Business climate: What politicians can do to help

Guest Opinion: The Legislature still had time to address the state's most important assets for a competitive economy, education and transportation.
Patching on a Seattle street.

Patching on a Seattle street. Douglas MacDonald

Steve Mullin

Steve Mullin

Crosscut co-hosts Civic Cocktail, a happy hour celebration of civic nerdery, on the first Wednesday of each month with CityClub and the Seattle Channel. This month we'll tackle a host of topics: Olympia, the Seattle mayor's race and the state of business. Join us this Wednesday, June 5, from 5:30- 7 p.m. for a televised bout of drinks and discussion. Register here.

Less than two weeks remain in the special legislative session and it’s time for lawmakers to finish the state’s business.  A recent update of the Washington Roundtable’s Benchmarks for a Better Washington — an annual report measuring our state’s economic vitality —underscores the need for action on education and transportation policy.  Two key takeaways:

  • Washington ranks among the bottom half of all states for high school graduation rates (32nd) and bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita (39th).  We know 70 percent of jobs in Washington will require postsecondary education by 2020, yet nearly a quarter of high school students aren’t making it to graduation, let alone college. 
  • Washington ranks 41st for bridge conditions, with 21.6 percent of bridges deemed functionally obsolete (including the Skagit River Bridge that recently collapsed), and 29th for road conditions.  We have more than $3 billion in identified maintenance, operations and preservation needs and we aren’t investing enough to take care of the system we have.

We want to make Washington a top 10 state in all of those categories. The 2013 Legislature has an opportunity to make progress to that end.

Budget negotiations are ongoing, but both the House and Senate have committed at least $1 billion in new K-12 spending.They also passed legislation enabling the state to intervene in chronically low-performing schools. This is the right course: increased investment with accountability for results. 

Lawmakers should approve additional education reforms before calling their 2013 work complete. A third grade literacy bill will help ensure students don’t slip through the cracks. A bill giving principals and teachers a mutual say in teacher assignment will help place great teachers in every classroom.  A bill to assign letter grades to schools will increase transparency for families and communities. 

Lawmakers must also ensure our higher education institutions are prepared to develop talent. This means protecting funding for our universities and increasing production of STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering and math). 

A recent Boston Consulting Group analysis identified 25,000 jobs in Washington state that had been open for three months or more because employers couldn’t find qualified candidates. That number is expected to grow to 50,000 jobs by 2017, 90 percent of which are STEM positions. Filling these jobs would create another 110,000 jobs broadly across the economy. We have great jobs in Washington state and more are coming if we foster the talent to fill them.

Transportation was already an important topic for the 2013 Legislature, but it’s getting more attention following the Skagit River Bridge collapse. With rankings among the bottom 10 states for bridge conditions and bottom half for road conditions, Washington’s transportation system is clearly fragile.

The last new statewide investment in transportation came in 2005. That money — most of which was targeted to new project construction — is used up, but we still have more than $3 billion in ongoing maintenance, operations and preservation needs.  Without action, 50 percent of state highway pavement will be in poor or very poor condition in just 10 years. 

Is it exciting to spend money on maintenance? Never. But it needs to be done and waiting only makes it more expensive. We need action from lawmakers on a statewide transportation investment.  It should focus on taking care of the system we have and finishing projects in critical corridors.  

All of this will be done within the context of state budget discussions that have been percolating for months. The budget solution should be sustainable and avoid actions that undermine the economic recovery. 


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 10:02 a.m. Inappropriate

When the phrase, "... more then $3 Billion in ongoing maintenance, operations and preservation needs ..." is described, remember a few other pertinent facts to round out the conservation.

First, and most egregious, is about $3 Billion for unnecessary community only frills on SR 520, such as lids (such as the lid over the Montlake interchange), a new bicycle crossing over I-5 at Roanoke Street, alongside an existing 8-foot sidewalk that does the job very well today, as it has for the last 50 years, and a revised structure from Montlake to I-5 for who knows what purpose. This is a massive investment for a facility whose capacity is limited by the highways at each end.

Why did WSDOT not consider building a new 2-lane HOV/transit bridge parallel to and south of the the existing floating bridge, to serve as a breakwater, and thus allowing the continued use of the old structure that is barely 50 years old? The 2-HOV/transit lanes could be run to and ended at Montlake leaving the section from Montlake to I-5 as is (since I-5 is capacity deficient already with no hope of its being increased).

Then, too, WSDOT has spent $120 million already on electronic signage over I-5 and I-90 advising motorists what speed to do in the peak hour, as if the drivers have no clue that the speed they are capable of is not faster than the car in front, especially when he/she is stopped in congested traffic while the sign over head advises the speed should be 40 mph. Spending $120 million to advise a driver of what he/she can already see through the windshield seems a bit of waste, is it not?

The photo of a repair job is equally interesting. There the DOT worker is filling a pothole in a concrete roadway with "cold-mix" asphalt-cement. How long will that last? What's wrong with "high-early" cement?

And remember, the $5 plus billion Columbia River crossing of I-5 is so WSDOT can get a handle on some federal money that may go to some other state, all while providing light rail to a city and county that does not want that shoved down their collective throats, while giving them a toll for the privilege? What's wrong with preserving the existing CRC bridges?

And so it goes. A transportation department with the motto, "If it ain't broke, build a new one anyway so we can spend a few extra dollars for, well, lets call it earthquake preparedness."

seebee

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Education/training and transportation are easy targets. Unskilled people are problems waiting to happen. And bridges fall down. The government runs out of money. We talk schools and roads. A few glitzy, expensive, dubiously utilitarian projects get done. The economy cycles. Then cycles again. And we're back to talking about schools and roads, and waving goodbye to Boeing. Again.

The elephant in the room is TAX REFORM. Besides being grossly regressive, our system provides the most revenue when we need it the least and the least revenue when we need it the most.

Not many liked the messenger, but Ron Sims in his 2004 gubernatorial bid had the right idea and he was the only one of any political stature who had the guts to say it. End ALL taxes on businesses, especially the B&O; tax. (We penalize hiring state residents while the federal government rewards importation of guest workers.) Exempt the first $100,000 (I'd double that.) of valuation for property tax assessment. Limit sales taxes to 1% (or 1.5%) and make that ONLY a county/city tax source. Clean up this crazy quilt of "user fees" and sin taxes. And then impose a progressive income tax. That's the only way it will work. If you try and superimpose an income tax on top of this joke of a tax system, the voters are absolutely right to hand Olympia its head.

Reform would provide a consistent revenue flow and provide the resources to create state/private partnerships of widely available, very low-cost technical job training programs and provide the kind of transportation spending that doesn't have to be driven by headlines.

One more thing: "A recent Boston Consulting Group analysis identified 25,000 jobs in Washington state that had been open for three months or more because employers couldn’t find qualified candidates." This is exactly the kind of BS statistic responsible for the BS H1-B guest worker program that imports guest workers that are for the most part trained by their taxpayers to fill jobs vacant because we won't train ours and almost all of those wages go back to Bangalore. Just nuts.

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 11:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Paddy "This is exactly the kind of BS statistic responsible for the BS H1-B guest worker program that imports guest workers that are for the most part trained by their taxpayers to fill jobs vacant because we won't train ours and almost all of those wages go back to Bangalore. Just nuts."

This is exactly right. Far too many high tech jobs are not filled because many employers TAKE GREAT PRIDE in stating that no one is qualified for those jobs and "we won't train people, American students are lazy and are not studying what we need" or, worse "we only hire people under 40". Certainly these are not the words & music that you'll hear from the HR departments, but go read comments related to unemployment vs. jobs that go begging and you'll see the "we don't care, we don't have to" attitude.

It's time for someone to bite their butts and put a stop to that attitude. Did the EEOC go out of business?

I have many friends who cam here under the H1-B program, they are fine people. They are NOT the problem, their employers are the problem. And it also boils down to all our elected leaders who continually find ways to jerk us around and spend our money meaninglessly.

Posted Mon, Jun 3, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

25,000 vacant jobs? If businesses truly needed workers, they'd hire them and use OJT to get the workers up to speed. The entire concept is just bullshit on the part of the business community and our elected officials are only to happy to lap it up. Between the two all we've got is this red herring.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Jun 5, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

The Legislature still had time to address the state's most important assets for a competitive economy, education and transportation. ???

Assets? What happen to Puget Sound? Puget Sound is our biggest asset and you keep trashing it.

We need forward thinkers, not instant gratificationalism bureaucrats.

salmonjim

Posted Sat, Jun 8, 9:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Well put. We definitely need to take care of what we have first, otherwise we remain vulnerable to future, similar incidents as what happened on the Skagit River, as well as permanent closing of roads and bridges due to lack of funds. The approach should include: (1) determining what it would take for P&M;, including seeing where there are places where bureaucracy is getting in the way of getting projects done on time and where they're adding needless costs; (2) Evaluating where our transportation $ are going now, i.e. are those costs reasonable; (3) Fully-fund P&M; (4) Legislate automatic adjustments to P&M; to take that out of the political arena; (5) Regular review of P&M; costs by legislators; (6) Full transparency of P&M; costs for taxpayers.

bricsa

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