Morning Fizz

The Next Pressing Problem

By Morning Fizz March 7, 2010

1. Republican state House Reps. Mike Armstrong (R-12, Wenatchee) and Maureen Walsh (R-16, Walla Walla) are co-sponsoring a bill that would delay I-1029, the 2008 voter-approved initiative that funds training for workers who provide home care to low-income seniors and the disabled. The GOP duo is holding a public hearing on the bill in the House Ways & Means Committee this morning.

But just last month, during the debate over suspending I-960—the voter-approved initiative that required a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes—Rep. Armstrong was featured on the Washington House Republicans' blog  pontificating against suspending "the people's will," saying: “Republicans are standing up on this side for the voice of the people..."

Like the rest of their GOP colleagues, Armstrong and Walsh voted against suspending I-960. And certainly, the anti-tax measure passed in Armstrong and Walsh's districts—59.1 and 59.2 respectively.

But the home care measure passed in their districts as well— by a lot more: 71 percent in Armstrong's district and by 68 percent in Walsh's district.

Same thing statewide: I-960 won with 51 percent while I-1029 won with 72 percent.

2. The state Senate passed its revenue package on Sunday—voting to raise general taxes for the first time since 1993.  The $980 million package raises the sales tax from 6.5 to 6.8 percent.

Our report on yesterday's vote is here.

During the debate on the revenue package, the Republicans attempted (and failed) to stop the Democrats from rolling back a sales tax exemption for renewable energy projects. Yes, you read that correctly. Here's our man-bites-dog report.

3. The Seattle Times threw some cold water on the GOP argument that state workers have "Cadillac" compensation packages and should take a hit to help solve the state's budget crisis.

An investigative report in the Sunday  Seattle Times found:
State employees do receive benefits that are richer than those earned by many other workers. But an analysis of statewide wage data by The Seattle Times shows that claims about state workers earning higher pay than others are in many cases incorrect or oversimplified.

Out of nearly 200 standard occupational categories analyzed by The Times, representing most of the 149,000 or so state employees, median pay last year was higher for state workers than for all other workers in only 74 categories.


For instance, food preparers and servers — a relatively low-paid group — make up 9 percent of nonstate workers but just 1 percent of state employees.

And people working in business and financial operations — a relatively high-paid group — comprise 10.2 percent of state workers but just 4.5 percent of all other workers.

Overall, lower-wage state workers tended to earn more than their nonstate counterparts, while higher-paid professionals made more in the nonstate sector.

The median wage for the 2,000 janitors working for the state last year was $13.44 an hour, or $27,955 a year. Their 37,100 nonstate counterparts earned about 6 percent less.

The opposite was true for the state's 1,200 computer-systems analysts. Their median wage last year was $31.47, or $65,463 a year — nothing to sneeze at, but 22 percent below the median for nonstate systems analysts.

Reporting on the controversial state worker health care package on Saturday, we also questioned the GOP rhetoric, reporting:
Funding state worker health care is a hot button issue. Conservatives argue that private sector workers are not covered on par with state workers. That’s true, but it’s not as dramatic a discrepancy as it’s made out to be. For example, Department Labor statistics show that nationally, private sector employers cover 80 percent of the cost of health care premiums for single coverage and 70 percent for family coverage. The average cost Washington state pays for both single and family coverage for employees is 88 percent.

4. The New York Times Magazine published a must-read cover story yesterday for anyone who's interested in education reform, which seems like a lot of PubliCola readers.

The NYT report takes as a given that we must get a bead on meaningful (data-driven) teacher evaluations, and moves on to the next pressing problem—we "have no clue how to advise schools about their main event: How to teach."

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