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Spokane’s leaner than the mean

The 2010 budget for Spokane shows that city government is comparatively lean. Some examples:

Revenue per person in Seattle and Tacoma is $1,540. In Spokane, it’s $863.

Expenses per person are $1,424 for Seattle-Tacoma and $716 for Spokane.

Current daily fire staffing in Seattle is 209 people. In Tacoma, it’s 81. In Spokane, it’s 58.

There are 2.13 police officers per 1,000 residents in Seattle. In Tacoma, it’s 1.81. In Spokane, it’s 1.37. (These are 2006 figures.)

The total tax burden for Spokane residents is 8.9 percent of income. In Idaho, it’s 10.1 percent of income.

Now whether government is lean enough for residents is another matter. Since there is a long-term structural deficit and city leaders never propose significant tax increases, the answer appears to be no. It looks as if the only place to save money would be in salaries and benefits, since staffing levels are already comparatively low.

No dollar left behinD. The U.S. Department of Education recently released guidelines for states wishing to compete for the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds, and it appears as if Washington state has some heavy lifting to do before it’s considered innovative enough to qualify.

Applications for the first round close in December. Then states have another shot at the funds during a second round that ends in June.

Washington state is a long shot for round one because it cannot demonstrate the sort of bold innovations that the Obama administration is calling for. It does not have charter schools, which allow for more experimentation, and the prospect of quickly adopting them is practically nil. The teachers union is adamantly opposed and voters have rejected charters three times.

But the biggest stumbling block, as the Seattle Times recently reported, is that it is against the law for the state to take over a failing school. That would appear to be a must-have component for Race to the Top applicants.

States can be awarded anywhere from $21 million to $700 million, depending on their size. That’s a lot of money for a revenue-strapped state like Washington to leave on the table, especially as it searches for a way to raise the $1 billion needed to follow through on last session’s education reform package. If the Legislature truly wants federal aid, then it has a monstrous cram session ahead of it.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page.

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