Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WA Teaching Standards Earn C- From Ed Reform Group

by Matt Rosenberg February 11th, 2014

In a January 30 report evaluating all 50 states on the sufficiency of their K-12 teaching profession laws, rules and regulations, a national education reform group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other ed reform interests gives Washington State an overall grade of C- including a D+ for “delivering well-prepared teachers.” The C- for Washington includes four more sub-section grades: three of C- for policies to identify, retain and “exit” ineffective teachers, and a C+ for “expanding the teaching pool.” The information comes in the Washington detail section of the “2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook” report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

State: Full-Day-K Packs No Sustained Punch, Academically

by Matt Rosenberg January 29th, 2014

Washington state legislators seven years ago set a goal to fund all-day kindergarten in all public schools here by the 2017-18 school year but a new report they commissioned says the practice can’t now be called cost-effective because the academic achievement gains associated with it usually fade fast and any social and emotional learning benefits to children from it can’t be adequately documented.

The new report to lawmakers from the government-funded non-partisan Washington State Institute for Public Policy reviewed the research literature and based on 10 rigorous studies that included control groups, found that compared to the half-day alternative, “the benefits of investing in full-day kindergarten are unlikely to outweigh the costs because the initial test score gains are not usually sustained.” However, if stakeholders can figure out how to sustain the initial test score gains then the investment “has the potential to be cost-beneficial with relatively low risk,” the report added.

WA Mileage Charge To Replace Gas Tax Gaining Speed ?

by Matt Rosenberg January 27th, 2014

A special state advisory group issued a new report this month to lawmakers and Governor Jay Inslee that there is a viable business case for a road user charge in Washington to replace the failing by-the-gallon state gas tax. Consultants and members of the steering body January 23rd gave an update to the legislature’s House Transportation Committee on the findings, and are now seeking almost $1 million more before the current session ends so they can refine operational concepts, policy particulars, a pilot program and transition strategies.

The state Road Usage Charge Steering Committee’s latest report says that if rates were held constant until 2040 the road user charge – a more sweeping approach than current piecemeal electronic tolling in the Seattle region – would yield $2 billion to $3 billion more in net revenue than the gas tax for surface transportation needs in the state. The report says any of the three user charge methods considered would help ensure “everyone pays more of their fair share for using the roads.”

Now, ever-more fuel efficient internal combustion engine vehicles and their electric and hybrid counterparts pay a lower share of upkeep for the road system because they use less gas while still adding to wear and tear. State reports in recent years have projected that the current gas tax would produce $5 billion less by 2023 than earlier forecasted due to better average mileage and the gradual rise of electrics and hybrids; and that the purchasing power of Washington’s gas tax revenues have been cut by half between 2001 and 2011 from a 77 percent jump in the Construction Cost Index.

State Will Need to Find $2.4B to Ease Salmon Barriers

by Matt Rosenberg January 22nd, 2014

The minimum cost of complying with a 2013 federal court order to fix by 2030 some 1,019 Washington State Department of Transportation-owned culverts posing barriers to salmon passage will be a whopping $2.4 billion, lawmakers have learned. But “lack of future funding and technical complexity are creating obstacles to planning and delivery,” according to an agency presentation last week to the House Transportation Committee. Culverts are tunnel- or pipe-like structures embedded in soil to carry water, often salmon-bearing streams, under roads, railroads and trails.

WSDOT culvert at Fortson Creek on State Route 530 west of Darrington; before replacement - Source: WSDOT

Funding Sources Unclear Right Now
In an interview the Director of WSDOT’s Environmental Services Office Megan White, who led the agency presentation to the committee, said it’s not clear where the money might come from. But she said the first step this session is “talking to legislative leaders and decision makers about the challenge in front of us, in hopes there will be some focus” on developing a funding strategy.

$200M Eyed For ‘15-’17 Biennium
The agency is currently expecting to recommend inclusion of $200 million in in the 2015-17 state budget for court-ordered culvert work on project scoping, design and construction. WSDOT would expect to request successively higher amounts in following state budgets, and now has just about $20 million it can carry forward into the next budget for that, according to White. She added, “The level of funding goes beyond what the agency can provide from existing resources. We don’t want to be in the position of testing what non-compliance means,” with respect to the U.S. court order.

AG’s Office: Compliance Would Be A ‘Heavy Lift’
Senior Assistant Attorney General Joseph Shorin said the “sweeping” federal injunction poses a “heavy lift” for the state with a financial compliance burden that’s “extremely expensive.” Although the state is appealing, it also must at present proceed as if the ruling will stay in force, he said; there is no “stay” or suspension of the court’s directive during the appeal.

Public Data Ferret’s Washington State+Environment archive

Tribes and U.S. Sued State
In the case, U.S. v. Washington, 21 Native American tribes and the federal government sued Washington alleging that mid-1800s treaties guaranteeing tribes the right to take fish also require the state to avoid actions that reduce yields, but that improperly built or poorly maintained culverts under state roads have done exactly that. Some culverts empty back into the steam from too high a height or move water at too high a velocity, others are filled with forest debris.

The case area is roughly the northwestern third of Washington state and its many rivers and streams from which salmon swim to Puget Sound and to which they return – or try to return – to spawn. The federal ruling also includes a much smaller number of culverts overseen by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources, and Washington State Parks, which must be remedied by 2016.

County, Local Barrier Culverts Are Many, But Not Included
However the targeted state culverts don’t include thousands more in Washington which also pose barriers to salmon passage but aren’t required to be fixed. According to another presentation to the committee last week by DFW, county and local government associations, another 2,264 salmon barrier culverts are operated by county governments and 783 overseen by cities in the case area.

Maximizing Bang-for-Buck
With almost $300,000 in county and local fuel tax revenues DFW will help “inventory, prioritize and study” those barriers with results submitted to lawmakers by the end of June next year. The state, county and local governments are hoping to develop a coordinated approach based on watersheds, “prioritizing work up and down the streams that could have the largest impact on fish recovery.”

SR 530 Fortson Creek WSDOT culvert with new stream crossing - Source: WSDOT

According to a presentation to the committee last week by Shorin of the AG’s Office, the court order directs the state to fix its salmon barrier culverts preferably by avoiding “the need for the roadway to cross the stream” or failing that, by building a “full-span bridge.” The last option is to use a ‘”stream simulation methodology.”

Private Sector Initiative
In the meantime, noted the Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Forest Protection Association in their own presentation to legislators last week, forestry companies and small landowners have spent at least $18 million to repair some 5,142 smaller salmon habitat barriers on private land, but at least 585 such projects remain. To date, 285 salmon barrier culverts overseen by WSDOT have been corrected.

The $2.4 billion estimate for fixing the remaining WSDOT culverts doesn’t include those identified as salmon barriers after the court ruling, nor does it include the 10 percent of the total that the court said can be deferred past 2030.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Ex-WSP Trooper To Pay $60K For Alleged Pension Scam

by Matt Rosenberg January 17th, 2014

Several years after the allegations prompted headlines, and more than a year after he settled a related misdemeanor case for official misconduct in King County Superior Court, a former Washington State Trooper who allegedly gamed his state pension payout through misclassifying overtime hours he worked in 2010 and 2011 has quietly settled an ongoing state ethics probe by agreeing with his signature to pay a $60,000 fine, while admitting no guilt. The action came in an administrative determination known as a “stipulation” approved this week by the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, with ex-WSP Lieutenant William Blythe Gardiner, now 52. Public records show his last known voter registration address is in Sammamish.

Ds, Rs Push House Bill For Govt. Meeting Agendas Online

by Matt Rosenberg January 15th, 2014

Taking a gentle approach to the often-contentious annual legislative battle in Olympia over local government transparency, a broad bi-partisan coalition of 41 State House members have signed on as sponsors of a measure to require all but the smallest government bodies to post their regular meeting agendas online at least 24 hours in advance. With sponsors including Seattle Democrats and Eastern Washington Republicans, House Bill 2105 got its first hearing yesterday in the chamber’s Government Operations and Elections Committee. The state’s Open Public Records Act lays out rules and responsibilities for making and complying with public document and data requests. The companion Open Public Meetings Act among other things says governments “shall provide the time for holding regular meetings” as determined in its laws or rules, but has no actual requirement agendas be posted, or posted online.

Prime sponsor Brad Hawkins (R-12, Wenatchee) told the committee the proposed legislation was “a modest first step at updating the Open Public Meetings Act to reflect our online society.” The Act “only requires public agencies with governing bodies to issue notice” of meetings, “but it does not require them to post agendas. In the interest of transparency in government, posting agendas is a good practice.” A co-lead sponsor is State Rep. Steve Berguist (D-11, South Seattle/Tukwila/Renton).

Bill Will, the Executive Director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, also testified in support of HB 2105, saying that posting meeting agendas online is “a common courtesy, a lot of government agencies are already doing this, and if this is a gentle nudge in the direction for everyone to do it, I think it’s a good thing.”

Victoria Lincoln, representing the Association of Washington Cities, said she signed in as “neutral” on the bill, and wants to learn more about penalties for non-compliance, and what compliance would entail for staffers.

Included under the bill’s requirements would be city and county councils, school districts, a wide range of other local and regional government bodies, and “any state board, commission, department, education institution” that has a governing body. The proposed law would not erase the existing requirement under OPMA that such public bodies provide advance notice, separately, of their meeting dates, times and places.

As our own September 2012 resource guide to online meeting agendas in Washington showed, practices vary widely across the state. Some local and regional governments not only post their agendas online, but also include item-by-item links to the agenda items. This is the one part of a robust approach to voluntary online government transparency; another is providing current and historical key performance data in structured formats such as Excel and CSV.

Other government bodies in Washington don’t bake meeting document links directly into their online agendas but do augment them with bulky .pdf files of the whole meeting’s document packet. Others simply meet the intent of HB 2015 by posting an agenda online with no accompanying meeting packet online or embedded document links.

Another category of Washington governments have web sites but post no agendas; these are the ones who would be targeted for compliance under HB 2105, unless they met the bill’s exemption threshold of having full-time staffs of five or fewer employees. Governments with no web sites would be exempt.

One additional testifier at Tuesday’s committee hearing, Arthur West of Olympia, suggested that some small cities, school districts or other bodies which could have to comply under the new law might instead try to game the exemption by making technical adjustments to lower their FTE level to five or less, and that therefore some reasonable population level for affected jurisdictions, based on the latest U.S. Census data, should be substituted as a yardstick for granting exemptions.

In the legislature in recent years cities, led by the AWC, have voiced concerns and advanced bills to regulate what they see as sometimes burdensome public records requests; and have proposed some requesters be required to pay for related staff time, prompting sharp rebuttals from records requesters and their allies. Other disputes have arisen around proposed and adopted exemptions to the Public Records Act. Voluntary online disclosure hasn’t come up much as a legislative topic, until now.

The 2014 legislative calendar hasn’t been posted yet but typically in a session starting in January, bills must pass through their originating committee with a simple majority by the end of the third week in February in order to be eligible for further consideration and an eventual floor vote. For any bill to become law it must be passed by both the State House and the Senate. If differing versions of a bill are passed in each chamber, that can be resolved in various ways including in conference committee.

Video of testimony to the House Gov Ops Committee yesterday on HB 2105 is below via TVW.

RELATED: HB 2105 committee staff bill analysis; HB 2105 Bill Summary Page.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WSDOT: Freight Rail Fixes Are Key, But Funding Is Iffy

by Matt Rosenberg January 13th, 2014

Freight rail can continue to be a carbon-conserving boon to the environment and economy in Washington state versus higher-polluting trucked freight, and will benefit from at least $419 million in publicly-sourced improvements and repairs through 32 completed projects by 2018. But at least another $1.5 billion in identified freight rail improvements is needed by 2030 in the state, and likely more, with funding sources currently unclear.

Meanwhile, the main intercity passenger rail route serving Washington, the Amtrak Cascades train connecting Seattle to Vancouver B.C. and Portland, will see $744 million in investment by 2018, mainly from federal stimulus money for so-called “high-speed rail.” Overall, the state wants $6.7 billion for Cascades improvements by 2030 although the return on investment is far less evident than for the envisioned freight rail spending. These are among the key takeaways from 492 pages of information in nine newly-updated ‘technical notes” to the statewide rail plan. That plan is now being finalized by the Washington State Department of Transportation. The final version is expected to be online by month’s end but not necessarily with the technical notes, which currently are provided only to requesters.

State Parks Repair Backlog $463M; Current Funding Scant

by Matt Rosenberg December 30th, 2013

Washington State Parks have a backlog of deferred maintenance projects valued at $463 million now, up from $373 million in 2001, according to a new report to the legislature from the state parks and recreation commission. Current legislative funding for the backlog is a scant $7 million. The news comes as the parks system continues to wrestle with tough new fiscal realities sure to require more reliance on outside revenue and far less from Olympia.