This Week in Politics

Top 10 Stories: Inslee's Budget, UW Plan Approval, and "Opportunity Zones"

Your weekly dose of top political stories.

By Anne Dennon December 14, 2018

1. Washington governor Jay Inslee introduced a $54.4 billion 2019-2021 budget and wants high earners to pay for it. In addition to a new capital gains tax, the governor wants to increase the existing business-and-occupation and real estate excise taxes. 

The budget would be a $10 billion increase to state funding. If approved, $4 billion of the funding will go to complying with the McCleary decision, a court mandate for the state to fund basic education.  Major initiatives include orca recovery and increased spending for special education and the mental health system.

2. Inslee's proposed budget includes bold measures to help the critically endangered orcas of the Puget Sound, The Seattle Times reported. Whale recovery efforts and associated environmental initiatives (salmon run revival, dam monitoring, whale-watching moratorium) will cost $1.1 billion. The financial commitment will likely stir controversy, but Inslee told reporters at a Thursday news conference that he is confident Washington voters share his environmental dedication. 

3. Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan's top pick to lead the Department of Human Resources, Sue McNab, withdrew herself from consideration, Crosscut reported. McNab, the interim director, resigned from both her position as acting head and from her nomination to the permanent position. McNab's decision leaves another director position vacancy for Durkan to fill. Other city departments currently led by interim directors include human resources, transportation, human services, technology, parks, and civil rights.

4. Durkan met with three finalists to lead the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)—and we now know who they are, thanks to Crosscut. The mayor chose to interview Sam Zimbabwe, from the District Department of Transportation in D.C.; Kamuron Gurol, of Sound Transit; and Mike Worden, retired Air Force major general and defense consultant.

Among the transportation demands that will fall on Durkan's final pick include bus and light rail expansion, delivering on promised streetcars and bike lanes, and managing the upcoming SR-99 closure. The position has passed through two interim leaders during the past year; Durkan has promised to make her decision before the year draws to a close. 

5. Oregon and Washington lawmakers met for the first time since 2013 to discuss replacing the I-5 bridge, KNKX reported. The 100-year-old bridge crosses the Columbia River, linking Portland and Vancouver. Replacement talks started in 2001, but the project—Columbia River Crossing—ended when the states couldn't agree on mass transit goals. If the states can't make progress on the rekindled project, both will have to pay back tens of millions in federal funding. 

6. University of Washington researchers published their findings on the effect of later start times at Seattle secondary schools. City and school officials moved the first bell from 7:50am to 8:45am at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, and the outcome has been positive, according to the US study. 

Students' later wake-up times better matches adolescents' natural sleep cycles. "To ask a teen to be up and alert at 7:30am is like asking an adult to be active and alert at 5:30am," UW biology professor Horacio de la Iglesia told KUOW. The later time has shown an encouraging uptick in median grades (4.5 percent) and reduction of absences. 

7. The Seattle City Council approved UW's 10-year plan for massive growth. Highlights from the plan's proposals include a 6 million square-foot campus expansion, affordable housing for lower income employees, and taller new buildings. The university's decade of development (in short: taller buildings, bigger campus, stronger infrastructure) looks to accommodate a population influx of nearly 8,000.  

8. Seattle's downtown and Chinatown-International districts both ranked in the top five most promising so-called Opportunity Zones for investors in the country, GeekWire reported. Congress introduced these zones—economically distressed areas where development is tax-incentivized—in 2017's tax code changes.

State governors designate the zones; investors avoid capital gains taxes by funneling payouts into their development. Critics worry that incentivized development amounts to wholesale gentrification. 

9. King County Sheriff's Office issued an interim policy on officers pointing guns at people, KUOW reported. The trouble started last year when an off-duty detective pointed his gun at a motorcyclist during a traffic stop. The motorcyclist sued King County in federal court after an internal investigation found the officer was guilty of violating courtesy and conduct policies, but not of excessive use of force.

The interim policy will define pointing guns to be a "use of force," and require any incident of that to be "lawfully justified" and "submitted for review." The permanent policy, expected early next year, will be subject to police union negotiations.  

10. A coalition of transit and climate-change groups announced three city traffic priorities ahead of "the period of maximum constraint," Seattle Weekly reported. The coalition, named Move All Seattle Sustainably, called on the city to prioritize the timeliness of mass transit, enable easier bike commuting, and bolster pedestrian safety as the Alaskan Way Viaduct Project's three-week road closure nears.

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