Washington Policy Blog

Seattle opposes PSRC's preferred Transportation 2040 alternative

November 12, 2009 in Blog

During the PSRC's Transportation Policy Board (TPB) meeting this morning, the city of Seattle expressed opposition to the Transportation 2040 plan and asked for an extra year to work out their issues. The prepared statement was read by a city representative and signed by Mayor Greg Nickels and all nine councilmembers.

Despite Seattle's protest, the TPB voted to move the preferred alternative forward and directed staff to prepare an EIS.

Another interesting factoid (and probably Seattle's reason for opposition) is the preferred Transportation 2040 alternative does not achieve the state's targets for reducing emissions or reducing how much people drive, even with PSRC's assumption of more than 160 miles of light rail.

This finding is similar to the conclusions of a new TRB study called Driving and the Built Environment, The Effect of Compact Development on Motor!

Is Plug-in Worth a Plug Nickel?

November 12, 2009 in Blog

A major part of Washington's strategy to reduce CO2 emissions is the promotion of plug-in hybrid vehicles that would run on battery power for many trips but would use a gas-powered engine when needed. It is argued that these vehicles will significantly reduce carbon emissions. A study that came across my screen today calls this into doubt.

A study advocating hydrogen vehicles includes the graph below. Of course hydrogen vehicles come out looking good. There are many problems with hydrogen vehicles that cannot be captured in this graph, notably that the cost of vehicles is high and the refelling infrastructure is nonexistent.

What interested me most is the comparison between the projections of carbon emissions between gasoline-powered hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Plug-in hybrids emit only four percent less CO2 than regular hybrids. This is a remarkably small return on investment of the state's money to build plug in stations across the state. For instance, diesel hybrids are projected to emit less CO2 than plug-in hybrids.

These numbers are national and the numbers for Washington are likely to be different because so much of our energy is carbon-free hydro and nuclear. We should remember, however, that going to plug-ins would increase demand for energy and we aren't likely to build many new dams or even nuclear power any time soon.

Plug-ins are one of those technologies politicians have latched onto in an effort to demonstrate "greenness" to the public. As is common, however, what is politically popular isn't always environmentally friendly and spending money on inferior technologies misses opportunities to make real improvements in energy efficiency.

CO2 Emissions Comparison  

Supreme Court says school funding allocation meets constitution’s ample provision requirement

November 12, 2009 in Blog

In a landmark ruling today, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the legislature’s method of funding public schools is constitutional under the “ample provision” requirement of the state constitution.

The ruling bolsters the research findings of Washington Policy Center showing that public schools receive ample funding, as the constitution requires.

  • Washington taxpayers are generous, providing $9 billion a year to educate about one million students.
  • Per student funding is $10,274 a year, the highest level in state history.
  • The average teacher salary is $72,000 in pay and benefits for a nine-month work year.  The average salary for other workers is about $42,000.
  • With the trend toward smaller families, there are proportionately fewer children in school today than in the past, with more taxpayers than ever paying into the system.
  • Local voters approve most supplemental levies, and the legislature recently enacted rules making it easier for school levies to pass.

Much of this generous funding, however, is diverted by central district offices long before it has a chance to help children in class.

  • Only 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom.
  • School principals control only 5% of their budget.
  • The majority of school district employees are not classroom teachers.
  • One third of public high school students fail to graduate.

At the same time, private schools in Washington often spend less money per student, pay their teacher less, and produce better learning outcomes for children.  The key difference is that state law authorizes private school principals to control nearly 100% of their budget, pay bonuses to retain the best teachers, fire poor-performing teachers, and hire any qualified applicant as a classroom teacher.  Giving public school principals the same authority would lead to better use of the ample funding school districts receive and would provide improved learning opportunities for all students.

Washington State a laggard in educational innovation

November 11, 2009 in Blog

According to the Leaders and Laggards report from the Center for American Progress, Washington ranks  37th in the nation in educational innovation.  Washington earned the following grades:

D in School Management

C in School Finance

B in Staffing:  Hiring and Evalution

D in Staffing: Removing Ineffective Teachers

B in Data

B in Pipeline to Postsecondary

D in Technology

PSRC Transportation 2040 plan underestimates vanpool potential

November 11, 2009 in Blog

Vnapool Currently, the Puget Sound Regional Council's (PSRC) update to its long-range plan, Transportation  2040, estimates vanpools will grow to
about 4,300 by 2040. This is great news.

But our vanpool research shows with some
marketing and operational changes, there could be nearly 12,000 vanpools by
2030! This equals about 192,000 trips per day. This means vanpools have the
potential to carry 20 percent more riders for $20 billion less than Sound
Transit’s light rail expansion. The impact on reducing CO2 emissions and SOV
use is also more significant than any other transit mode, and vanpools do not require social engineering or forcing compact development.

I've met with PSRC staff and plan to present these findings to the Transportation Policy Board. I think the numbers are compelling enough for PSRC to reexamine their vanpool strategies.

10 year update on smart growth: it doesn't work

November 11, 2009 in Blog

From Ken Orski (I don't see this linked on his website yet, but I'm sure it will be shortly)

In a
revealing article that should be required reading for smart growth advocates
everywhere, Gerrit-Jan Knaap, executive director of the National Center for
Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, offers a
sobering appraisal of Maryland’s smart growth policy. Writing in the current
issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, he concludes that
there is little evidence after a full decade, that Maryland's smart growth laws
have had any effect on residential development patterns.
Ironically, the Smart
Growth Center, was founded by the University of Maryland (and supported by
former Governor Parris N. Glendening) to advance research and spread
awareness about the very same policy whose effectiveness the Center is now
questioning.

National coverage of WPC vanpool study

November 5, 2009 in Blog

From the National Center for Policy Analysis:

VANPOOLS
IN THE PUGET SOUND REGION

OFM releases 2009 report on state boards and commissions

November 4, 2009 in Blog

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) has published its 2009 Boards and Commissions Report. According to OFM:

"The 2009 BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS REPORT provides basic information about boards, commissions, and committees in state government. State law requires the report to assist in promoting legislative and executive oversight of these organizations. This is the sixteenth biennial edition of the publication.

The information in this report covers the period from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009. During the 2009 Legislative Session a number of boards were eliminated or consolidated by executive order or legislation. A list of those boards is attached and, if the board submitted a report for this period, a note is also included on that report .!
. .

In 2009, 449 boards, commissions, councils, committees, and similar groups in state government provided information for this report."

Boards and Commissions were required to provide the following information for the report:

  • Year created
  • Number of members
  • Number of meetings held
  • Legal authorization
  • Appointing authority
  • Summary of primary responsibilities
  • Compensation
  • Operating costs
  • Fund source

Here are the details for each state board and commission.

Putting the principal in charge improves graduation rates and raises student achievement

November 4, 2009 in Blog

As Washington State's legislators are distracted by the competition for federal Race to the Top funds, they ignore genuine, systemic reform in school districts across the country. These districts are putting their principals in charge so they can support their teachers.  Principals in charge of their budgets reallocate resources and schedules so that teachers are not inundated with students.  Teachers can then support their students, who then perform better on tests and graduate at higher rates.

Election week begins

November 3, 2009 in Blog

For most voters across the nation today is Election Day. In Washington State, however, today marks the beginning of election week(s) and the possibility for some close races, election month.

In most states mail-in ballots must either be received by Election Day or must be dropped off before the polls close. Washington, however, only requires that a ballot be postmarked by Election Day. This policy unnecessarily complicates the tabulation of votes and can leave the results of close races a mystery for weeks.

With the state's ongoing move to close all poll locations, it is time to require all ballots be received on Election Day. This is exactly what Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming require. North Carolina goes a step further requiring absentee ballots to be returned by 5 p.m. the day before the elec!
tion.

Secretary of State Sam Reed supports requiring mail in ballots to be turned in by Election Day. Speaking on his behalf, Elections Director Nick Handy told the Associated Press last year “We believe it builds greater trust and confidence in the system.”

Despite having the Secretary of State’s support, bills introduced in the past to make this change have died. This year the Secretary of State's request bills (SB 5631 and HB 1623) were not acted on by the Legislature. Here is the bill summary for HB 1623:

"Absentee ballots must be received by the county auditor by 8:00 p.m. on the day of the primary or election in order to be valid. For out-of-state voters, overseas voters and service voters, the d!
ate on the return envelope to which the voter attested must be!
no later than the day of the primary or election in order for the ballot to be valid.

The tabulation of absentee ballots may commence at 8:00 a.m. on the Monday immediately before the day of the primary or election. The tabulation results must be held in secrecy until after 8:00 p.m. on the day of the primary or election."

This election reform should be considered again next year.

Although the numbers will change over the coming days, election results will be available on the Secretary of State's website starting at 8 p.m.

State Auditor's Office reviews its performance measures

November 2, 2009 in Blog

The State Auditor's Office (SAO) acts as the eyes of citizens to help ensure state and local governments are operating in an accountable, transparent and effective manner. To help lead by example, staff at SAO met last week to focus on strategic planning and performance measures planning session for the agency.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the sessions and was very impressed with the direction SAO is heading.

Earlier this year the Office of Financial Management (OFM) issued an assessment of the performance measures SAO was using for its activities. OFM said:

With two possible exceptions, the current performance measures in the Performance Measure Tracking System (PMT) should be replaced with outcome/result measures that are more relevant to a budget/policy development audience. In particular, survey results a!
nd the cost of performing the audits in relation to the size of the audited entity, are better as internal performance management perspectives. This assessment offers suggestions about the types of measurement topics that would tell a more complete and compelling performance story.

SAO responded by holding the performance measure planning sessions last week. Here is some of the information discussed at that session:

A performance measure is a quantifiable expression of the amount, cost, or result of activities that indicate how well, and at what level, services are provided.

Performance measures provide a snapshot of current performance capabilities and track whether actual performance is getting better, !
staying the same, or getting worse over time.

What !
isn’t a performance measure?

  • Statements of what you intend to do or how you intend to do it. (Goals, objectives, and strategies)
  • Performance questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”
  • A timeline of when something will be accomplished
  • The responses from a survey

What are the Attributes of Good Performance Measures?
  • Relevance - Useful to an external audience of stakeholders to assess the level of accomplishment
  • Understandability - Clear, concise, and easy for a non-expert to understand
  • Comparability - Do the data, targets, and footnotes provide the reader with enough context to tell whether performance is getting better, worse, or staying the same?
  • Timeliness - Is the data current and reported frequently enough to be of value in assessing accountability and making decisions?
  • Consistency - Is the data collection method standardized and is the operational definition for data calculations adhered to?
  • Reliability - Is the information verifiable, free from bias, and a faithful representation of what it purports to represent?
  • Performance - Is actual performance in reference to the stated targets getting better, worse, or staying the same over time?

All agencies (state and local) should undergo the same type of self-reflection as SAO to help improve their performance measures. Doing so will allow elected officials to have access to meaningful performance data to help guide budget decisions.

Final Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #31

October 31, 2009 in Blog


Vanpools
are the safest, cheapest and most cost effective transit mode for connecting
commuters with urban employment centers.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #30

October 30, 2009 in Blog


The
PSRC estimates that if the Destination
2030 plan
were fully implemented it would reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by about 4.1 percent
for a cost of $40-$45 billion. If vanpools were expanded to reach their market
potential, they could reduce VMT by up to 9.3 percent
for only $2.5 billion.

Open Government Task Force Meeting Nov. 2

October 29, 2009 in Blog

The Open Government Task Force
created by State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Attorney General Rob McKenna
will have its final meeting on November 2 to vote on recommendations to
improve enforcement of the state's open government laws. Currently the
only option available to citizens is to file a lawsuit if they disagree
with an agency's opinion on whether a record should be disclosed.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag noted at the October 5 Task Force meeting
that there has to be a better way for citizens to access government records
without having to resort to lawsuits. Attorney General Rob McKenna
agreed highlighting the fact that every other area of law has an
administrative mechanism for addressing concerns. The reason is
administrative mechanisms are faster and more cost effective than
relying solely on court relief. Unfortunately, Washington lacks this
type of recourse for enforcement of the state’s open government laws.

On the agenda for Monday's meeting:

  • Presentations from the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs and Seattle Times
  • Vote to Adopt Recommendations

Here are the findings from the draft report:

1) The Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act provide rights to the public for access to public records and meetings. The purpose of these laws is to allow the public access to public records and meetings. The courts are not always the best method for enforcing these rights and may be extremely expensive and slow. The added costs and uncertain liability of agencies subject to litigation are a growing concern.

2) There is a critical need for an independent administrative oversight agency to enforce the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act with the purpose of providing an inexpensive, expedited, and clear process for resolving disputes.

3) The independent oversight agency should have authority to adopt rules pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act to provide clear guidelines for an appeal process, and to issue advisory opinions interpreting the laws to provide clarity on agency duties. The oversight agency should make this information available on its website with other relevant information. The oversight agency should submit an annual report to the legislature on its activities, and recommend legislative reform.

4) Training should be mandatory for designated agency officials for the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act. It would greatly reduce the concern over litigation. The oversight agency should provide periodic training, and make training materials available free on its website.

5) The independent oversight agency may be governed either by:

style="margin-left: 80px;">a) A single independent director ap!
pointed by the Governor who hires appeals officers to manage and decide appeals, and has a term set by law and may only be removed for cause, or

b) It may be governed by a commission.

6) The process for utilizing an appeal to an oversight agency should be expedited. The oversight agency should have a short period set by law to issue a final ruling on any docketed appeal, and a process for requesting immediate rulings on simple issues in less than the period set by law. The oversight agency should have discretion on granting any request for a hearing, and/or conduct a confidential in camera review.

7) The existing legal right to initiating an action under the Public Records Act in superior court applies to any person having been denied an opportunity to inspect or copy a public record, and also for an agency or its representative, or a pers!
on who is named in the record or to whom the record specifically pertains. RCW 42.56.540 – 550. That existing legal right should be extended for any appeal to an oversight agency by a person denied a record, an agency or its representative, or a person who is named in the record or to whom the record specifically pertains.

8) The costs for using the appeals process of the oversight agency should be minimal or none for filing an appeal, and there should be no award of attorney fees, costs, or penalties to a prevailing party at the administrative level.

9) A ruling by the oversight agency is binding on the parties, enforceable in court, and subject to an appeal and de novo review by a court of general jurisdiction. The oversight agency should not be named as a defendant in any appeal to superior court.

10) Use of the adm!
inistrative appeals process of the oversight agency should be encourage!
d to resolve disputes. There may still be a need in emergencies or for other fundamentally apparent reasons to initiate a lawsuit in superior court rather than filing an administrative appeal. A requirement to exhaust an administrative appeal with an oversight agency prior to appealing in superior court would end an existing legal right of the people created by initiative to bring an action directly before an independently elected judge. Therefore a process that allows the option of filing a direct action in superior court should be retained.

11) Adequate funding is vital to allow any oversight agency to successfully perform its work. Funding should be from a dedicated source.

While an administrative appeals option should be pursued, WPC believes it is very important that the right of citizens to go directly to court for relief not be infringed. Here is the video of our comments at the October 5 meeting:

t classid="clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000" codebase="http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab##version=9,0,1,0" height="240" id="2009100066B4650" width="320">

Boeing's decision and what it says about Washington's Competitiveness

October 29, 2009 in Blog

There's been a lot said over the past twenty-four hours about Boeing's decision to open its second 787 line in Charleston. Naturally, finger-pointing comes next. The Governor is dismayed, senators and representatives are now chiming in. This sure isn't pretty; hanging out in the loser's circle never is.

But OK, what now? Policymakers just got slapped upside the head by a corporation based out of Chicago. Boeing officials looked at Washington and sized us up and looked at Charleston and sized them up. They made a busine!
ss decision and we lost. That should say something about what we are offering the business community.

Of course there is an internal labor/management dynamic that the state can't influence. Or can it? South Carolina is a right-to-work state, where workers do not have to be members of a union as a condition for employment (a novel concept). Of course, this will never fly in Washington state -- just as long as we're prepared to lose business over it apparently. Should we have the discussion on mandatory unionization if that is truly one of the big causes for Boeing's decision yesterday? If so, then the question really is, why shouldn't we discuss it?

There are many reasons why some states are more competitive than others. Some reasons cannot be helped -- natural resources and open-water access are some of the reasons why Washington is more competitive in lumber, shipping, and agriculture than, say, a Midwest state. Likewise, it would be a bit of a!
challenge for Washington to compete with Florida over oranges!
, or Alaska for oil or Louisiana for catfish.

However, beyond natural resource advantages, policymakers and entrepreneurs can make a difference in how a state is perceived viz a viz business friendliness or an infrastructure for innovation. Those are intangibles not decided upon by nature. Microsoft didn't grow and succeed here because of the air, water or lumber. Neither did Boeing, Amazon, T-Mobile, Costco, UPS or most of the other of hundreds of thousands of businesses that were founded in this state. 

This is just the type of issue we'll talk about at Washington Policy Center's 2009 Statewide Small Business Conference. We'll talk about the things that policymakers can control and can improve upon to make our state more attractive to people. Because that seems to be getting lost in the discussion. Businesses don't make these decision!
s, people make these decisions, often based upon what's best for the company so that it can continue to offer goods or services to its customers -- who just happen to be people as well.

Join us on November 10th at the SeaTac Hilton for discussions on competitiveness, health care, our state's tax system, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, environmental regulations and more, including sessions on how to survive in this economy and why it's important small business owners remain involved in the political realm.

Find out more information or register online here.