Resisting the Urge to Judge the Affordable Care Act

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Blog/2013/Dec/Resisting-the-Rush-to-Judge-the-Affordable-Care-Act.aspx

A super-interesting (and brief) overview of how all the moving parts of the ACA have affected us, including the bad (website rollout) with the good (additional coverage, bending cost curve, rebates for excessive adminstrative spending, etc.)

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Transportation

I made some remarks at the Bellevue Rotary yesterday that seem to have been misinterpreted by some people, so I’m clarifying:

Passing a transportation package this session is incredibly important for the Puget Sound region. I support a well-designed package.

  • Metro Cuts

    Starting in January King County Metro will start reducing service to make up for an expiring car tab fee the state authorized them to charge several years ago. You can see the proposed reductions here. The Eastside cuts will result in significantly increased congestion as commuters shift to single-occupancy cars.

  • Arial view of 520 bridge

    The 520 bridge project will stop planning for the next phase. They will lay off the design team, making it difficult to re-start the project, costing millions and adding years of delay. If no package is passed we will have a bridge that has 6 lanes all the way to Foster island, which turns out to not be all that helpful. The exit to Montlake will be dysfunctional and highly congested as buses and HOVs cross three lanes of traffic to get off and on. The vulnerable parts of the bridge will remain – the hollow pillars on the west approach to Montlake and the Portage Bay Viaduct, and could fail in an earthquake or by being struck by a barge. (This happened a few years ago and did serious damage to one of the pillars.)

  • The Seattle metro area has some of the worst congestion in the nation. In 2012 our area was the 4th worst in the nation, according to the Tom-Tom data company. (Link here.) This is a deterrent to businesses locating here, and fixing it has been a major ask of the Boeing Company, Microsoft, and a host of other major employers. As I’m sure you have figured out by now it’s also quite painful to live through.

I support a large transportation investment package to improve this situation and will vote for a package that makes sense.

However, I don’t support just ANY transportation package – it needs to be good for the central Puget Sound. (Other parts of the state care about the impact on their area, which makes putting together a package an incredibly difficult balancing act.) A good package will have a number of key elements: Continue reading

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Pay It Forward

Pay it Forward: Debt-Free Access to Higher Education

Pay it Forward: Debt-Free Access to Higher Education

Recently a number of people have written to me about the “Pay it Forward” concept for funding higher education in Washington. The basic idea as described on the Economic Opportunity Institute website: (www.eoionline.org)

Pay It Forward: A Debt-Free Degree 

  • Students attend college with no upfront tuition or fees. Instead, students contribute a small, fixed-percentage of their income for a predetermined number of years.
  • Contributions are placed in a public higher education trust fund that funds education for the next generation of students, giving each new cohort the same opportunity to attend college

It’s a cool idea that provides upward mobility for more kids and doesn’t expose them to debt that many will have difficulty repaying. The implementation is a little more difficult. To make this work you have to forego tuition and fee revenue (over 60% of our higher education budget today) for a significant period of time, until the revenue from the payment stream catches up. This would be, most likely, at least a decade of covering well over a billion dollars a year. We don’t have this much money and are not likely to given our current obligations.

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Early Learning

Thomas The Tank Engine

Thomas The Tank Engine

I visited a family child care provider in Bellevue last week. I’ve been working with Representative Ruth Kagi on trying to figure out how to improve both the reach and quality of our early learning system for at risk kids, and seeing how stuff works in person is pretty valuable.

This wasn’t a facility for at-risk kids. In fact, it costs over a thousand dollars a month for preschool kids, more for infants and toddlers. (They require a higher staff ratio.) This isn’t an out of whack price – it’s what it costs to provide preschool here. We were looking at Washington’s new quality ranking system in action. The provider Bijay Singh has been working on getting rated, which is a long process. She’s been in the business for 30 years and it looked like a great place. I’d show pictures, but I always feel awkward taking pictures of other people’s kids and there are legal issues with legal releases. I have included the picture of Thomas the Tank Engine above, instantly recognizable to anyone who has had kids in the past 20+ years. (More people read posts with pictures – who knew?) I sat on the floor with a three-year-old and played with the boy and his trains for at least 10 minutes.

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Boeing, Special Sessions, Tax Policy, and Transportation

I’m in Olympia today at the behest of Governor Inslee. He called us in to, in his words:

“I am asking lawmakers to pass a package of legislation that will guarantee that the Boeing 777X and its carbon fiber wing are built in Washington state,” Inslee said at a press conference today where he was joined by a bipartisan group of legislators, Boeing’s Ray Conner, chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. In addition, Machinist union officials Tom Wroblewski, president, Mark Johnson, aerospace coordinator, and Rich Michalski, general vice president, joined the group.

“If we can do this in the next seven days, we can be certain that Washington’s aerospace future will be as bright as its past,” said Inslee.

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Visiting Prisons

View of the diesel tank farm. An Island prison has a lot of infrastructure.

View of the diesel tank farm. An Island prison has a lot of infrastructure.

I’ve been trying to visit everywhere we spend a billion dollars or more per biennium, and the prison system definitely makes the list. This month I got a chance to visit McNeil Island, a very creepy place. We have a treatment facility on the island for dangerous sex predators, and a former prison. We closed the prison down a few years ago because it was very expensive to operate. It was built as a federal prison sometime in the 19th century and you can tell.

I took a number of pictures of the closed prison, but left my camera in the car for the visit to the treatment facility. It’s not a prison – it’s run by DSHS, not the prison system, and it doesn’t have guard towers with guys with rifles. It does have an amazing amount of razor wire though – it looks like a cargo ship filled with the stuff had a very dramatic accident.

The pictures of the closed prison are weird, except for the one of Rep. Zack Hudgins climbing the security fence to get out.

I guess I was struck by how much infrastructure we need to run a prison on an island. It was originally built there because the water was an effective highway in the days before motor cars, not because it was more secure (it’s not). There’s a water treatment plant, an entire reservoir, three docs, a boat shop, multiple ferries, a fire department with two fire engines and two ambulances, etc. There used to be 1,700 inmates. There are now a couple of hundred.

We could save millions if we housed the treatment facility on the mainland, but the fight over where it was (not) located would be epic.  The island itself is gorgeous. There are about 44,000 acres in the middle of Puget Sound that would make a great park, except for the sex predator facility. This will require some thought.

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I-90 tolling proposal public input opportunity

Ancient (1979) toll booth on the 520 bridge

Ancient (1979) toll booth on the 520 bridge – courtesy WSDOT

I received the following memo from WSDOT this week. We are entering the phase of finalizing the funding plan for the Western landing for 520. One of the options is tolling I-90 to pay for the remaining $1.4 billion in work to be done.

We currently have enough money in the budget to connect the 6-lane bridge to Montlake, but not go all the way to I-5, and the Westbound connection from Montlake to Foster Island is somewhat crippled. The decision to move forward with construction of the floating and Eastside portions has saved a tremendous amount of money over waiting, and has pushed the decision forward so that the bridge will actually get done.

Leaving the 520 bridge in this partially-complete stage would be disastrous – the traffic congestion from the merge would be painful and we would not get the throughput we want. Seattle would not get the mitigation it wants.

Tolling I-90 is not the desired option, but it’s our backup plan and we’re doing the study. The memo is about ways to have input, should you so desire. There is a meeting on Thursday October 10th you may be interested in as well.

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Get ready for westbound SR 520 closures on Thursday nights

Bridge Closed SignUseful info from WSDOT. Construction closures are aggravating, but getting the bridge done more quickly saves money and gets the whole project done faster.

Construction of the new West Connection Bridge is in full swing so please plan ahead for weekly closures of westbound SR 520. Crews will close all westbound lanes from 92nd Avenue NE to Montlake Boulevard beginning 11 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday each week from Sept. 19 through Oct. 17. Before and after each full closure, a single westbound lane will be closed from 9-11 p.m. and from 5-6 a.m. During the closures crews will build foundations and columns on Lake Washington, just to the north of SR 520. Dates are subject to change. Check the new SR 520 Orange Page for updates.

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Cool data about net income migration

This is an interesting view of how income has migrated in the last decade – lots of high wage people moving to Washington state. The rankings are aggregate,  so it might be interesting to see what the per-capita impact of this would be. The impact of $7.88 billion on 7 million people in Washington is likely to be a lot larger than the the impact of $17.6 billion on the 26 million in Texas.

The article that goes with the post has links to the raw data where I could presumably answer my question.

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Totem Lake Actually Exists – Who Knew?

Totem Lake, Kirkland

Totem Lake, Kirkland

While out riding around Kirkland with City Council member Shelley Kloba she had us looking at this view, and I wasn’t sure why. Turns out we’re a little further away from the pond than I thought and that it’s actually Totem Lake.  I did not know this lake actually existed – it’s kinda cool that it does. The hospital and the mall are off to the right in this picture. In the map below the view is from where I put the little yellow number 1. Continue reading

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