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Washington State News Archive

Below are archived news items for the current month. To view a previous month, choose it from the list below.

"Bellingham proposes new way to measure traffic impacts"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Bellingham city council is hoping to implement a new traffic impact system which would take into account other forms of travel besides just cars. The new system would divide the city into zones, and each zone would be allotted a certain number of “person trips,” a measurement counting each trip a person in that zone takes in a car, a bus, on foot, or any other mode of transportation. Areas the city wants to develop, such as the downtown area, would be granted more person trips to encourage construction and growth. Outlying zones would be given fewer person trips. Under the current system, only vehicle traffic is taken into account when developers submit a construction proposal. City planners hope that the new measurement will encourage private builders to take on sidewalk and bike lane construction in order to enhance the number of person trips allowed in their building zone. - 11/03/2008

"Getting There: Bus riding trend likely to stick"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
We Americans love our cars, but we also love convenience and our wallets. Spokane Transit's sharp increase in ridership proves this point. High gas prices make using the bus or other forms of public transportation more attractive while making people aware of this country's dependence on foreign oil. Increased use of public transportation also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by commuters. Because of these benefits, public transportation get a lot of support from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation. - 11/03/2008

"Gregoire claims victory, but Rossi not conceding"--Everett Herald
At the time of this posting, the polls show Gov. Chris Gregoire leading challenger Dino Rossi by seven percentage points. However, Rossi has stated that he is waiting until all the votes are counted before he is going to call the race. In the heated governor’s contest four years ago, Rossi was declared the winner on election night, but after two recounts Gregoire gained the governorship by a margin of 133 votes. Rossi says he does not want a repeat of what happened in 2004. In this year’s battle, Gregoire and Rossi raised a combined total of $25 million, and another $20 million was raised by independent political committees. Gregoire has been declared the 2008 victor by several news agencies, although more votes remain to be counted. - 11/05/2008

"Washington voters approve assisted suicide"--Spokane spokesman-Review
The second time's a charm for assisted suicide. I-1000, which gives terminally ill patients the right to physician assisted suicide, was one of the initiatives passed by Washington stat voters. This initiative, based on an Oregon law (see sections 127.800-127.995),lays out strict guidelines for this terminal procedure. Another initiative that passed was I-1029 which requires training and certification of long term care workers. I-985, the third initiative on the ballot, failed. It proposd to reduce traffic congestion by opening up the HOV lanes, synchronize traffic lights, and change the financing of highway work. You can find detailed breakdowns of the votes for these initiatives at vote.wa.gov. Most of the initiatives filed with the Secretary of State never made it to the ballot since no signatures were submitted on their behalf. - 11/05/2008

"Sound Transit hashing out details"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
After last year’s rejection by voters, Sound Transit has finally been able to pass its transportation package that will make major enhancements to public transit in Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties. The package will be funded by a .5 increase in sales tax in those three counties. Now that it finally has voter approval, the hard work of implementing the proposed changes has begun. First on the list: 100,000 hours of bus service on the Regional Express needs to be added, which means mass changes and additions to routes and schedules. Among other things that the package needs to put in place: parking for 18 new light rail stations, decisions on where and how the Eastside link will run, and a more precise measurement of operating costs. There is some concern among policy analysts that Sound Transit has underestimated costs, given the current financial situation and the enormous expense involved. - 11/06/2008

"2020 vision to clean up Puget Sound unveiled"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A draft plan to clean up the Puget Sound has been released for public comment by the Puget Sound Partnership. The plan includes proposals to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals that enter the sound every year, and as wells as ways to repair and acquire shoreline habitats. The plan includes some proposals on possible funding sources, such as a regional utility with taxing powers, but no actual numbers are stated in the report. Puget Sound Partnership is planning on presenting their document to the legislature in December, and will ask them for $200 to $300 million at that time. Some who have seen the plan are cautious to point out that various clean-up efforts have been started in the last 25 years, with little to show for them. Puget Sound Partnership defends their plan by saying that science-based performance measures will help to keep it on track and on budget. - 11/07/2008

"Tri-City mortgage market grows with FHA-backed loans"--Kennewick/Pasco/Richland Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The tight credit market makes it very hard to get a mortgage or refinance an old one. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers options to homeowners and prospective home buyers. In the Tri-Cities Area many people are refinancing their mortgages or buying new homes through FHA-backed mortgages. The Federal Reserve Board and the Washington Department of Financial Institutions have websites with information for consumers looking into mortgages and home loans. - 11/10/2008

"Ideas for schools, but no funds yet"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
A state task force on education funding has been given five different proposals to increase funding and the overall effectiveness of the state’s schools. The proposals come from the superintendent of public instruction, a group of lawmakers, a coalition of education stakeholders, the League of Education Voters, and the chairman of the task force. While many of the proposals contain elements on improving education, few offer meaningful approaches to fund those endeavors. The task force says that funding for K-12 education in Washington is already complex, and comes from a variety of sources such as sales, business, and property taxes. A few fundraising suggestions include raising levy limits for individual school districts, or giving schools a larger chunk of state sales tax revenue. A member of the task force predicted that the legislature would need to allocate $2 billion more to schools over the coming years. - 11/10/2008

"Nutritional sticker shock from restaurants"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Beginning January 1, 2009, restaurants in King County with 15 or more locations nationwide will be required to post the nutritional information of their food either on or beside their menus. The new law, passed earlier this year, is one of a few nationwide that is attempting to address the country’s obesity problem by making people more aware of what they are eating. Although few studies have been done, researchers have found some indications that being able to see nutritional content before eating will encourage people to make better choices. Some opponents of the law think this is just another example of the government interfering in individual lives, and some restaurants have said that the law will give smaller competitors (who aren’t required to post nutritional contents) a competitive advantage. According to the CDC, over twenty-five percent of adults in Washington state qualified as obese in 2007. - 11/12/2008

"1 in 10 Spokane-area homes sold for loss"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Some news is almost good news since it could be a lot worse. According to a survey by Zillow.com, a realty firm, one tenth of the people selling their homes in Spokane sold them for less than they paid for them. Zillow says the national average is more like 30% of homes are now sold for less than the sellers paid for them. (Washington State University and Eastern Washington University also have websites with information about the realty market and housing in the Spokane area.) Another story, "Washington's October tax revenue down millions", points to the problems for that falling home prices mean for government finances. According to the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, tax revenues were own by nearly $53 million in its report for October-November 2008. The report also notes that "...for the month of September the number of transactions was 12.8 percent below the year-ago level and the average value per transaction declined 20.2 percent." - 11/13/2008

"FDIC says plan could help 1.5 million keep homes"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The FDIC has posted a plan on its website to help keep homeowners afloat and prevent more foreclosures. The plan would use $24 billion of the $700 billion federal bailout fund to guarantee 2.2 million mortgages. The loans would be modified to reduce interest rates and extend repayment plans so that people can keep their homes. The FDIC says that with their plan, homeowners won’t spend more than 31 percent of their pretax income on loan payments. The Treasury Secretary has rejected the plan, but the FDIC apparently still thinks their plan makes the most sense for homeowners and for the economy. - 11/14/2008

"Wash farmers fight proposed 30K-head feedlot"--Longview Daily News - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The farmer and the cowman should be friends, but that isn't always the case. In the old days it used to be about farmers putting fences across cattle ranges, but now it's about water rights. Dryland farmers north of Pasco are concerned about a proposed feedlot--or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)--for 30,000 head of cattle. The CAFO will be getting its water from an aquifer, and nearby farmers are concerned that it will dry up their wells. According an opinion from the Attorney General, there is no limit to the amount of water that an agricultural operation can draw for watering livestock. That amounts to about 433,183 gallons a day for this feedlot. The Department of Ecology approved the operation based on this opinion. The Department is drawing the line at additional water being used for dust control. CAFOs are also seen as a somwaht unregulated source of pollution. - 11/17/2008

"Concerns emerge about environmental effects of wave-energy technology"--Seattle Times
The birth of a new energy industry, wave energy, is sure to produce a few labor pains. Though more and more companies are interested in developing tidal and wave energy, researchers agree that more studies need to be done to determine the environmental effects the industry will have on marine life and the ecosystem in general. So far only one company out of the 100 that have been given preliminary permits has been granted an operating license. The brand-new technology has also spawned a need for an entirely new permit process, so the federal government has created a five-year-pilot permit in order to allow companies to begin their research. The new type of energy looks promising, but much more research into the cost and feasibility of mass production still needs to be done. - 11/17/2008

"Report validates Gulf War syndrome: Chemical exposures in '91 conflict cited"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
There has been a great deal of controversy dating back to the 1991 Gulf War over whether or not Gulf War syndrome really exists. A new report by the Research Advisory committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses concludes Gulf War syndrome does exist. The study links the illness to pesticides and a drug used to counter possible chemical warfare by the Iraqis. Other theories about the possible causes of Gulf War syndrome included the use of depleted uranium munitions and exposure to Iraqi chemical weapons. The Defense Department has put up GulfLINK, a website devoted to keeping military personnel and veterans informed about health issues stemming from the 1991 Gulf War. The Research Advisory committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses is one of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs run by the Defense Department. The Defense Department, the Veterans Administration, and the Department of Labor have also just launched the National Resource Directory For Wounded Warriors, Families And Caregivers. - 11/18/2008

"Consumer prices drop record 1 percent in October"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The latest drop in consumer prices is the largest since 1947, the earliest date for which records exist. Inflation also dropped, as did home and apartment construction in another record-breaking slump, with the annual construction rate falling by 4.5 percent. Prices for cars, clothes, and airline tickets have all taken a hit as retailers hope to entice consumers back to the marketplace during the economic slowdown. In addition, energy prices have sunk by 8.6 percent this month. Dropping prices can lead to deflation, a phenomenon not seen since the Great Depression, but most economists think prices will stabilize enough to prevent that from happening. - 11/19/2008

"Jobless rate up in county"--Yakima Herald-Republic
It's economic cause and effect. The preliminary unemployment figures from the Employment Security Department for Yakima County in October came in at 5.8%, up from 4.2% in October 2007. The rise in unemployment means losses elsewhere. Another article, "Zais warns sales tax drop-offs will continue", tells how sales tax receipts for the city of Yakima are $400,000 below forecast levels. So far it isn't creating a budget crisis, but the city is looking at ways to save money. - 11/19/2008

"Dow hits lowest mark in more than 5 years: Reports, recession fears trigger late selloff"--Spokane spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The economic news is bad, and it looks like it could get worse. Stock market indices such as the S&P 500 are falling. Leading economic indicators are bleak. Congress is holding hearings on financial aid to the automobile industry. The Consumer Price Index showed a 1% drop in October, another sign of the economic slowdown. The word "recession" is being used more and more. - 11/20/2008

"Washington to pay $6M to settle foster children's lawsuit"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seven former foster children of Carole DeLeon, of Stevens County, have been awarded settlements ranging from $400,000 to $1.5 million in the latest lawsuit against Department of Social and Health Services employees. The lawsuit alleged that DSHS had not scrutinized DeLeon’s background when placing children with her, and failed to respond properly to repeated complaints of abuse. An award of $180,000 will be given to the estate of a child who died from starvation while in her care. The settlement was filed in the Spokane County Superior court. The Braam v. DSHS lawsuit filed in 1998 forced the department’s Children’s Administration to take significant steps to restructure their foster care program. - 11/20/2008

"Funding announced for local VA clinic: The $71.4 million was preliminarily approved for design and construction."--Walla Walla Union-Bulletin - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Congressional clout can be good--just ask anybody who uses the services of the Veterans Affairs Mecial Center in Walla Walla. The VA has put the request for a $71.4 million in renovation and construction funds for the facility in its next budget request. These proposed improvements to the facility are a remarkable about face from the recommendation by the VA's Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission in 2004 to close the facility (see pages 3-120 to 3-122). An article in the Tri-Cities Herald, "Walla Walla VA hospital to get $71M upgrade", points out that the VA was heavily lobbied on the Walla Walla facility's behalf by Senator Patty Murray, who is on the Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Maria Cantwell, and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is new the GOP Conference Vice Chair. - 11/21/2008

"State's tobacco cash helps smokers kick habit"--Everett Herald
In 1998, several states, including Washington, were awarded billions of dollars by big tobacco companies for smoking-related illnesses and deaths. That money was supposed to be spent on anti-smoking campaigns and programs to help people quit the habit. Washington spends a majority of the money on those and other health-related programs, but about 40 percent of those funds still go to things that have nothing to do with health or smoking. Most other states have a worse record, spending only 30 percent on smoking or healthcare programs. The states defend their actions by saying that the money was awarded as back payment for funds the state already spent on health care, and by pointing out that anti-smoking programs generally do not cost nearly as much money as the payments they get. Washington now has the sixth lowest smoking rate in the nation. - 11/21/2008

"Washington bankruptcy filings rise 40%"--Seattle Times
So far this year, 18,000 Washington residents have filed for bankruptcy, making the state the 12th highest in the nation for bankruptcy cases. Many people cite the depreciation of home values, the sudden rise of adjustable mortgage rates, and job loss as some of the reasons for the increase in such cases. A 2005 reform of bankruptcy law has made it harder for some people to seek protection under bankruptcy and has discouraged many people who do qualify from filing for it. New restrictions also mean that by the time they qualify to file for bankruptcy, people are deeper in debt than filers were before the changes to the law took effect. As of August 2008, the national bankruptcy rate was 29 percent higher than that of the previous year. - 11/24/2008

"Plan slashes north-south freeway cost"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
“We should be adaptable to changing conditions and make adjustments as needed,” said a Washington State Department of Transportation administrator. He was referring to the long planned North Spokane Corridor highway, a government project that has to face economic reality. Proposed changes to the plan would reduce the Corridor from eight lanes to four lanes and keep it at ground level. This would help reduce the cost from $720 million to $285 million. More lanes could be added later as funding became available. The reuced cost of the project means reduces the need to impose tolls on the road. - 11/25/2008

"Gregoire orders $260M more in emergency cuts"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
In order to keep the 2009 budget in the black, Gov. Gregoire is asking state agencies to cut spending between now and June by about 6.2 percent. Each agency was given a specific dollar amount to cut, although the agencies themselves will need to decide which programs will get trimmed. Last week the Office of Financial Management released a Priorities of Government report, which lists all state programs in order of perceived priority. Programs listed in the report as “Buy next” or “Don’t buy” are given lower ranking than those listed as “High” and “Low.” The estimated savings from this newest round of cutbacks will leave the budget with $130 million at the end of the fiscal year, and will allow the state’s Rainy Day Fund to go towards the next biennial budget. - 11/25/2008

"State to file suit against DOE for missed Hanford cleanup deadlines"--Pasco/Kennewick/Richland Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The cleanup of nuclear waste at Hanford is years behind schedule and billions over budget. In fact, the Department of Energy's (DOE) management of the waste cleanup has been strongly criticized by the Government Accountability Office. Washington state entered into the Tri-Party Agreement with DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the cleanup. Talks between Washington state and the federal government to renegotiate the agreement broke down when the Justice Department got involved. Now Governor Gregoire has announced that Washington is going to sue the DOE. This is the latest in a long string of lawsuits that Washington Attorneys General have brought to force DOE to clean up Hanford. - 11/26/2008

"Despite record voter turnout, number of invalid ballots was low"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
According to the Office of the Secretary of State, Washington broke the voter turnout record this year, with a total of 84.55 percent of registered voters casting their votes. Whatcom County officials say county turnout clocked in at 88 percent, with 101,399 of 115,314 registered voters mailing in their ballots. Of those, only 477 ballots were invalidated, an unusually low number given the high ballot-return rate. Ballots can be invalidated for a number of reasons, ranging from signatures that don’t match voter registration records to postmarks later than the November 4 deadline. Some people forgot to sign their ballot envelope. Counties certified their votes on November 25, and Secretary of State Sam Reed will certify the statewide vote counts on December 4. - 11/26/2008


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