From a report by the Washington Secretary of State’s office.

Paul Allen’s Initiative 1401, requiring a state crackdown on trafficking of endangered species/parts, has qualified for a spot on the statewide Washington ballot this fall, Secretary of State Kim Wyman announced late Wednesday.

State Elections Division crews completed scrutiny of voter signatures on a random sampling of I-1401 petitions and showed that sponsors submitted more than enough names to qualify for a state vote.

To earn a ballot spot takes 246,372 valid signatures of registered Washington voters – 8 percent of the last votes cast for governor. Sponsors turned in over 347,000 signatures and about 10,000 were randomly chosen by computer algorithm for a full check.

The check showed an error rate of about 14 percent, compared with the average rate of 18 percent in recent decades.

The check showed that 9,101 signatures in the sample were accepted, 1,321 were rejected because the signer wasn’t a registered voter, 120 rejected because the signature didn’t match the one on file. Only one duplicate was found, an unusually low number.

The text is here.

Our website for signature-checks is here.

Election Director Lori Augino said the signature-checkers now turn their energies to Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1366. The measure is an attempt to pressure the Legislature into placing a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot to require a two-thirds vote in both houses to boost taxes in Olympia.

Eyman and the campaign also turned in a large pad, with signatures over 339,000 total, so I-1366 is widely expected to make the ballot also. No other referenda or constitutional amendments will appear on the fall ballot.

Wyman applauded the continuing citizen interest in “direct democracy” via the ballot box.

“About 700,000 people from all over the state with various political views took part in gaining ballot access for the two 2015 initiatives,” she noted. “Ballot measures always seem to generate voter turnout and this year, with no statewide or congressional races, this is an important factor in generating interest.”

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Some people will probably be calling it the billion-dollar tax proposal – a proposal that taxpayers will be asked to impose on themselves – which may be a small exaggeration but will certainly highlight why the correct number is $900 million.

“Oh, it’s not a billion? Excuse me – you’re right, it’s a mere $900 million . . .”

The ask is for the city of Seattle, whose leading officials including the mayor are the people doing the asking, and which is large and wealthy enough to make it not beyond the pale. And it’s not that transportation needs in the city aren’t great: They surely are.

It’s just that the number is so large it may cause a lot of taxpayers to blanch and decide against it before they’ve even had a chance to look at the large number of things it would do.

Which raises another problem. The list is extensive all right (see the local section in this edition), but so much so that your eyes tend to glaze over.

Then there’s the matter of what it doesn’t include, but will be an overarching consideration during the campaign ahead: Bertha. The mega-machine, that is, still sort of stuck in the ground and falling ever further behind in its effort to create a revised Alaskan Way viaduct.

Anyone seeking to blow the new tax plan out of the water will have only to recite that one name – “Bertha” – to punch the air out of any grand new transportation plans.
Optimism in that whole arena of Seattle transportation is in short supply this year, as it was last. The timing for this thing may be less than ideal, even if the need is demonstrably, yes, quite real.

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At #MJBAJobFair 2015 on a panel about working in a legal pot shop, the Mayor of Cannabis City, James Lathrop, shares what it has been like to open and operate the first marijuana retail store in Seattle.

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Here are two ways that the 2013 election of socialist Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council might have played out.

1 – She might have become a shrill complainer about most of what the council did, and the rest of the council would have put in (metaphorical) earplugs and just gone about its business, ignoring her.

2 – She might have made an occasional stand for a different perspective but largely gone along with the council majority so as not to be marginalized.

What actually happened seems to have fallen somewhere in between: Challenging the other council members and sticking up for alternative positions on a regular basis, but without being ignored. She has torn into them on occasion, but apparently has enough political skill to turn at least some of that into practical action.

As the Seattle Times noted in a front page story last week: “She accused them of taking their marching orders from corporate executives. But the next month, the council adopted a new budget peppered with Sawant-sponsored amendments — including an immediate wage hike for city employees, money to support tent encampments and a commitment to study a possible excise tax on millionaires — and the opposite seemed just as accurate: Sawant’s colleagues were taking marching orders from her.”

Not everywhere, or on all things, certainly. None of the council members are all that dominant, but Sawant’s influence appears to be real. Veteran Council member Nick Licata described the council now as “More progressive. More sensitive to social and economic justice. The other members are inclined to go there, but Kshama is pushing them. Kshama has made things happen that never would have happened before.”

That amounts to some real change in the city of Seattle.
Sawant is being challenged this year by a couple of opponents, at least one of whom has substantial establishment back. But she’s running in the best district in Seattle for her politics. We’ll see if her approach continues to push the city in different directions for another few years.

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The argument against major raises to the minimum wage, notably in Washington – where the minimum is the highest in the country – sometimes runs to the ideological (government shouldn’t so regulate business) but focuses more on the practical.

That is: Higher minimum wages would have negative economic effects, especially in the area of the number of jobs out there. Raise the wage, the argument goes, and the business-wage monetary pie will be sliced fewer ways, cutting out some of the jobs.

The argument sounds sensible from a numerical standpoint, but it runs aground in several other places. One is that the amount of money dedicated to paychecks is not static: It varies as the need for workers goes up or down. A hamburger joint that needs to hire (let’s say) a dozen workers to meet the demand and keep the business operating properly isn’t going to suddenly drop to nine employees because wages went up. More likely, as is the case for any business when some part of the operation becomes more costly, the price of a burger and fries will edge up. Most of the time, customers little notice – less than they would if they weren’t getting their orders filled.

This comes back to mind with a piece in the Horse’s Ass blog, recalling the warnings of Andrew Friedman, a Seattle bar owner (it’s called Liberty, of course) warned that a $15 minimum wage meant “Local independent businesses WILL closed, many of your neighbors WILL be out of work.”

About nine months ago, the minimum wage was approved. A few days ago, some months after its effects had some time to settle in, Friedman had some business news. No, not the closure of Liberty, but rather the opening of second bar (the Good Citizen).

Sounds like more jobs have been created.

Albeit, for customers, probably a higher tab on the well drinks.

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An . . . unusual video ad for a candidate for the Seattle City Council.

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The biggest story of the week in the Northwest, and one not getting especially strong news coverage, is the now-arrived massive Pacific Coast port shutdowns, extending across a vast distance north to Alaska and south through California.

And not just a regional story, but national. The members of Congress beginning to scurry about calling for help – from the White House among other places – are not misplacing their concerns.

Here’s one comment, one of many like it around the net as last week ended, from the Retail Industry Leaders Association: “A breakdown in contract negotiations between labor and management at America’s west coast ports is threatening to turn a slowdown into a full-scale strike, and an economic headache into a full-blown crisis that impacts the entire American economy.”

Ports on the west coast carry an estimated 43.5% of all container cargo in the United States – something like a trillion dollars in trade. You have to assume that in the Pacific Northwest, the percentage is much higher. Businesses will not be able to get supplies or get to market; consumers will not get goods. The economy could screech to a halt.

The battle between the Pacific Maritime Association (which represents the 29 big pacific ports, including Seattle, Portland and Tacoma) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers has turned poisonous. Each essentially is accusing the other of bad faith, and making essentially personal shots at the other. And each seems to have grievances with the other that seem to reach beyond the merely emotional.

Getting past this won’t be easy.

Time has come for the national government to weigh in. All these cheerful economic numbers – like the excellent employment news released last week – could come to an end if this loggerheads on the Pacific Coast doesn’t.

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In some ways, the long-standing age at which people could smoke – 18 – has seemed an anomaly. Or the drinking age is; but setting one three years after the other seems a remarkable piece of inconsistency.
One which Washington state might address this year.
Or it might not since the address at hand is that of the state legislature, where the outcome of previously untried ideas is never certain.

The bill comes from Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose statement points out, “The harmful consequences of tobacco are clear. Smoking kills 8,300 Washingtonians every year, and $2.8 billion in health care costs are directly attributed to tobacco use in the state. Washington state taxpayers pay nearly $400 million in taxes to cover state government expenditures caused by smoking. According to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General, over 100,000 of today’s Washington youth are projected to die prematurely due to the effects of smoking.”

The Senate and House bills have in-chamber (and majority party bipartisan) backing from Senator Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) and Representative Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines).

The states split up the elements of adulthood, declaring that people are old enough to do A but not B. People can vote, enter into contracts, join the military and marry at 18, but they cannot drink until they are 21. Why? A case might be made that the potential damage arising from bad choices in those other activities reflect mainly on the individual person, or (as in voting) is spread out widely, whereas a DUI case can put other lived at imminent risk.

Where does smoking fall along that theoretical continuum? It may be a gray area. As Ferguson’s statement notes, the major harm is medical. But we also know that bad medical decisions raises the cost and availability of medical care for us all. (We also know that more people become addicted to nicotine before 21 than after it; lifetime smoking habits usually begin by around age 18.)

At least, that’s one theory. Watch for the flashpoint to open into flame this session.

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Eclipse, a black Labrador Retriever, has learned how to navigate the city’s mass transit system – by herself. Occasionally, she hops on a bus to get the dog park… without her owner.

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Rob McKenna, the former attorney general who narrowly lost his bid for governor in 2012 to now-incumbent Jay Inslee, has been sending out periodic missives on the foibles of Olympia, taking aim most generally (as you’d expect) at the Democrats, including his former opponent.

His email from last week was something of a cautionary note applicable to both parties, since the parties now split control of the Washington legislature. The key section goes like this:

Insiders in Olympia are already taking bets on how much extra time the Legislature will need to complete its work and pass a budget this year. With a fight over spending and new taxes looming, it’s no surprise that people are bracing for a special session, or two.
But there’s also no reason legislators can’t get the job done on time. Responding to another legislator’s joke about having bought a six-month gym membership in Olympia in expectation of special sessions, Sen. Andy Hill said this week, “If you’re saying today, ‘It’s going to take us two or three special sessions,’ I would argue you’re not negotiating in good faith, because we know what the problem is.”
He’s right. They know the problems they face and they have enough info today to start hammering out a budget compromise. We don’t need any games to see who will blink first. As citizens, we need to make it clear to our legislators that we expect them to get the public’s business done on time.

The view here long has been, and still is, that a few more days of legislative time is small price to pay if the result is better legislation and better budgeting.

If the delay is simply a factor of partisan intransigence, that’s another matter. Both parties might do well to pay attention to McKenna’s note on the subject.

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In 2016, Governor Jay Inslee will be up for a re-election that, presumably, he will be pursuing.
In 2015, he will be presenting (well, sort of already last week presented) a budget and legislative package that would have to rank as one of the most ambitious of recent years.

The headlines on four of his press releases from last week all by themselves give some of the flavor: “Inslee proposes sustainable, responsible, fair budget to ‘reinvest in Washington’;” “Inslee announces slate of proposals to curb pollution, transition Washington to cleaner sources of energy”; “Gov. Inslee calls for comprehensive statewide transportation program,” “Inslee proposes boldest new efforts in improving full continuum of education in 2 decades.”

He does this at a time when Republicans have come back into outright control of the state Senate, and Democrats maintain only the thinnest control of the state House. The Republican response to Inslee’s push is about what you might expect: Good luck with that.”

At this point, the probable outcome is that Inslee does push through a small number of relatively uncontroversial measures, but that most of them go no further.

Facing with this kind of situation, most governors (of whichever party) faced with a similar situation might tack toward the cautious and basic. Why simply offer a batch of proposals likely to get shot down, unceremoniously, in the legislature? (And yes, that
mostly does seem to be the likely result.)

The best answer that comes immediately to mind is that Inslee is planning to campaign for re-election in 2016on a package that looks a lot like this year’s budget proposal.

While the proposal package may have trouble at the statehouse, it might not make a bad basis for a campaign message and rationale, as well as forming a platform to running against the legislature as well as whatever Republican opponent solidifies. It may sink rather quickly in the next few months, but there seems to be a good chance it will re-emerge in 2016.

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This is from a December 12 report on the University of Washington Health Sciences NewsBeat, drawing some interesting connections in health policy. It was written by Jeff Hodson.

Reducing obesity among children. Investing in early childhood programs. Devising strategies to reduce gun violence.

These three efforts illustrate how public health has risen to the top of the civic agenda in the Pacific Northwest. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray have all announced initiatives “putting public health at the center of their priorities,” said Howard Frumkin, dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health.

“This couldn’t be a better place as well as a better time to be thinking about public health,” Frumkin said in his October State-of-the-School address. “That creates for our School enormous opportunities to be of service and, in the process, to educate our students while advancing public health locally and across the state.”

Frumkin serves on Inslee’s Council for the Healthiest Next Generation, a public-private coalition that kicked off in September. It aims to identify successful efforts already underway in communities and find ways to expand them statewide. One example is the YMCA’s work to install water-bottle filling stations at schools, a move to reduce the amount of sugary drinks children consume.

Other goals include increasing the number of children who breastfeed for at least six months and reducing the amount of time children spend in front of TV or computer screens. “Gold standard research shows we can bend the curve of childhood obesity if we act early in the course of children’s lives and by making health a focus in the places where children spend the most time,” Inslee said.

At the county level, Constantine is planning to ask taxpayers to fund a new levy in 2015 focused on pregnancy and early childhood, school-aged kids, and their communities. He announced the “Best Starts for Kids” levy during his annual budget address in late September. “What happens in early childhood and adolescence shapes health and well-being throughout one’s life,” he wrote to King County Council Chair Larry Phillips.

Details are yet to be announced, but School of Public Health faculty and students in the new domestic Strategic Analysis and Research Training (START) program are working on the county’s levy efforts. Constantine says early childhood programs show returns ranging from $3 to $17 for every dollar invested. That could reduce later costs for diabetes and other chronic diseases, mental illness, child abuse and neglect, and violence and injuries.

Voters in Seattle, meanwhile, approved an initiative Nov. 4 to establish a subsidized preschool program that would cover preschool tuition for up to 2,000 low-income kids through a four-year property tax hike.
In late October, the city of Seattle and King County hosted a gun violence summit of more than 75 public health and safety experts. The summit occurred just days before Washington voters overwhelming approved a referendum (Initiative 594) extending background checks to all private gun sales and transfers. UW School of Public Health faculty – including Frederick Rivara and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar – were on hand to facilitate discussion and share data. The two epidemiologists are conducting city-funded research on gun violence.
“Gun deaths are preventable and we must combine the best and sensible laws, smart law enforcement and public health to end this epidemic of violence,” Murray said after the shootings in June at Seattle Pacific University.

Constantine said gun violence could be approached as a preventable public health problem “through the kind of proven strategies that have reduced deaths from smoking, traffic crashes, and sudden infant death syndrome.” Smoking rates in the United States have dropped to an all-time low of 18 percent after widespread smoking bans in public places, higher taxes on cigarettes, and campaigns to raise awareness of the hazards of tobacco. Traffic deaths plunged after mandatory seat-belt laws, better designed highways and cars, and increased law enforcement.

Another state priority is advancing health reform in Washington, according to Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, director of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice in the Department of Health Services. School of Public Health faculty served on a state panel to guide communities as they increase links between the health care delivery system, public health, and human services. They also helped the state develop a proposal for a multi-million dollar grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“The public health community in our region is really energized about change,” Kwan-Gett said.

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The unemployment stats in Washington and Oregon are a study in popular confidence as measured against the realistic basis for that confidence.

In Washington, for example, the state unemployment rate rose (in the stats released this week) to 6.0%, even though about 5,600 jobs were added to the job market – and filled.

No one was in error here; you just have to know what the unemployment stats reflect. As an article in this issue notes, Washington “State labor economist Paul Turek said the increase in the unemployment rate is not necessarily bad news because it is directly related to an increase in the state’s labor force, which rose by 12,200 in October.

And he said: “These numbers demonstrate increased confidence by job seekers entering or re-entering the marketplace. Job growth continues to gain momentum—with the state adding roughly 7,000 jobs a month—but for this month, the increase in the number of new job seekers entering into the labor market’s civilian workforce was greater than the number of new jobs added. That explains the increase in the unemployment rate.”

That was even more dramatically true in Oregon, which added even more jobs – 9,900 – than twice-as-big Washington state. Oregon’s was in fact the largest one-month addition of jobs in 20 years. But its unemployment rate stubbornly stayed put at 7.0%, which sounds worse than it is. It did that because workers have been pouring back into the work force (and, probably, a number of workers have been arriving from out of state as well).

For decades, we’ve focused hard on the unemployment rates (and note them here regularly). But have we reached a point where the more logical measure is of the balance between jobs opening up and those closing? Maybe something measuring, over the haul, the growth/retraction in jobs compared with the overall working-age population?

Certainly, we need some better metrics. The old ones just aren’t as useful as they once were.

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Across the nation, election night 2014 was hailed (or decried, depending on perspective) as a Republican romp, and a few watchers called it a conservative triumph.

The first part was unquestionably true: With few exceptions (such as to Washington’s south in Oregon and California) Republicans did extremely well nationwide, and while their gains in Washington were not enormous in size, they were significant.

Translating that to gains for conservatism is a more problematic matter. Most of the winning Republicans, in Washington and in many other places, did not campaign on down-the-line conservatism. Perhaps clearer however was the matter of the ballot issues.

A string of minimum-wage issues passed, severa in red states, around the country. Oregon and Alaska (and Washington, D.C.) passed legal pot measures mirroring Washington and Colorado from two years ago.

And in Washington . . . Voters turned their backs on the Measure 591, which would “prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.” It lost decisively.

Instead, the same cadre of voters which boosted Republican totals backed a measure specifically calling for more extensive background checks for gun sales.

The voters also narrowly – and apparently, since a recount may happen – passed a measure restricting school classroom sizes, a measure with little financial backup, so little that even Democratic Governor Jay Inslee said he voted against it.

So on two distinct issues the voters – the same voters helping out Republicans – went to the left of where most Democratic elected officials were willing to go.
Ponder that for a bit as you plot out the opening moves of election cycle 2016.

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