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The usual yawns at King County: Dow Constantine and all County Council incumbents who run (one won’t) are re-elected with token opposition and minimal debate. Dow’s second term will be a modest let-down, in part because some of his A-team defects to Olympia and a new Seattle mayor. The big county issue will be trying to get more funding for Metro, reigniting the Metro-Sound Transit wars in Olympia.
University of Washington. Most likely is the emergence of a new-model, tech-centric university, with new rules making commercialization of research more attractive for investors, with plans for a new technology-rich district on the emerging campus west of University Way, and what few new dollars coming from the state tied to STEM education and jobs.
A second scenario is adapting to the new normal of paltry state funding, as the McCleary court decision requiring new funding for K-12 siphons off any new dollars for higher ed. There would be some concealed subsidies, such as a state program to buy down interest rates on student loans or other devices for helping those pinched by the high tuitions. Maybe some differential tuition steps (charging more for majors that cost more, due to labs, and whose graduates ultimately earn more) get started. But the main "cure" will be a massive new fundraising campaign.
The third, rather remote possibility is that President Michael Young announces his departure, concluding that the magnitude of effort in restoring funding for such a constrained and ambitious university is just too big a lift. That would produce a period of more-serious soul searching for a new financial model for the U.W.
Seattle Schools and K-12 education. The 2013 School Board election could be a crossroads event. School reformers, led by business and new-economy types, were surprised and disheartened when they lost the majority in the 2011 election. They will try to bump off Kay Smith-Blum, the leader of the group that felt dissed by the reformers and the Goodloe-Johnson administration, as well as Smith-Blum’s loyal lieutenant, Betty Patu. A reform-majority board, along with an education-oriented mayor like Burgess, could revive the reform agenda, currently rather dispirited.
The second scenario is that the Smith-Blum 4-3 majority prevails. I’d then look to the reformers to push for a change in the way we elect (or appoint) school board members.
A third scenario is that one of the two levies fails in February, as voters balk at the high combined price, $695 million for the capital improvements levy and $553 million for the three-year operations levy, and express their distrust of the Board, past turmoil, and the low-key Supt. Jose Banda. This could really put Seattle Schools in crisis mode. Related to this will be the battle in Olympia over having the state equalize levies, taking money from rich districts (Seattle being one) to help those with lower tax bases.
Looming over all school systems is the state Supreme Court’s McCleary case ruling that the state must significantly and gradually increase its funding of schools, starting with about $1 billion of new funding in the new biennium. Gov. Chris Gregoire floated a ploy where new gas taxes at the wholesale level fund school buses. The Republican-led coalition in the Senate will insist on funding McCleary and then finding corresponding cuts in social services, without new taxes. The House Democrats will want to pass the funding question to the voters, thus preserving existing programs. This is a recipe for a long session of playing chicken, paralleling the Congressional standoff over raising taxes and cutting entitlements. Inslee has boxed himself in by saying he wouldn't levy new taxes, but he'll probably find a way to squirm free of that pledge.
The economy. I don’t see Congress resolving its high-stakes showdown over taxes and the deficit anytime soon, aside from some Band-aids, so the national economy and business confidence will remain in low gear. Two local factors will shake the confidence in our tech-driven economy. One is cutbacks in defense spending, which affects Boeing and the whole south-Sound economy. Add to that the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, already forced into making big concessions to shipping companies who are suffering from the decline in the world economy. The Port of Seattle will have four of its five commissioner seats on the ballot in 2013, and the current CEO, Tay Yoshitani, whose contract ends in 2014, is likely to announce his retirement. A new commission and the need for defining the new CEO will put the Port and its key part of our economy in the public arena for debate. Most Port-friendly mayoral candidates: Burgess, Steinbrueck, and Murray.
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