter future to look forward to.

Last week we heard that Boeing’s 737 MAX will be built in Renton and today we have great news for businesses that want to sell their products abroad.

Back in June of 2010, Governor Gregoire announced the Washington Export Initiative to increase the number of companies exporting their goods and services, and up the total export sales out of Washington. The state initiative complements the National Export Initiative, President Obama’s plan to double the nation’s exports by 2015. After 16 months of hard work by the Department of Commerce, the $1.6 million Export Washington program for small businesses was launched yesterday.
While small businesses make up about 95 percent of all Washington businesses, only 4 percent are currently exporting. This new program will grow that figure by helping open up international markets for about 100 Washington companies and generate $58 million in new export sales.

For more information on this program and how it can help your business, read the Department of Commerce press release.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Frank Chopp talks protests, budget, Boeing and more

TVW’s Inside Olympia sat down with House Speaker Frank Chopp to run through current state issues.  They touched on a lot, and I bet you can guess what subject Chopp is “ecstatic” about.

(Note:  If the video below doesn't play, you can also see it at this link)

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Taking the bounce out of borrowing

Because of a provision in the state constitution, the downturn in state revenues in the Great Recession also has severely crimped the legal ability of the state to borrow money – money that might be used for stimulus projects at a time when the economy could use a boost. But last week, a state commission recommended changing the constitution so the borrowing limitation isn’t tied quite so tightly to recent revenue fluctuations.
The current rule sets the state’s debt limit at a percentage of the annual average of general revenues in the previous three years.  The commission, whose membership includes Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, would calculate the average based on the previous six years, reducing the impact of busts (and booms) and making for a smoother ride from highs to lows. The commission recommended some other changes, too, designed to improve management of the state debt.

The Crosscut web site has written about the issue and the commission posted its report online.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

National Governors Association: State governments are feeling the squeeze

The National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers released a report today confirming most state legislatures are still facing difficult economic situations.

The Fall 2011 Fiscal Survey of States shows overall general fund spending by state legislatures are still at pre-recession levels. While revenues have declined, demand for core government services like education, transportation, and public safety continues to increase putting states in a difficult position.

Washington is feeling the pinch too. Despite cutting over $10.5 billion from the state’s general fund budget in the past three years, we are facing another $2 billion budget deficit.
The governor laid out two different plans to address the budget shortfall – an all-cuts budget and an alternative plan that would “buy back” some of the cuts with a temporary sales tax increase. The new revenue would restore about $411 million in cuts to education, $42 million for long-term care and developmentally disabled services, and $41 million in public safety.
The Legislature held public work sessions this week to discuss the governor’s proposals.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Election turnout up, but still low in off-year

The Washington Secretary of State reported this week that “turnout” in the Nov. 8 election came in at just under 53 percent of all registered voters (the SOS puts “turnout” in quotation marks because the election was conducted entirely by mail, a process designed in part to encourage voting).

That rate of participation was 6 percentage points higher than Secretary of State Sam Reed predicted – but it’s still, of course, barely more than half of all registered voters. And when the 1.94 million ballots cast are compared to the state’s total voting-age (18 and over)  population of 5.14 million, the participation rate drops to about 40 percent.*

Off-year elections without races for president or governor, like the one Nov. 8, yield relatively low participation rates. In the last presidential election, in 2008, turnout reached close to 85 percent – although, again, the percentage of participation among the voting-age population would be considerably lower.

*Those numbers yield a rate of under 38 percent, but the Census figures for the 18-and-over population include non-citizens not eligible to vote, so the turnout of the eligible voting-age population would be somewhat above that percentage.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The state of children in Washington state

Coach Dave Quall – former chair of Education and longtime member of the House – always asked, “Is it good for the boys and girls?”
That was his test of whether a bill should pass.
The bigger question is, “How are the boys and girls doing?”
Children’s Alliance teamed up with the Washington State Budget and Policy Center to form KIDS COUNT and to take a look at how kids in our state.
Their new report, State of Washington’s Children, is a snapshot of data about kids, including information on education, poverty and hunger.
While our state has many advantages and strengths – including the nation’s top SAT scores – the report shows that we have work to do, especially in light of the global recession:
  • One in five children do not graduate from high school
  • More than 100,000 children still lack health insurance, despite a massive statewide effort to cover every child
  • Since 2007, unemployment has doubled among working moms and dads
  • 25 percent of children aren’t getting enough food
These problems are not unique to our state. But the children affected by these problems are unique to our state, our neighborhoods and our families.

To read this blog post in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A one-stop link for services

State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and House Democrats proposed an exciting new idea in 2010—an “opportunity portal” to provide fast, efficient, one-stop access to a wide array of federal, state and local benefits that are available to Washington residents. The result was a new law and the nation-leading Washington Connection ( portal.
An important milestone was reached yesterday when Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced that City of Seattle benefits and services can now be accessed through Washington Connection. He noted that it’s the “first partnership of its kind in the nation between a state and a large city.”
Thanks to Washington Connections, Washington residents can quickly learn about and apply for services and benefits that include food assistance, medical assistance, cash, education, veterans benefits, home care services, housing assistance and more. It is safe, secure and lightning fast.
Washington Connections is the best kind of public-private partnership. Thanks to state and local leaders and great partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, children, adults and families in Washington are getting help they need in record time.
Making government work faster and better for people is a leading priority of the HDC. Washington Connections shows how that leadership is helping residents and communities throughout our great state.
Want to learn more?  Take a look at Mayor Mike McGinn's press release and the Puget Sound Business Journal article: Gates Foundation helps fund centralized city/state public assistance website.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

State reforms lead to reduced business costs in 2012

Rep. Mike Sells
Thanks in part to legislation passed by the House and Senate last year, most businesses in Washington will see not only their workers' comp premium stay steady, but also a significant drop in unemployment insurance costs.

This would be the first time since 2007 that L&I rates have not increased, saving businesses $150 million next year. It is important to remember, however, that some businesses still might see premium increases based on their recent claims history and risk class. For example, restaurants and retail stores will see a 3% drop, but construction and forest products could see a slight increase due to the injury claims.

As far as unemployment insurance costs, most employers in the state will receive a lower tax rate in 2012, and all rate classes will drop. In fact, tax rates for employers that had no layoffs in the past four years will plummet by 71 percent, to an all-time low for that rate class (side fact: 91% of employers in rate-class 1 are small businesses with fewer than 5 employees).

In total, the tax-rate reductions will equal about $207 million, in addition to the $300 million in savings sponsored by Mike Sells, Chair of the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee, and passed by the Legislature last year. "Without the actions we took last year to bring relief to business owners still struggling through an economic slump, these rate reductions wouldn't have been possible," said Sells. "This news, combined with yesterday's 737 MAX announcement, show that the recent steps we've taken, and reforms we've implemented to respond to our businesses' needs, are paying off." 

Kris Tefft, AWB general counsel and government affairs director on employment law and workers’ compensation, agrees: “Today’s announcement reflects the value of the reform measures passed in 2011, without which employers would surely have seen rate increases next year. We’ve appreciated the opportunity to make our case that this is not the time for any sort of rate increase on business,” said Tefft.

Here's a handy fact sheet and FAQs from ESD's website on the adjusted rates.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

December again brings call for halting drunken and drugged driving

It's time to underline and re-underline that tried and true "None for the road" rule in living rooms, break rooms, barrooms, and other potential imbibing rooms all across America. In unhappy fact, however, these upcoming winter holidays will likely suffer a greater than usual number of impaired motorists thoroughly terrorizing our thoroughfares -- hence December's stature as National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. Most every citizen knows the wrenching anguish of losing a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, or an acquaintance to drunken driving – or perhaps at least knows someone who has been either injured or involved in a DUI accident or arrest.
The MADD website notes that at any given hour of the day or night, two million repeat drunken drivers are driving drunk. Again.
The tragedy hit awfully close to home for one legislator this past July. A young father is gone, killed in a car accident involving a driver under the influence. The young father was a neighbor of state Rep. Roger Goodman, who has sponsored several successful anti-DUI bills in the Legislature. Goodman said that the gentleman left two kids behind and "our whole neighborhood is in trauma." He emphasized that a drunken driver should be required to pay child support for kids who've lost their parent. The Kirkland lawmaker is fine-tuning a child-support bill as part of a comprehensive anti-DUI package for consideration in the 2012 regular session beginning Jan. 9.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.