It’s always good news when projects come in under-budget – especially when they are taxpayer-funded.
In Spokane, the Spokane School District says it’s on track for bond-funded projects to come in $47.9 million below budget. That’s an enormous savings and the school district should be congratulated for making it happen. And taxpayers should be pleased.
The question now becomes what to do with that extra money? Spokane voters approved a $288 million bond in 2009 with the understanding that it would go toward specific projects.
When Spokane Mayor David Condon ran for office last year, he promised he would approach city government differently than his predecessors. If his first budget proposal is any indication, he plans on following through on that promise.
In 2012, the City of Spokane will spend $164.5 million in its General Fund budget. The mayor says the 2013 budget will not exceed that number. Even though it is dealing with a $10 million shortfall, the mayor did not use any money from reserves to make that happen. The mayor is also forgoing an annual increase in property taxes.
In my book Eco-Fads, I argue that many politicians and policymakers actively oppose auditing their policies because the benefit of the policies isn't environmental improvement, it is the good feeling associated with publicly supporting the policy. I wrote:
Auditing the results of a policy serves only as a tool to point out the shortcomings of favored environmental approaches. Data that are not collected cannot be used to show whether elected officials made a mistake.
The Spokane City Council has unanimously passed a plan supported by Mayor David Condon to throw out the city’s five-tier, punishing water structure.
The five-tier structure, put in place in 2010, at its highest level charged 23 times more for the last gallon of water used than for the first. The unfair, unneeded system was adopted by a previous administration and council to not only call attention to conservation, but also to “provide sustainable revenue” and protect the Rathdrum Prairie-Spokane Valley Aquifer.
The Pasco School District is one of the fastest-growing in the state of Washington. As a result, it faces increasing challenges to house its student population. From 2000 to 2010, Pasco School District’s enrollment skyrocketed from 8,850 to 15,127, a 71% increase. State officials predict the growth will continue. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) estimates 5,000 more students will be enrolled by 2016, bringing total enrollment to about 21,000 students.
Is it an excuse or reality? Pasco School District officials appear to be blaming non-English speaking and low income students for poor results in the state’s most recent Public School Accountability Index.
The index, released in January by Washington Policy Center, grades all of the state’s nearly 2,100 schools. The rankings offer parents and taxpayers a report card on how their child’s school is performing.
Spokane City Councilman Richard Rush is introducing a plan that, on the surface, appears to be a net positive for citizens. He will ask the city council tonight to put a proposition on the February ballot that would repeal the city’s utility tax.
The utility tax is one of the main revenue sources for Spokane. It is collected on sewer, water and garbage fees. Getting rid of it altogether would force the city to reduce future spending by some $30-35 million.
After much public outcry and extensive media coverage of research published by Washington Policy Center, city leaders in Spokane have announced they are going to review and possibly replace the city’s ill-conceived five tier water rate structure.
Earlier this year, the City of Spokane implemented a punishing five-tier price structure for water use for city homeowners. The message from government officials was clear – save water or we’ll charge you more.
Today, citizens are saving even more water than they did before, and the new message from councilmembers is contradictory – we’re going to charge you more, because you’re conserving. It’s not hard to figure out why Spokane homeowners are frustrated.
(UPDATE: The SRCAA voted unanimously Thursday to delay implementation of this rule for at least six months. Board members echoed WPC suggestions about looking at voluntary measures and understanding who would be impacted before any new regulation is adopted.)