Washington Policy Blog

WashingtonVotes.org is the Best Way to Follow Lawmakers as They Tackle $5+ Billion Budget Shortfall

January 9, 2009 in Blog

As the 2009 Legislative Session starts on Monday, WashingtonVotes.org rolls out its enhanced 2.0 website that increases user accessibility and function.

WashingtonVotes.org is a free website that provides concise, plain-English, objective descriptions of every bill, amendment and vote of the Washington legislature. The site's searchable electronic database, by issue or bill number, allows users to learn about every action of the legislature within 24 hours of its occurrence.

Citizens interested in particular bills and issues such as health care, education or taxes can also register to receive daily e-mail alerts of legislative action on those bills and issues.

This information is completely non-partisan, non-ideological and free to the user. Users can also easily find who their legislator is and the latest bills on a specific subject and follow the progress of those bills. The website also includes an archive of past bills going back to the 2001 Legislative Session.

To learn more visit WashingtonVotes.org.  

Filling in the gaps on climate change and famine

January 8, 2009 in Blog

The Seattle Times today writes about a study arguing that "Global Warming May Cause Famine." The reporter, Sandi Doughton, does a good job of reporting, drawing out comments from the authors and others. A closer look at the report, its authors and the claims is revealing.

When searing temperatures blasted Western Europe in 2003, more than 50,000 people died and harvests of wheat, animal fodder and fruit fell by up to a third.

While Europe did see tens of thousands of deaths from heat in 2003, it had more to do with the failure of the health system and lack of air conditioning. Similar heat waves have hit the US without the huge mortality. Further, there are far more deaths annually from cold than heat, so even if people don't adapt (which they always do), an increase in heat will probably reduce the number of temperature-related deaths.

"I'm not worried about Greenland sliding into the sea. I'm not worried about sea levels going up," said UW atmospheric sciences professor David Battisti.

Don't expect to hear this quote again in the future. Just one year ago, the Times wrote a story about a study on sea level rise from climate change where "even a rise of 6 inches" would increase the threat of flooding and damage. Al Gore spends quite a bit of time in An Inconvenient Truth dramatizing the threat from sea level rise. The Climate Action Team cites sea level rise as a significant concern. It will be interesting to watch climate alarmists embrace this report but dismiss this quote.

"We are headed for a completely out-of-bounds situation for growing food crops in the future," said report co-author Rosamond Naylor, director of Stanford's Program on Food Security and the Environment.

What credibility should we put in the claim of Ms. Naylor? Probably the same amount we should put in the words of her colleague and occasional co-author Paul Ehrlich who said in 1969 that "By 1980 the United States will see its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million" and "I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Predicting catastrophe is a habit that dies hard.

"You're talking about hundreds of millions of additional people looking for food because they won't be able to find it where they find it now," [Battisti] said.

This indicates that crops will grow in some places where they don't now. In other words, this is an issue of trade. Further, the UN and others predict that in 2100 the average income in developing countries will be about $60,000 a year, higher than the US average currently. Thus, their prediction only comes true if the world makes no economic progress during the next century. Compare 2009, for instance, to 1909 to see how ludicrous that notion is. Realize also that even as world population has grown, the absolute number of people in poverty has fallen showing how dramatic economic growth has been, especially in developing countries.

Michael Glantz, a political scientist who studies the social impacts of climate and climate change, said the study raises some good points, but the developing world faces so many immediate problems it's difficult to worry about what will happen in five decades or more. "When I think about 2100 and climate-change impact on food security, I just glaze over," said Glantz, who directs the Consortium for Capacity Building at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A voice of reason. What is behind Glanz's statement is a recognition that government policy has more to do with famine and poverty than climate change will. The major famines of the last century have been politically created, from the millions in Ukraine who died during Stalin's forced collectivization to the current conflict-created famine in Darfur. Climate change is a challenge, but the notion that we can predict the impact of 2.5 C of warming 100 years from now and how it will impact countries after a century of political and economic change is dubious.

Scientists should continue to offer sound estimates of future climate change and the potential changes that it will cause. When it comes to making decisions about how to deal with those challenges, however, it is a question best addressed by applying values, politics and economics.

Two sides to every story

January 8, 2009 in Blog

A new US News and World Report ranks Washington state as the Best State to Start a Business. The study is pretty light on details and actually is a composite of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council's Small Business Survival Index 2008 and the Kauffman Foundation's 2008 New State Economy Index.

I've written ad nauseum about the many foundations, organizations and media outlets that rank states' business climates so while I won't spend time debunking or validating the US News' report, I will say two things.

One, I'm glad that the report points out that some of the high rankings are more political in nature. Issues like !
Washington ranking high in "steps toward energy efficiency and using alternative energy sources" is what might be referred to as a "low priority" to most entrepreneurs wishing to open a business in this state. True, we do have relatively low energy costs, thanks mostly to hydro and nuclear power. But Washington's high ranking in energy efficiency and alternative energy sources should rank us higher in a ranking of states that have the best energy efficiency and alternative energy policies, not a ranking of best states to start a business.

One of the other main points of the study highlights Washington's very low taxes -- citing no capital gains tax nor personal or corporate income taxes. It makes no mention of our B&O tax that, when converted to a more traditional corporate tax, ranks as the second highest corporate tax rate !
in the nation.

I suppose one way to look at this nice ranking is that if policymakers want to protect this number one ranking they should think twice before raising business taxes (this includes fees!) this legislative session. 

WA's minimum wage highest in nation -- supporters still want more

January 7, 2009 in Blog

Once again, Washington state is leading the nation in the category of minimum wage. The state's minimum wage rose by 6% from $8.07 to $8.55 starting January 1st. That was the largest jump since Initiative 688 tied the wage to the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers and upped the minimum wage from $5.70 in 1999 to $6.50 in 2000.

The Tri-City Herald opined this last weekend that maybe our state's minimum wage law should be reviewed. After all, it seems that most folks are foregoing pay raises or even cost-of-living adjustments as the national economy crawls along.

But rather than start the maelstrom of suggesting that the minimum wage be cut, why not talk about how to reform it as we move forward. How about a cap at $8.55 until the economy begins to grow again. Increasing the cost of labor, while the rest of the private sector world is trying to save money, de!
fies what I would call "reality." WPC has written and studied the minimum wage for years now because hiking labor costs 6% on small businesses that are already struggling is a major concern.

The Yakima Herald also ran a story on the minimum wage, saying that there are "two sides" to it. That is true. There are indeed folks trying to support their family on minimum wages. But they are the vast minority and they won't earn minimum wages for very long. Again, I'll refer curious readers wanting to know more to our 2007 study on the living wage proposal for Spokane.

And as icing on the cake, rumor has it that backers of the Spokane living wage prop!
osal, who failed to get enough signatures for the ballot in 20!
07 will try again in 2009.

Obama pursuing federal GMAP

January 7, 2009 in Blog

Although Governor Gregoire wasn't in Washington D.C. earlier this week to meet with President-elect Obama as speculated, it appears he has been paying attention to one of the Governor's priorities: GMAP (Government Management Accountability and Performance). According to Government Executive.com:

President-elect Barack Obama could name the first federal chief performance officer as early as Wednesday, and observers are urging him to choose a candidate with superior managerial skills and deep knowledge of the federal bureaucracy.

During his presidential campaign, Obama vowed to establish a "SWAT team" led by a CPO dedicated to working with agencies to improve results for federal programs and e!
liminate waste and inefficiency. The CPO will "work with federal agencies to set tough performance targets and hold managers responsible for progress," Obama said in September 2008, pledging to meet regularly with Cabinet officials to review their agencies' progress . . .

Robert Shea, former OMB associate director for administration and government performance, said he believes OMB has developed a strong foundation on which the Obama administration can build, but that establishing a CPO position in the White House might help overcome the challenges the agency faces in integrating performance initiatives with the programs they're designed to improve.

"Having a chief performance officer in the White House reporting to the president gives you an opportunity to make the people responsible for achieving the president's priorities pay more attention to the importance of management in achieving those goals," said Shea, now a dir!
ector with the global public sector of consultant firm Grant T!
hornton LLP.

Hopefully Congress and the state Legislature will see the potential to create their own performance teams and start to focus public hearings not on how much money an agency wants but instead on agency performance for current taxpayer investments.

The natural next step would be to place high level performance indicators directly into the budget to help focus expectations for the money appropriated.

Speaking of GMAP, check out the new performance "DataView" website. We sent the GMAP Director a letter last year encouraging a move to this type of database. 

Searchable stimulus

January 6, 2009 in Blog

Maybe, just maybe, our federal leaders will really embrace transparency this year. There is some positive news coming out of President-elect Obama's recent meeting with congressional leadership. According to ABC News:

Democratic and Republican sources tell ABC News that President-elect
Obama's meeting with the bipartisan congressional leadership of the
House and Senate went well with some quick agreement on the need for
expeditious action as well as oversight and transparency for the
pending, yet-to-be-drafted multibillion dollar stimulus package.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, argued that public
dissatisfaction with the Troubled Asset Relief Program money to help
stabilize the nation's financial systems and the way it was rammed
through the Congress demands more transparency and accountability with
the stimulus bill.

"I agree with you," the President-elect said, adding later that he
would "demand complete transparency and accountability in doing it." ·

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Vir., suggested said the bill
should be put on the Internet a week before Congress votes on it.

Mr. Obama smiled and said something along the lines of, "maybe if I
was better at faking it , I'd say, 'Great idea -- we'll take you up on
that.' But we've actually talked about this idea."

Obama turned it over to incoming White House chief of staff Rahm
Emanuel who essentially said they would do the Republicans one better.
They're planning a Google-like search function to show every program
funded by the stimulus package, whether it comes in under or
over-budget, whether it is meeting its intended purpose, and how many
jobs it is creating.

This is a fantastic idea and should be expanded to the full federal budget. In fact, it's not a bad idea for the state budget either and would be a natural complement to the new state budget website.

Hat tip: Sam Taylor

State parks performance audit

January 5, 2009 in Blog

Against the backdrop of proposed closures to state parks, on December 23 the State Auditor released a performance audit of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

According to the audit:

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has made extensive efforts to improve the parks system and facilities through its Centennial 2013 plan. The audit found Parks is at risk of failing to achieve all of the goals it communicated to citizens in the Centennial 2013 Plan . . .

1.    The Commission’s strategic plan lacks some key elements that can impact its achievement of its vision and goals.

2.    The Commission needs to make improvements in governance to ensure it meets its vision, goals and objectives.

3.    The Agency does not have a performance management system that
provides reliable information to assess its progress in meeting goals
and that allows it to make budget and operating decisions.

4.    The Agency’s information technology systems do not support efficient operations.

5.    The Agency has not realized the efficiency and economy in its
payroll and human resource processes that they expected to gain from

6.    The Agency’s decentralized approach to governance and lack of
documentation can lead to practices and procedures that do not comply
with state law, agency policy, and do not promote the most efficient
and economical use of state resources.

A public hearing is scheduled on the audit this Wednesday at 1 p.m.

On a positive note the Department of Revenue received its sixteenth-straight clean audit report today. Here is an excerpt from DOR's press release:

The annual audit issued today by State Auditor Brian Sonntag contained no findings, or problems with how the Department processed $18.2 billion in tax revenue annually, including 96 percent of all state general fund tax collections and all local sales taxes.

“This outstanding record is indicative of management’s interest in compliance with the laws and regulations applicable to your agency,” Sonntag wrote in his cover letter to the audit.  “It’s important to give special recognition to agencies that consistently exhibit a commitment to solid accounting practices and systems of internal control.”

Sonntag said he appreciated the cooperation and assistance provided by Revenue staff!
as his auditors examined the agency’s extensive operations.

Washington State rations driving; should instead focus on traffic relief

January 2, 2009 in Blog

In 2008, the state legislature passed HB 2815, which among other provisions, directed the state Department of Ecology and other agencies to report back to the legislature in December on how to implement the Governor's Climate Action Team's (CAT) recommendations to reduce Green House Gas Emissions.

The CAT created several sub-committees to tackle specific sectors. The Transportation Implementation Working Group (TIWG) was formed to handle perhaps the CAT's most controversial proposal, reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).

If you recall, the Governor's CAT recommended reducing the amount motorists drive by 18 percent by 2020, 30 percent by 2035 and 50 percent by 2050.

To look at it another way, motorists drive an average of 31 miles per day. To accomplish the state's new VMT reduction policy through 2035, the state will enforce a series of strategies !
that force motorists to drive only 22 miles per day, or so goes the explanation in the TIWG report.

The strategies focus on three broad areas: improving public transit, forcing compact development into specific corridors and creating economic disincentives for drivers through tolling. 

These recommendations represent a fundamental shift in transportation policy and perhaps more distressing, an unprecedented expansion of state government. For the first time, the state would take on the role of funding public transit, despite rising traffic congestion and the unmet infrastructure needs that currently exist. The state would also expand land use restrictions to further force people to live and work along corridors that the government chooses. And with the use of tolls, the state would create artificial costs as a punitive mechanism to force people out of cars.

Here is the link to the TIWG report, along with a minority report written by AAA and the Wash!
ington Trucking Association, both members of the TIWG.

TIWG report
TIWG minority report

Traffic relief is the most basic goal in any transportation policy. In all cases, mobility should mean traffic relief.


One Down, Four to Go

December 31, 2008 in Blog

Yesterday, we made Seattle's decision not to salt the roads Washington's #1 Worst Environmental Moment of 2008. Today, the City announced it was changing the policy:

...the city kept using only de-icer and sand, saying salt could be harmful to Puget Sound. That policy was adopted by the city in 1998 "with the best of intentions," the mayor said, but the last weeks' weather proved the city should amend its plan.

So, a decade-old policy was thrown out in a week. This means either a) the original decision was made without science (but with good intentions) or science that could be thrown out after a week of consideration or b) the new decision confounds science but is being done under political duress.

This is the problem with so much environmental policymaking. Policies too often lack a scientific basis and are done more for political appearances than environmental benefit. Now if they promise not to try "Car Free Days" again, we'll be making progress.

Washington's Five Best Environmental Moments of 2008

December 31, 2008 in Blog

Yesterday we listed the five worst environmental moments of 2008 in Washington. Today, to end the year on a more cheery note, we're listing the best moments. I will say that 2008 was more bad than good, but there are hopeful signs on the horizon.

Honorable mention:

  • The 9th Circuit Court ruling noting that asking judges to substitute their judgment for the scientific judgment of the Forest Service "is not a proper role for a federal appellate court." Let's hope there are more courts who take this approach.
  • The Washington Court of Appeals struck down King County’s critical area ordinance (CAO) that required rural property owners to set aside up to sixty-five percent of their property without compensation. The Appeals Court ruled that this one-size fits all approach amounted to a, “tax, fee or charge” on !
    property owners.

5. Everyone is a "free-market" environmentalist. Environmental activists now feel compelled to call their actions "market-based," because the public is tired of command-and-control approaches they traditionally favor. Washington's Climate Advisory Team, its successor the Climate Action Team and the Western Climate Initiative all claim that their efforts are "market based." Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed in Portland earlier this year that he supported free market appro!
aches, although I am skeptical of the claim. This is a recognition that market forces that harness the individual creativity and actions of millions of people making decisions about their own lives are powerful, not to mention consistent with the American ideal of personal freedom. The claim that these approaches are market-based isn't always true, but it is a good step.

4. Supreme Court ruling on wind farms in Ellensburg. Some who normally agree with me may not agree on this one. The Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision (which says something), ruled that the county could not use zoning laws to stop landowners, like farmers, from leasing their land to site a wind farm. Two things stand out. First, the reason cited by the county commissioners for rejecting the permits were the "visual effects." How did they determine the impacts? Commissio!
ners suggested setbacks based on their personal "observations of noise and 'looming' impact..." That unscientific approach is no reason to violate property rights. The second reason is,
as we've argued in the past, that government should avoid zoning that significantly damages private property values for a public purpose. This decision doesn't address that issue directly, but it fits that approach and should be applauded. Wind farms are not a panacea, but they are a part of the effort to diversify energy sources and increase domestic energy supply. Honoring property rights is good for personal freedom, prosperity and the environment.

3. Growing support for alternatives to cap-and-trade. Earlier this year we called for a package that would cut sales and investment taxes and replace them with a modest carbon tax. The result would be a tax cut that encouraged individuals to improve energy efficiency and find ways to conserve. The free market is the most powerful way to improve energy efficiency and efficiency has nearly doubled in the last 25 years without government intervention. Now there is a broad consensus (the climate alarmists' favorite word) that carbon taxes are far superior to cap-and-trade and they put power in the hands of individuals to choose rather than government. This approach has a wide range of supporters!
60;including the
Democratic-run Congressional Budget Officeand the head of Obama's National Economic Council Larry Summers and conservative economists and thinkers like former head of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors Greg Mankiw, founder of supply-side economics pan style="FONT-SIZE: 13px; COLOR: purple; FONT-FAMILY: Arial">Art Laffer
 and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. Let's hope this weakens the support for the costly and ineffective cap-and-trade approach being pushed by environmental activists.

2. Bill Gates and the "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg. The meeting of the richest man in the world and a man who has one of the clearest visions for how to improve the wellbeing of the planet and people can only produce good results. Gates has shown a true, and intellectually honest, commitment to doing what is best to help people across the world. Lomborg brought together perhaps the finest collection of economists, including Nobel laureates, to find ways to make the most positive impact on the world. After speaking at our environmental luncheon earlier this year, Lomborg met with Gates to discuss ways to work together. We are proud to have helped put this meeting together. In the past we&!
#39;ve written that
the priorities of Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus and the priorities of the Gates Foundation were similar. The combination of these two dedicated and clear thinking minds can only produce great things.

1. Approval of permits for the construction of a dock on Maury Island. There is no better example of environmentalists substituting hype for science than the "controversy" about the construction of a dock to ship gravel off the island. Every scientific agency who looked at the issue, including the Department of Ecology, the Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers and King County, approved the project. The Democratic-controlled Legislature refused to stop th!
e project twice. Environmental activists, however, set all that aside and hoped that
political theater would substitute for science. Two aspects stand out. First, the crusade against the dock was led by those on the island and the motivation was NIMBY-ism (Not In My BackYard), not the environment. The evidence? The water quality problems around Vashon/Maury Island are caused by the failing septic tanks of the island residents themselves, not the project they protest. The most polluted place on the island is far from the new dock but is surrounded by homes. There is also an irony that residents, who ride ferries twice a day, claim to be worried about a barge traveling to and from the island. Second, opponents of the dock cited general science from !
the Puget Sound Partnership, saying that overdevelopment can i!
mpact water quality. True enough, but they chose to ignore the specific science on this dock which said otherwise. Put simply, this issue was about politics, not the environment. Activists criticized Republican Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who granted the final permit, but never criticized the Democrats in charge of Ecology, Fish & Wildlife and King County who granted earlier environmental permits. They also failed to attack the Democrats who control the legislature and could have stopped the project. The more Washington bases environmental decisions on political theater and partisan politics and ignores the science, the more long-term damage we will do to the environment. That's why the approval of the permit for the dock on Maury Island is not only good for jobs and prosperity, it put environmental science ahead of environmental theater.

Best wishes for the new year and let's hope that these positive trends strengthen in 2009.

Washington's Five Worst Environmental Moments of 2008

December 30, 2008 in Blog

It was a mixed year for environmental policy and we saw the good and the bad. If there is one theme, however, it is that 2008 was the year of eco-fads. Science and thoughtful policy were set aside frequently in the name of showing "leadership" on environmental issues. As we've noted before, "leadership" is the justification politicians cite when there is no other compelling reason to support a particular policy. What all of these share is not only that they are expensive or science-free, but that they will actually do harm to the environment by distracting from approaches that truly improve environmental stewardship.

So, here are the worst environmental moments of 2008. Feel free to add any moments you think deserve mention in the comments.

Honorable mention:

Here are the top five.

5. "We're talking about remaking the economy of the nation, the whole globe." - Becky Kelley of the Washington Environmental Council on the passage earlier this year of the state's legislation to reduce greenhouse gases. The foolishness of this statement, from the environmental community's lead on climate issues, is remarkable. The economy is extremely complex (as we are seeing now) and efforts to "remake" the economy have repeatedly failed. Even small efforts to change the economic calculus are fraught. Witness the impact of biofuel mandates on food prices. As long as environmental activists believe they can remake the economy, they will continue to fail to improve the environment and will damage prosperity and jobs.

4. Seattle's Car Free Days. This program, designed to make it difficult, or impossible, to drive your car in Seattle earned ridicule even from the enviro-conscious residents of Seattle. Fundamental to the environmental philosophy of the left is the belief that politicians need to force people to change their lifestyle. That approach often fails, as evidenced by the backlash to the program because people often have their own ideas. As WPC's Brandon Houskeeper noted in his analysis of the program, the City didn't even make an effort to see if the campaign actually reduced CO2 emissions. This was the ultimate in policymaking to show leadership.

3. Banning bonfires on Alki. The City of Seattle ended up deciding against this policy, but it is another example of commitment to the cause displacing science. We wrote about Seattle's effort to ban bonfires on the WPC blog earlier this year. Banning bonfires would have done little (or nothing) to reduce CO2 emissions. Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Burning wood then releases that CO2 which is absorbed by other trees. This is why biomass is listed as a renewable energy source by the state's "green" energy law. It was an ill-considered proposal that lacked science or common sense.

2. Washington's Cap-and-Trade legislation and the Western Climate Initiative. The state's approach to reducing greenhouse gases has turned into a hodge-podge of approaches that will encourage political game playing, require wide-reaching efforts to force lifestyle changes, will cause dramatic economic costs and will ultimately fail to achieve meaningful reductions in CO2. Other than that, it is fine. The accounting system that underlies the Western Climate Initiative is extremely complex and the result of a political negotiation. Is it any wonder that the two biggest financial collapses of this decade, Enron and the housing bubble, involve accounting games? WCI creates an accounting web many times more complex. That complexity is an invitation to gaming the system as the Government Accounting Office's recent report on Europe's cap-and-trade makes clear. Fortunately, th!
at complexity is beginning to cause some to look for alternatives.

1. Seattle's decision not to salt roads during the December snowstorm. This list is fairly Seattle heavy, but they have earned it. This is another policy undertaken without good science or clear thinking. In justifying the sorry state of the roads during the storm, the City claimed that salting the roads was bad for the environment. The Seattle Times reported, however, that some believe the approach ultimately chosen by the city, sanding the roads, may be more damaging. While I was at the Department of Natural Resources, our top concern in forestry was to keep silt and sand out of the water, so it would not surprise me if the City's current strategy did more damage. Ultimately they chose to risk the safety of people and access to businesses during Christmas in favor of ill-conceived environmentalism. p>

It wasn't all bad this year. There are some good moments as well. We list the top five good moments tomorrow.

Who needs science when we're saving the planet?

December 29, 2008 in Blog

A British group, Sense About Science, has published their Celebrities and Science Review 2008 and one issue we've addressed in the past made the list.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain indicated that they believe the vaccine preservative Thimerosal was linked to rising autism rates. The President-elect noted during the campaign that:

"We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate," said President-elect Obama. "Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it," he said.

The problem is that numerous studies have disproven the link. Earlier this year a study noted that even though the preservative was banned in California several years back, autism rates continue to climb. The problem is that this eco-fad needlessly increases the cost of vaccines and distracts from efforts to find the real cause of autism. Researching proven dead ends is costly and dangerous.

The study lists numerous other scientific errors made by celebrities and politicians. This is an ongoing problem in environmental policy. The City of Seattle's decision not to salt the streets to clear the snow is another example. As long as we are making policy decisions based on fads, not science, we shouldn't be surprised when the result is bad for prosperity and the environment.

Seattle's decision to use sand on snow and ice proves to be a slippery slope for the environment and commuters!

December 23, 2008 in Blog

An article in today's Seattle Times, by Susan Kelleher, highlights the different strategies being used by major jurisdictions across our region for dealing with the compact snow and ice that have plagued our streets for more than a week.

Unlike most other cities and transportation authorities, like the Washington State Department of Transportation, the City of Seattle has elected to not use salt to clear local roadways.  Instead Seattle officials have elected to only use sand, which is placed on top of the snow and ice.

So why has the City of Seattle elected to forgo salt in favor of sand?

According to Alex Wiggins, the chief of staff for the City's Department of Transportation , the City has, "decided not to utilize salt because it's not a healthy addition to Puget Sound."

Despite Seattle's environmental concerns for the Puget Sound other local jurisdictions have been using alternatives such as salt to help keep up with the conditions.  As noted in today's Timesarticle, Kelleher points out that other jurisdictions are wary of sand due to the same environmental concern expressed by Seattle officials for their local water quality.

Ann Williams, spokeswoman for Denver's Department of Public Works said:

"We never use sand...sand causes dust, and there's also water-quality issues where it goes into streets and into our rivers"

In fact, earlier this year the Puget Sound Partnership released their road map to protecting and restoring the Puget Sound.  A center piece of the Partnership's plan is a study done by the State Department of Ecology which noted that more than fifty-two million pounds, or approximately twenty-six thousand tons, of sediment, metals and other materials are washed into the Sound annually.  In comparison the City of Seattle has pored more than six thousand tons, or about one-fifth of the total annual tonnage reported by Ecology, on to City streets within the past week.

So is sand really better for the environment?

Diane Spector, a water resource planner with Wenck Associates told the Times that:

"The occasional application of salt is probably not going to have a lasting effect...it's highly dependent on where it's used, how often and how much is applied."

Finally this little nugget according to Wiggins at the Seattle Department of Transportation:

"If we were using salt, you'd see patches of bare road because salt is very effective."

So despite the acknowledgment that salt is effective and would bring immediate relief to the taxpayers and businesses in the area, the City of Seattle will continue to use sand because they believe it is better for the environment, although others clearly disagree.

Local mayors' appetite for pork

December 18, 2008 in Blog

Earlier, I wrote about how cities across the country have compiled a list of infrastructure projects that should be funded by the federal government.

Now, according to the National Taxpayers Union, and this article from CNN, some of the mayors' requests could be considered "pork," including a polar bear exhibit, a water park ride and an aquatic center.

This got me thinking about what our local mayors requested. Sure enough, here are some of the questionable spending requests:

  • Stadium improvements at Auburn Memorial Stadium: $1,600,000
  • Rerouting a creek in Bremerton: $6,000,000
  • Habitat for Humanity housing in Everett: $300,000
  • Major home repairs in Lakewood: $150,000
  • Qwest Field improvements: $7,000,000
  • Nutrition Program space rehabilitation in Seattle: $316,000

In January, WPC released the Washington State Piglet Book, which highlighted the problem with pork spending at the state level.

Governor's budget proposal

December 18, 2008 in Blog

There will be a lot written and said about the Governor's budget in the coming days. We will hear a lot about drastic cuts and how the state will cease to function because of the Governor’s proposed changes. One point that may get lost in the debate but shouldn't is the fact that despite very real reductions in some programs, overall state spending will still be higher biennium over biennium if the Governor's budget is adopted.

That's right - the overall budget will still grow over previous cycles.

General Fund State Spending Growth
(Dollars in Millions)





























*As proposed by Governor 12/18/08

How is this possible? Despite the economic situation state revenues are still projected to grow biennium over biennium though at a slower rate than initially thought but it is growth nonetheless. This is in contrast to the 2001-03 budget cycle when revenues actually decreased from the 1999-01 levels.

General Fund State Revenue Growth
(Dollars in Millions)



$ Increase

% Increase

























We'll have more to say about the Governor's budget after we've had time to read it line-by-line. Assuming the Governor effectively prioritized and selected those programs demonstrating the best results, she should fight hard for her proposal and not let the Legislature use it as a floor for budget discussions. She should also fight legislative efforts to raise taxes.

The Governor is absolutely correct when she said today: "No way to tax your way out of this problem. We have to live within our means."