Most of us who follow the Olympia beat sensed during the tail end of the 2007 legislative session that something was bothering Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Bellevue). The usually cheerful and energetic House Finance Committee chairman and former Microsoft employee didn’t seem like his usual self. Most knew Hunter had successfully battled lymphoma during 2006 and was now contemplating a run for the 5th congressional district in 2008. However, as the session wore on, he began confiding to friends and close associates that the cancer had returned and he would not only postpone a run for Congress, but would also need to undergo a much more aggressive cancer treatment.
Today’s Seattle P-I has the story about the very rare and very expensive treatment Hunter is undergoing at the UW Medical Center which was developed by the UW’s Dr. Oliver Press. Without going into too many details I’m not the least bit qualified to talk about, Hunter will have to be isolated in a special lead-lined room for a couple of weeks until the radiation isotopes in his body decay enough to permit others to be near him.
We wish Rep. Hunter a speedy and successful recovery and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
Last week, Eastern Washington University quietly sold its downtown Spokane center to a Portland-based real estate company for $3.4 million, a sale authorized in this year’s legislatively enacted budget. Higher education old-timers will remember this facility as the controversial “Frederickson building” purchased back in the early 1980′s by former EWU president George Frederickson.
The former Spokane Farm Credit Bank Building was purchased by the EWU Foundation in 1982, a non-profit organization separate from the university. The purchase of the building caused quite a stir in Olympia at the time for a couple of reasons. First, the idea that a university could simply go out a buy a building outside of the “normal” capital budget processes was concerning to some legislators. Second, the physical presence of EWU in Spokane would ignite long-standing “turf wars” between EWU and Washington State University concerning which institution should be the primary provider of public higher education to the state’s second largest city.
The purchase of the Frederickson building resulted in the passage of a state law requiring higher education institutions to obtain prior authority from the Higher Education Coordinating Board prior to acquring any off campus facilities. In fact, the UW was required last summer to obtain Board approval for the purchase of the Safeco properties under the requirements of this same state law.
Both EWU and WSU are now committed to providing higher education opportunities in Spokane through the emerging Riverpoint academic campus, directly across the Spokane River from Gonzaga University. About 1,000 EWU students will move to Riverpoint when the academic year begins in the fall, joining 1,500 EWU students who already attend classes there. Proceeds of the sale of the Spokane center will be used for design work on a new academic building for the Riverpoint campus.
Today marks the beginning of a year long 50th anniversary celebration for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). At a ceremony in the rotunda of the Natural Resources Building in Olympia, State Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland will be joined by former commissioners Jennifer Belcher and Brian Boyle (currently with the UW College of Forest Resources) as well as other local and state dignitaries to kick-off the 50th anniversary festivities.
The Department was created by the state legislature in 1957 to consolidate the work of nine state agencies and to preserve public land resources in perpetuity for the benefit of citizens and schools. DNR manages 5.3 million acres of state-owned forest, range, commercial, agricultural and aquatic lands. The agency also provides wildlfire protection for 12.7 million acres of private and state-owned forest lands, administers Forest Practices rules and surface mine reclamation on state and private lands.
Additional 50th anniversary celebrations will be held at regional events around the state during the coming year.
State Senator Rodney Tom, the newly elected Democratic senator in the 48th legislative district (Bellevue, Redmond) announced today his intention to enter the 8th congressional district House race. The eastside seat (which has never been won by a Democrat) is currently held by Rep. Dave Reichert who is serving his second term after a long career as King County Sheriff.
Tom, who previously served in the state House of Representative as a Republican, switched parties last year and defeated incumbant state Senator Luke Esser in the 48th district. He does not need to run again for re-election to his state Senate seat until 2010. The other declared Democratic candidate in the 8th district is former Microsoft employee Darcy Burner, who unsuccessfully challenged Reichert last November.
Associated Press political writer Dave Ammons noted recently that it appears all systems are go for Tim Eyman’s latest anti-tax initiative to capture a spot on the November 2007 general election ballot.
Last Friday, Eyman cleared two big hurdles to getting I-960 before the voters this fall. First, a King County Superior Court judge rejected an attempt by SEIU Local 775 and Futurewise (an environmental group) to keep the measure off the ballot this fall. Second, the Secretary of State’s office reported that Eyman’s organization has turned in more than 314,000 voter signatures, likely more than enough to meet the threshhold test of 225,000 valid signatures required for ballot certification.
Dubbed the “Taxpayer Protection Initiative,” I-960 would (1) require a two thirds vote of the legislature or voter approval to enact any tax increase; (2) ensure a public vote on any tax increase enacted with an emergency clause; and (3) require press releases by the Office of Financial Management on any proposed legislation which would increase taxes.
I-960 would be the only citizen initiative on the ballot this November. The legislature has referred several constitutional amendment changes to the voters, including the requirement to establish a state rainy day fund.
Sorry to have been so unattentive to the blog this week. Much going on that kept me away from the computer. Spent all day Wednesday working with UW and OFM staff on issues related to the new UW Snohomish-Island-Skagit campus. A familiar local firm, NBBJ, has been retained to help manage the site evaluation process, and our internal UW SIS Work Group, chaired by Lee Huntsman and Ana Mari Cauce also met for the first time early Thursday morning. Safe to say that we have now shifted into a higher gear on the UW North campus planning efforts.
During the past two days, the House Higher Education Committee held a performance accountability symposium here on the UW campus. Approximately fifty participants, including legislators, staff, higher education faculty, students and administrators met to discuss the pros and cons of performance agreements, accountability measures, and how to assess quality in higher education.
In addition to committee chair Rep. Deb Wallace (D-Vancouver), other legislators in attendance included Rep. Fred Jarrett (R-Mercer Island), Rep. Helen Sommers (D-Seattle), Rep. Skip Priest (R-Federal Way), Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-Shelton), Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor), Rep. Mary Helen Roberts (D-Edmonds), Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Lake Forest Park), Rep. Jim Dunn (R-Battle Ground), Rep. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) and Rep. Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City).
One of the things that caught my eye in the recent state population figures released by the Governor’s budget office was that Tacoma is really gaining on Spokane for status as the state’s second largest city. Both cities have populations just over the 200,000 mark, separated by less than 2,000 residents.
According to the Tacoma News Tribune “inside the editorial page” blog, Tacoma lobbyist Randy Lewis says Spokane cheated and that Tacoma should rightfully be in the number two city slot. Lewis apparently issued a memo pointing out that due to a large annexation in 2005, Spokane’s population is 1,469 residents higher than Tacoma which picked up only three residents through such changes. Take annexation out of the picture and Tacoma surges ahead of Spokane by 1,266 residents by counting only births and in-migration.
Despite the two vs. three controversy, the rest of the top ten cities list shows no significant change. After Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma, the list reads Vancouver, Bellevue, Everett, Spokane Valley, Federal Way, Kent and Yakima.
Just for fun, let’s continue our 2007 session wrap-up tour of PAC 10 schools (we covered Oregon just the other day) with a closer look at Arizona and how UA and ASU fared in the recently enacted Arizona 2007-08 budget.
Spending on public universities in Arizona will increase by $115 million or just shy of 12% (excluding compensation) in the 2007-08 fiscal year. This includes $20 million for university enrollment growth; $35 million for lease purchase payments for research infrastructure; $25 million for biomedicine initiatives including funds to accelerate the design of a new biomedical campus in Phoenix; and $30 million for student and faculty retention initiatives.
Greg Fahey, who handles government relations for the University of Arizona wrote this past Tuesday in his 2007 session summary that the success of UA this past session was due to strong support from legislative supporters in key committee positions and President Robert Shelton who was a visible presence in the state capitol. Like Washington and Oregon, Arizona has a pro-business Democratic governor in Janet Napolitano who put increased funding for ASU and UA at the top of her 2007-08 budget priority list. Napolitano was also helped by a state legislature controlled by moderate Republicans and Democrats who were able to overcome the influence of those members who opposed greater support for higher education.
A report on California schools (UCLA and UC Berkeley) will have to wait. As usual, the fiscal year has already started and Golden State legislators are still wrangling with Governor Schwarzenegger over the $104 billion 2007-08 California state budget.
Washington was not the only northwest state to provide strong budgetary support for its higher education system during the 2007 legislative session. Oregon lawmakers recently wrapped up work on their 2007-09 biennial budget and the Oregon Department of Higher Education (Oregon University System) received a two-year increase of more than 18 percent. This is the largest increase in the higher education operating budget since 1999.
Like Washington, Oregon higher education benefited from a strong initial proposal from Governor Ted Kulongoski in December. That proposal called for a 17.1 percent general fund increase. The Oregon Legislature went beyond the Governor’s recommendations, providing increased support for faculty salaries, enrollment growth, and additional FTE positions to improve faculty/student ratios. Funds were also provided for a package of research investments promoted by the Oregon Innovation Council which includes $9 million for the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and its programs on each of the participating campuses.
Governor Kulongoski and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire have known each other for a long time, having both served as their respective state attorney’s general. They are both Democrats and their 2007 legislative success is due in part to Democratic majorities in both the Washington and Oregon state legislatures.
The 2007 population estimates prepared each year by the Office of Financial Management (OFM) were released yesterday and it shows Washington state’s population has surged to about 6.5 million as of April 1 this year. The represents an additional 112,400 residents or 1.8 percent over the previous year.
According to OFM analysts, about two thirds of the growth is from persons moving to Washington, presumably attracted by the state’s strong employment climate. As the most recent state revenue forecast revealed, Washington’s economy is still strong and outperforming the national economy, although the margin of difference is smaller than it was a couple of years ago.
The fastest growing counties in Washington in terms of percentage change since the 2000 Census are Franklin County (37 percent), Clark County (20 percent), Kittitas County (15 percent) and Benton County (14 percent).