Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WA gas tax, license fee hikes eyed; local MVET option seen

by September 23rd, 2012

Around Washington state this fall city councils, regional associations of cities and regional transportation planning boards are trying to find common ground on what sort of transportation revenue measures to push in the Winter 2013 session of the state legislature to address worn-out and crowded roads and highways and transit system preservation. High-profile electronic tolling in Central Puget Sound will cover only a modest portion of that region’s funding needs. Statewide, a governor’s task force early this year identified $50 billion worth of necessary surface transportation work in the next decade. But a recently approved Congressional transportation spending bill funnels only $1.3 billion here in the next two years. So cities are working to develop a consensus position to advance in Olympia. Several key possibilities, according to a staff memo to be discussed by the Bellevue City Council Monday night are:

* an increase of eight cents in statewide gas tax;
* a local option hike of baseline countywide vehicle license fee from $20 to $40;
* and perhaps even allowing counties to implement a one percent motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).

Though local option measures could advance this year, a statewide gas tax hike might have to wait until 2014. The one percent MVET could be a local option only, not imposed statewide. A city or county council would be able to approve it, or could choose to let local voters decide. Counties which adopted an MVET would get two-thirds of revenues for transit and roads, and cities would get the rest to repair and build arterial streets.

For King County, the Bellevue memo says, a one percent MVET would yield about $75 million annually. Likewise, as outlined in the Bellevue staff memo, an increase in local vehicle license fees from $20 to $40 would not be imposed but could be approved by an elected city or county council or a local transportation benefit district. Another idea being considered is an annual electric vehicle fee of $200.

Bellevue staff say a local option MVET is attractive because it can be used for all surface transportation purposes including transit whereas the gas tax is for roads only; and that the MVET is progressive, based on the value of the vehicle, rather than the same for all regardless of income or vehicle value, like the gas tax. Similarly, a City of Shoreline staff memo also dated September 24, on legislative priorities, says the progressive MVET is preferable to the flat vehicle license fee. However part of the political baggage carried by the MVET is a fair play problem, as some vehicle owners loudly voiced concerns over inaccurate value assessments and overcharging when it was previously in effect in Washington. There’s a thorny backstory, though. In a ballot initiative led by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman in 1999, Washington voters opted to end the oft-reviled MVET, and despite a later court ruling invalidating the measure, legislators chose to let it lie.

King County’s Metro bus service has a lot riding on extension and growth of the vehicle license fee. Following passage of enabling state legislation, the county council in August 2011 approved a temporary 2012-13 license fee of $20 to help maintain bus service and control congestion, with the proviso that a broader funding approach would be implemented in the future.

A gas tax hike of eight cents wouldn’t actually do much good, at least in the state’s most populous and traveled sectors, where mega-project tabs easily run into the billions. According to the Bellevue staff memo, a gas tax hike of eight cents would generate $2.56 billion in a decade with two thirds to the state and a third, or $896 million altogether, to local governments. But the memo notes, “this part of the proposal represents a very modest level of revenue when you consider that the cost of expanding I-405 south of Bellevue through SR 167 is $1.7 billion. the gas tax is attractive in so far as it is a user fee, a principle supported by the Council over the years. However, to address major corridors like I-405, the statewide gas tax level would have to be much higher.”

Although not mentioned in the memo, other unfunded or underfunded mega-projects dot the Seattle regional landscape. Completion of the replacement bridge across SR 520 on Lake Washington requires a missing $2 billion. High priority work on I-5 in Seattle to repair pavement and ease bottlenecks is estimated in the several billions. Crucial safety fixes to U.S. Route 2 in Snohomish County have been pegged at more than $1 billion. Likewise the extension of SR 509 to I-5 just south of SeaTac Airport, a key freight mobility and congestion relief project. Between 2010 and 2040 in the Central Puget Sound region of King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, $64 billion more than anticipated revenue will needed to keep roads, bridges, and transit in decent shape, according to the Transportation 2040 report released by the Puget Sound Regional Council.

That’s why the state is moving ahead with first-stage exploration of a more sweeping approach to tax vehicles by the mile using on-board devices or other high-tech solutions. The Bellevue staff memo does mention this option, but says it “appears to be significantly difficult to implement and may be years away from widespread acceptance.”

RELATED: “How To Get Involved In The WA Vehicle Mileage Tax Study,” Public Data Ferret.

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.

Big learning curve ahead on U.S. automated weapons, intel

by September 22nd, 2012

U.S. national security and military cost-efficiency will increasingly depend on automated weapons and automated information gathering systems on land, air and sea, but as procurement and deployment grow, coordinating and improving that effort will be a challenge, according to a recent report to top military brass from the U.S. Defense Science Board. As part of a broad re-make of U.S. military might the Department of Defense is increasingly moving away from reliance on humans and deeper into unmanned systems. But the report to the Office of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and DoD Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, issues a warning in a cover memo that “autonomy technology is being underutilized” because of “obstacles within the Department” including poor design, ineffective R&D coordination across military branches, and the rush to deploy some systems without sufficient funding or time to develop the right approaches for training and actual usage.

The board also notes that past studies funded by DoD on improving autonomous systems have focused too much on the types and depths of their technical capabilities but not enough on design and performance enhancements to human-machine collaboration.

Look What Washed Up Ashore: WA Ecology, on Flickr

by September 21st, 2012

Yes, of course the Washington State Department of Ecology is on Flickr and yes, they’ve got exactly the pix you know you want to see: marine debris of the first order. It ain’t pretty. Following are a few highlights from the album. Perhaps we could all agree to not leave things floating out at sea. Like boats and oil barrels and stuff. Exceptions granted for tsunamis, of course. While we’re at it, you might want to bookmark DOE’s spill incidents information center, their “publications by program” hub, or their news listserve. Captions immediately below the pictures here are verbatim from DOE. The asides are our own.

From June 24-29, Ecology deployed 3 Washington Conservation Corps crews to clean up increased amounts of marine debris along 57 miles of coastal beaches in southwest Washington. They collected enough material to fill 70 pickup trucks./WA Dept. Ecology@Flickr

Didn’t I see those guys at The Crocodile Tavern last Saturday night? Anyway.

WCC crews found this oil drum at Wash-Away Beach near Tokeland on June 28. It did not have visible identifying markers./WA Dept. Ecology@Flickr

Yes, there really is a Tokeland, Wash. And no, you can’t move there. All the spots are taken. This next one is from the Long Beach Peninsula. Brilliant, huh?

Varying types of debris have washed ashore including this industrial light bulb./WA Dept. Ecology@Flickr

Public Data Ferret’s Environment archive

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.

Federal Way R.N. surrenders license in wake of rape charge

by September 20th, 2012

In an order made public today by the Washington State Department of Health, a former registered nurse named Konstantin V. Kurkov who worked in the emergency room of St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way has agreed to permanently surrender his license, following criminal charges of second degree rape of a patient, and administrative proceedings alleging unprofessional conduct.

Kurkov, now 24, and registered to vote at an address on 146th Avenue E. in the town of Graham in Pierce County, settled the criminal charges earlier by entering a so-called Alford Plea to a lesser charge of second degree assault. An Alford Plea indicates no admission of guilt but acknowledging the evidence was substantial. He was sentenced on that charge to 90 days home detention earlier this month by King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey, but had already served 95 days in jail, so was released. The sentence also included a $1,000 fine, 12 months probation and a requirement Kurkov get a professional evaluation for sexual deviancy and follow the recommendations.

In the meantime, the surrender of his registered nursing license to DOH’s Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission also means he will never be able to hold any kind of health care license in Washington State for the rest of his life. In March, 2011, just 14 months after being granted his state R.N. license, Kurkov sexually abused a female patient by inappropriately probing her genital area after she came in to the ER for back pain. She initially believed he was a doctor based on his words and actions at the time.

Further details of the DOH allegations and a link to the original criminal charges were reported by Public Data Ferret in late April, 2011, shortly after the state’s inquiry was made public.

Public Data Ferret’s Ethics+Health Care archive

“Quick Stop” Skills Key To Passing WA Motorcycle Test

by September 20th, 2012

Washington residents who’d like to drive a motorcycle have to pass a riding skills test to get the added “endorsement” on their driver’s license. The state Department of Licensing guide to the process says you can do it in one step at an approved motorcycle training school, or in two steps starting with a knowledge test that gets you an instructional permit to ride before taking the riding skills test. There are five key riding skills tested: cone weave and normal stop; turn from a stop, and U-turn; obstacle swerve; quick stop; and handling curves. DOL has been releasing instructional videos on its YouTube channel for each of the five riding test skills. Today the department posted the “quick stop” video. We’re providing it below, for the convenience of future test-takers.

You’ll find the other four episodes in the right margin, here.

RELATED: DOL’s YouTube channel.

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.

WA adjusts ethics rules for horse racing commission workers

by September 20th, 2012

The Washington State Horse Racing Commission will take a more direct role in regulating potential conflicts of interest for its employees working in the off-season for the horse racing industry they help regulate – at the Emerald Downs track in Auburn – with rules changes that were approved last week by the state’s Executive Ethics Board. One key change replaces a relatively complicated process for getting ethical clearance of off-season work with a more streamlined approach. Another major tweak was removing loopholes for accepting from industry representatives any gratuities or gifts such as meals, beverages, merchandise, special discounts, loans, or special free admission offers to events. Additionally, the new rules remove a loophole permitting commission employees the possibility of conducting outside business while on duty.

Seattle bill would restrict employer use of criminal histories

by September 19th, 2012

A proposed City of Seattle bill being championed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell would restrict the right of Seattle employers to factor in to their hiring decisions a job applicant’s past arrests, convictions or pending criminal criminal charges. Under Council Bill 117583, which is scheduled for discussion today in the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee meeting chaired by Harrell, employers would be required to:

  • wait until after extending a job offer to check an applicant’s criminal history;
  • avoid refusing to hire, or avoid firing an employee because of a past criminal conviction or pending criminal charge – unless there’s a “direct relationship” between the crime and the job’s duties;
  • and assess “direct relationship” on factors including reasonable foreseeability of harm or misconduct, seriousness of past crime(s), length of time elapsed since the crime(s), and the applicant’s conduct and rehabilitation since then.

  • According to a city staff fiscal note which summarizes the bill and answers several questions about its implications, Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights would implement the legislation. This would include public education directed to employers and job applicants, and could also involve investigating and trying to settle complaints brought by job applicants against Seattle employers. The fiscal note says it’s not clear whether the bill would require additional hiring at OCR; that the agency “will need to assess their ability to continue to absorb this body of work with existing staff and resources.”

    This is your land: Melakwa Lake, the video

    by September 19th, 2012

    Washington State is blessed with a wide range of public lands upon which to hike and a lot of them seem to reside within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Only 45 minutes east of Seattle off Interstate 90 at Exit 47 is the signed route to the Denny Creek campground and the Denny Creek Trailhead #1014, which after a mile-and-a-third to a popular natural water slide continues on three-plus miles further to a beautiful alpine spot called Melakwa Lake. Total distance up is 4.7 miles and the elevation gain is a vigorous but not absurdly challenging 2,300 feet. I hiked up there last Saturday, and here’s the video. More details on the hike, and directions from the Washington Trails Association. It’s one of ten they recommend within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

    Here’s my cosmic, wordless take:


  • Bald Eagle Viewing On Skagit River Starts Saturday, Public Data Ferret, December, 2011
  • Wildlife Refuge Locator: Online Guide To Washington, U.S., Public Data Ferret, January, 2011
  • Public Data Ferret’s Parks and Recreation archive includes articles related to public use and public policy, for parks in the Seattle region and Washington state.

    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.