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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Online sales tax windfall for state?

Just about a year ago, the state Department of Revenue pointed hopefully to the introduction in Congress of a bill that would require online retailers to collect sales taxes and funnel the revenue to their customers’ home states. The measure could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for state and local governments in Washington, the department said. Legislators, including Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina, praised the bill.
The idea is still alive – and now Gov. Gregoire is calling on Congress to approve the proposal as part of the negotiations to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
If enacted, the federal Marketplace Fairness Act could provide the state with an extra $560 million in sales-tax revenue in the 2013-15 biennium, the revenue department estimates. Local governments would take in an extra $175 million in the same period. Those amounts would increase significantly in subsequent biennia as compliance improves and online sales grow.
Washington could start collecting taxes within 90 days after a congressional OK because Washington is one of 24 states to adopt the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement. The Legislature authorized that in 2007.
The federal act would set aside a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision that excused online retailers from collecting sales taxes from customers who live in states where the retailer lacks a physical presence. Supporters of the bill say it would level the playing field for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers who must collect state and local taxes on sales in their stores.
But although the bill enjoys bipartisan support, at least one congressman from Washington state is skeptical of its chances in this year’s lame-duck session.

To read this story in Spanish, please click here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What to get the person who has everything?

Buy a Discover Pass instead!
​The holiday shopping season officially kicked off with Black Friday last week, but what do you get the person on your list who seems to have everything? Another tie? A holiday fruitcake that will be regifted for years to come?
How about a gift that will keep on giving for a full calendar year - a Discover Pass for Washington's state parks system!
Thanks to legislation passed in 2012, those who purchase a Discover Pass can now designate the "start date" for the pass. This means the recipient won't have to miss out on a single day of parks access if you buy the pass now but gift it later in December - or even later in the year.
Additionally, a Discover Pass is now valid for up to two vehicles, another 2012 tweak that made it more user-friendly.
Since 2011, a parking pass is required at all state parks. Day passes are available for $10, but the Discover Pass is $30 and good for a full year.  You do the math, but for the outdoor enthusiast it can easily pay for itself.

Discover Pass kiosk,
Saltwater State Park

Our parks system is in the process of transitioning to a self-supporting model, and pass sales play a key role in that transition. By purchasing a Discover Pass, you are helping to fund the maintenance and upkeep of the more than 100 parks statewide.
For more information about new Discover Pass flexibility and where to buy the pass, click here.

To read this story in Spanish, click here.