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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Washington ranks high in new state survey

Here’s a new cheer Washingtonians can work on: “We’re Number 5!”

That may not send the blood rushing or prompt the sale of big foam hands with five fingers showing. But 5 is where U.S. News & World Report ranks Washington after studying all 50 states for seven categories that include education, infrastructure, crime and health care.

Idaho, by comparison, ranks a less-than-middling 32, and Oregon an unimpressive 19. Massachusetts took the top honor.

Washington doesn’t top out in any of the seven major categories that make up the rankings, but does finish second in the infrastructure category, something that may surprise Spokane drivers who are dodging potholes every day or Puget Sound residents who spend a portion of their lives in traffic jams. And didn’t we have a bridge fall into a river a few years back?

Each category has subcategories, and Washington is doing well on infrastructure because the well-wired state scored second on “internet access” and seventh on “energy,” thanks in part to all that cheap hydropower. For transportation, which covers roads, bridges and public transportation, it’s actually down at Number 20, which still suggests drivers in 30 states have it worse.

“When you drill down into the individual metrics, you can see there are areas where we know we need to work on,” Jaime Smith, communications director for Gov. Jay Inslee, said Wednesday.

The rankings were mentioned in a press release from Inslee’s office, which this week celebrated the good finish in the magazine’s first-ever state rankings with a carrot cake decorated with an outline of the state and a big 5.

Despite all the time and effort being spent by the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court on improving Washington’s public schools, the magazine thinks they’re pretty good. It ranks the state seventh in education, although it placed fifth on colleges and universities, but sixteenth on kindergarten through high school.

On a combination of economic metrics – growth, employment and business environment – Washington ranks Number 11. It’s dragged down a bit by the state’s higher unemployment rate than the national average, but scores sixth on growth and ninth on business environment, two areas that some business advocates are always bemoaning when seeking breaks from state government.

That state government ranks Number 8 overall, doing well for digitalization and integrity, but graded down in budget transparency and fiscal stability. It’s not clear if it lost points on transparency for its recent history of having negotiating a final state budget behind closed doors then rushing it through the Legislature as the fiscal year is running out, or if graders for stability didn’t know Washington is the only state that requires a budget to be balanced four years into the future.

Smith said the authors of the study notified the governor’s office of the state’s ranking before it was released. She was impressed with the number of data subcategories they studied to come up with the final results.

“As with any of these rankings, different people have different opinions,” Smith said. “Any time this kind of ranking comes out, people find ammunition for anything they want to talk about.”

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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