I’m off for vacation so the blog is on hiatus. I’ll be back in about ten days to resume posting.
Sometimes, the value of higher education research isn’t always apparent to the average legislator or their constituents. A lot of research is hard to explain and potential benefits are speculative or often years away. So, when I read this story yesterday in the Eugene Register-Guard, I thought it deserved a mention on the blog. This week, scientists and master brewers from 13 countries will gather at Oregon State University for an international symposium focusing on the crucial role of “hops” in the beer-making process.
As any lover of a Northwest microbrew will attest, hops are the crucial ingredient and Washington and Oregon are the largest hops-producing states in the nation. The conference which began yesterday will focus on how the flavor, stability and bitterness of hops varieties influence the taste of beers.
So, how about a hops symposium as the new standard bearer for the benefits of higher education research? Interestingly, my own application to attend the conference seems to have been lost. Oh well, I was only going for the free samples.
While most state legislatures have long since adjourned for 2007 and new fiscal year budgets are quietly chugging along, the California state legislature is still wrangling over the 2007-08 state budget which was supposed to have been enacted by June 30th.
Although Democrats have sizeable majorities in the legislature and agreed on a budget deal with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger several weeks ago, the Sacramento budget stalemate has persisted into the month of August. Most of the reason for the hold-up is because California is one of three states in the nation that require a two-thirds majority of both chambers to pass a budget. This means that enactment of the budget requires the support of some Republican members in each chamber. While Assembly Democrats and Republicans passed a bi-partisan $103 billion budget on July 20, Senate Republicans have refused to go along with that spending plan, claiming it doesn’t go far enough to prevent future budget deficits.
The lack of a legal basis for spending state money in the Golden State is starting to become a serious problem. The Sacramento Bee reported today that state hospitals, clinics and nursing homes will not receive more than $200 million in Medicaid payments this week and state vendors have not been paid since July 1. If the stalemate continues, it is expected that K-12 and higher education institutions could be affected.
In case you were wondering, the longest budget stalemate in California occurred five years ago when then Governor Gray Davis signed the budget on September 5, 2002 — 67 days after the start of the new fiscal year.
Although the next legislative election is 15 months away, at least one House of Representatives incumbant will not be around to serve during the 2009 session. Rep. William “Ike” Eickmeyer (D-Belfair), a ten-year veteran of the House of Representatives announced yesterday he will retire at the end of his current term. Eickmeyer was originally appointed to his 35th district seat (Shelton, Belfair, parts of Bremerton), replacing Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) and has won re-election five times.
Eickmeyer has suffered from a number of health issues and last year was embroiled in an ethics investigations and given a caution letter by the Legislative Ethics Board in February 2007 for improperly directing his legislative aide to write letters and make phone calls on behalf of a non-profit agency that he runs.
Eickmeyer has endorsed local businessman and former Griffin School district board member Fred Finn to succeed him on the Democratic side. Randy Neatherlin, a Republican who ran unsuccesfully against Eickmeyer in 2006 has not decided whether to run again in 2008.
One of the most significant items on the “left to do” list from the Governor’s Washington Learns initiative was the formation of a high-level task force to review the financing of the state’s K-12 education system and to make recommendations for reform. During the 2007 session, the legislature created a new state Task Force on Basic Education Funding as a response to this bit of unfinished business from Washington Learns.
The 14-member panel will be led by former State Treasurer and House of Representatives member Dan Grimm. Grimm is extremely well-known in Olympia circles, having served as the chair of the House Ways and Means committee during the mid to late 80′s. In fact, Grimm wielded so much power as chair of that committee, that when he stepped down in 1988 to make a successful run for State Treasurer, then Speaker of the House Joe King divided Ways and Means into three separate committees (Appropriations, Finance and Capital) where it has remained to this day.
Joining Grimm on the task force will be Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, Cheryl Chow, chairwoman of the Seattle School Board, Bette Hyde, superintendent of the Bremerton School District, Jim Kowalkowski, superintendent of the Davenport School District and executive director of the Rural Education Center at Washington State University, and Laurie Dolan, the Governor’s executive policy director and a former educator from Spokane.
Legislators from both chambers and both parties will be added to the task force in the coming weeks. The final report is due in early 2009.
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.