Washington Policy Blog

Light rail misses 2009 ridership target by wide margin

January 13, 2010 in Blog

According to Sound Transit’s ridership figures from its
first six months of operation, the initial light rail segment between downtown
Seattle and the airport carried an average of 14,806 trips per weekday.

The following table summarizes the average number of weekday
trips by month since the line opened in July.

Average trips per  weekday, 2009














Six Month Average



But Sound Transit has projected ridership would be much
With the opening of the airport segment in December, Sound Transit
officials promised light rail would carry an average of 21,000 riders per
weekday.  Yet average ridership by the
end of the year (December) was only 14,639 trips per weekday. That is 31.3 percent less
than what Sound Transit officials said it would be.

Even if you only count the average weekday ridership since
the airport segment opened on December 19th (eight days) it still
only carried 16,809 trips per weekday, which is 20 percent less than what
Sound Transit officials promised.

Either way, Sound
Transit officials failed to deliver their promised ridership projections for 2009, and not by just a
little but by a wide margin (20-30%). Officials will probably point to the
economy as the reason for chewing into their higher estimate. But the region
has been in a recession for about two years and as you can see from this press
release in July
, Sound Transit still promised 21,000 trips as recently as five
months ago!

Here is the full ridership report obtained by the Seattle Times.

The State of the State's Commitment to Eco-Fads is Strong

January 12, 2010 in Blog

For those on Twitter, you can follow the Environmental Center @WAPolicyGreen

In her State of the State address today, the Governor announced a program to retrofit state buildings with a "green building program" she claims will save $60 million. Washington politicians frequently make such claims, but in the past they have been consistently inaccurate and even retracted by the agencies overseeing the projects.

Proposing projects with a history of failure is not only bad for taxpayers, it also wastes resources that might truly promote environmental sustainability.

·         In 2005, the Governor signed legislation requiring schools to meet “green building” standards, claiming that such buildings would use 30-50 percent less energy. Since that time, however, audits show that “green” schools in virtually every district use moreenergy per square foot than other schools in the same district. In the Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett and Spokane school districts, “green” schools use 30 percent more energy per square foot than schools built just before the law.

·         The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Ecology and school district directors have all now admitted that these “green” schools don’t save energy.

·         The state currently has a program to retrofit buildings to improve energy efficiency. Savings, however, are not based on actual performance, but projections that often prove to be inaccurate. General Administration has not audited the information to see if those projections are accurate.

·         A federal audit of a similar program found significant problems with the projections and auditing so significant that the program may actually spend more money than it saves. The report noted that “the Department may risk spending up to $17.3 million more than it will realize in energy savings.”


As long as Olympia continues to focus on costly and ineffective eco-fads like "green" buildings, Washington will continue to waste resources and opportunities for environmental improvement.

Public records reform introduced

January 12, 2010 in Blog

The recommendations of State Auditor Brian Sonntag's and Attorney General Rob McKenna's Open Government Task Force have taken bill form. HB 2736 and SB 6383 (Establishing the office of open records) was introduced this afternoon.

According to the bills, a requester seeking relief from a records dispute may either use the new office of open records or the current legal remedies available. The major change, however, is that a requester would not be entitled to penalties for a records violation unless they first sought relief from the office of open records.

;However, in no event may a court award a penalty unless such person received a final order from the office of open records before prevailing against an agency in court pursuant to this subsection." - (Section 4, 4)

We made this recommendation at the October 5 meeting of the Open Government Task Force to help incentivize the use of the new office of open records while not restricting the right of citizens to go directly to court for relief.

Initiative 728 class-size reduction initiative has been repealed, apparently

January 12, 2010 in Blog

I was doing some routine research on the education budget, and to my surprise discovered that lawmakers have repealed, in effect, Initiative 728, by cancelling the Student Achievement Fund and rolling its money into General Fund Spending, for this year anyway.  Federal stimulus funds were instead given directly to school districts, amounting to $444 million in SY 2008-9, and $255.6 million budgeted for SY 2009-10. 

Initiative 728, passed by voters in 2000, transferred a portion of the state property tax from the state general fund to the Student Achievement Fund. This fund has been used by school districts for class size reduction, extended learning opportunities for students, professional development for educators, early-childhood programs, and necessary building improvements to support class size reductions or extended learning.  

Before Initiative 728 was cancelled, some school districts chose not to use these funds to reduce class sizes; other school districts achieved class sizes reductions of one to two students per class, a negligible amount by any measure. 

Cancelling Initiative 728 gives school districts more flexibility over school spending, which is a step in the right direction.  But it is a step in the wrong direction to tell voters that they must pay higher taxes or class sizes will increase, especially when lawmakers are aware that they have effectively, without a vote, cancelled the class-size reduction Initiative 728.

It would be far better for lawmakers to inform voters that reducing class size is nowhere near as important for student learning as having an effective teacher.  Teacher effects are much stronger than class-size effects.  As Mortimer Zuckerman puts it:  "We would have to cut the average class almost in half to pick up the same benefit that a student gets after switching from the average teacher to a teacher in the 85 percentile."  But then lawmakers would have to make necessary legislative changes and ban those collective bargaining rules which prevent school principals from improving teacher quality. 

Next year funding for I-728 must be made up, as required by HB 2356.  Over $700 million will be poured back into class-size reductions. 

Liquor privatization bill to have hearing

January 12, 2010 in Blog

There will be a public hearing on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. to consider SB 6204 - Privatizing the sale of liquor. This reform has surfaced since the end of prohibition but is receiving added attention in light of the state's budget deficit and a favorable report by the State Auditor's Office highlighting the potential savings from ending the state's liquor monopoly.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag was recently interviewed by KING 5 News and said, "Is it a core function of the state to be selling alcohol? I don't think so."

The state's liquor monopoly was also the subject of this editorial today in the Longview Daily News: Don't ignore long-term benefits of privatizing liquor sales.

Here are additional details on Thursday's hearing:

Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection -  01/14/10  3:30 pm
Full Committee
Senate Hearing Rm 4
J.A. Cherberg Building
Olympia, WA

REVISED 1/11/2010 4:10 PM

Public Hearing: 

   1. SB 6239 - Making technical corrections to gender-based terms.
   2. Exempting pipe tobacco from restrictions on shipping tobacco to consumers in Washington [S-3480.1].
   3. An act relating to creating a beer and wine tasting endorsement to the grocery store liquor license [S-3579!
   4. Concerning beer and wine tasting a!
t farmers markets [S-3563.1].
   5. SB 6204 - Privatizing the sale of liquor.

Gov owned car company gone wild: GM chief wants higher federal gas tax

January 12, 2010 in Blog

Its difficult to imagine a private car manufacturer calling for higher federal gas taxes. Generally, car manufacturers want to decrease the cost of car ownership. But when that car manufacturer is owned by the United States government, its interests change.


GM chief wants higher federal gas tax

By: Mark Tapscott
Editorial Page Editor

01/12/10 8:45 AM EST

International Auto Show time in Detroit, so senior executives from
automakers around the world are in the Motor City this week showing off
their latest wares, including concept vehicles that may or may not give
hints to their future products, and making pronouncements on topics far
and wide.

So you never know what to expect in the way of news from Detroit.
Take, for instance, Ford's announcement yesterday that due to growing
demand, it is ramping up production of two of its least fuel-efficient
products, the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.

Expedition sales are up 45 percent, compared to a year ago, while
Navigator sales have climbed fully 60 percent for the same period,
according to Ford Americas president Mark Fields. He was quoted by Automotive News, the trade publication.

But over at Government Motors - formerly known as General Motors -
one of its most gregarious and visible executives is calling for a hike
in the federal gas tax.

"You either continue with inexpensive motor fuels and have to find
other ways to incent the customer to buy hybrids and electric vehicles,
such as the government credits," Lutz told journalists at the show
yesterday, according to CNN Money.
"Or the other alternative is a gradual increase in the federal fuel tax
of 25 cents a year, which in my estimation would have the benefit of
giving automobile companies a planning base, and giving families that
own vehicles a planning base."

Lutz expressed frustration that buyers react so quickly to changes
in gas prices: "Every time gas prices go back down, everybody starts
buying big stuff again. Gas prices go up a buck, the big stuff is
unsellable and everyone wants small cars. Go figure. It's like the
collective memory is about three weeks long. We can't run a business
that way."

Lutz may have an ulterior motive in calling for a federal gas tax
increase. He has been a vigorous advocate within GM for the Chevrolet
Volt electric plug-in that will be unveiled this fall. Making gas more
expensive would tend to help sales of vehicles like the Volt because
they use less gas than conventional vehicles.

Lawmaker wants Legislature to meet every other year

January 12, 2010 in Blog

Do you think the Legislature meets too often? At least one state lawmaker thinks so. Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-13) has introduced a bill to end the annual sessions of the Legislature. HB 2656 would set up regular sessions of the Legislature only in odd numbered years. The bill is accompanied by a constitutional amendment HJR 4217 to implement the provisions. The proposal makes no changes to procedures for special sessions.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:

"Legislatures continually look for ways to improve their effectiveness.  One reform frequently debated is annual versus!
biennial sessions.

In the early 1960s, only 19 state legislatures met annually.  The remaining 31 held biennial regular sessions.  All but three (Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia) held their biennial session in the odd-numbered year.  By the mid-1970s, the number of states meeting annually grew tremendously—up from 19 to 41.  However, several of these states used a 'flexible' session format in which the total days of session time was divided between two years; these states included Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont.  Today, 45 state legislatures meet annually.  The remaining five states—Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas—hold session every other year.  All of the biennial legislatures hold their regular sessions in the odd year.  Arkansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Washington were the last states to change from biennial to annual regular sessions; these states held the!
ir first annual sessions in 2009, 2001, 1985 and 1981, respect!

There are several basic arguments used by the respective proponents of annual or biennial sessions.  Listed below are the ones set out by political scientists, William Keefe and Morris Ogul."


2010 Transportation legislation

January 12, 2010 in Blog

This session is the second year in the 2009-2010 biennium so the bills proposed last year are still in play. Yes, the legislature is expected to settle on a final approach for the 520 bridge replacement and secure a financing package, which will include tolls beginning in the Spring of 2011, but overall its shaping up to a relatively quite session on the transportation policy front. Here are some interesting bills proposed so far:

  • HB 2037: Addressing traffic congestion relief
    through state transportation system policy goals.
  • SJR 8215: Amending the state Constitution to
    require toll revenue to be used exclusively for highway purposes under Article
    II, section 40.
  • HB 2076: Concerning moneys appropriated for
    the original construction of transportation-related buildings.
  • SB 6302: Prohibiting
    the construction or operation of a light rail or other rail system on the
  • Interstate 90 floating bridge.
  • HB 2708: Concerning adopting the Washington
    state energy freedom act of 2010 and requiring express legislative
    authorization for a greenhouse gas or motor vehicle fuel economy program.
  • HB 2716: Providing a right of first
    repurchase for surplus transportation property.

You can find more information on these and other bills at washingtonvotes.org. You can also create a personalized bill tracking alert that automatically emails you daily updates on the bills or topics you choose to include.

Tax increases will cost even more Washingtonians their jobs

January 11, 2010 in Blog

A new study by the Washington Research Council shows that tax increases will cost thousands of Washingtonians their jobs. According to the study, increasing the state Business and Occupation tax (B&O) by $1 billion would eliminate up to 15,072 jobs. A $2.6 billion B&O tax increase would cost 38,968 Washingtonian’s their jobs. A $1 billion sales tax increase would eliminate 14,759 jobs. A $2.6 billion sales tax increase would eliminate 38,024 jobs. The study shows jobs losses by 2013. 

Today the Washington Policy Center is running a full-page ad in The Olympian warning lawmakers about the impact of tax increases. The ad focuses on the job loss f!
indings from the study.

Since it is impossible to forecast how the legislature would spend the money collected from tax increases, the ad highlights the impact of just the tax increases. The study shows job losses could be mitigated depending on how lawmakers chose to spend the new tax revenue.

To put the state on firm fiscal footing, any budget adopted must not raise taxes during a recession, or result in a projected deficit in the next biennium. This will mean that some of the programs we’ve grown accustomed to during good times must be eliminated. Taking more money from businesses and cutting people’s take-home pay through higher taxes is not the solution.

Additional Information
The Economic Impact of Hiking Taxes to Close the Budget Gap
Full-page newspaper advertisement !
in The Olympian

Budget solutions will require tough decisions and real reforms
Economists Warn Tax Increases Will Hurt Our State’s Economy
Resources for Building the State Budget
Principles of Taxation for Elected Officials

Steep drop in Puget Sound bus ridership

January 8, 2010 in Blog

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), bus ridership in the Puget Sound region continues to fall.

In the third quarter of 2009, King County bus ridership fell 10.72 percent over the same quarter in 2008. Overall, King County bus ridership is down more than 6 percent for the year.

Puget Sound Bus Ridership

Agency                    Quarterly    Year-to-date
          change        change
Kitsap Transit   �!
160;            -24.71%        -14.70%
Everett Transit               -4.92%            2.53%
Snohomish Transit         -11.61%        -4.94%
Intercity Transit              -9.76%           1.09%
King County Metro         -10.72%        -6.09%
Sound Transit                -1.58%           3.00%

Between the recession and a new light rail line, it'!
s possible the fourth quarter ridership report, which details !
demand data for the entire year, would wipe out all of the record increases most bus agencies experienced in 2008.

Tech Policy Summit addresses broadband rollout

January 7, 2010 in Blog

CES_TPS Panel There is no question of the Internet's importance to our social and commercial way of life. It took about a decade, from the early 1990s until the early 2000s for society to truly wake up to the potential benefits that ubiquitous Internet connectivity could bring businesses and individuals. But, for as much connectivity we as a society have experienced (seriously, who doesn't have an email address or smartphone or laptop nowadays) there are plenty of ! households in this nation that either cannot connect or chose not to.

Is health care really green?

January 7, 2010 in Blog

A report in the Puget Sound Business Journal indicates Washington state is the recipient of an additional $13 million in federal stimulus funds to support green job training.  Grants are being awarded to various counties around the state for programs that train workers in energy efficiency and renewable energy occupations.

All though we have previously highlighted the failures of such political efforts (see our blog posts “Oregon’s Green Job Experience: Much Green, Few Jobs” and a “Rarely Heard Phrases: Let’s Follow Oregon’s Jobs Policy”) what really caught my attention was the awarding of stimulus funds for training of green occupations in the health care industry.

Are there really green jobs in health care?

Governor Gregoire told the Seattle PI that Washington will receive taxpayer stimulus to train workers in "the new and emerging green occupations in the health care industry."

This is not the first time we’ve heard similar, unsubstantiated claims regarding green jobs.  Early this year the Governor claimed that policies in Washington to promote green jobs had led to the creation of more than 47,000 green jobs.

However, a closer look at those claims shows that politicians use shifting definitions to boost green job counts.  According to our research most if not all of the 47,000 green jobs claimed by the Governor are existing occupations that the government has decided to label “green,” even though the employees are doing exactly the same work they did before.  Here some examples of those green jobs:

- Millworkers
- Earth drillers (but not for oil and gas)
- Electricians
- Roofers
- Food Batchmakers

The green jobs claimed by the Governor came from a report by the Washington Employment Security Department.  So what does that report say about green jobs in the health care industry?

The report includes such jobs as Health Technologists and Occupational Health and Safety Specialists as being part of the state’s green work force.

So I guess the health care industry is a “new and emerging” green sector after all, if you buy that these jobs are green.

The Governor and other policymakers need to better explain what they mean when they talk about green jobs.

Washington's credit rating outlook: "Negative"

January 7, 2010 in Blog

One of the state's credit raters has downgraded Washington's credit outlook from stable to negative. In its December 31, 2009 report, Moody's Investors Service said:


Last month the State Treasurer warned that Washington would run out of money by September if immediate action was not taken to balance the state budget.

The 2010 Legislative Session starts next Monday, January 11.

Let's hope balancing the budget in a sustainable manner without job-killing tax increases is the first order of business.

Spokesman-Review: Reform Workers' Comp in 2010

January 6, 2010 in Blog

The Spokesman-Review out of Spokane today editorializes about one aspect of workers' comp reform that businesses both large and small have been asking for years: the ability to agree to a settlement option with injured employees who have experienced injuries so bad that they require permanent disability benefits. 

The editorial board opines:

"Those workers would have the choice of either taking a full payment up front or collecting monthly payments the rest of their lives. The proposal includes safeguards to assure that an injured worker is fully informed about the advantages and disadvantages, usually with advice from a lawyer or a settlement officer at the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. The board’s appro!
val is required for any settlement, and the worker has a month to change his or her mind."

Opposition to this move often comes from labor groups concerned that workers might lose out on benefits. But no one pushing this option is actually asking for benefits to be lowered. This move would help clear up an administration problem for, in particular, small businesses, by closing the books on a claim earlier, while still giving the appropriate benefits to the injured worker. 

Again, the paper says,

"The settlement option doesn’t save the system money by shortchanging workers; it does so by avoiding years of administrative overhead expenses incurred to manage lifelong cases.

This reasonable reform won’t fix all the problems with Washington’s industrial insurance system, but it’s an important part of the solution."

Agreed. Look for more suggestions on fixing the state's workers' comp system in the upcoming small
 business post-conference report, to be released later this month. 

The average car owner pays about $272 in state transportation taxes and fees

January 6, 2010 in Blog

Yesterday at the Joint Transportation Committee, consultants hired by the state reported on their recommendations to boost transportation revenue. In their analysis, the consultants estimated how much people pay in state taxes and fees by vehicle type. For example, the owner of a mid-size passenger sedan pays $272 per year in state transportation taxes and fees. Here are some others:

Vehicle Type             2009 Dollars
Compact Car               $197
Mid-Size Sedan           $272
Light Truck (SUV)        $437
Hybrid                       !
60; $151
Electric Car                 $77
Motorcycle                  $138
Freight (medium)         $1,694
Freight (heavy)            $2,865

Some interesting observations. Notice has much less the owner of electric car pays. Its about 82% less than the owner of an SUV. Also notice the disparity between passenger cars and freight trucks. Granted, freight trucks pay more because of their greater impact on the road system, but in some cases a heavy freight truck owner is paying over 1,300% more than then owner of a passenger car.

The report also shows how vehicle owners would pay less over time because of the projected increases in fuel efficiency. By 2025, vehicle owners would pay about 10% less !
than they do today.

The consultants went further to sho!
w that most of the state taxes and fees are not tied to inflation. So, according to the report, the purchasing power of these taxes and fees would fall about 45 percent. That fall in purchasing power translates to lost revenue and the revenue forecast for 2009-25 shows a loss of about $1.6 billion.

On top of all of this, the state faces over $33 billion in unmet and unfunded transportation needs.

All of this means significant increases in how much we pay in transportation taxes and fees is inevitable. Interestingly, Sen. Haugen, chair of the JTC said during the meeting that these increases would not happen this session but sometime in the future (about 33 minutes into the!
TVW coverage of the hearing).