Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for January, 2014

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.


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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.

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.