News – and opinion – never stops. These are a few of the stories we predict we’ll be commenting on in 2014:
Charter schools – One or more charter schools proposed to Spokane Public Schools will open in the fall with waiting lists. The district will review three applications later this month. Charter schools are among the alternatives parents, teachers and administrators are adopting as they search for models that will improve student interest and performance.
Guns – After two multimillion-dollar campaigns, Washington voters will support both gun registration initiatives expected to make the November ballot, tossing the issue back to legislators who have evaded the issue.
Trains – The Dec. 30 explosion of a train hauling oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota will heighten concerns about the safety of such trains passing through downtown Spokane. At the very least, much stricter precautions – lower speeds, advance notifications to public safety officials, for example – should be imposed.
Fires – There were no catastrophic forest fires in Idaho or Washington in 2013 but, unless precipitation patterns change soon, the region’s forests will be ripe for flames. The resources to respond to fires in the West were stretched thin last year, which does not bode well if fire activity increases.
Obamacare – The uninsured have until March 31 to sign up for a policy to avoid a penalty. The first-year fine is $95 or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is highest. But because it’s an election year, and the Healthcare.gov website rollout was so botched, we expect some forgiveness on the penalties to mitigate political controversy. However, if this system is to survive a second year, the penalties, basic coverage standards and deadlines must remain firm so insurers and insured can plan.
Medicaid – Thus far, Idaho has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but this choice actually costs property tax payers more because of the unique way the state finances indigent care. Moving people into Medicaid plans could allow counties to cut property taxes, and a large business-backed coalition is making that case. The Legislature’s instinct for low taxes and low spending will probably outweigh its expensive desire to poke the Obama administration in the eye.
Tax hike – It’s been several years since the Spokane Valley City Council has taken the annual 1 percent property tax increase the city is allotted under state law, but the pressures of inflation, keeping a healthy cash reserve and maintaining roads and government services will lead to acquiescence.
Minimum wage – The baseline wage will be the subject of much debate as Democrats believe they have an issue that has Republicans on the run. The $15-an-hour version that’s touted on the West and East coasts wouldn’t translate well to the Inland Northwest, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives adopted a small bump in the federal minimum wage to limit political damage.
Whatever the course of events, the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review wishes all our readers a peaceful, prosperous and safe 2014. Happy New Year!