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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Where does Washington rank? It depends

OLYMPIA – Some state business groups released their latest measure of Washington’s well-being on Monday, and like all such rankings, much depends on what numbers are sliced and diced.

Ask some Republicans, and they’ll tell you Washington has a terrible business climate, based on certain lists that give demerits for such things as a state’s business and occupation tax or its injured worker program or unemployment insurance system. Such rankings are cited most frequently by those who want to change the B&O tax, the disability program or unemployment insurance.

Ask some Democrats, and they’ll tell you the business climate is relatively balmy, and point to other studies that give Washington good marks on that score, but will argue the state has the most regressive tax system that benefits the rich and weighs most heavily on the poor. There are some rankings that confirm this and are cited most frequently by people who want a state income tax.

Based on various websites that offer news and views, Americans have an insatiable appetite for lists. Perhaps that’s what prompted the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Roundtable to form a new group, Opportunity Washington, and come up with a new yardstick for the state, which they call the Opportunity Index.

The index is a list, or more accurately an amalgamation of other lists to create a super list. So super is the index that where most rankings go from zero to 100, this goes from zero to 150, the better to cram and crunch all the calculations needed to blend 10 variables in three categories to come up with an “Opportunity Score” for all 50 states. Sorry, District of Columbia, no Opportunity Score for you.

Washington’s Opportunity Score is – drum roll please – 79. That puts Washington at a middling 24th place, just a smidge below Idaho, but a full four points above Texas, which is in 25th. In other words, good for you Famous Potatoes, but suck it, Longhorns.

Since no one had heard of the Opportunity Score before last Monday, this takes some ’splaining. The score involves three areas: education, which it calls Achieve; transportation, which it calls Connect; and economics, or Employ. Those three form the acronym ACE , which is reminiscent of WashACE, the predecessor of Washington Opportunity.

In the eyes of these business groups, Washington ranks 18th out of the 50 states on education based on measurements it selected. Good on fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math scores, below average on high school graduation rates and producing college graduates with bachelor and advanced degrees.

It ranks 23rd out of 50 on economic factors, with good research and development investment and a good supply of entrepreneurs but higher-than-average business costs. And of course they figured high unemployment insurance rates into those costs, as one would expect from a couple of business groups.

Where it falls down most is in transportation, at 38th of 50, with long commute times, and roads and bridges that need repair. That could change if there’s a new index in a couple of years, because this one doesn’t take into account the new higher gasoline tax, some of which will be used to fix crumbling roads and bridges. It’s also fair to note the commute time is really bad in the Puget Sound region, and getting worse, so the rest of the state is sort of tarred with that.

So what does all this mean, other than there’s a new list to feed the insatiable appetite of the Internet? Steve Mullin of the Washington Roundtable hopes it serves as a baseline against which future improvements can be measured, and “where we must concentrate efforts to make Washington a Top 10 state.”

That would seem to be the ultimate in this list-making culture: creating a list that serves as impetus for doing better on the list.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at www.