Friday, December 28, 2012

Washington's minimum wage workers are getting a raise

​On January 1, 2013, minimum wage workers in 10 states - including ours - will receive pay increases as a result of legislation.
In our state's case, the increase is 15 cents per hour, bringing the total hourly minimum wage in Washington to $9.19.
Since January 1, 1999, Washington's minimim wage workers have received annual cost-of-living adjustments thanks to Initiative 688 (with the exception of 2010, when there was no increase). This law, which the voters overwhelmingly approved by over 66 percent, requires the state Department of Labor and Industries to make yearly adjustments to the minimum wage based on the federal Consumer Price Index.
While $9.19 an hour is nearly $2.00 an hour more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, it still amounts to an annual income of less than $20,000 per year.
In other words, nobody's living large on minimum wage.
Here's a helpful chart on the history of Washington's minimum wage.
This article from Stateline talks about efforts to boost the minimum wage in other states as well as at the federal level. It also links to a 2010 study that failed to find a correlation between the kind of minimum wage increases seen in states and layoffs/job losses.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Schools – and taxpayers – save money with green building

In 2005, Washington made history: it became the first state in the nation to pass a green building law, after a big push by Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish).

That means new schools, and other buildings, funded by state taxpayers are built smart, so taxpayers pay less for electricity every month.

In 2013, the Lake Stevens School District is taking that idea even further – and saving even more money.

The school has an energy specialist, Barb Ossowski, who trains teachers and staff how to cut energy costs.

Read the full KING 5 story here: Energy conservation spares Lake Stevens School District from cuts
Rep. Hans Dunshee
Here's the key passage from the story:

Since March 2010, the district has seen a 34 percent energy reduction, which amounts to about $1.5 million in savings. Instead of going towards utility bills, that money is used going back into classrooms. 

"Keeping money in our own pockets for our school and our children and that's what we're in the business for," said Ossowski. 

The effort has funded new textbooks, an AP class and spared teacher and staff positions from being cut. 

"We're also being good stewards of the environment," she said. 

The Lake Stevens School District was recently honored by the Environmental Protection Agency with an "Energy Star Award" for its energy efficiency, one of only four in the state with that distinction. 

For more about the state's efforts on green building, click here.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Budget matters matter

Appropriations chair Ross Hunter
The Washington Budget and Policy Center thinks that the Budget Matters -- and they brought 300+ people together to talk about ways to move Washington's economy forward. Advocates, stakeholders, policy experts, and legislators participated in plenary and break-out sessions throughout the day. 
Deputy Majority Leader Marcie Maxwell
Several members of the House Democratic Caucus participated in panal discussions, including Ross Hunter, chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Marcie Maxwell, Deputy Majority Leader for Educationa nd Opportunity; Reuven Carlyle, chair of the House Finance Committee; and Laurie Jinkins, vice-chair of the House Health Care and Wellness committee.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It’s not big, it’s just…full

HDC members and staff will be taking some time off for the holidays. We’ll be stepping away from the blog and the website for a few days to be with our friends and family.

We hope you’ll be spending some quality time with your loved ones as well. Please be safe on the roads. If you haven’t already, bookmark the WSDOT page – it’s great resource for travelers.

Happy Holidays to all! And enjoy this clip from a great Christmas classic.

Testing, testing, testing......

How do we balance the need for accountability in our public schools -- in the form of standardized tests and strict graduation requirements -- with the cost that these things place on students, teachers, and school districts?  That is a question educators and legislators grapple with every session.

Washington state needs “exit” exams to ensure that every student who receives a diploma — no matter where he or she went to school — has the knowledge and skills expected of high school graduates. Students in the Class of 2012 were required to pass two exit exams. By the time this year’s 10th graders graduate, it will be five.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn recently said that he thinks that's overkill.  Rep. John McCoy, a member of the House Education Committee, agrees.  He has already introduced legislation for the 2013 session to reduce the number of student assessments -- and, thus, reduce the cost to schools. 

How much cost?  Exit exams are estimated to be $30 each. If students don’t pass one or more of these exams, the state provides other ways for students to demonstrate their abilities, such as the Collection of Evidence (COE). The COE is a portfolio of classroom work prepared by the student with instructional support from a teacher. The COE is currently $400 per student in each content area.

Here's more information on our state's testing system.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Apple Health outreach gets national notice

Just 5% of Washington's children do not currently have health care insurance -- about half the national average.  A good deal of credit for that low number goes to the extensive outreach efforts of the Apple Health for Kids program and the Washington Health Care Authority (HCA).

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS) recently recognized those efforts with a bonus of more than $12 million.  This is the fourth year in a row that the state has received extra federal money for the good work they do, according to the HCA. In all, we've gotten $59 million additional dollars to make sure our kids are healthy and have access to affordable health care insurance.

This year, 23 states received a combined $306 million for meeting enrollment and renewal targets for children who are Medicaid- and CHIP-eligible. The awards ranged from about $1.5 million for Idaho to $43 million for Colorado.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Big Bertha Blossoms and Brings Business

Photo credit: WSDOT
Back in September, the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) was boasting—with reason—about its humongous, colossal and insanely gigantic 300-foot-long, five story-tall Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). Its 57½-foot diameter front-end will make it the world's largest machine of its kind… Heck, the universe's largest!

With its own Flickr page and animated YouTube video, the only other thing this machine needed was a name.

The Department figured the best people to ask for suggestions were our very own school-aged kids (K-12), who had until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, to propose a name along with a 200-words-or-less explanation of their choice.

The contest's rules were that, in keeping with the tradition of naming TBMs, the winning name had to be female and should "have significance to Washington State heritage, life, nature, transportation or engineering."
Bertha Knight Landes, 1926 Seattle Mayor
The judges had to make their pick from more than 150 entries. Earlier this month DOT announced the winning name is BERTHA, after the first woman to lead a major American City, Bertha Knight Landes, who was mayor of Seattle in 1926.

The name Bertha was submitted by two entrants: Darryl Elves' fifth-grade class at Poulsbo Elementary School and Elijah Beerbower, a second-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Hoquiam.

The winners will be invited to Bertha's official dedication ceremony in Seattle next summer, where they will receive special t-shirts and the thrill of seeing the name they chose emblazoned on the world's largest tunnel-borer.

Bertha and her voluminous dimensions are necessary to carry out the ambitious SR 99 Tunnel Project, but workers are also necessary to pull it off. Lots of skilled workers: DOT reports that the viaduct replacement program will sustain more than 3,900 jobs at the height of construction, so there's plenty to look forward to in the near future.

In the meantime, our TBM now not only has a name but also a voice, as Bertha already opened her very own Twitter account: @BerthaDigsSR99. In her latest tweet she laments that she's not on Facebook because DOT limits her social media time.

Learn more about the SR 99 Tunnel Project,

Read this story in Spanish here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stanford takes Capital position

A much larger, and more demanding, say-so in operating the state-government steering wheel is in the works for state Rep. Derek Stanford. The House Democratic Caucus recently selected Stanford to vice-chair the crucial House Capital Budget Committee. His new responsibilities commence with the Monday morning, Jan. 14, opening gavel of the 2013 legislative session.

"I'm looking forward to helping tackle fresh challenges facing our Capital Budget Committee, as well as other matters awaiting us in Olympia," said Stanford. "This committee manages significant investment-decisions for Washington's several-billion-dollar construction budget. As you can imagine, these decisions go a long way toward shaping job-creation and economic-development policies in our King and Snohomish county communities, and in other cities and towns all across our state."

Stanford, recently re-elected to serve his second term in office, said the Capital Budget Committee looks at money-saving strategies in the construction and repair of public buildings, as well as land-acquisitions and transfers. The committee also keeps a close eye on the state's public, capital-budget dollars that are given or lent to local governments or nonprofit organizations for infrastructure, housing, and cultural and heritage facilities.

He wasn't a member of the Capital Budget Committee in his first term of office. Still, Stanford did win committee-support last year for funding to assist with a substantial construction project in the 1st Legislative District - $800,000  to help pay the bill for building a new Scriber Creek Pedestrian Bridge in Brier. The old Scriber Creek Pedestrian Bridge was damaged in the December 2007 flood. 

According to Nicole Gaudette, city planning with the City of Brier, "rebuilding the Scriber Creek Bridge will protect salmon-bearing waters, critical infrastructure, and pedestrian pathway, and the public health.  The state's partnership in funding the project is crucial to its success."

We recycle more than we throw away

The Department of Ecology announced yesterday that for the first time in the history of our state, last year we recycled 50.7 percent of our solid waste. 

In 1989, the legislature passed the "Waste Not Washington Act," which established waste reduction and source-separated recycling as the fundamental strategies for managing solid waste. It set a goal of recycling 50 percent of Washington state's waste by 1995.

Well, that didn't happen.

But 16 years later we finally made it! If you contributed to reaching this goal, you ought to be proud of yourself. 

So what does 50.7 percent mean on a per-person basis? According to Ecology's report, state residents recycled an average of 3.64 pounds of material each day, while throwing away 3.54 pounds of waste. 

That's not all the good news. It turns out that all this recycling helped the state avoid emitting 3.2 million tons of greenhouse gasses, the equivalent of keeping 1.9 million cars off the road. 

Thank you for doing your part to keep our Evergreen State... well, green! 

Read Ecology's release. Learn more about recycling in Washington state.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Governor Gregoire released her final budget today

After eight years, three biennial budgets, many supplemental and "special" budget bills, Governor Gregoire sent her final budget proposal to the Legislature this morning.  According to her press release, she addressed the looming McCleary decision this way:

A $1 billion down payment in 2013-15 -- a 12.3% increase over the current K-12 budget.  That funding would:
  • Reduce class sizes in grades K-2
  • Step-up the phase-in of full-day kindergarten programs across the state
  • Improve professional development for teachers and principals
  • Increase funding for maintenance, suupplies, and operating costs
  • Fully-fund the state's new pupil transportation funding formula
House Appropriations Committee Chair, Ross Hunter, issued this statement in response to the governor's proposal:

“I’d like to thank Governor Gregoire for the thoughtful work she’s put into this budget. Her proposal exposes the basic structural problems that will make it difficult to build an operating budget that meets the needs of Washington’s citizens and business community without changing the revenue picture.

“It also points out the big issues the Legislature will have to address this year: Medicaid expansion, educational requirements coming from the McCleary decision, and the impact of the recession on the state’s revenue picture. We have a lot of work to do to resolve these issues and create a stable platform for continued economic growth.”

Read this story in Spanish here.

The governor proposed a new ‘capital budget’ – so what is that?

You’ll hear about three budgets down at the state capitol, and yes, there’s a different between capitol with an “o” and capital with an “a.”

Today, the governor proposed operating, transportation and capital budgets for the next two years.

The operating budget is the biggest one. It’s like your family’s main checking account, how you pay the bills every month. The operating budget pays for ongoing things like health care for kids, state troopers, prisons, parks and public schools.

The transportation budget is just what you think: highways and ferries, buses and trains.

The capital budget is the one that trips people up. So what is it?

 “Capital projects” are construction projects around the state. Here’s an example: You pay the salaries of state troopers and prison guards through the operating budget, but when you need to build a prison – or an elementary school, state park or university lecture hall – it comes out of the capital budget.

One of the ways we’ve tried to maximize the number of jobs and construction projects is to focus on funding things with local and federal matching dollars. So that’s one of the reasons why the capital budget gets complicated. You can read the highlights of the governor’s proposed capital budget here.

Last year, as part of the Jobs Act passed by lawmakers, our state tried to jump-start these construction jobs by front-loading the construction projects. Instead of taking the money we usually spend and spreading the work out over many years, the idea was to create jobs in a hurry by doing all those projects at once. The Jobs Act created an estimated 20,000 jobs around the state.

The governor’s proposed capital budget would also create thousands of jobs – as would the transportation budget – but her proposal is just the first step.

Next, the House and the Senate will make their own proposed budgets, which will have public hearings in the House and the Senate, then votes in committee and on the House and Senate floor.

In the end, though, the result of the capital budget will be folks in hard hats building schools, lecture halls and parks.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Grant will help fund mental health care for foster kids

You may have missed the news when it came out last month, but with renewed national focus on mental health issues in the wake of a tragic school shooting in Connecticut last Friday, we think it's worth posting.

Our state is the recipient of a federal grant that will help fund the enhancement of mental health services for children in our foster care system.

While the amount - $639,000 - may not seem very large, every dollar goes to improving the process for identifying children in need of such services, streamlining coordination between mental health professionals and child welfare workers, and increasing our state's capacity to deliver care to those kids who need it most.

Even better, there is the possibility that the grant will expand over the next four years.

Children who enter the foster care system are at a high risk for mental health problems due to abuse, severe neglect, and the trauma of being removed from their family homes.  Identifying those children who may have a mental health disorder and getting them the services they need - the sooner, the better - greatly improves their chances for a positive outcome.

Here is the press release from the Department of Social and Health Services, and here is a brief piece the Columbian newspaper published about the award.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

We're No. 3!

And that's not bad at all, when you consider we're talking about a ranking of all 50 states in what the Seattle Times calls "a gold-standard measure of competitiveness:" the 2012 State New Economy Index compiled by The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Washington "scores high due not only to its strength in software [and] aviation, but also because of the entrepreneurial hotbed of activity that has developed in the Puget Sound region, and heavy use of digital technologies in all its sectors," the report says.
The indicators applied by the institute fall into five categories: knowledge jobs; globalization; economic dynamism; the digital economy; and innovation capacity.
The front-runner once again is Massachusetts, yet it no longer holds the big advantage over the other states that it did just two years ago, in the 2010 Index. Although Washington has slipped from second to third since 2010, the pack -- now led by Delaware -- has closed ground on the leader.
But the broader picture for the nation is not so bright, the report says:

More than three years on from the end of the Great Recession, only six states have regained employment levels enjoyed prior to the recession, and 17 states are still more than 5 percent below their pre-recession employment levels.

The culprit? The report says it's "the decline in the competitiveness of the U.S. economy in the global marketplace." The decline is reflected in a steep drop in manufaturing jobs and investment since 2000.
"For the United States to be competitive," the rerport says, "one key will be to compete more on the basis of innovation and entrepreneurship, and less on cost."

There's plenty in the full report for policymakers to think about as they allocate resources for future economic development.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Applepalooza 2012 exceeds everyone’s expectations

How ya like them apples?
We knew this year's apple crop would be big and we're no strangers to big. A couple of years ago our apple crop was massive: We hit a record 109.3 million 40-pound boxes, which had a $7 billion economic impact on the state. So yeah, when growers realized in August that this year's harvest might come close to the 2010 record despite hail damage in July, they said bring it on!
Except, after last year's farm labor shortage, which forced many to leave fruit on the trees, growers were afraid there might once again not be enough workers to pick the expected 4.3 billion (108 million 40-lb boxes) apples.
But wait, there's more.
In early November, the apple crop estimate for 2012 went up to 121.5 million boxes, clearly beating the previous record. That was huge news and a new milestone for the industry.
But wait, there's more.
This week, even Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, was taken aback when he learned the latest estimate for this year's apple crop is 129.7 million boxes!
That's an increase of 20.4 million boxes and 18.6 percent from the industry's prior record.
If anything should get credit for this jump in the last month, that would be the weather. According to Dan Kelly, assistant manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association, thanks to good weather there were more picking days, which meant more fruit could be harvested even with a shortage of pickers. He explained that fruit passed over early was picked later allowing it to grow larger in size, which also contributed to a more bountiful crop.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Moving forward on health care reform

It's full steam ahead for Washington state's health exchange after the federal government gave the Washington Healthplanfinder an O.K. earlier this week.

In order for the exchange to be up and running by 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services give conditional approval before January 1, 2013.

Our state is one of only six states to meet this deadline.

House Democrats didn't wait around for the Supreme Court to make their ruling on Obamacare. Last session, we passed legislation to ensure that we'd be ready to make health care more accessible, portable, and affordable once the ACA coverage provisions are implemented.

Our early action has paid off to the tune of more than $150 million in federal funding.

The Washington Healthplanfinder and other reforms are aimed at the largest remaining groups of people without health coverage: young adults, college students, workers at small businesses, the self-employed, and people who can't afford to buy health coverage on the individual market.

The program is designed to make it easier to compare health plans and get a better price for the coverage you want. This effort has been led by House Healthcare and Wellness Committee Chair, Rep. Eileen Cody.

A registered nurse, Rep. Cody said that, "Health coverage is one of the basics. Your family needs a home, food on the table, clothes, health care – it's just fundamental, and our goal with this legislation was to make it easier for every family, rich or poor, to get affordable health care for their loved ones."

Washingtonians with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level may qualify for premium financial assistance. Current estimates say that more than 200,000 uninsured residents will now be able to receive benefits.

For more information, visit the Washington Health Benefit Exchange website.

Read this story in Spanish here.

What it means when the governor said 'a major transportation package'

Photo: WSDOT
Gov. Chris Gregoire made news today by proposing a "major transportation package." (Here's the story: Gregoire to propose major transportation package)

What does that mean?

Let's translate that from Olympia speak to English.

Budgets -- There's a transportation budget every year, but that's different. With the usual budget, you basically keep things moving: fixing highways, running the ferries, funding the State Patrol.

Package -- A "major transportation package" is different, and doesn't happen often. The last one was in 2005, and what it does is fund all kinds of projects, big and small, that the regular transportation budget couldn't fund.

Here's what the 2005 "Nickel Package" funded and how the construction work is ramping up and ramping down.

Folks in Olympia call this The Mt. Rainier Slide, because it shows how the Nickel Package cranked up construction jobs, peaked around 2011 to 2013, then slide down back to normal.

Gov. Gregoire is making a simple point: the state population is growing, and more people are driving on the highways and using ferries, buses and trains. Unless we make plans now to get new projects rolling, there's nothing really in the pipeline after these current projects get finished, and that would mean more traffic gridlock.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Congrats to the happy couples!

House Democrats want to congratulate all the happy couples who got hitched, or are planning to get hitched, now that marriage equality is the law in Washington.

We have a slideshow with couples, families, and supporters at Seattle City Hall last Sunday. We’d like to hear your stories and see your photos as well. Send us your #MEDayWA wedding stories or photos and we may feature them on our website.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

House Dems approve committees and chairs

Rep. Judy Clibborn chairs Transportation.
Lost in the political news yesterday: the House finalized the committee structure and chairs for the 2013 session. 
Changes include dividing the Ways and Means committee into the Appropriation committee and the Finance committee, and splitting the State Government committee responsibilities into two groups.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

21st century careers emphasized in scholarships

New-century industries are clamoring like nobody's business for more graduates in the myriad fields of health care and high technology.  Washington has its work cut out in vying with other states and nations for economic growth and development in these growing - and growing and growing - arenas. So it's good news whenever word comes of stronger financial assistance for college and university students majoring either in some sort of health-care discipline, or in one of the realms of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Created a few years ago, the Washington Opportunity Scholarship program is helping these men and women who want someday to nail down one of these high-demand, big-paying careers. An item in recent Seattle Times report says that in the 2012-2013 school year, "… nearly 1,900 Washington students will get (one of these) $5,000 scholarships to pursue" STEM or health-care degrees. In fact, that amount represents five times the amount of scholarship dollars that selected college and university students have been receiving in these scholarships.

State Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, is singled out in the Times article. Hunter calls this more robust scholarship "terrific," and he goes on to say that, "the IQ of kids isn't determined by their family income - if they can imagine they can go to college, they've got more motivation." 

The scholarship is open to Washington college juniors, seniors and fifth-year students who live here in the Evergreen State, maintain at least a 2.75 GPA, and have a family-income no more than 125 percent of the median-family-income level (no more than $102,200 for a family of four). Interested citizens must send in the Federal Application for Free Student Aid. The newspaper article points out that the "application for new awards will be available on Monday, Jan. 7, and the deadline is Monday, Feb. 18. Students who currently receive the scholarship must renew by July 15." 

You can see from the maximum-income level for applicants that the Washington Opportunity Scholarships are aimed to a great and specific extent at helping students in middle-income families - folks who don't have all the money in the world but who may not qualify for financial-aid programs. These are the students who increasingly are being left with no choice but to plunge into devastating debt to pay soaring tuition tabs. 

A renewable scholarship, this financial assistance can be used for up to five years of college. Further, the Times article states that, "Most of the scholarship money comes from Microsoft and Boeing, which together have contributed $50 million. The state has contributed $5 million." 

House Democrats in the legislative session earlier this year championed additional strategies for increasing access to higher education. Senate Bill 5982 creates the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation to pursue industry-university research. The objective is creation of a stronger connection between the world's aerospace industry and our state's colleges and universities. Senate Bill 6141 emphasizes support for the continuing education and training of employees. Workers and employers can voluntarily create joint savings accounts to advance their pursuit of 21st century careers. 

When the 2013 legislative session starts in January, expect House Democrats to invest more of this same STEM and health-care educational emphasis on the education and training of students for jobs in these strong, up-and-coming industries.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What are your plans this evening?

No, we aren't asking you out for a candlelit dinner. We are, however, letting you know that tonight is the official lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree.

The Noble Fir arrived in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday and is decorated in a fashion that even Clark W. Griswold would approve of- 5,000 lights, red and green ornaments, silver bells and candy canes. The lower branches of the tree are the temporary home to stuffed animals and books that will be donated to needy families across the state. For the past 23 years, firefighters from Spokane all the way to Grays Harbor County have distributed the gifts to children who would otherwise go without.

The tree is sponsored by the Association of Washington Business, which has collected almost $300,000 in donations from members and friends since it began sponsoring the tree.

Festivities kick off at 6:00 PM with Governor Chris Gregoire and AWB Chair of the Board Doug Bayne sharing the honor of lighting the tree. Here's to hoping for no Griswold moments.

For more information, check out the AWB press release on the tree lighting.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Our schools just keep getting healthier

You may remember this HDC Advance post from a year ago reporting that 21 Washington schools had won the HealthierUS School Challenge. If you thought that was good, wait until you hear what happened this year.
The number of award-winning schools doubled.
No, not nearly doubled, not almost doubled. Exactly twice as many schools won awards this year. We must be doing something right!
Photo credit:  HUSSC
The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) is a voluntary certification initiative for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. It supports First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign by recognizing schools that are creating healthier school environments through their promotion of good nutrition and exercise. Sponsored by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, the initiative encourages all schools take a leadership role in helping students to make healthier eating and physical activity choices that will last a lifetime.
To receive any of the bronze, silver, gold and gold of distinction awards, the schools had to meet the 2012 HUSSC criteria to show that they have taken the necessary steps to improve the nutritional quality of the foods they serve, provide students with nutrition education and physical education, and opportunities for physical activity.
National recognition is great, of course, but each award also comes with a monetary prize: $500 for bronze; $1,000 for silver; $1,500 for gold; and $2,000 for gold of distinction.
Want to find out if your children's school made the mark? Here's the list of the 42 winning Washington schools.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Marriage equality is the law of the land today

Photo: Northwest News Network

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed pose for a photo after certifying the results of Referendum 74.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The way of all sheetrock

General Administration Building
The term “white elephant,” according to Wikipedia, refers to “a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.”

That may describe the General Administration Building on the edge of the capitol campus in Olympia, a 56-year-old, 284,000-square-foot, state-owned structure now housing the State Patrol headquarters, the transition office for Gov.-elect Jay Inslee and some other state agencies. Its fate was considered at a recent meeting of the Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee, which comprises Secretary of State Sam Reed, four design professionals and four legislators (including Rep. Sam Hunt).

Put simply, the building needs work: $125 million in work to bring it fully up to current standards, the committee was told. Demolition and replacement would run more than $160 million. And even just to fix leaks and keep the lights on for another year will cost $750,000, the state Department of Enterprise Services says.

The building was the subject of a recent news article in the hometown paper.

IBM Building
Meanwhile, another state-owned building of similar vintage nearby is headed for the elephant graveyard. But before it goes down for good, local firefighters will use it to practice their skills at forcing their way into buildings.

The IBM Building will then be demolished. It was most recently home to the state Employment Security Department, which moved out nearly two years ago.

The IBM Building rated a recent news article of its own.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

I-502 legalized marijuana – so what does that mean for taxpayers?

Now that voters passed Initiative 502 to legalize marijuana, what happens next?

The details about how the new law will work aren't done yet. State officials will draft rules and regulations to figure out who will grow and sell marijuana.

The bigger question, for taxpayers and budget writers, is how much legalized marijuana might mean for Washington state's economy.

As this Seattle Times post explains, there's a lot of debate about the money side, too.
The non-partisan budget people at the Office of Financial Management (OFM) – the ones who crunch all the numbers for the state budget – have done a couple of different reports about the initiative, full of numbers and charts and possibilities.

The budget folks did a fiscal report on the initiative. Click here to read it. Bottom line: by 2015, the initiative might mean $532 million or more per year in tax revenues. Of course, there are caveats, and if the federal government shuts the whole thing down, the financial impact would be zero dollars.
A second OFM report show the estimated impact to different state agencies and such. Click here to read that report.

The Times cites two private sector sources, one of which uses the OFM report to estimate the size of a national marijuana market. One expert quoted is John Gettman, a marijuana researcher from Virginia, who says Washington state's marijuana market could potentially hit $1 billion a year, which would make pot the No. 2 agricultural crop in the state. (Apples are No. 1, milk would be No. 3 and wheat would be No. 4).

To read thos story in Spanish, click here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Working together for victims of domestic violence

The Pierce County legislative delegation and county council members at the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, packing flee bags and finding ways to work together. Flee bags are backpacks full of basic essentials that women fleeing domestic violence can grab and take with them. In the very front: Rep.-elect Dawn Morrell (D-Puyallup). In the back: Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. Photo by Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma).

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Matching skilled workers with aerospace employers

This started in 1916 with one small-aircraft business and has now grown to 740 companies, which currently employ 96,900 workers.
"What is the aerospace industry in Washington state?" is correct!
With almost 100 years of experience manufacturing and assembling the best planes on Earth, it is no wonder Washington is the aerospace capital of the United States.
As of 2011, all commercial aircraft over 100 seats built in the United States are assembled and delivered right here. Yes, even with Boeing's new plant in South Carolina, 90 percent of the company's production is in Washington.
But it's not easy being the best and the largest in the field; it takes lots of highly skilled workers to get the job done well and maintain our outstanding reputation. That's where it gets tricky because thousands of aerospace workers will be retiring in the next few years. Meanwhile, production will continue increasing, which means the demand for a qualified workforce will also be higher.
The Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Materials Manufacturing, a one-stop resource hub for the industry's education and training needs, created this nifty online tool that will make it easier for aerospace companies to find skilled workers.
The website lists graduates from 18 of Washington state's community colleges, in nine aerospace-related fields, so employers can search for graduates with specific skill sets.

There is plenty of work ahead to satisfy the industry's demand, but Washington is on it. In recent years, we have taken important steps to create and expand aerospace and manufacturing training programs. In fact, just a year ago, during the December special session, the Legislature passed three measures to shore up our aerospace industry.
Want to learn more? Back in April, Mary Kaye Bredeson, director of Everett Community College's Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Materials Manufacturing, wrote this op-ed on how community colleges are helping aerospace soar.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Education a top priority for House Democrats

"Building strong families"

"Strengthen communities"

"Investing in our youth"

These are just a few of the themes emanating from today's House Democratic Caucus advance. The members are meeting to build the caucus agenda for the 2013 legislative session.

Education is the prevailing topic. House Democrats are working on several ideas that will fully fund education, reduce the high school dropout rate, close the opportunity gap, make college more affordable, and invest in workforce development and training programs that will prepare Washington residents for high-quality, family wage jobs.

The 105-day session begins January 14, 2013.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cleaner air in Tacoma

Spokane and Tacoma – two of our state's biggest cities – have both struggled at times with air quality, partly because of geography and inversion zones.
The greater Tacoma area is one of 31 places in the nation that's not in compliance with federal limits on air pollution.
Only 30 percent of that problem is caused by auto exhaust. Half of it comes from wood burning.
There's a fancy name for soot -- fine-particulate pollution – but what isn't fancy is what soot does to a human body.
When wood burns and soot goes into the air, the problems start because soot particles are especially tiny. So small that they can skip past the body's defenses and really cause trouble in our lungs and bodies.
Places with too much soot in the air, like Tacoma, have more cases of asthma. It's rough on older people, and patients suffering from any kind of serious heart or lung problem.
Fixing this is important not just for the health of people living in the greater Tacoma area, but for our quality of life and businesses.
So how can we fix this problem?
The News Tribune recently ran a story on how people are working toward a solution.
The new effort got started through a law (House Bill 2326) by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, which passed in 2012.
The tough part about fixing this problem, especially in Tacoma, is the number of older homes where the main source of heat, or the only source, is an old wood stove or fireplace.
There are modern wood stoves that burn cleaner, and there are alternative ways to heat a home that are more efficient. But even then, it's hard to make the switch.
As the story in the News Tribune shows, a solution isn't as simple as passing a law saying people can't use wood stoves anymore. For a lot of people, wood stoves are the only source of heat in their home. Those people are exempt from the law.
Instead of passing a law that simply outlawed wood stoves, Jinkins worked with citizens, community leaders and businesses on finding a way to bring cleaner air to the Tacoma area.
If people have alternative ways to heat their house, they should use them, and this law helps make that transition in the smoothest way possible.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

They're here!

It's been a landmark year for marriage equality in Washington state. In early January, Governor Chris Gregoire announced her support for same-sex marriage. Just a few weeks later, the House of Representatives approved the legislation and Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law on February 13th.
Though the change was scheduled to take effect on June 7th, 2012, opponents turned in enough signatures to put the legislation up for a public vote in November's election. In case you've been living under a rock, voters approved Referendum 74 making Washington one of the first four states in the nation to vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

The process will come full circle on December 6th when the law goes into effect.

In preparation for this change, the state Department of Health rolled out its new and much-improved marriage certificate yesterday afternoon. The new certificate makes several changes and allows for folks to identify as a bride, groom or a spouse. County auditors will now hustle to update their computer systems and issue the appropriate forms ahead of the deadline.

In case those auditors are wondering just how down to the wire they are, King County is offering a marriage equality countdown clock on their website. The website also provides helpful information and links to important documents for soon-to-be newlyweds!

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Our website gets a facelift

While the rest of the political world was in campaign mode, HDC staff was hard at work making improvements to our caucus website, Be sure to bookmark our site as it is updated several times a day during the legislative session.
Here are some of the enhancements we made over the summer:
  • Redesigned member pages - The information you're looking for is now easier to find.
  • Issue-specific news pages - Click on the sub-menus under "News" above to read the latest news on the issues you care about most.
  • Mobile-friendly - Navigation on your smartphone just got easier.
  • Sharing options - Like a story? Share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social channels with just a few clicks.
  • Press Room - Our Press Room page will be regularly updated with information for reporters during session.
Coming soon:
  • Issue-specific email alerts - Get the latest updates on the issues that matter most to you delivered to your inbox.
  • Weekly poll questions Participate in our weekly polls and let us know where you stand on legislative issues.
  • More social – In the coming weeks, we'll be launching an HDC Facebook page and Instagram account to go along with our blog and Twitter profiles.
There are a few browser-specific bugs on the new site that still need fixing. Those bugs will be resolved in the coming weeks. (The site works best with FireFox, Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer 9.)

As always, we welcome your feedback. If you have any ideas or suggestions to improve our site, let us know

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

"We're all in this together...."

The House Democratic Caucus elected the remaining members of their leadership this morning, finalizing a team that represents urban, suburban, and rural Washington. 

"After all," said Speaker Frank Chopp, "we're all in this together.  We want a team that reflects that."

Elected today were:
 Jim Moeller (Vancouver): Speaker pro tem-designate
• Tina Orwall (Des Moines): Deputy Speaker pro tem-designate
• Marcie Maxwell (Renton): Deputy Majority Leader for Education and Opportunity
• Larry Springer (Kirkland): Deputy Majority Leader for Jobs and Economic Development
• Joe Fitzgibbon (Burien): Deputy Majority Whip
 Kris Lytton (Anacortes): Deputy Majority Floor Leader

They join the core group of leaders elected a couple weeks ago.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Washington in top third of best-managed states

One of the best tax climates for biz - that's us!
Washington has landed a respectable 16th on a list of the "best-run" states.  
The management-efficiency catalogue is compiled by 24/7 Wall St., LLC, a Delaware-based financial news and opinion outfit. After they go out far and wide all over the Internet, the company's articles are rerun by many of the world's toniest websites and portals for financial info and other news. You can find these items, for instance, in AOL's DailyFinance, MarketWatch, MSN Money, Yahoo! Finance, The Huffington Post, and -- well, you get the picture. 24/7 Wall St. says it "publishes over 50 articles per day and has readers throughout North America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa." 
Each year in their work to determine these state-management standings, the folks at 24/7 Wall St. look at every state's financial health, standard of living, and government services. "The successful management of a state is difficult to measure," emphasizes 24/7 Wall St. "Factors that affect (a state's) finances and population may be the result of decisions made years ago. A state's difficulties can be caused by poor governance or by external factors, such as extreme weather."
Top benchmarks used in this state-of-the-states roundup are:
  • Debt per capita.
  • Budget.
  • Unemployment rate.
  • Median household income.
  • Percentage of population below poverty line.
Also at the 24/7 Wall St. website you can link to the firm's lists of:
A key factor in Washington's falling well out of the top 10 is our "budget shortfall equal to nearly 30 percent of our general fund in fiscal 2011 -- one of the largest (budget shortfalls) in the nation."
What shoots us up toward the top, though, is the TLC we invest in managing our pension liabilities. Pretty near every single dime of the Evergreen State's pension liabilities was funded as of fiscal 2010, a claim only three other states can better. Furthermore, and contrary to some proclamations, Washington actually possesses "one of the best tax climates for business." We are also one of the country's top exporters, with $9,463 in exports per capita last year, which is almost twice the national average of $4,752.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

"Committee Days" at the Capitol

The winter Committee Assembly Days are in full-swing this week in Olympia, and the House and Senate both have a full calendar of public meetings. Among the many things on the agenda in the House:
  • workshop on affordable housing in these tough economic times.
  • An update on the McCleary case and education funding.
  • work session on lean management in state government.  (We heard this term a lot in the governor's campaign.)
  • A work session on the Affordable Care Act.
  • A tolling update on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, SR 520 and SR 167.
  • The 2013 session budget outlook.
You can follow all the action on TVW.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Accolades for Washington state's business climate just keep on coming!

During the past few years, everyone from Forbes and U.S. News to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – not a left-leaner in the bunch, mind you – has lauded the Evergreen State as one of the nation's top spots for small businesses, big corporations, importers, exporters . . . pretty much the whole enterprise gamut.

The specific criteria vary from source to source, but common elements repeatedly show up. Among them:
  • economic and infrastructure incentives;
  • business-friendly regulatory climate;
  • healthy talent pool;
  • manageable cost of living;
  • access to recreation;
  • pristine environment; and the state's relatively low taxes.
That last item rankles folks who make political points, and sometimes careers, out of crying about Washington's "punitive" taxes, but what can you do? Facts are facts. That's why just last month, the non-partisan Tax Foundation ranked Washington sixth out of the 50 states in its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. To clear up any misconceptions, that's sixth from the top, as in, sixth-best.

Now comes a new piece of recognition, of a type and specificity that most people probably never imagined. But the fact that our largest city, Seattle, comes in fourth in a global ranking of high-growth technology startup ecosystems is quite a new-economy coup. Silicon Valley, not surprisingly, tops the list. Next in line are Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, then Seattle. And who did the Emerald City beat out? Well, pretty much everyone else. Here's a link to the entire list, but notable "ecosystems" placing down the chart include New York and Boston here in the U.S., and a long list of international tech hotbeds – London, Toronto, Paris, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Berlin and Singapore, to name a few.

To produce the comprehensive report, Startup Compass (SC) essentially put the entire world under its microscope to judge "ecosystems" on eight counts – which we'll list here verbatim, along with SC's description. They're pretty interesting. <

  • Startup Output Index: The startup output index represents the total activity of entrepreneurship in the region, controlling for population size and the maturity of startups in the region.
  • Funding Index: The funding index measures how active and how comprehensive the risk capital is in a startup ecosystem.
  • Company Performance Index: The Company Performance Index measures the total performance and performance potential of startups in a given startup ecosystem, taking into account variables such as revenue, job growth, and potential growth of companies in the startup ecosystem.
  • Mindset Index: The mindset index measures how well the population of founders in a given ecosystem thinks like a great entrepreneur, where a great entrepreneur is visionary, resilient, has a high appetite for risk, a strong work ethic and an ability to overcome the typical challenges startups face.
  • Trendsetter Index: The trendsetter index measures how quickly a startup ecosystem adopts new technologies, management processes, and business models. Where startup ecosystems that stay on the cutting edge are expected to perform better over time. There's a good chance the trendsetter index is a leading indicator of the future success of a Startup Ecosystem. The trendsetter score for example corroborates with the prevailing excitement expressed about the Berlin and Sydney Startup Ecosystems, while also aligning with the anecdotal evidence we have received about the conservative culture and slow pace of adaptation in the Chicago and Tel Aviv startup ecosystems.
  • Support Index: The support index measures the quality of the startup ecosystem's support network, including the prevalence of mentorship, service providers and types of funding sources.
  • Talent Index: The talent index basically measures how talented the founders in a given startup ecosystem are, taking into account age, education, startup experience, industry domain expertise, ability to mitigate risk and previous startup success rate.
  • Differentiation Index: The differentiation index measures how different a startup ecosystem is to Silicon Valley, taking into account the demographics and what types of companies are started there. Since Silicon Valley is the #1 ecosystem it is assumed that other ecosystems will perform better if they differentiate themselves from Silicon Valley and establish their own strengths.

Conventional wisdom says small businesses are, depending on which anatomical metaphor you prefer, either the backbone or the heart of our state's, any state's, economy. And technology startups are, at least at the beginning, small businesses. Some never go beyond that point, and many cease to exist before the ink on their new stationery is dry. But Microsoft was a startup. Amazon, too. Farther afield, there's Twitter, and Google, and Zynga, and Instagram (which was recently snapped up for $1 billion by another former startup called Facebook). These enterprises and others like them, including the ones that are just a notion in a future billionaire's brain right now, are STEM in action. They're not the only part of the new economy – we still need dry cleaners and machine shops and that great little restaurant that's going in down the street – but they're a significant part of how Washington can thrive in the 21st century.

So eat your heart out, Chicago and Melbourne and Bangalore, and good luck next year.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Curious about marriage equality?

Tina Roose and Teresa Guajardo (Photo courtesy Teresa Guajardo)

It's about to happen: many same-sex couples will tie the knot in about two weeks at the state Capitol. Tina Roose and Teresa Guajardo, who have been together for 13 years and have a big white poodle named Brooke, wanted a Capitol wedding, so they reserved the Rotunda back in February, soon after Governor Gregoire signed the bill into law.
Guajardo says they trusted the people of Washington would stand for equality and she went on planning her wedding with the certainty that Referendum 74 would pass.
It was on election night that Roose and Guajardo came up with the idea of inviting other same-sex couples to marry on the same day with them. It has turned into a great public event and, so far, 20 couples have confirmed they will say I do at the state Capitol on Saturday, December 15. Guajardo believes that number will increase between now and then.
Many other couples throughout the state are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks and months.
But as the new law goes into effect, questions have begun to pop up:
  • Can couples married in other states still marry here?
  • What do couples in domestic partnerships have to do to get married?
  • If someone got married somewhere else but then split, can he or she marry a different person in our state?
  • What about folks in civil unions from other states who are moving here?
  • Can couples who live in states that don't allow equal marriage get married here, and would it be valid?
  • Will seniors in domestic partnerships be allowed to stay in those partnerships?
  • If one of the parties is a foreigner, will equal marriage give that person legal status?
Had you thought about all of these things and are you now curious? Lucky for you, Lornet Turnbull with the Seattle Times has the answers right here.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.