Washington Policy Blog

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #16

October 16, 2009 in Blog


Vanpools
are very inexpensive to operate. In between 2000 and 2007, the six regional
vanpool agencies spent $114 million to serve 837 million passenger miles. This
means operating costs were only .14 cents per mile.

Join us for 'Not Evil Just Wrong' premiere events this weekend

October 16, 2009 in Blog

On Sunday, October 18 at 5 PM, Washington Policy Center (WPC) is partnering with Irish filmmakers, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, for a free showing of the film “Not Evil Just Wrong.”

“Not Evil Just Wrong” is a feature-length documentary which takes on the global warming alarmism and highlights errors in former Vice-President Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.” This event is being coordinated with the filmmakers and hundreds of other groups nationwide to qualify this event for the World Record Premiere.

Last April WPC hosted an advanced viewing of the film with the producers of the film, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.  The event was held at Rachel Carson Elementary School in Sammamish with an audience of more than 200.  “Not Evil Just Wrong” looks at global warming hysteria, highlighting things such as the high cost of the ban on DDT and the millions in Africa and Asia who have died from malaria as a result.  The film is an excellent commentary about the costs of thoughtless and politically-driven environmentalism.

This Sunday audiences will be able to attend premiere events at the following locations:
· University of Washington, Sieg Hall 134
· Washington State University, TODD 216
· Eastern Washington University, Patterson 103
· Central Washington University, SURC Theater 210
· Gonzaga University, Jundt Auditorium 006
· Pacific Lutheran University, University Center (The Cave)
· Seattle University, Admin 307
· North Bellevue Community Center, 4063 148th Ave NE, Bellevue

For more information regarding the film or premiere locations events please visit http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/noteviljustwrong/index.html.

GAO: Nation's long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable

October 15, 2009 in Blog

The U.S. Government Accountability Office today released its Fall update on The Federal Government's Long-Term Fiscal Outlook. The prognosis is grim unless our elected officials in D.C. take action soon. From the report:

Weaknesses in the economy and financial markets—and the government’s response to them—have contributed to near-term increases in federal deficits, which reached a record level in fiscal year 2009. While a lot of attention has been given to the recent fiscal deterioration, the federal government faces even larger fiscal challenges that will persist long after the return of financial stability and economic growth. GAO’s simulations continue to show escalating levels of debt that illustrate that the long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable. In little over 10 years, debt held by the public as a percent of GDP un!
der our Alternative simulation is projected to exceed the historical high reached in the aftermath of World War II and grow at a steady rate thereafter . . .

Another way to measure the long-term fiscal challenge is the fiscal gap. The fiscal gap is the size of action needed—in terms of tax increases, spending reductions, or some combination of the two—for debt as a share of GDP to equal today’s ratio at the end of a certain period, such as 75 years. For example, under our Alternative simulation, the fiscal gap is 8.5 percent of GDP (or more than $62 trillion in present value dollars). This means that revenue would have to increase by about 47 percent or noninterest spending would have to be reduced by 33 percent on average over the next 75 years to keep debt at the end of the period from exceeding its level at the beginning of 2009 (40.8 percent of GDP).

Policymakers could phase in the policy changes so that the tax increases or spending cuts wou!
ld grow over time and allow people to adjust. However, the lon!
ger action to deal with the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook is delayed, the greater the risk that the eventual changes will be disruptive and destabilizing. Under our Alternative simulation, waiting even 10 years would require a revenue increase of about 58 percent, a noninterest spending cut of about 39 percent, or some combination of the two.

Perhaps it is time to bring back consideration of a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals orders release of R-71 petitions

October 15, 2009 in Blog

The Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court has ruled for Secretary of State Sam Reed in the dispute whether or not to release the R-71 petitions in response to a public records request. Here is the Court's order

The court, after consideration of the record and briefs of the parties, and oral argument, has determined that the district court’s Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction (the “Preliminary Injunction Order”), filed September 10, 2009, relies on an incorrect legal standard and, therefore, must be reversed.

It is therefore ordered:

1. Appellants’ motion for a stay pending ap!
peal is granted and the Preliminary Injunction Order is hereby stayed, effective immediately, pending final resolution of these appeals.

2. An opinion setting forth the reasons for the court’s reversal of the Preliminary Injunction Order shall be issued expeditiously and in due course.

This decision should mean there will be quick resolution to yesterday's ruling in Thurston County Superior Court granting a temporary restraining order against Sam Reed concerning compliance with a public records request for copies of past initiative petitions.

Supreme Court rules judiciary not subject to public records act

October 15, 2009 in Blog

In a 7-2 ruling this morning (includes one concurring opinion), the state Supreme Court declared that judicial records are not subject to disclosure under the public records act. Writing for the majority, Justice Susan Owens said:

This court previously held that the PRA does not apply to the judiciary and the legislature acquiesced to that decision by not modifying the PRA. We see no reason to violate the doctrine of stare decisis here. The trial court correctly held that the PRA does not require the City to release the judicial records requested by Koenig, and we affirm.

Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Justice Debra Stephens dissented saying:

="blockquote" style="margin-left: 40px;">In the end, I believe we do a disservice to interpret the PRA, a broad mandate for open government, to exempt entirely the judicial branch of government. Nast is not stare decisis on this question, and courts plainly meet the statutory definition of “agency” in RCW 42.56.010. It seems to me the PRA speaks for itself:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy and to assure that the public interest will be fully protected. In the event o!
f conflict between the provisions of this chapter and any othe!
r act, the provisions of this chapter shall govern.

Based on today's decision it is now up to the Legislature to overturn this court carved exemption from open government and amend the law to explicitly say the third branch of government (judiciary) is subject to the same disclosure requirements as the other two (executive and legislative).

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #15

October 15, 2009 in Blog


In
the seven years between 2000 and 2007, the six vanpool agencies in the Puget
Sound area spent $50 million in capital infrastructure. This is 18 times less
than the same six bus agencies, 12 times less than Sound Transit’s Express bus
system and 20 times less than the Sounder Commuter Rail.

A Noble Solution to the Tragedy of the Commons

October 14, 2009 in Blog

Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. Like the prizes for chemistry and physics, the economics laureates are selected by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Her work focuses on solutions to what is known as the "tragedy of the commons," where the lack of clear property rights leads to unsustainable environmental practices. The most clear example is that of fisheries which become over-fished because nobody has an incentive to leave fish behind for next year because those fish will simply be caught by a competitor.

The Academy of Sciences, writes this about her work finding ways to solve this problem effectively:

...active participation of users in creating and enforcing rules appears to be essential. Rules that are imposed from the outside or unilaterally dictated by powerful insiders have less legitimacy and are more likely to be violated. Likewise, monitoring and enforcement work better when conducted by insiders than by outsiders. These principles are in stark contrast to the common view that monitoring and sanctioning are the responsibility of the state and should be conducted by public employees.

Her work is both theoretical and empirical, citing examples of non-governmental environmental solutions across the world and explaining how those structures work. It is more evidence that even as government tells us that we can't do it without them, creative people working together often find a way.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #14

October 14, 2009 in Blog

Puget
Sound area vanpools are 2½ times more efficient than Sound Transit’s Express
bus program.

WPC reaches Arkansas

October 14, 2009 in Blog

Arkansas State Representative Mark Martin has adapted our 5 Principles to a Responsible Transportation Policy to fit his state. You can read his blog here: Off the Marble

Notice how easy it was for him to transition our material to fit Arkansas. It shows how pervasive the problems in transportation planning have become.

Oklahoma looking at offloading workers' comp agency

October 13, 2009 in Blog

Last week, Forbes published yet another case of a state government debating whether or not to ditch its state-run industrial insurance system in favor of more private competition. (Read about West Virginia's effort here)

Oklahoma's CompSource, a nonprofit insurer that receives heavy state and federal tax breaks based upon its status as a unit of the state, insures over 26,000 policyholders -- most of them engaged in dangerous industries such as oil, natural gas and construction. The Forbes article says that CompSource "specializes in small firms or those who workers have dangerous jobs in fields...which private insurers won!
't take because the chance of paying claims is too high."

However, also according to the article, CompSource "has been criticized over the years by those who believe its status as a state agency gives it an economic advantage over private insurers and that the state should not be in the business of writing insurance."

Skeptics of the sale of CompSource say that it will be a difficult process because the agency has a loss rate of nearly 100 percent, meaning there will be few buyers of a business that generates no profit.

It is not unusual for skeptics of private competition to tout "market failure" or "thin markets" or "public good" as a reason to forgo turning state assets or programs over to for-profit entities that might be able to squeeze some benefit out of the operation. The fear is often that a for-profit business will not act in the public good and will cut services or raise rates to squeeze out the m!
ost vulnerable.

But these fears are unfounded and econo!
mic reality belies their fears if there is a competitive marketplace, and it appears that Oklahoma benefits from multiple industrial insurance providers. Competitive pressure forces firms to offer better products at lower prices and keeps runaway costs in check because otherwise the companies offering the industrial insurance services will not make money.

The problem with rationalizing that government gains nothing by running an industrial insurance agency, as opposed to a for-profit entity, is that government does in fact benefit. Government, like any non-profit or for-profit business, is always interested in growing in size and influence or by generating surplus revenue to subsidize other state operations.

Case-in-point: if CompSource really is a 100 percent loss agency, that means it must rely on subsidies from other Oklahoma state agencies to make up losses in order to provide the policies. Private sector businesses, non-or-for-profit, cannot do that and m!
ust look for efficiencies or other ways to remain solvent. The benefit to taxpayers is that they are not subsidizing other workers' industrial insurance.

Sunshine Committee recommends sunset review for new records exemptions

October 13, 2009 in Blog

The state Sunshine Committee this morning unanimously adopted a recommendation that any new exemptions from public disclosure undergo a sunset review. Here is the recommendation as adopted by the Committee:

The Committee makes the following recommendations for new legislation:
1. The Legislature incorporate all existing and further exemptions into the Public Records Act by express reference.

2. The Legislature limit all future exemptions to a term of five years and be that such exemptions be examined by JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee), the Sunshine Committee, or other competent body, a year prior to their expiration on a case by case basis to determine if they merit reauthorization or should be eliminated or revised.

The recommend!
ation adopted was an amended version of this proposal first introduced on May 12:

Be it Resolved that it is the sense of this committee that all
exemptions to the Public Records Act and any statutory basis to
withhold information or records be eliminated after two years unless
specifically reauthorized by the Legislature with the exception of
those ten included in the original legislation; and that the
Legislature examine all of the eliminated exemptions individually, and
Further, that all future exemptions be limited to a term of two years
and be examined by the Legislature upon their expiration on a case by
case basis to determine if they merit reauthorization or should be
eliminated or revised.

The Committee also discussed the other recommendations from its draft report to the Legislature. Those recommendations concern:

Here is the full agenda for today's Sunshine Committee meeting.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #13

October 13, 2009 in Blog


Puget
Sound area vanpools served four times more passengers for one-seventh the cost
of Sound Transit’s Sounder Commuter Rail. King County's vanpool program alone carries more riders than Sound Transit's entire commuter rail, and for $1 billion less.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #12

October 12, 2009 in Blog


Traffic congestion in the Seattle region is predicted to double and
reach the levels of present day Los Angeles by 2030, with or without light
rail.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #11

October 11, 2009 in Blog


Sound Transit is spending more than thirty
years and nearly $40 billion to build a system that will only serve about 2.4
percent of all trips.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #10

October 10, 2009 in Blog


Despite
a global recession and unemployment rates doubling to nearly 10 percent the
following year, passenger demand in the first quarter of 2009 grew to about 1.5
million trips, a 16 percent increase from the first quarter of 2008.