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Posts tagged as “Washington”

Who owns the colleges?

gonzaga

At Gonzaga University/GU, Jennifer Raudebaugh

The news yesterday that The Society of Jesus (usually called the Jesuits), Oregon Province, have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is leading to a question of some significance: Who owns Gonzaga University and Seattle University, which are considered Jesuit institutions?

Predictably, the Jesuits say they are separately owned, and the plaintiffs suing them - this is a continuation of the long-running string of pedophile cases - say they are integrated enough that their assets, too, should be up for grabs.

It seems not an easy question. Look on the Oregon Province (it includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska) web site, and you'll find a number of references to Gonzaga and Seattle U, but little that explicitly links the church organization to them. The universities (and several other schools) are described as "educational ministries," but what does that mean in the context of ownership and asset?

A statement from Gonzaga President Rev. Robert J. Spitzer: "The Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus is a completely separate organization from Gonzaga University. Gonzaga was separately incorporated and registered with the Secretary of State in Washington in 1894. Gonzaga University's assets are its own and not subject to others’ creditors." It sounds like a credible argument, but we have yet to know what a court will think.

And what does it mean to the communities? Seattle University is a very substantial institution and a significant force in Seattle, but Gonzaga is a really major player in Spokane. Questions about its future go directly to the front burner there.

Your ideas, anyway

You'll recall that when the Hearst Corporation owners of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said about a month ago that they will be ending their publication of the P-I print edition (which end date is about a month from now), there was some indication of maybe continuing in some way as an electronic publication.

That possibility is still sort of out there, but it seems to be fading. A blogger at the Stranger's Slog, bringing some of this up to date, throws in a fascinating quote from an e-mail from a P-I staffer:

Can I also go off on a tangent and say how bizarre it is for Hearst to ask us for our groundbreaking, lean, out of the box ideas for a profitable online venture? (1) If they were going to ask, shouldn't they have asked before they let us know via KING 5 that we were probably all about to be laid off? (2) Do they seriously not have a plan already in place? That seems like terrible business planning, (3) Why are they asking us these questions instead of paying someone who might actually know something about how to make money on the Internet? Aren't reporters notoriously bad when it comes to issues like this, because we have always prided ourselves on having nothing to do with how ads are sold? But, (4) Didn't the two reporters who did know something about how to make money on the Internet, John Cook and Todd Bishop, come to them with a groundbreaking, lean, out of the box idea not so long ago and get rejected?

The breakup

Tough budget times tends to foster talk of either (1) combining agencies to merge and diminish administrative costs, or (2) splitting up agencies, the better to search for efficiencies which might more easily be hidden away in larger organizations.

Which is right? Hard to say; and it probably varies by agency. But there are plenty of efforts around the Northwest to seriously consider one or the other.

This thought prompted by a proposal to split the Washington Department of Social & Health Services into two. Or four. Depending on which legislator you're talking to . . .

Anti-indoctrination, anti-free speech?

Some ideas are just awfully hard to legislate. Consider the case of Washington Senate Bill 5446, the Worker Privacy Act, which as it turns out is one of the hottest pieces of legislation in the Northwest this year.

Here is how Rick Bender of the Washington State Labor Council set it up at a Senate Labor Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee hearing on it today: currently, employers can require employees to go to meetings or listen to harangues or get into discussions about such things as politics and religion and what charities they will give to, or not. Bender: "When an employer can force you to listen to or participate in non-job performance related speech, on pain of discharge, discipline or threat, this reality creates a powerful and illegitimate form of compulsion. What worker can afford to risk losing their job? . . . So instead, workers are forced to forego their first amendment rights, and forced to listen to speech on matters of individual conscience."

Another witness: "Under current law, employers can and do hold mandatory meetings in which they make it clear that certain ways of voting are preferrred or better. This is not about the freedom of an employer to make his or her political beliefs known. It's about requiring an employee to listen to that political belief." (There have been plenty of reports of this sort of thing happening; a Wall Street Journal article has outlined numerous cases at Wal-Mart.)

So, SB5446, which generally makes that kind of thing - discussions on matters like that, as opposed to discussions that relate to the work or workplace - illegal. There seems to be some logic to the point. But getting it to practical legislation is a difficult matter.

Senator Janea Holmqust, R-Moses Lake, noted that the language of the bill refers to "communications" - very broad, prospectively raising questions about even casual hallway conversations. (more…)

Olympia catblogging

Jeff Kropf

Bob the Cat

Now, if this cat could talk . . . well it does, sort of. It blogs . . .

Bob the Cat has been a fixture around the Washington statehouse territory, notably around the Blue House where the statehouse reporters are based. Bob became popular among the ink-stained wretches, who proceeded to do two things. First, they ascertained whether he had a home (by attaching a note to his collar; and yes, he did, nearby). Second, writers that they are, they set him up with a blog.

If you have a couple extra minutes, you might see what's on Bob's mind . . .

The Peoria plan

Nick Licata

Nick Licata

In this time of weakening newspapers, as lots of people start looking for alternative models, the situation has gotten so serious that public officials are holding public meetings on the subject of "who will report the news?"

Specifically, in Seattle, where one daily newspaper - the Post-Intelligencer - is near certain to end printing and may or may not remain in some online form, and the other - the Times - is also in perilous financial shape. It's where tomorrow Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata will convene a council Culture, Civil Rights, Health, and Personnel Committee meeting, and devote most of it to "a panel discussion about the importance of maintaining diverse media outlets, the future of daily newspapers, and the potential roles and responsibilities that a community can take to keep public discourse healthy and thriving." (It is supposed to be streamed.)

That's noteworthy right there, since it means the search for news alternatives in the Northwest now has its first substantial public elected official taking point.

The meeting already seems to have had one effect at least: Discussion of what's being called the Peoria Plan. A piece today in the site Crosscut describes it: In Peoria, Illinois, where the daily paper also is in serious trouble, there's talk about creating and using a new type of business structure to encourage news operations.

This blog generally has become increasingly wary of new business structures, but if limited and defined properly this one, called the LC3, has com promise. It's described as a hybrid, with some allowance for limited profits, but also some status as a charity, making possible tax-deductible contributions, which could allow some newspapers to become something akin to non-profits (a term which is in itself a term of art).

The Crosscut piece is worth reading. And the meeting tomorrow should be worth watching.

Stimuli in the states

So what are the prospects for states - the three in the Northwest, specifically - to get from the current iteration of the federal stimulus package?

The Center for American Progress has put together some general information. It's limited in details, but some of the interactive maps do provide some useful material.

Overall, Oregon seems to make out marginally the best. But results vary . . .

bullet Oregon - total $6.3 billion. Of that, 11.9% goes for balancing the state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $2 billion (or $529 per person), $1.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $50.7 million for EITC increases, $153 m for child tax credits. Spending for unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.3 billion ($330 per capita), $835 million for those who lost jobs, $75 million for housing, $312 million for food stamps, $30 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

bullet Washington - total $10.4 billion. Of that, 12.8% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $3.6 billion (or $550 per person), $3.2 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $85.8 million for EITC increases, $288 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.5 billion ($232 per capita), $935 million for those who lost jobs, $135 million for housing, $398 million for food stamps, $49 million for miscellaneous poverty efforts.

bulletIdaho - total $2.5 billion. Of that, 13.3% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs, tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: about $900 million (or $566 per person), $.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $23.9 million for EITC increases, $79.4 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $312 million ($205 per capita), $198 million for those who lost jobs, $34 million for housing, $66 million for food stamps, $14 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

Wacked-out according to whom?

Ken Jacobsen

Ken Jacobsen

There's an air around some of the legislation proposed by Senator Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle - maybe in part because of the sheer volume of it, 46 bills so far this session - that some of it is maybe half-baked, or just a little quirky. Maybe. But that doesn't mean the underlying ideas aren't worthy of some consideration.

Like the current hot topic at the Washington statehouse, Senate Bill 5063, which would allow for joint burial of people with the pets (dogs and cats only). Which on first glance sounds a little like, well, yeah, maybe one of those weird ideas from Seattle. Think on it a little further, and ask . . . well, why shouldn't be be allowed to if they want to? The bill could use some tinkering (it would require cemeteries to allow the practice; a wise colleague suggested it merely allow cemeteries the choice). But for many people, pets are family. The guess here is that this will actually be a coming thing.

Sometimes ideas take time to mature and develop strength, and maybe fine-tine along the way, and it could be that Jacobsen is one of those people who pick up on the earlier waves. He recalled (in a Spokane Spokesman-Review article) how when he proposed state labeling of organic foods, “I was treated like I was talking about kinky sex.” Pretty widespread these days. (Organic labeling, that is.)

So what else is Jacobsen about this year? From the Spokesman: "Barely a week into this year’s legislative session, Jacobsen has proposed an airline passenger’s bill of rights, allowing pet dogs in bars, designating a state oak tree, and giving tax breaks to taverns that install on-site breathalyzers." The first and last of those anyway are highly useful ideas we've long thought to be wise policy. They could be coming things. And herewith, an indication of that.

D.C. stimulus? Don’t count on it

Thompson

Dock Thompson at EDTI Committee/TVW

There's an undercurrent of discussion in the Northwest statehouses, hard-pressed financially all three of them, about the possibility of at least partial salvation coming from Washington, D.C. There is, in that Washington, a major stimulus package under development. What will it mean for the states in the Northwest? No one knows.

But the legislatures would like to know what they can. In Washington, Governor Chris Gregoire at one point said she was hoping for a billion dollars or so in stimulus money.

Best not count on it. This afternoon, the Washington Senate Economic Development, Trade & Innovation Committee heard from Dick Thompson, special assistant to the governor (and previously holding a wide range of positions in state government), who has been tasked with finding out what to expect.

"For year, my advice to people who were going to testigy was never guess," he said. But: "Guesses and rumors is about all I can give you today. . . . I will tell you everything we think we know. But there is not a lot we know in real fact."

Much of the package, he said, seems to be in the form of tax relief rather than direct spending, so that portion doesn't do much for state budgets. "We have gone from thinking we have large discretion to thinking we have very, very little." (A big difference from the bank bailout last year.) Highways and bridges have been thought to be a key component of this, he said, but it still amounts to just about $30 billion nationally - and maybe a little over $500 million might make its way to Washington. Not nearly as much as once hoped for.

Looks like a window of three to four months to let bids, which means project would have to be close to ready to go. And money apparently would go directly to local or state agencies, not to the state for general distribution.

There's little clarity though, he said, of whether this formula is an Obama-backed proposal or just something wandering through the U.S. House. And everyone waits . . .

WA: An aggressive approach

Chris Gregoire

Chris Gregoire

The view of a sizable number of Republicans in Washington is that, while Governor Chris Gregoire and the Democrats didn't cause the national economic calamity, they are responsible for making worse the impact on government in the state, by pushing for more spending in the last few years than they might have. State spending has in fact risen quickly in the last few years, and if it had grown more slowly, state revenues and spending might be at least closer to alignment. (In Republican-run Idaho, where spending hasn't been increasing nearly as much, Republicans talk about how fortunate they are in that regard - and now need to make big cuts in spending.)

There's a powerful argument in that, and no doubt the Democrats in charge in Olympia are going to have a harder time maintaining in the fact. A few years ago you might have expected a bunch of Democrats to sign off on it, at least partly and in principle. But Gregoire, delivering her second inaugural address today, made clear that she doesn't and won't. A central segment:

Instead, we must renew hope for Washingtonians who are suffering today, and lay — for them — a platform for a better tomorrow.

First, we can and must quickly create new jobs for working families by rebuilding roads and schools, and creating a green economy for the 21st century — all in partnership with President-elect Barack Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment” plan.

Second, like our struggling families and businesses, we can and will tighten our belts, balance our budget and focus on basic needs — protection of our children, our schools and colleges, our public safety, our environment and our economy.

Third, we won’t waste this crisis! We can and must reform state government. In this moment of clarity, we must grab the opportunity to reform so we can respond to the evolving needs of this century.

Fourth, we can and must approach all our challenges as a computer engineer might. Let’s build a new platform that makes Washington unique — that can support the exciting possibilities of the 21st century rather than the fading possibilities of the last.

And finally, this is the time for generosity among all Washingtonians.

So what we're seeing here is a call for activism, in a time of revenue diminishment - maybe a little less than in Oregon, a lot more than in Idaho. She has yet to lay out all the specifics, but the outline in her speech today seems clear enough: "We can quickly create thousands of new jobs this year and next by accelerating nearly $1 billion in public works projects. These projects will build new roads and schools, and create green-collar jobs to lay more groundwork for the prosperity to come. The time to act is now!"

Philosophical lines are being drawn - two very different approaches to dealing with the down times. We'll be able to do some sharp comparisons in the months ahead as they play out.

THE VIADUCT The apparent consensus decision among state, county and city officials (Gregoire, Chopp, King, Nickels and others) to go for the tunnel as the replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct seems of a piece with this. The tunnel is the most costly way of dealing with the need for action on the viaduct, and it may be the long-range quality solution, but it also is the most expensive. That is why so many people recoiled from it before. But now? There's no certainty about where the money will come from, and there's a distinct possibility (as the Seattle Times notes) of a taxpayer revolt. Will there be?