Make Your Voice Heard On County’s Future

Snohomish County is currently updating its Comprehensive Plan which will be finalized by June 2015. The plan maps out how the county will accommodate population and employment growth through the year 2035. It touches on policy areas such as residential and commercial construction, parks, schools, utility facilities, transit, roads, employment and zoning.

The county has prepared an excellent website to explain the plan and provide opportunities for public input. You can find it at the following URL:

http://2015update-snoco.org/

As a county resident, this plan impacts your day to day life. You can take a simple, concrete step to help shape the plan.

Simply navigate to the Alternatives page on the website and click on the Alternative Maps Portal link on the left hand side of the page. Then choose the 2015 Future Land Use Map Changes link. Zoom in to view your property and your neighborhood and see what changes are proposed. Then contact the county and provide your feedback. If your schedule permits, show up to the Planning Commission meetings in October and testify in person before the plan is sent on to the County Council for final consideration.

You can have a direct impact on the future growth of our county.

Thoughts On McCleary

What troubles me most right now regarding McCleary is the huge disconnect between the two sides, and I don’t see how it gets remedied. It’s a little like “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” The two parties in Olympia really seem to be living on two different planets.

The Supreme Court ruled the state has not amply funded basic education, to the tune of $3.5+ billion per biennium. It directed the legislature to provide ample funding for education, including HB 2261 which is the current definition of basic education. The 2013 session produced about $1 billion of funding to meet the demands of McCleary. The court just weighed in on the legislative progress and said it is not enough. The court wants the legislature to produce a funding plan by this April to meet McCleary by 2018. That request hasn’t exactly received a warm welcome in Olympia. Because 2014 is an election year and we don’t have a deficit to deal with in a supplemental budget, we are not going to see any significant progress on McCleary until the 2015 budget.

On Mars we have the Democrats and the WEA. They correctly believe the court’s decision strengthens their arguments for funding education. The Supreme Court just affirmed what the Democrats have been saying for years. Why should they cave into any demands on education that do not fall under the court’s decision? There are three branches of government (Governor, House, Supreme Court) and the Superintendent of Public Education who all agree funding existing education laws is our paramount duty.

On top of the policy merits, they might believe the politics are also on their side. If the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) in the senate holds a hard line on new revenue for education, the Democrats can let the court put the hammer down while blaming the MCC at the same time.

But here is where the planets diverge from one another. Democrats believe pressure from the court will ultimately force the MCC to act on revenues. If you pay attention to what folks are saying, it seems clear that many members of the House GOP, the MCC and even some Democrats all believe the court overstepped its constitutional powers.

If the Democratic negotiating position is based on the assumption the MCC will eventually cave on revenues to avoid a constitutional crisis, we may be in for a big gridlock problem.

Over on Venus we have the MCC and the education reform community. They are adamant about not putting more money into a failing system. They want reforms made to the system, especially for low income and minority children. If the House isn’t going to help them rewrite the definition of basic education to change where McCleary dollars are spent, then they are not voting for new revenue.

They also might feel that McCleary gives them the political leverage to extract concessions in other parts of the budget, specifically Health and Human Services. They see the court’s decision as a hammer to make education a priority within existing revenues. Again, we have another celestial divergence.

If the MCC’s negotiating position is based on the assumption that the House Democrats and the Governor will have to cave on cutting DHHS to avoid a constitutional crisis, we may be in for a big gridlock problem.

I hope I am dead wrong. I hope there are already deals being made behind the scenes. I hope both sides get serious, like the court asked, and start agreeing to compromises to advance toward our goal of providing a quality education to every single child in this state.

Perhaps the two sides could meet half way on Earth?

 

Taxis vs “Rideshare”

Imagine for minute that you owned a small business that sells Widgets.

To operate your business legally you have to pay for a city Widget license, you have to have your Widget factory inspected by the city to verify it meets safety requirements, you have to pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars of commercial liability insurance and prove to the city that you have it, you have to undergo drug tests, FBI background checks and a number of other service related requirements.

Now imagine that a new competitor opened up down the block from you. The city then allows that competitor to operate for over a year without meeting ANY of the requirements you had to meet, none of them. You would be pretty angry wouldn’t you? That would be fundamentally unfair wouldn’t it? That would be a case of our government picking winners and losers and messing with the free market, right?

That is exactly what has been going on in Seattle with taxis and the so called “rideshare” companies.

If you check the headlines in the last week you might be under the impression that the Seattle City Council is trying to “shut down” these companies and is out to stifle innovation at the behest of the “taxi monopoly.”

Pure hogwash.

The prosecuting attorney’s office ruled earlier in the year that the “rideshare” companies do not meet the RCW definition for rideshare vehicles. They are, in fact, illegal for-hire vehicles. The mayor and the council were within their rights to issue a cease and desist order for the past year and they decided not to. If the council really wanted to shut down these companies, they could have. Instead they let them operate illegally, with a huge competitive advantage, to the detriment of the legal for-hire vehicle owners and drivers.

Can you name one other industry in the city where one group of businesses is allowed to operate free of regulations and costs while another group of businesses, in the same industry, has to adhere to crushing regulations?

The council has spent a year deliberating, cajoling and listening to everybody in the industry in an effort to craft legislation that would be fair to everybody. You might not like what they came up with, I sure don’t, but spare us all the indignation. We can debate the merits of specific regulations but having a customer facing app doesn’t exclude your business from regulatory oversight.

Now, what should be the appropriate level of regulation in the for-hire vehicle market?

Friends of the free market have asked for complete deregulation. They say the government shouldn’t be able to tell somebody they can or can’t use their car as a for-hire vehicle. It’s a fine argument. The problem is that Seattle tried that before and the results were troubling.  There is no way Seattle is going to completely deregulate. It’s not a realistic option.

I would argue that there is a minimum level of public safety measures that need to be in place. When a tourist steps out of the Sheraton and gets into a for-hire vehicle, the tourist has an expectation of safety. At minimum, they expect that the driver is not a criminal, that the vehicle is not a death trap and that there is adequate insurance to cover any accidents.  As it stands today, Seattle taxi drivers and owners have all of these regulations and “rideshare” has none of them.  I don’t think it is too much to ask for everybody to compete on the same playing field.

The new ordinance by the council takes care of these safety measures.  In fact, it allows for lower restrictions for “rideshare” cars if they are not working as full time taxis but rather as part time “rideshare” vehicles.

Another practical reason for these safety regulations is that the city could be subject to a lawsuit if there is an accident on the public right of way and they didn’t require safety regulations. The last thing we need in these challenging budget times is a huge legal liability for the city budget.

The rest of the regulations on taxis, and those proposed for “rideshare,” are fair game for debate in my opinion. However all regulations need to be uniformly applied across taxis and “rideshares.”

Finally, I’d like to say a word on the very negative feelings people have towards traditional taxis. It’s true that taxis have customer service challenges as was shown in the city’s demand study. Many people have had experiences such as drivers refusing to take short fares, declining credit cards for payment, rude drivers or dirty cars. Those are all legitimate reasons to switch to another service and nobody should defend the bad actors. There are definitely a few bad apples among the more than 3,000 licensed drivers in Seattle.

But not everybody in our society can switch to a new service that easily. Not everybody can afford a smart phone. Not everybody can afford UBER prices. Some people only pay with cash due to religious reasons. Taxis perform a public service that UBER doesn’t. Taxis serve a different socioeconomic segment of our population than “rideshare.” The elderly, the poor and the developmentally disabled populations depend on taxis. Those taxis you no longer choose to use are still an integral part of our transportation network.

P.S. Can we please eliminate deadheading Seattle?

 

Be Informed – Northshore School Board Edition

Ballots for the August 6th primary election go in the mail this Friday. There is one Northshore School Board position being contested in the primary. A race like this has a direct impact on our children and our community.

Continuing the theme from my post during the 2012 legislative races, it’s important for voters to do their homework before voting. Local races like school board have even less transparency than legislative races. In the NSD race, there hasn’t been one single debate or community forum where the candidates could express their views on education policy.

It is up to us, the voters, to obtain the information we need to make informed decisions.

The most detailed answers we will get before voting in the primary are listed here on the Northshore Education Association website:

http://j.mp/16CdKTE

The candidate statements can be found here on page 13:

http://j.mp/15LSE6i

Please take the time to review the candidates’ views on education before you vote. Our children are counting on you.

Sincerely,

Guy

Planning Commission Wants To Hear From You

According to the Snohomish County Charter:

“The Snohomish County Planning Commission is comprised of eleven volunteers who review proposed comprehensive plans and land use regulations on behalf of the citizens of Snohomish County.  Their role is to represent the perspective of local citizens as a counter-balance to the technical perspective of a professional planning and engineering staff in a policy advisory capacity to the County Council.”

The commission votes on issues such as; whether a multifamily development can be built in your area, the types of new businesses a farmer can start on their land, how many off-street parking spaces your neighbor is required to have and the county’s capital budget, among many other issues.

Unfortunately, we don’t hear a lot of testimony from the public. There are a few interest groups and lobbyists who regularly testify but citizens are rarely engaged in the process.

The commission recently created a 6 month pilot program which provides an “open comment” period for the public to testify on issues that are not on our agenda. We hoped this would increase public involvement but after three months, not a single citizen has testified.

I recognize that we all lead busy lives and most citizens don’t have time to drive to Everett and testify. However, the commission is here for you, to be your voice.

Please take part in shaping the future of our county.

You can sign up for commission updates here: http://j.mp/11QvsUb

 

Final Election Results

Here are the final 2012 election results from the 1st legislative district. Some observations:

- The 1st legislative district closely mimics the state as a whole.

- Senator Maria Cantwell and the 2/3rds rule for raising taxes (I-1185) are by far the most popular things in the 1st leg.

- We like Governor Jay Inslee and Charter Schools (I-1240) the same amount.

- We bucked the state a bit by going with Kathleen Drew for Secretary of State rather than Kim Wyman.

Be Informed

Like many of you, I have really enjoyed watching the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. They are a great feature of our political system and, when done well, they provide voters with a clear view of where the candidates stand. You can’t hide when you are directly challenged by your opponent on national television.

Unfortunately, we don’t have televised debates at the state legislative level. Before I ran, I was naive enough to think that we would have many opportunities to be questioned by voters in large, group settings. In reality, there was only one opportunity before the primary for all three of us to be in the same room taking questions. It was the group interview with the Seattle Times Editorial Board. Senator McAuliffe and I were in attendance but Dawn had a prior commitment. Since the primary, there have been four opportunities for the remaining candidates to speak in a group forum. Only two of these events allowed questions from the audience and Senator McAuliffe was the only one in attendance. Without public debates or in-depth reporting, it’s difficult for most citizens to obtain clarity about where our candidates stand.

As a candidate for office, you receive a large number of questionnaires from special interest groups and lobbyists. These groups use your answers to determine if they will donate to your campaign and/or endorse you. There are a lot of these questionnaires and they take time to fill out.

It’s ironic but the most detailed answers that candidates will give during a campaign are probably on these surveys. The questions are usually specific and deal with a narrow set of issues. As you can see on the ones listed below, the groups want to know exactly where you stand on very detailed policy questions. Some candidates fill them out, some don’t. Some candidates only fill them out for the groups that generally support their chosen party. Some of the interest groups post the candidate responses online and others don’t.

I believe that the citizens of the 1st District deserve the same level of detailed answers. If lobbyists and special interest groups are getting answers, then voters should get them too. Right now we are simply consumers of very polished marketing campaigns. We get direct mail pieces from candidates who claim “I know what it takes to create new jobs and get small businesses growing again.” We see signs from vaguely official sounding groups proclaiming their love for candidate x. We see websites with position statements that are carefully crafted by high priced political consultants, geared towards offending the least amount of people while saying nothing of true value.

We deserve more.

But the responsibility to get these answers is our own. We need to be engaged in the political process. We need to take the time to call or email our candidates and elected officials. We need to ask them where they stand on issues that we care about. Take the time to research their experience and ability to work with others. Ask a lot of questions.

And, of course, VOTE!

Sincerely,

Guy

Here is a sampling of the questionnaires our candidates received for the 2012 election. Maybe you will find a policy issue that is important to you. You can check each group’s website and see if they publish the candidates’ responses. Or, if not, call the candidates and ask them where they stand.

Senator Rosemary McAuliffe (D), 206-724-3109

Dawn McCravey (R), 425-299-1586

Representative Derek Stanford (D), 425-481-6231

Sandy Guinn (R), (425) 489-039

Representative Luis Moscoso (D), (425) 773-0470

Mark Davies (R), (425) 770-5279

Surveys

Amalgamated Transit Union Leg Council

American Federation of Teachers

Association of Washington Business

Citizens Alliance For Property Rights

Council On American And Islamic Relations

Graduate Washington

Master Builder Association

Mountlake Terrace News

Municipal League of King County

NARAL

National Rifle Association

National Federation of Independent Business

Planned Parenthood Northwest

Rental Housing Association

SEAmec

Sierra Club

Stand For Children

The Arc of Washington

UW Impact

Washington Conservation Voters

Washington Food Industry Association

Washington Prosperity Project

Washington Retail Association

Washington State Council of Firefighters

Washington State Labor Council

Washington State Nurses Association

Washington Education Association

Freedom Foundation

Others include: League of Humane Voters, Washington Coalition for Open Government, League of Women Voters, Poverty Action Network, Family Policy Institute Washington

 

PACE Program – an innovative education idea

Throughout the campaign, I am going to post about the innovative ideas I discover along the way. This post concerns a PTA driven educational program we have in the Northshore School District.

It’s called the PACE program and it’s available in three elementary schools in the NSD.  The program starts in 1st grade and continues through grade 6. There is one PACE classroom per grade in each of the three PACE schools, and 5 – 8 feeder schools that send students there to participate. It’s a popular program and there are routinely long waiting lists, especially in the younger 1st – 4th grades. There is easily enough demand to fill a second PACE classroom in these grades.

For children to participate, the parents of PACE students agree to volunteer a minimum of 80 hours of their time over the school year and pay an annual fee of $175. The hours they volunteer can be in or out of the classroom although most are in class. The PACE teacher schedules parent participation in the classroom and utilizes parent resources to assist with grading, preparation of materials, etc. The curriculum for the class is the same as the non-PACE classes. It is not an advanced learning or accelerated program. The teachers are free to use the additional funds towards materials or curriculum based field trips.

The real value of the program is the teacher’s ability to utilize volunteers in the classroom to break the kids up into smaller groups or work stations. It allows differentiated learning so that the teacher can really focus on kids who are struggling or challenge other kids who are excelling.

Data provided by the NSD from the Spring 2011 Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) tests show that PACE students score higher than non-PACE students.  For the following chart, Level 1 is below basic, Level 2 is basic, Level 3 is proficient, and Level 4 is exceeding standard.

L1 L2 L3 L4 L1+L2 Total L3 + L4 Total
Reading
Non PACE 4.4% 13.4% 35.6% 45.2% 17.8% 80.8%
PACE 0.7% 1.8% 27.3% 70.1% 2.5% 97.5%
Mathematics
Non PACE 10.2% 11.5% 35.9% 41.8% 21.7% 77.7%
PACE 1.1% 4.7% 29.5% 64.7% 5.8% 94.2%

 

Some of this difference in student scores is probably due to PACE children having more engaged parents. But intuitively, anytime you provide this much assistance to a teacher it is going to have an impact on student development. Just think about how much more productive you would be at your job if I gave you a minimum of 1,840 hours of help from an assistant over the course of the year.

Why are we not looking into expanding this program?

Surely there are always complications when you try to scale any program or service. I imagine in school districts that have a higher percentage of free/reduced lunch, we may need to eliminate the fee. And demand might be less due to a lack of parent volunteers who can donate their time.

But this is a winning program that costs the taxpayers $0. It is entirely PTA run and funded. This could be a statewide PTA run program that can help to close the achievement gap. It’s not a panacea but it’s innovative and could really be a big win for our children.