Friday, July 15, 2011

State government's "most significant overhaul" in 20 years begins today

This past session, legislators approved a plan to consolidate and reallocate the functions of five state agencies into three. That plan goes into effect today.

As described by the governor's press release, four agencies are going away - Department of General Administration, Department of Personnel, the State Printer and Department of Information Services. Their functions, ranging from managing the state's fleet of vehicles to providing IT support, will be merged into one of two new agencies - Department of Enterprise Services (DES) or Consolidated Technology Services.

Portions of Personnel and Information Services will be merged with the Office of Financial Management (OFM) while certain functions in OFM are transferred to the new DES.

A little confusing perhaps, but Governor Gregoire says this is the "most significant overhaul" in state government in 20 years. The transition is expected to be complete by October and save $18.3 million in 2011-13.

Read more about this and other cost-cutting reforms passed by the Legislature.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Building a better economy with state school construction

The building blocks of educational and economic success are literally being put into place. A total of 24 school districts throughout Washington will receive state funding for local construction projects, as recently announced by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

More than $313 million in capital construction dollars was made available by the Legislature for the 2011-13 biennium. Not only is this a step toward providing strong schools for our children, but also a boost in good jobs for Washington state workers.

The school districts funded this year are: Othello, Kennewick, Evergreen, Eastmont, Orient, North Franklin, Pomeroy, Warden, Seattle, Shoreline, Lake Washington, Northshore, Tacoma, Sumner, Clover Park, Bethel, Mount Vernon, Everett, Snohomish, Spokane, Cheney, Wellpinit, Meridian and Yakima.

Here is a more detailed list of funded projects for 2011. To read the full press release from OSPI, please click here.

To read this blog post in Spanish, go here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rep. Finn wraps up housing tour in Centralia

Rep. Fred Finn recently went on a tour of Housing Trust Fund facilities in and around the 35th Legislative District. These facilities, which included emergency shelters, low-income housing and farmworker housing, were all constructed with help from the Housing Trust Fund, which is part of the Capital Budget. The Trust Fund provides loans and grants for the acquisition, construction and rehabilitation of housing for low-income or at-risk populations. The facilities are often operated and managed by non-profit organizations.

On Tuesday, Rep. Finn visited two farmworker housing facilities in the city of Centralia. Although Centralia falls outside of his district, he met with affordable housing advocates at Villa los Milagros and Villa San Juan Bautista because he is also vice chair of the House Community Development & Housing committee. As part of his interim work on the committee, he is visiting various housing projects and listening to the needs and concerns of both those who run them and those who reside in them.

The availability of safe, affordable housing for farmworkers is vitally important for Washington's economy. Our state's multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry depends on the availability of labor to cultivate, harvest and process our crops and other products. Without an adequate supply of housing, farmworkers often end up living in crowded, unsafe conditons that pose health and safety risks to themselves and to the communities they live in.

But when workers have a safe place to live, everyone is better off. Besides the security and stability of the housing, activities like ESL courses and homeownership classes are often offered on site, helping residents better integrate into their communities and assisting them on the path to financial independence. Gina Morales, the property manager at Villa San Juan Bautista, said that when residents leave her facility, it's usually because they have been able to purchase their own home.

The current Capital Budget allocated $3 million over the next two years for farmworker housing within the Housing Trust Fund. In previous biennia, the Legislature has been able to set aside nearly three times as much. The Villa los Milagros project received a loan of about $1.5 million from the Trust Fund several years ago; Villa San Juan Bautista received about $1.8 million. It's easy to see that with just $3 million in the Trust Fund, it will be difficult to meet the continuing demand for affordable farmworker housing projects in our state over the next couple of years.

Photo: Rep. Finn talks with Rob van Tassell, VP of Housing and Community Development for Catholic Housing Services of Western Washington. CHS built and operates both Villa los Milagros and Villa San Juan Bautista.

To read this blog post in Spanish go here.

Dog Doogity (You Gotta Bag it Up)

We in the Pacific Northwest sure love our dogs. But we really don't like what they leave behind. And what they're leaving behind is ultimately ending up in our water.

Thankfully, the Puget Sound Partnership and the state Department of Ecology, along with a whole host of allies, are picking up the... slack. They're raising public awareness through their catchy Dog Doogity campaign on the small ways each one of us can contribute to the health of our Puget Sound. Bet you never thought you'd see a hip hop video about this...

Monday, July 11, 2011

REET Flexibility Bill—helping cities and taxpayers

State Rep. Larry Springer’s 2011 REET Flexibility Bill, aka House Bill 1953, is already at work helping cities and taxpayers—even though the bill won’t officially take effect until July 22.

A recent press release from the City of Kirkland is announcing that “Thanks to a new state law that allows flexibility in the use of existing revenue from Real Estate Excise Taxes (REET), some Kirkland parks and public works maintenance services affected by budget reductions will soon get restored.”

The REET Flexibility Bill doesn’t raise or authorize any new taxes, but it does give local communities more flexibility in how they can use existing REET collections to meet local needs. In the past, these revenues could only be used to finance the creation of new capital projects and facilities. But beginning July 22, communities can use these funds to maintain existing facilities.

The Kirkland announcement details how the Kirkland City Council will use their newly won fiscal flexibility to reopen park facilities, do needed road maintenance, and generally to “use existing REET funds to help protect our investments and our quality of life.” Similar success stories will soon be repeated in local communities across Washington.

And there is more good news coming for cities and counties: Springer also led passage of the 2011 Fiscal Relief for Cities and Counties Act (House Bill 1478), which also takes effect on July 22. The fiscal relief bill will save local governments millions of dollars by giving them more time to meet a variety of non-urgent state mandates and paperwork requirements.