Legislature needs message: Don’t mess with Seattle
The outward appearance in our state capital is that the shaping and fate of a statewide transportation package rests with the right-thinking, Republican-dominated Senate majority caucus. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, self-described as a “regional” politician, will hopefully change that equation. Almost like that reverse hide-and-seek kids’ game, where the goal becomes getting as many people together hugging, Murray needs to mobilize a King County-Puget Sound coalition that embraces local officials and legislators. He has, and knows he has, a powerful weapon to deploy now or down the road. No new transportation package for the Evergreen State will ever win voter approval without what Murray, in his first interview on the job, described as “those 70-percent-plus majorities in Seattle.” Seattle P-I, 1-9-14.
Seattle’s deal with Gigabit Squared is dead. So now what?
Now that the highly anticipated launch of a privately run high-speed fiber-to-the-home program through Gigabit Squared is dead, what’s next for Seattle? Well, it turns out that getting high-speed fiber to the entire city is not only difficult, it also could be many years before it happens (assuming Google doesn’t declare Seattle its next fiber project). Seattle’s current cable and Internet companies say the dark fiber that the city owns and was proposing to lease to Gigabit is almost irrelevant in terms of what could speed up deployment of better Internet connections in some of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. CenturyLink, which is considered a telecom and not a cable company, isn’t the only company that’s run into trouble expanding its network. Cable companies also have serious obstacles to expansion. Puget Sound Business Journal, 1-9-14.
Problems push 520 project over budget
Cost increases on the new Highway 520 bridge not only will drain the megaproject’s entire contingency fund, but could require money to be shifted from other road work, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson told lawmakers Wednesday. The problem was caused mainly by repairs, redesigns and delay associated with cracks in the first four giant pontoons, built at Grays Harbor in 2012. With the $250 million cash reserve depleted, Peterson asked the Joint Transportation Committee to boost the 520 program’s overall budget by $170 million. The update represents the first time the state Department of Transportation (DOT) has publicly abandoned hope of corralling costs within the existing budget. Seattle Times, 1-8-14.
Kent Mayor Cooke says third term will be her last
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke said she will begin a search for a new chief administrative officer (CAO). Cooke appointed then City Attorney Tom Brubaker as interim CAO in May when John Hodgson retired after seven years on the job. Brubaker will continue in the interim role. Cooke said before the council meeting that her third four-year term as mayor will be her last. Voters re-elected Cooke in November. She also won elections in 2009 and 2005. “I’ve made a public commitment to serve four more years, that’s it,” Cooke said during a reception for newly elected and re-elected city leaders. Kent Reporter, 1-9-14.
State Supreme Court says education funding must grow faster
In a much-anticipated response to what happened with education funding in the last legislative session, the Washington Supreme Court Thursday issued an order that, while acknowledging progress, said the “pace of progress must quicken.” The court said that the $982 million budget for education for 2013-15 “represents only a 6.7 percent increase over the current constitutionally inadequate level of funding and falls well short of the needs estimated by the legislature’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding.” The court ruled in 2012 that the state Legislature is violating the state’s constitution by failing to provide ample funding for public education. The court gave lawmakers a 2018 deadline to pay for programs and services estimated to cost $3 billion to $4 billion per biennium. In the meantime, the court is monitoring the legislature’s actions. Seattle Times, 1-9-14.
Clibborn awaits GOP move on transportation; claims some consensus for funding “megaprojects”
House Transportation Chair Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-41) says passing a transportation package this year will be up to Senate Republicans, but there is at least consensus on funding mechanisms for “megaprojects” among party lines. Eastside lawmakers said Tuesday they expect to be out of Olympia within 60 days after the state Legislature convenes next week, and the major topic of debate will likely continue to be a state transportation package Gov. Jay Inslee had hoped to have passed last year. “The problem was that we had one side of the House that had a voted position,” Clibborn said, “and we didn’t have a voted position on the (Majority Coalition Caucus) side and we were unable to figure out what the votes would be in the Senate. … I think we need to have something come from the Senate that we can negotiate in a more traditional way.” The contentious issue of tolling the I-90 bridge to pay for completion of SR 520 appears dead, Clibborn said. Instead, a majority of state lawmakers favor an 11.5-cent increase in the gas tax to be phased in over the next 12 years to generate nearly $12 billion in additional revenue, she said. Bellevue Reporter, 1-9-14.
State Senator proposes end to pensions for elected officials
A Republican state senator says if 401(k) plans are good enough for Boeing machinists, they should be good enough for those who hold elected office. Sen. John Braun (R-20) said Wednesday he will introduce legislation to end pensions for all elected officials in Washington. Braun is a freshman and a business owner who already doesn’t participate in the state pension system. He says he understands why some machinists were incensed recently when elected officials with pensions urged them to make concessions on theirs. “For folks to say you need to take this deal and not be willing to is somewhat hypocritical,” Braun said. So now he says he will propose legislation that would end pensions for elected officials in Washington and move them into a new 401(k)-style plan. “When you make this kind of reform, it’s appropriate that you start at the top,” Braun said. KPLU, 1-8-14.
SSA Marine: Change in ownership won’t affect coal port plan
SSA Marine senior vice president Bob Watters says the recent change in the company’s ownership structure won’t affect SSA’s plan to push ahead with the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export project at Whatcom County’s Cherry Point. “We are full speed ahead on the Gateway Pacific Terminal,” Watters said in an e-mail. “This announcement has no impact on GPT other than the fact that the owners of FRS Capital Corp. have made a significant equity infusion to position Carrix to continue to expand our activities, enhancing existing operations and adding new terminals such as GPT.” Watters was elaborating on this Jan. 7 press release, which said that a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs has sold its sizeable stake in FRS, parent company of Carrix, parent company of SSA. Replacing Goldman Sachs is Mexican executive Fernando Chico Pardo. Bellingham Herald, 1-8-14.
Tribal gas tax lawsuit returns, at inopportune time for Legislature
It probably couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the Legislature’s upcoming gas-tax debate, but the state’s independent service station operators are back in the state’s capital city with a long-running lawsuit that challenges the big cut of fuel-tax money the state gives to Indian tribes. The suit, filed four years ago by the Automotive United Trades Organization, an association of independent service-station operators, has been out-of-sight, out-of-mind since a Supreme Court skirmish in the summer of 2012. Now the gas dealers are back before the state Supreme Court, asking it to rule on their challenge to the state’s uber-controversial Indian gas-tax deal. The deal, brokered by the Gregoire Administration in 2007, gives Indian tribes a big and growing cut of the state’s gas-tax receipts. In some people’s minds (guess whose?) it is a multimillion-dollar gas-tax giveaway, benefiting an interest group that has shown great willingness to make political contributions at campaign time. Washington State Wire, 1-9-14.
Skepticism greets charter school proposal in Yakima
Local educators expressed skepticism Wednesday about a Texas-based nonprofit that wants to open the Yakima Valley’s first charter school under a new law permitting a number of the nontraditional schools starting this year. At a public hearing, a Yakima teacher’s union official questioned student achievement records at the San Antonio-based organization, which has three schools in Texas and wants to open Yakima Academy for disadvantaged Latino students later this year. Por Vida test scores in its three schools last year were mixed compared to state averages. In high school reading, 45 percent of students met or exceeded standards — below the state average of 62 percent. However, in high school writing, 47 percent of students met or exceeded standards, just above the state average of 45 percent. Yakima school board President Martha Rice said that Por Vida’s nearly 600-page application failed to answer how it would help second-language learners, a targeted demographic. She also questioned how the group would select local residents to the school’s board of directors. Yakima Herald-Republic, 1-9-13.
Republican Party announces nominees for 2nd District seat
The Washington State Republican Party submitted the following nominees, in order of its preference, for a replacement for State Rep. Gary Alexander, who vacated his seat in the 2nd Legislative District after losing a bid for Thurston County Auditor. They are: Matt Hamilton of Graham. He has been chair of the Graham Land Use Advisory Commission. Graham Hunt of Orting. He is an Orting City Council member, and owns an insurance agency. Andrew Barkis of Olympia. He co-owns a property management firm and is former president of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce. He made an unsuccessful challenge against Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero in 2012. The Thurston County Board of Commissioners and the Pierce County Council will announce the appointee during a joint meeting at 2 p.m. Jan. 17 at the DuPont City Hall. Olympian, 1-9-14.
Contrite Christie is one story away from oblivion
Nobody doubts that New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who won reëlection in November by more than twenty percentage points, is an engaging and formidable speaker, and, at a moment of crisis, he demonstrated it again. In apologizing and taking responsibility for what emerged from his office, he did what had to be done. But in simultaneously putting the blame on a single staffer and saying he had no involvement whatsoever, he staked his career on the belief, hope, desperate gamble—call it what you want—that no new information will emerge to challenge his version of events. If fired aide Bridget Kelly, or anybody else, contradicts Christie and provides evidence to back up his or her story, the governor is toast. John Cassidy, New Yorker, 1-9-14.
The real Chris Christie traffic scandal you’ve forgotten
Whatever you may think of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s response to a certain traffic scandal in his state—do you believe his reaction on learning that his aides’ political motivations were exposed was “sadness” that he’d been lied to? Neither do I—you should know that as an indication of his style of governing and politics it’s peanuts. To get a better sense of his willingness to sacrifice his citizens’ welfare for political expedience, you have to go back to an earlier scandal. That 2010 affair, coincidentally, also involved traffic, but on a much greater scale. And it involved lying and bullying too. It’s proper now to recall an action Christie took in 2010 that he owned up to quite proudly. This was his unilateral torpedoing of a $9-billion federal-state project to build a commuter train tunnel under the Hudson. The project would have doubled capacity on the route—a crucial improvement given forecasts of sharply rising ridership and the decrepitude of the existing tunnel. It was the largest public transit project at the time, and had already begun. Christie’s refusal to approve his state’s share killed it. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 1-9-13.
Cantor, de Blasio exchange fire over charter schools
Calling “school choice” the best route out of poverty, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) took aim at New York City’s new mayor Wednesday for his cooler stance toward
public charter schools, and warned that Republicans may hold congressional hearings on the education policies of Democrat Bill de Blasio’s administration. In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Cantor said that New York made great progress in offering choice to students under former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who increased the number of public charter schools from seven to 123 in 12 years. De Blasio, who campaigned on the idea of improving all schools, wants to halt the co-location of charters. He said he might also charge rent to charters that receive significant funding from foundations and private interests. After learning about Cantor’s remarks, de Blasio returned fire. “The Republican agenda in Washington doesn’t even scratch the surface of the inequities facing more than a million children in our public schools,” he said in an e-mailed statement. Washington Post, 1-8-14.
To Think About
The Magnuson Line: Remember Maggie’s defense of Puget Sound as we grapple with coal trains in the Inland Northwest
“Congress passes Senator Warren Magnuson’s amendment banning supertankers in Puget Sound.” That was the headline on Oct. 5, 1977. Sen. Warren Magnuson had, just a day before, taken to the United States Senate floor and quietly proposed “a little amendment” to the reauthorization of his 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. His amendment, which had nothing to do with marine mammals, passed without objection. Several Washington state members of the House got it through their side of Congress, and President Jimmy Carter signed the bill. I thought about Magnuson’s “stealth bill” the other night as I watched our third string of cheap Chinese-made Christmas tree lights go kaput while listening to the whistle of the 110-car coal (or oil) train leaving from downtown Spokane. From here, it’s over to the north Puget Sound and then—lots of it, anyway—off to China. I had one of those “let me get this straight” moments: We put our environment at risk; we completely throw Amtrak’s Empire Builder line off schedule during the year when Amtrak is showing its best ridership ever; we permit noise pollution throughout the downtown, night after night; and we do all this so corporate America can make big bucks while we get to buy these cheap Christmas tree lights from China? Robert Herold, Pacific Northwest Inlander, 1-9-13.