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Posts published in February 2013

Travesty

Menzel TOM
MENZEL

 
Washington
My Home

FOR SALE, LEASE OR TRADE: 120,000 acres of prime Washington real estate. Valued at more than $3 billion. Includes 116 parks, 700 historic buildings, cabins, yurts, vacation houses, forts, fabulous wedding venues, and dozens of stunning beaches. Buy now and get naming rights for hokey park names like Cape Disappointment, Steamboat Rock, Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea. Contact Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission or your local state legislator.

Pardon the hyperbole, but this scenario may not be too far off since our parks have become nothing but financial burdens that need to be monetized. After the legislature voted in 2011 to cut off all general fund support for our state parks and replace it with user-fees (“earned income”), the State Parks and Recreation Commission has been scrambling to keep them open and operating while continuing to make its case for stable funding sources.

Unfortunately, the latest desperate attempts to shore up lost revenue – a $30 annual “Discover Pass” and a $10 day-use fee – have fallen 50 percent short of projections. So now we have a critical funding crisis, yet one more chapter in the ridiculous quest to run government like a business. As state parks director Don Hoch said last summer: “At no time in our 100-year history have we been in a position like this, where we have to make so many tough decisions.”

Palous Falls
Palouse Falls State Park (photo/state of Washington)

A report to the Parks and Recreation Commission last August says that no other state follows such a self-funded model, calling it "impractical" and "unachievable." So now we have a rare opportunity to lead the way to the bottom in park management. The visionary generations who came before us are rolling over in their graves.

Ironically, the legislature’s target for defunding our parks is this year, 2013, which happens to be the 100th anniversary of our state park system. Many of the noble and ambitious plans to upgrade, expand and improve the parks for the centennial celebration have been shelved. State Parks has already made painful staff and spending reductions and has been planning for “previously unthinkable reductions.”

In the very year when we should be bursting with pride to celebrate these crown jewels, we are casting this loyal old dog out into the cold without food or shelter – sort of like filing for divorce on your 50th anniversary party. And we now have a draft of the divorce papers in the form of a report released January 29th by the Parks and Recreation Commission. It’s called “Transformation Strategy – Adapting to a new way of operating Washington’s state parks.”

This is not a fun read unless you like hearing about good people begging for help. I can imagine the seven volunteer commissioners weeping as they sat through countless McKinseyesque workshops and public meetings and finally forcing themselves to approve this document. They are doing the best they can. They are doing what they have to do.

But the 27-page report reads like notes from a corporate retreat. It uses the word “business” 20 times. “Lease” shows up 13 times. It includes buzzwords straight from Dilbert, like: forming strategic partnerships; strategies and initiatives to help create a new business model; transformation principles with imperatives that will drive agency-wide planning, resource allocation and day-to-day decisions; core values and cultural norms that promote organizational change and innovation; specific action-oriented initiatives that will advance agency transformation. And, my favorite, it boldly encourages a decimated park staff to embrace risk-taking, accepting responsibility for the outcome and “excellence in all we do.”

The report even sheepishly admits a dark secret: “For many years parks and recreation providers believed that technology had no place in parks. Even commissioners and staff believed state parks should remain technology-free.” Imagine that. (more…)

Sequester impacts, by state

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From the White House, state breakdowns were released Sunday on local impacts of the prospective federal budget sequester.

Reports for all the states were released; these are the links for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Interesting reading, and they do tend to bring the airy national numbers down to more specific results.

Closer to home

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Here's an idea to get your mind around: A legislature in which you're represented by two rather than three state lawmakers, with legislators elected from 105 rather than 35 districts. In which the number of legislators overall is the same as it is right now.

Welcome to the way Oregon apportions its legislature, and the way a group of legislators in Washington state – a liberal and a moderate Democrat and a conservative Republican – are proposing it be done there. A way that could be done, too, in Idaho.

It's less complicated than I made it sound a couple of paragraphs back, and barely more complicated than what Idaho does now. Idaho has (and has had since 1966, with a six-year interruption) 35 districts, roughly equal in population, each represented by one senator and two representatives. Washington state does the same with 49 districts.

Oregon has 90 legislators, and like the other two has twice as many representatives as senators. But its districts are different. It has 30 Senate districts; on the House level each of those Senate districts is split in half, those halves each electing one representative, 60 in all. For a total of 90. That gives each representative a smaller group of constituents to worry about, and theoretically at least gives the voters better access to and more influence with their representative. You could argue that it makes the House “closer to the people” without increasing the number of legislators.

A bill proposed by three Washington House members, liberal Democrat Hans Dunshee, moderate Democrat Dawn Morrell and conservative Republican Hans Zeiger (inevitably, the “Hans and Hans bill”) has been introduced there instructing the next redistricting commission (which Washington, like Idaho but unlike Oregon, has) to split up the legislature in the separate-House-district way.

In Washington, that would mean House districts of about 70,000 people instead of the current 140,000. In Idaho, that would mean House districts of about 22,500 people each rather than 45,000 or so. (more…)

First take: Tuition, tax agencies

news

TUITION EQUITY The Oregon House on Friday cast what probably was the key vote on "tuition equity" - allowing in-state college tuition rates to students who aren't in Oregon legally but have lived there for a long time and meet certain standards. Similar measures have failed in the House before, though they have passed the Senate (where this one goes next, and is expected to clear). All House Democrats voted in favor; a scattering of House Republicans did too, but most of the Republican caucus (including most from the Willamette Valley) voted against. It was called a bipartisan issue, but ... not really.

ANTI-TAX AGENCY It's not often Idaho legislators give a better review to a federal agency than to its state counterpart, but a bunch of senators did on Friday, during a floor discussion of tax auditing. The Internal Revenue Service, so often disparaged among Idaho elected officials, was described as relatively decent compared to the state Tax Commission employees. Senator Monty Pearce: "We have that image with the surrounding states. They know that's how we are. There's just a mentality - we're going to collect money, come hell or high water." But not just Republicans took that stance; it was heard across the aisle as well. Tax officials took exception.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/02/22/2462308/senate-bashes-idaho-tax-agency.html#storylink=cpy

Special funds for charters?

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a February 20 Idaho Education News post by Kevin Richert.

Members of the House Education Committee voted unanimously Thursday to introduce a groundbreaking — and potentially controversial — charter school funding bill.

The bill would provide $1.4 million to offset charter schools facility costs.

Because Thursday’s hearing was only an introductory print hearing, legislators did not allow testimony from education stakeholders or the public. Now that the legislation has been introduced, a full public hearing one the charter school proposal will likely occur in the coming days or weeks.

Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff for the Idaho State Department of Education, said a committee including representatives from the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, school district administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Charter School Network crafted the plan after studying charter school rules and laws since June.

Unlike school districts, charter schools are unable to go to voters to seek bonds or levies to pay for facilities. Instead, Hancock said, charter schools often have to spend 15 and 30 percent of their operations money on facilities.

“During the coruse of their existence, (charter schools) have had to scrimp and save and steal in order to pay for facilities,” Hancock told lawmakers will introducing the bill.”

Ken Burgess, a lobbyist representing charter schools, concedes that the bill sets up an “interesting battle” in the Statehouse. (more…)

Read ’em and weep

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

From time to time, I’m sternly criticized by a reader or three – and an occasional friend – that the musings usually found within these digital pages are too anti-Republican. I’m accused, not necessarily of being a Democrat in journalist’s clothing, but of just not giving support to things GOP. Not finding the good, as it were.

Well, there’s some truth to that last criticism. Trouble is, my critical GOP friends, there’s not much Republican “good” tidings where most of us Americans are these days. We’re just not supporting things Republican. By large numbers.

A new Pew Research poll out this week is the best scientific evidence to date that the “Grand Old Party” is in disfavor on every single issue of national importance. All of ‘em! The statistics are overwhelming.

Taxes and the deficit. The Democrat proposal of a combination of spending cuts and tax increases is supported by 76% across the board. Republicans want only cuts and that gets the support of just 19%.

Raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour? Support is 71% by all but only 50% by Republicans.

Climate change. More than 54% say the most important step to take is developing alternative energy sources (what Democrats want) versus 34% expanding production and drilling more (what Republicans want.)

Gun control. Americans favor new gun legislation 67%-29%. Specifically, expanded background checks 83%-15% – assault weapons ban 56%-41%. Those numbers find Republican and NRA oriented Democrat members of Congress on the losing end on all counts.

Pew sampled immigration. Border security and a path to citizenship – Democrat positions – favored by 47%. The GOP’s stand of prioritizing only enforcement got 25% and on citizenship opportunities 25%. And today’s Republican official position on eventual citizenship consists only of some sort of ill-defined second-class status.

But we’re not done yet. If you re-read these numbers, you’ll find one very startling fact: majorities favor federal government/legislative action on every issue. Every one! That concept – borne out by the numbers – is completely contrary to Republican positions. On all issues, most of us want federal government action. Now!

But, if I were a Republican campaign pro, here’s a result that would really send me straight to the bar. A new Bloomberg sampling this week gives the President a 55% job approval rating – highest in three years! Also, Bloomberg found 49% believe the President’s ideas to increase government spending in key areas are more likely to create jobs. (more…)

First take: Reardon out, Albertsons in

news

REARDON OUT Not so many years ago, Aaron Reardon seemed to be one of the rising stars in Washington Democratic politics, maybe a prospect for governor or some other higher office, after his move from the legislature to becoming executive of the state's third-largest, and one of its key political swings, Snohomish. How the tides turn ... He has been in recent months, as the headlines say, "embattled," and this morning he said he will resign as executive at the end of May. As the Everett Herald summed, "He was investigated last year by the Washington State Patrol, and never charged, for allegations of misusing county money during an extramarital affair. He is the focus of a state Public Disclosure Commission investigation into using county resources on political campaigns, and he has been subject to repeated efforts by a Gold Bar blogger to recall him from office." Not pretty, and maybe not recoverable (politically) at this point. And Snohomish politics, often shaky, looks about to rumble and roll again.

ALBERTSONS REDUX Looks as if the people who will be running the New Albertsons supermarket operations (evidently being spun from SuperValu) may be the people who were running Albertsons long ago, when it was an independent operation. That may be helpful for the operation, if these executives learn from recent history.

The desire to simplify

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

What is it about human nature that leads intelligent, usually sensible folks to fall into the trap of the “either/or?” Why do we have a horrible tendency to want to simplify the complex matters we face as individuals and a society? Will we ever learn that the false promises of simple solutions always ignore the law of unintended consequences?

These questions emerge as we witness the latest folly of Congress abdicating its responsibility to produce a preferably balanced budget which does not mortgage our children and grandchildren’s futures.

Unable to come to grips with our potentially crippling trillion -dollar debt by adopting a sensible program of reform, as advocated by the Simpson/Bowles Commission, Congress set a date in which mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts would be imposed if no agreement for fiscal responsibility was reached.

In effect, it is akin to placing a pistol to one’s head and saying if I haven’t quit drinking the toxic Kool-Aid of unbalanced spending by March 1,, I’m going to pull the trigger. It is fiscal insanity, but then so is the penchant to spend what we don’t have by continued borrowing.

The March 1 deadline is nearly here, yet Congress and the White House appear paralyzed, each pointing the finger at the other. Truth is, each share the blame, and each is playing high- stakes poker with the economy.

An $85 billion cut in a trillion dollar budget doesn’t seem catastrophic. Entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) are sacrosanct so the $85 billion comes from the Defense Department budget and from the rest of domestic spending. It equates to an 8 percent cut in the already existing Defense budget and a 5 percent reduction in the budgets of existing domestic spending. And it is across the board.

Its impact will be felt across Idaho, especially because we are one of the “net gainer” states. We receive $1.23 in federal spending for every $1 we hand over to Uncle Sam in fees and taxes. Just a few of the national impacts will be: 77,000 already enrolled children living in homes below the poverty line will be dropped from the valuable Head Start program that helps improve their educational opportunities; commodity food purchases for Aid for Dependent Children and hot lunch programs will be curtailed; and, contract employees of the Defense Department, half of whom are veterans, will be furloughed. (more…)