Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for August, 2010

Washington State Indoor Smoking Ban: Good For Bars, Taverns And The State’s General Fund?

by Matt Rosenberg August 16th, 2010

OVERVIEW: In November 2005, Washington State voters approved Initiative 901, to ban smoking in all public locations and places of employment. In the lead-up to the vote on the ballot measure, one argument advanced by opponents was that if approved, the ban would have negative effects on taxable retail sales (TRS) volume at bars and taverns. But after the law took hold in December 2005, the opposite effect was reported for 2006 and 2007, in a new study published in a journal of the Centers For Disease Control. The author was a public health researcher for the state of Oregon and Multnomah County, Oregon, and used Washington State Department of Revenue quarterly TRS data for bars and taverns from 2002 through 2007, and other controlling data, to develop a statistical model to assess the economic effect of I-901’s passage. The study finds that sales activity became significantly higher than it otherwise would have been, in Washington state bars and taverns following voter approval of the smoking ban.

KEY DOCUMENT: “Smoke-Free Law Associated With Higher-Than-Expected Taxable Retail Sales For Bars And Taverns In Washington State,” Preventing Chronic Disease, U.S. Centers For Disease Control, 7/10.

Public Data Ferret radio segment discussing this article, 8/18/10


  • Controlling for seasonality, unemployment, inflation, and changes in population and personal income, the study found that “taxable retail sales (in Washington state bars and taverns) grew significantly through the fourth quarter of 2007. Our analysis suggests that the statewide smoke-free law was associated with higher revenues than would have been expected had the smoke-free law not been in effect.”
  • By the fourth quarter of 2007, total retail sales in Washington state bars and taverns was “35 percent higher with the smoke-free law than it was projected to be without it.”
  • Washington state experienced a net gain of more than $105 million in total retail sales (at bars and taverns) during the two years after implementation of I-901, versus what would have been expected without the ban, based on historical and other data factored into the statistical model. At a 6.5 percent sales tax rate and a 0.5 percent business and occupation tax rate on taxable retail sales at bars and taverns, that translates to a benefit of approximately $7.4 million to the state’s general fund.
  • “Revenue gains may be an affect both of new nonsmoking patrons going to bars and existing smoking…patrons continuing to go to bars….Surveys of dining and drinking behavior indicate that few smokers will change their behavior, while nonsmokers are more likely to patronize the newly smoke-free venues.”
  • The number of bars and taverns in Washington state increased from 1,020 in the first quarter of 2006 to 1,117 in the fourth quarter of 2007. While a portion of the increase in taxable retail sales at bars and taverns could be attributable to more venues, “the expansion is an indicator of a thriving sector of the economy that was not hurt by the smoke-free law.”

NOTES ON THE STUDY: The study was funded by the Washington State Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. The author was Myde Boles, PhD, Program Design and Evaluation Services, Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Public Health Division, Portland, OR. The study was done with assistance from Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Public Health Division, the Washington State Department of Health, and the Washington State Department of Revenue. The study was peer-reviewed before publication in the CDC journal, Preventing Chronic Disease.

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: U.S. Senate Testimony On Fraud At For-Profit Colleges

by Matt Rosenberg August 12th, 2010

A federal investigative report on fraud at for-profit colleges plus related U.S. Senate testimony from an industry insider and a financial expert were at the center of my regular weekly segment today on the work of our Public Data Ferret project, at KOMO-AM 1000 News Radio in Seattle. Here’s the original Ferret write-up, as well as the audio of the segment. The transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “1.8 million students headed back to a non-traditional classroom this fall. Matt Rosenberg of on the line with us, and Matt, we’re referring in this instance to for-profit colleges. What are some of the names that would be familiar if we’re talking about non-profit institutions?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, University of Phoenix, Art Institute Of Seattle, Everest University, Argosy University, Kaplan University, to name a few.”

Nancy Barrick: “Alright. These are for-profit colleges. You looked into a report where several of these schools have been investigated. What are they looking at?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Senate testimony last week has shined a glaring spotlight on ethically and financially troubling practices by the big national corporations and other stake-holders that run these for-profit colleges. There was an investigation by the Government Accountability Office plus reports to the Senate from an industry insider – a recruiter who worked in the boiler room – and a financial expert. And what they told the Senate is disturbing. The picture is this: high pressure sales tactics, price gouging, rocketing default rates on the federal loans to students at these for-profit colleges, plus deceptive marketing. Prices are lowballed, accreditation is fudged, and the credits often don’t transfer to other schools or aren’t accepted by employers. So, the emerging picture is that the issues are systemic, not isolated.”

U.S. Senate Hearings: Fraud In For-Profit Education Industry

by Matt Rosenberg August 9th, 2010

OVERVIEW: Enrollment in U.S. for-profit colleges has grown to 1.8 million students, five times the total in recent years. More than three-quarters attend institutions run by publicly-traded corporations such as Apollo Corp. (University of Phoenix), Education Management Corporation (Argosy University, Art Institute schools, and 38 percent-owned by Goldman Sachs), Kaplan University (owned by Washington Post Co.), and Corinthian Colleges (brands include Everest College). In 2009, students at for-profit colleges received $20 billion in federal loans and $4 billion in federal Pell Grants. But the sector is known for high drop-out rates, high-pressure sales tactics, deceptive marketing, steep pricing compared to public colleges, and too often, credentials not accepted by employers or other educational institutions. Loan defaults are another concern. For-profit colleges have 9% of the students, 25% of all U.S. government Title IV education loans and grants, yet account for 44% of all Title IV defaults. Certificate, associate and bachelor’s degrees are offered in a wide variety of fields, from vocational or technical to white-collar professional. Classes can be online-only, or partially online.

Public Data Ferret radio segment on this article, 8/11/10, KOMO-AM 1000, Seattle

A. U.S. Senate committee held hearings recently where a former admissions recruiter for one for-profit chain revealed disturbing practices and a financial analyst warned of parallels between the current course of the for-profit college sector and the sub-prime mortgage meltdown (testimonies below). One of the hearings also highlighted an undercover investigation by The U.S. General Accountability Office into practices at 15 for-profit colleges which receive an especially high proportion of funding from federal loans or grants.

Transportation And Community Well Being

by Matt Rosenberg August 5th, 2010

There’s a growing inclination to assess the state of community well-being. Indices include educational opportunities and quality, volunteerism, local agricultural abundance, water and air quality, Internet access and online communities, and of course, ease of transportation. Or lack thereof. The Puget Sound region loves its transportation dialog. Major bridge, tunnel and highway projects are painfully slow to launch, and finish. Telecommuting and transit are key parts of our regional transportation conversation and our unfortunately piecemeal action plan. Transit advocates take some encouragement from two votes to build (and then build more) light rail, and other initiatives to add express buses with features of so-called “bus rapid transit” in Snohomish and King Counties.

Progress is slow but now perhaps steady on replacing the earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 through downtown Seattle with a controversial deep-bore tunnel. However, as reported yesterday in the Seattle Times, money lined up is far short of what’s needed for a crucial safety replacement of the SR 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington between Seattle and jobs-rich Eastside suburbs such as Bellevue and Redmond. I seem to recall this very matter having arisen in some detail last September. Into this whole decision matrix are factored fascinating and important conversations on regional highway corridor tolling (electronically, with price breaks for high-occupancy and perhaps even low carbon-emitting vehicles), plus market penetration of electric vehicles, and more frequent telecommuting – which can only happen if employers learn better to…trust, and verify. We won’t attempt to resolve all this here, just say more and better leadership is crucial. My aim now is to highlight a piece of the transit puzzle that richly connects with our regional heritage on the waters of Puget Sound, and perhaps our future, as well.