OLYMPIA – Stick your head into any budget hearing in Olympia and it will quickly become clear that the near-universal argument for anyone wanting state dollars is this:
“Spend on this worthy program now. It will save you money down the road.”
At the moment, some of the bigger voices in this chorus come from the state’s colleges. Late last week, the state Higher Education Coordinating Board released a report saying, in essence, that colleges should be spared severe cuts because they’re so valuable. Note the title: The Benefits of Investing in Higher Education: A Return on Investment.
College-educated people earn more money, pay more taxes, commit less crime, volunteer more and vote more, the report says. Parents without a college degree use food stamps and welfare more. It also suggests that colleges serve as incubators for growth and innovation while churning out trained workers.
And then there’s the payroll. The report pointedly notes that Eastern Washington University’s salaries, for example, spawn $77 million in Spokane County spending.
Instead of cuts, the study suggests, state budget writers would be wise to put more money into colleges now. The federal government, through the G.I. Bill, poured money and students into schools in 1946, at a time when the nation feared a fall into recession.
The thing is, virtually every program on the chopping block will be, or is already, making similar arguments. End small stipends and health care for people on the verge of homelessness, advocates say, and it will be far more costly to get those people back off the streets. Cut health care and more people will be turning up at hospital emergency rooms. Lay off state workers and you’re cutting badly needed jobs. And so forth.
State budget writers will be weighing these things for months, with a final verdict due by late April. Stay tuned.
The Cascade Curtain becomes the Cap-and-Trade curtain
There was an interesting exchange recently between rural Republican lawmakers and state Department of Ecology head Jay Manning. Manning was describing Washington’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative, aimed at helping cut greenhouse gases.
Launched two years ago by five Western governors, including Washington’s Chris Gregoire, the proposal is a cap-and-trade plan designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the West and four Canadian provinces by 15 percent by 2020.
Under a cap-and-trade plan, regulators set limits on the pollution, but then let companies and others trade allowances that would allow some to emit more gases than they otherwise could. Some limits would start in 2012, others in 2015. The effort covers things like power generation, heating, factory emissions and gas and diesel exhaust.
Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, is one of several rural lawmakers who are extremely leery of the proposal. He said he fears that Democrat’s push for green jobs will come at the cost of blue-collar workers. He and other rural lawmakers are particularly uneasy about efforts to reduce driving, saying that that means a very different thing in places like Tonasket than it does in Belltown.
Manning suggested that the risk of global warming to the region’s forests – increased insect damage is widely believed to be due to warmer winters – will hurt Kretz’s constituents more than anyone.
“The fire risk we will be facing is very different and very much greater than anything we’ve faced before, said Manning.
He also said carbon offsets, like planting trees to capture and hold carbon dioxide, could dramatically help rural communities.
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Carrolls, asked what’s being done about developing nations and places like China, which has a large number of carbon-belching coal-fired plants. Manning acknowledged that they are a big source of pollution, and said leaders have to keep pressure on those companies to act as well.
Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said that Washington accounts for only about three-tenths of 1 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. She’s trying to rally voters against the plan. Another local lawmaker, Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, blasted the effort as environmental fanaticism.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, suggested that Manning give lawmakers details on global-warming problems like bark beetle damage, plus a list of businesses who get with and support the proposal.
“I think you might calm the angst,” Dunshee said.
From the notebook
“At this very moment, we’re not losing anybody, because where would you go?”
– Attorney General Rob McKenna, telling a state salary commission that he’d like to pay his lawyers more, but that the recession has curtailed turnover for now.
“I’ve never been flipped off more times in my life.”
– New state Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, recalling what it was like to stand at an intersection waving signs during the campaign.
McCaslin: Give justice system more time to catch scammers
Sen. Bob McCaslin’s Senate Bill 5380 would keep the clock ticking longer for prosecution of thieves preying on the elderly.
As things stand now, the statute of limitations expires six years after the crime is committed. In cases where the thief tries to conceal the crime, McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, wants to keep the clock ticking to the time that the theft is discovered.
“People might not even know they’ve been swindled for years,” he said.
Brandland: Add teachers to the state health plan
Saying it would probably save money for schools, teachers and state government, Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, wants to put school employees onto the state health plans.
Schools would pay the same rate that state agencies do to cover their employees.
As things stand now, Brandland says, schools spend a large chunk of their local property-tax levy dollars to buy health coverage. And he says the state plans are generally more affordable than what school districts offer. State-worker coverage in Spokane County, for example, ranges from $25 to $112 per month for the worker and $79 to $318 for a family.
As for the state, Brandland says, it would get a larger pool of employees, giving it more bargaining leverage with insurers and hopefully boosting economies of scale.
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