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U.S. News tells Washington state ‘You’re No. 1’

UPDATED: Tue., May 14, 2019

A Washington state ferry passes in front of Mount Rainier in this 2014 photo. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
A Washington state ferry passes in front of Mount Rainier in this 2014 photo. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

Washingtonians who listen closely may hear a few chants of “We’re Number One! We’re Number One!”

It won’t be coming from sports fans, but from civic boosters and chamber of commerce types trying to attract new residents or businesses to the Evergreen State. At some point, Gov. Jay Inslee is apt to mention it. Other government officials may follow suit.

The national news magazine U.S. News and World Report, in a story being released Tuesday, put Washington at the top of its annual “Best States” list.

This is not a result of a playoff like the NCAA Basketball tournament, with Washington beating No. 16 Idaho, No. 19 California, No. 27 Oregon and No. 29 Montana in regional competition to advance to the finals, then knocking off New Hampshire, which finished in second place in the U.S. News rankings.

Nothing quite so exciting, or so clear cut. The magazine used data from a wide range of government and private organizations in eight broad categories: Crime, Economy, Education, Fiscal Stability, Health Care, Infrastructure, Opportunity and Environment. Those were split into two or three subcategories, and the relative value of each category was weighted by a survey of more than 50,000 people who were asked to prioritize those eight categories in their state.

When all of those numbers were crunched, Washington didn’t finish first in any individual category. Its highest score was second in infrastructure, which may surprise people bouncing through potholes or stuck in traffic, until one factors in the energy subcategory, which is relatively cheap in Washington compared to most parts of the country, and internet access, which is also good, at least for the majority of the population in urban areas.

Washington also finished third for economy, which other ratings groups have noted, and fourth in education and health care. The lowest it scored was 22 for fiscal stability, which was only worth about 10% of the final grade. Republicans might also note it’s based on data from before the Legislature raised taxes to increase the state budget last month.

One thing that might not sit so well with Inslee, who is running for president on a strong environmental platform, is the state’s No. 14 ranking in the environment category, which is equally divided between data on air and water quality, and pollution. The rankings were settled before the Legislature passed several new laws on those topics, but those laws haven’t had time to make a difference.

Being No. 1, by a method chosen by any national publication or organization, is good for a few high fives and some self-congratulatory pats on the back. Numbers 2 through 50 might focus on a category where they are on top, beat their neighboring state or ignore the rankings completely.

Washington didn’t make a big deal about being No. 6 last year. Iowa, which fell from the top spot to No. 14, might be forgiven if it doesn’t rush to update any materials or presentations that focus on the 2018 rankings.

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