Morning Fizz

The Biggest Greenhouse Gas Culprit in the State

By Morning Fizz February 22, 2010

1. Mayor Mike McGinn held the first meeting for his Youth and Families Initiative last night at the Rainier Community Center. In several crowded meeting rooms (including one room filled with about 75 Burmese speakers), hundreds of participants divided up into a dozen groups to answer three primary questions: What do we want for our children and families? What are our most critical challenges and how should we prioritize them? And what are the solutions?

PubliCola sat in on one of the small groups. Their top five suggestions weren't terribly surprising: Making schools more accountable; providing more support for families to make kids ready to learn; creating more affordable housing; closing the academic achievement gap and reducing the high-school dropout rate; and giving kids more opportunities to get engaged. But the overwhelming community response to the forum—hundreds of people, many of them with young kids in tow, showing up for a two-hour community forum on a Monday night?—was.

McGinn's challenge, after the five forums and a final "Kids and Family Congress" at Seattle Center are over, will be to turn all the good ideas into action—easier said than done, given that most of the goals listed tonight are the responsibility of the Seattle school district, not city government. However, this week's forums could provide the political backing McGinn needs to implement changes to the upcoming Families and Education Levy—implementing a so-called "cradle to college" approach, which Burgess alluded to at the council meeting yesterday, and sending more money to struggling South End schools.

2. There's some good news and some bad news for environmentalists coming today in the state Senate's budget proposal.

Good news first: Kirkland-area Sen. Eric Oemig's (D-45) bill to end a $4 million a year tax break for TransAlta's Centralia coal plant—the biggest greenhouse gas culprit in the state—is included in the Senate proposal. The bad news: The budget includes a proposal to shelf tax incentives for renewable engergy.

And some more bad news, Governor Gregoire—currently in negotiations with TransAlta about transitioning away from coal in the next 15 years—had threatened to veto Oemig's bill. Now that his proposal to kill the TransAlta tax break is in the budget, things get really tricky.

3. In an hourlong meeting with housing advocates last Thursday, Mayor McGinn reportedly did not respond to concerns that he plans to eliminate the Office of Housing, whose former director Adrienne Quinn resigned last month. Instead, he focused on the need to "reorganize" the city to improve coordination between departments, and returned repeatedly to (perennial) complaints that city departments don't coordinate with each other and that the permitting process takes too long.

No one from the housing office attended the meeting, further stoking fears that the office is again on the chopping block.

During yesterday's city council meeting, council member Nick Licata said he looked forward to "keeping the Office of Housing and working with the mayor to find someone good to lead it."

Asked later whether he planned to eliminate the office, McGinn said,  “We have some big decisions to make about how we’re going to reduce our $50 million budget deficit next year … so we’re going to be looking for how we can find efficiencies in how we organize government so that we can preserve services, including housing."

4. The state senate's transportation budget, adopted Monday afternoon, included one provision that's troubling transit, bicycling, and pedestrian advocacy interests: A transfer of $14 million from the regional mobility transit grant program into bike and pedestrian programs, which in turn were raided to fund the state ferry program. Bike, pedestrian, and transit projects, in other words, have been raided to pay for auto ferries.

Andrew Austin, Olympia lobbyist for the Transportation Choices Coalition, calls the transfer "a really convoluted way to take transit money to pay for ferries." He says just one percent of the state's transportation budget pays for transit, "which is minuscule, and [now] they've drastically reduced that pool."

5. Bank lobbyists in Olympia got another victory yesterday (they already won out earlier in the session when a bill to prevent foreclosures on home loans failed). This time, a bill to fund energy efficiency improvements with local bonding authority (the bonds would be paid back with the savings from increased property values thanks to the green retrofits) was killed because banks didn't like the idea of property onwers prioritizing green bond payments over mortgage payments.

The bill, sponsored by Seattle Sen. Ed Murray (D-43), had sailed out of the Senate 44-2. But despite the fact that it would have increased property values—a good thing for banks—the House promptly killed it under pressure from banking lobbyists who didn't like the shorterm implications of mortgage payments taking second priority to green retrofit bonds.

6. City council member Tim Burgess met yesterday afternoon with representatives from the music and nightlife community to talk about a new proposal he alluded to in yesterday's roll out of the council's priorities—"developing a continuum of responses to street disorder" like aggressive panhandling, open-air drug markets, and crime, all longtime concerns of the nightlife community. Burgess will unveil the details of his proposed legislation (panhandling ban?) at a public safety forum sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association this coming Thursday morning.

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