Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna's Must Read - July 2008

I’m pleased to announce another major accomplishment in our ongoing efforts to fight high-tech crimes and protect children from online dangers. Building on the work of my Youth Internet Safety Task Force, the AGO’s High-Tech Unit and our Consumer Protection Division, we’ve added valuable new information to the Internet Safety section of our website.

In partnership with national Internet safety expert Linda Criddle, author of the Internet safety manual Look Both Ways, we’ve added fresh information for youth, adults, seniors and educators.

Our top tips for youth explain:

· How young people can put personal information at risk just by taking surveys, participating in chat, discussion boards and forums, online dating, creating personal e-mail aliases, sharing images and video, and gaming online.

· Most importantly, how to protect themselves online.

For adults, we offer:

· Ways to be smarter about spending and saving on-line, like creating strong passwords, identifying secure sites and safely participating in on-line auctions and classifieds;

· Tips for defensive computing, including things to keep in mind as you browse, download or share information via the Web; and

· Things to keep in mind while mobile computing, including using public computers and mobile phones.

Parents and educators will find information on:

· How to protect kids from on-line bullies;

· Unintentional consequences of sharing student information on-line, including photos, school sports schedules and other information that could expose students to predators.

· A checklist for family online safety, including a family Internet safety contract.

· A link to iKeepSafe Parent Resource Center, which offers additional resources and a free ParentCare download for MySpace parents.

The site also includes these tips for seniors:

· How to safely socialize on-line and avoid on-line dating scams;

· How to avoid scams that prey on emotions when you are posting information about weddings or deaths;

· Other specialized advice for those with limited experience on the Internet.

Please take a few moments to review these additions to our website. My hope is that you will join me in my efforts to educate Washington citizens, particularly our young people, about online dangers by forwarding these links to all of your family members, friends and neighbors who could benefit from this information. And, by asking each of them to do the same.

Having been at the forefront of this important issue in recent years, I cannot stress enough the importance of education when it comes to protecting ourselves and our loved ones from online crimes.

Thank you very much.


Rob McKenna

Attorney General

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Truth About Leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf

Capitol Hill’s opponents of domestic energy production took to the stage yesterday to decry “Big Oil” again, not for its profits, but for “stockpiling” energy leases instead of producing them. In reality, it’s the government that is stockpiling leases.

This group of politicians stated that oil companies hold the rights to millions of acres of federal leases that are not currently producing energy. This is certainly true, but not because of the sinister reasons they would have you believe. The following may help provide the insights the Members of Congress neglected to provide yesterday.

The Claim: “Increased domestic drilling activity has not led to lower gasoline costs”

This may sound compelling at first, but “drilling activity” has nothing to do with the price at the pump. Supply - or actual energy production - is what influences the price at the pump. While it’s true that exploratory and development drilling has increased across the board since 2000, the important fact is that actual domestic energy production has fallen to levels not seen since 1947 during the same period.

The Claim: “Energy companies are not using federal lands already open to energy development”

Some lawmakers state that oil companies currently hold millions of acres of leases that are not producing. This is true, but not for the reasons politicians would have you believe. It seems the lawmakers would have us believe that oil and gas exist beneath every acre of every lease the government issues; that obtaining a lease was a virtual guarantee that the lease holder would strike oil and gas, or both.

Obviously, that’s absurd. If it weren’t, I’d be on line at the Department of Interior trying to buy an acre or two for myself.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. Oil and gas might be found during the exploration phase of the lease, or it might not. This process, and those that involve satisfying all of the government requirements, defending against frivolous environmental lawsuits, and preparing to drill if energy is found can take a long as a decade.

The Truth & The Laws

Energy companies cannot “stockpile” leases (even the ones that are found to contain no oil or gas) in order to drive up prices:

• The Mineral Leasing Act (for onshore production): Section 17(e) stipulates that an oil company must have a producing well within 10 years or surrender the leases. Source: 30 U.S.C. 226(e)
• The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act: (for offshore production): Stipulates that an oil company must produce energy between 5 to 10 years (in the government’s discretion) or surrender the lease. Source: 43 U.S.C. 1337(b)

The Hard Facts:

• 97 percent of Federal offshore areas are not leased.
• 94 percent of Federal onshore areas are not leased.

Getting Blood From a Turnip

After the offshore drilling moratorium was implemented in 1982 the Department of Interior could only issue leases for areas that had already been offered/leased before, or those areas with little or no economic energy potential. The exception was when Congress provided incentives to invest in Ultra Deep Waters in 1995 to stimulate production in areas that were previously too deep for our technology to reach.

Interest in American energy leasing declined after the moratorium. It remains low for the same reasons. If Congress were to open new areas to production, leasing would increase and so would domestic supplies of energy. Until then, the U.S. will simply be continuing its attempt to squeeze blood from a turnip.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Transportation Taxes Are Up, but Traffic Congestion is Worse

by Michael Ennis, Director, Center for Transportation Policy and Justin Bryant, Research Intern

In Washington, we pay about 50 different state taxes and fees into the State Transportation Budget each year.

In the 1999-2001 budget, Washington residents paid $2.65 billion in state taxes and fees to fund transportation. In the current biennium, residents are paying about $4.18 billion in transportation tax revenue, a 51.2% increase over the last nine years. That means the buying power of Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has grown significantly in nine years. To put this in perspective, inflation over the same time period rose only 20%.

Tax Burden per Family

There were about 2,271,398 families living in Washington State in 2000. This means each family paid an average of $1,217 in state transportation taxes and fees during the 1999-2001 biennium. Today, Washington family’s shoulder an average transportation tax burden of $1,630. That is a 34% increase in nine years.

These figures do not include local or special district transportation related taxes or fees. For example, families in the Sound Transit district in Pierce, King and Snohomish County pay approximately $200 more in transportation taxes each year.

More spending has not meant congestion relief

Washington officials have nearly doubled the burden of state transportation taxes and fees in the last nine years. On a per capita basis, families are paying a third more in these taxes than they did in 1999. But with all this new spending, are Washingtonians better off?

Despite a 51.2% increase in state transportation taxes and fees, and a huge rise in WSDOT’s buying power, traffic congestion continues to worsen. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, the daily average of vehicle hours of delay on all state highways in 2003 was 82,200 hours. In 2006, the average rose to 103,700 hours, a 26% increase in just four years.

Traffic congestion in the central Puget Sound has also increased. In 2003, the average weekday vehicle hours of delay on the five major commute corridors (I-5, I-90, SR 167, I-405 & SR 520) was 13,250 hours. In 2006, delay in the same five corridors jumped to 23,330 hours, an increase of 76%.


Since 1999, state transportation taxes, not counting Sound Transit or local transportation agencies, have risen sharply, more than double inflation, yet traffic congestion has continued to get worse. Washington Policy Center has recommended five practical transportation principles for improving traffic flow in communities across the state. Our state’s leaders should return transportation policy to a focus on traffic congestion relief, and use their increased buying power to get Washington drivers moving again.

Michael Ennis is the Director of the Center for Transportation at Washington Policy Center. Justin Bryant is a student at the University of Washington and served as an intern at WPC. WPC is a non‐partisan public policy research organization in Seattle and Olympia.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Democratic National Convention Stumbles into Parody of Food Sustainability

The National Restaurant Association has taken note of the green guidelines put out for food service for the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer. They are so restrictive that it is not clear food companies can even bid, for example, asking that wait staff not drive to the events; nothing fried, and 70% of each meal locally sourced.

I don't think these guidelines will actually impact the amount of shrimp eaten in Denver this year -- but someone has clearly lost their way and stumbled into a parody of food sustainability.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna's June "Must Read"


Hopefully, you had the opportunity to spend time with family and friends over the Memorial Day weekend. In case you hadn’t heard, the extreme heat wave that hit the West Coast just before the holiday wasn’t the only big recorder-breaker for our state. Here at the AGO, we reached a record-breaking settlement with a drug maker that brings $1.6 million to our state as part of the largest multistate consumer protection settlement involving the drug industry in U.S. history!

Other consumer protection highlights at the AGO over the past month were free shredding in Bellingham, outreach to Eastern Washington manufactured homeowners and landlords, a multi-state $9.5 million settlement with one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefits management companies, and another spyware victory.

And, while it is typical that much of our work here is focused on protecting children, this past month we’ve been exceptionally busy on that front.

Supporting national safe child product standards

I recently urged members of Congress to adopt legislation that would strengthen the ability of state attorneys general to protect consumers from lead-tainted products. Moreover, the Vermont Attorney General and I teamed up to recruit attorneys general representing the other 48 states, the District of Columbia and Guam in submitting this letter to Congress requesting changes to the Consumer Product Safety Act that would enhance our ability to protect consumers from hazardous materials.

Partnering to prevent child abductions

Two weeks ago, I joined Washington’s Communities Against Predators in sharing tips for parents to improve child safety and prevent child abductions. The Attorney General’s Office partnered with Communities Against Predators as part national Safe Child Week, providing a “Tip of the Day” for each day leading up to Missing Children’s Day on May 25. Our goal was to raise awareness about missing children and provide parents with practical information on some basic precautions we can all take to help keep our children safe.

Washington State PTA’s “Friend of Children” Award

During the Washington State PTA’s 95th Annual Convention in SeaTac in May, I was honored with the PTA’s “Friend of Children” Award. It is the highest award bestowed by the PTA, and it is presented to a group or individual performing outstanding work on behalf of children throughout the year. To be recognized by an organization as outstanding and dedicated as the Washington State PTA, for my work and the AGO’s work on behalf of our state’s children, is a great honor. The award will always be among the most meaningful recognitions I have received as Attorney General.

Raising awareness about the importance of video game ratings

After receiving complaints from consumers concerned about violent and sexually explicit content in popular video games, we reminded parents about the importance of reading video game ratings. Washington state law requires retailers to inform consumers about video game ratings, which are designed to provide parents with the information needed to decide which games are suitable for their children. Our goal is to raise awareness among parents that some of the most popular video games on the market today are rated “Mature” and may contain extreme violence, graphic sexual scenes and other content not appropriate for children.

Teaming with attorneys general nationwide to improve protection of children online

Also in May, we announced that Facebook has agreed to take significant steps to better protect children on its Web site. I joined attorneys general nationwide in signing an agreement with Facebook, in which they emphasize their shared goal of protecting children from inappropriate content and unwanted contact by adults. The agreement is similar to one that MySpace reached in January with 49 states and the District of Columbia, and demonstrates that Facebook shares our concerns about the safety of children and teens online. My Consumer Protection team has been heavily involved in negotiating and drafting these agreements, and they have done an outstanding job.

Educating LaConner students about the dangers of meth

LaConner Middle and High Schools were the latest stop on our “Operation: Allied Against Meth” education tour. Teaming again with Lead On America’s Travis Talbott and Jamie, a young recovering meth addict, we presented 300 more students with information and warnings about the dangers of meth, and the damage it can do, not only to their bodies, but to their lives, families and communities. To date, we’ve reached nearly 30,000 students across Washington at over 50 high schools.

Looking ahead

We’re continuing to vigorously defend Washington’s top-two primary system against yet another round of legal challenges. Although the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 7-2 decision, restored the top-two primary system in March, the political parties are now asking the federal courts to invalidate the new system. Meanwhile the Secretary of State is moving forward with plans to implement the top-two primary, which was approved in 2004 by nearly 60% of the voters. We remain confident that we will successfully defend the will of the voters against these latest legal challenges, just as we did when I personally argued the case before the Supreme Court on October 1st.


Rob McKenna

Attorney General

Sunday, June 1, 2008

University of Washington Climate Impacts Group and NRDC Set Aside Science in Favor of Misleading Statistic


“Pacific Northwest temperatures are rising faster than the global average.” Snover, A. K., P. W. Mote, L. Whitely Binder, A.F. Hamlet, and N. J. Mantua. 2005. Uncertain Future: Climate Change and its Effects on Puget Sound, (Ac¬cessed May 24, 2008) p. 6

“The American West has heated up even more than the world as a whole. For the last five years (2003 through 2007), the global climate has averaged 1.0 degree Fahrenheit warmer than its 20th century aver¬age. RMCO found that during the 2003 through 2007 period, the 11 western states averaged 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the region’s 20th century average—which represents 70 percent more warming than for the world as a whole.” Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the NRDC, “Hotter and Drier: The West’s Changed Climate,” March 2008, (Ac¬cessed May 24, 2008), p. iv


The statistic is meant to sound ominous. Temperatures in the American West and the Pacific Northwest are rising faster than the world as a whole. Readers are led to believe that the impacts of climate change will be worse here than almost anywhere else and that we need to be leaders in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is a statistic cited by both the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group and now the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RCMO) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in reports advocating strong political steps to combat climate change.

Both groups should know, however, that the statistic is totally meaningless when assessing the local impacts of climate change. Land warms more quickly than water and since the world is mostly water and the Pacific Northwest and the American West are mostly land, temperatures will always increase more quickly there than the world as a whole. In fact, when world tempera¬tures are decreasing, temperatures over land fall more quickly too.

The fact that both groups would use a statistic they know is misleading shows either that they know little about world temperatures and climatology or that they are willing to set aside science for the sake of politics.

Comparing Ocean and Land Temperature Trends

To understand the trends in world temperature, the National Climatic Data Center tracks the average “temperature anomaly” for each month. The temperature in any month is compared to the “Global Mean Monthly Surface Temperature” calculated from the 20th century. Differences between a month’s temperature and that average are identified as the “anomaly” to determine whether a month was hotter or colder than the 20th century average.

Calculating this involves combining the data for ocean temperatures and land temperatures. Ocean temperatures range from an anomaly of 0.09 degrees to 0.56 degrees Celsius. The standard deviation of ocean temperatures is 0.11. Land temperatures range from -0.52 degrees up to 1.84 degrees Celsius. The standard deviation of land temperature is 0.41.

This means that during any warming period, land temperatures will always warm more quickly than the world at large because 70 percent of the Earth is water. Thus, saying that any area of land is warming more quickly than the world in general is something that is always true.

In fact, the data from the RCMO and NRDC show this. In their chart showing the temperature increases for various states it be¬comes clear that the farther from water a state is, the greater the warming.

Ignoring Cooling Trends

This also works in the other direction as well. From 1990 through 1993, the world temperature anomaly for the year fell by 0.14 de¬grees. By comparison, the land temperature anomaly fell by 0.32 degrees Celsius, more than twice the rate of the worldwide temperature decline.

If the UW Climate Impacts Group or the NRDC had chosen that time span, they would have found that temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and the American West were declining faster than the worldwide average. In that case, would they have argued that climate change is less a problem here than elsewhere?

Further, by ending their research in 2007, the NRDC missed some of the largest downward trends in temperature anomaly. For instance, January 2007 had a temperature anomaly of 1.84 degrees Celsius. January 2008, on the other hand, was near zero, at 0.05 degrees.

The NRDC and UW may argue that while land temperatures are more variable, this still means that climate change is a greater threat than worldwide temperature averages make it seem be¬cause they would understate the risk on land. First, if that is what they meant, that is what they should have said. It isn’t, however.

Second, while climate alarmists note that temperatures over land are increasing faster than the average, they don’t mention that ocean temperatures are rising more slowly. In an effort to raise the spectre of sea level rise, they don’t want to note that ocean temperatures have increased only slightly. If they are going to claim that risk on land is higher, they are also obliged to say that the risk to the ocean is smaller. That isn’t correct, however, just as the risk on land isn’t higher because temperatures there have higher variability.

Finally, both organizations should know the truth behind this statistical manipulation. They understand that it is misleading. Yet, both organizations decided to include the claim, and the NRDC made it the highlight of their report. Their willingness to publicize a political statistic demonstrates that their position on climate change is not based in science.


Decision makers need correct data to design strategies that address environmental challenges without creating unintended consequences and others costs that outweigh the benefits of the strategies. Misleading statistics designed to exaggerate the threat of climate change are intended to over-allocate resources to that problem, by spending too much money and receiving too little benefit. Some scientists and activists, reflecting their own values, manipulate statistics to mask the true costs of the problem.

This has another dangerous consequence: reducing the reliability of scientific judgment. As the science of climate change is increasingly politicized by scientists and activists, the ability to know what data are reliable becomes increasingly difficult. The blurring of fact and opinion increases the unreliability of policies, increasing the risk that they will have high costs and few benefits.

The fact that the same statistical sleight-of-hand is being used by the UW Climate Impacts Group and a highly political activist group like the Natural Resources Defense Council should serve as a warning about how politicized the science of climate change has become. As policymakers become increasingly uncertain about the data they are receiving, it is wise to take a step back and add a measure of additional caution before making costly policy decisions.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Washington State Lawmakers Impose $768 Million in Fee and Tax Increases in 2008

More than $200 billion in fee and tax increases proposed

by Jason Mercier, Director, Center for Government Reform, Washington Policy Cente


The cost of government is going up this year. During the 2008 Legislative Session, lawmakers imposed $768 million in fee and tax increases over a ten-year period. Home inspections, background checks, fingerprinting, floral services and state tuition are among those activities that will cost more as a result.

Last November voters enacted Initiative 960, The Taxpayer Protection Act. Under Initiative 960, the legislature is required to approve all agency fee increases before they can take effect. Also among the new law’s provisions is a requirement for the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to determine the ten-year cost to taxpayers of any proposed tax or fee increase and to make this information publicly available, along with the contact information of the legislator sponsoring the increase.

According to Initiative 960’s intent section for this requirement (Section 2 in-part):

“The people want a thorough, independent analysis of any proposed increase in taxes and fees . . . [and] a user-friendly method to track the progress of bills increasing taxes and fees, finding that transparency and openness leads to more public involvement and better understanding.”

As a result of this requirement, OFM conducted fiscal reviews of all bills that proposed tax and fee increases and reported the ten-year impact in the fiscal notes for those bills. OFM also created a self-subscription service for email updates on any bill that proposed tax or fee increases.

2008 Tax and Fee Proposals

During the 2008 Legislative Session, state senators proposed 46 bills (including companion bills) that would increase state taxes or fees. The initial versions of these proposals sought to raise $215.4 billion in revenue over a ten-year period. Of these proposals, the legislature adopted five, raising $13 million in fees or taxes.

State representatives proposed 36 bills (including companion bills) that initially sought to raise $98.8 billion in fees or taxes over a ten-year period. The legislature ultimately adopted nine of these bills, raising $755 million in fees or taxes.

In total the legislature enacted 14 bills raising fees and taxes by $768 million over a ten-year period.


Since the 2008 Legislative Session was the first one conducted under the requirements of Initiative 960, it is difficult to determine if the number of tax and fee increase proposals introduced and adopted this year is the norm. To help determine any trends in tax and fee increase proposals in the future, Washington Policy Center will update this report after each session and keep a running total of all bills that fall under the requirements of Initiative 960.

As a general rule, however, all tax and fee increases should have an expiration date (sunset). When tax and fee increases are set to expire, lawmakers will have the opportunity to look at the facts and determine if the tax and fee is serving its intended purpose. If revenue from the tax or fee is still justified, lawmakers can reauthorize it for a period of time. If the project or goal for which the tax or fee was imposed has been accomplished, citizens should be permitted to keep their money.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The General Election Debate over Health Care Reform Begins

by Grace-Marie Turner
President, The Galen Institute

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are gearing up for a general election battle--barring a surprise surge by Sen. Hillary Clinton--in which they will offer very different visions for health care reform.

Obama--like Clinton--sees a much larger role for government in the one-sixth of our economy represented by the health sector. Obama would mandate that all children have health insurance, would require employers to pay for insurance for their workers, would impose significant new federal regulation over health insurance, and would expand government programs like Medicaid.

McCain has a very different vision. "The key to real reform is to restore control over our health care system to the patients themselves," he said recently.

He would focus on new financing tools to help people buy health insurance that would be portable from job to job, new mechanisms for those with pre-existing conditions to get coverage, and he would emphasize prevention and better care coordination, especially for people with chronic illnesses.

Both Obama and McCain agree that the key to health reform is getting costs under control. "The reason Americans don't have health insurance isn't because they don't want it, it's because they can't afford it," Obama says. As a result, neither candidate supports a universal mandate for health insurance.

But Obama would lock in the employment based system with new mandates on employers.

McCain sees a world in which, "Americans [have] new choices beyond those offered in employment-based coverage." He believes that "Americans want a system built so wherever you go and wherever you work, your health plan goes with you."

McCain would boost options for individually-owned health insurance by making everyone eligible for a refundable tax credit to help them buy health insurance. He would allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines and would give states new incentives and resources to make sure everyone has access to coverage. He says that bringing millions of new buyers into the health care marketplace will expand competition and force insurers and providers to offer more affordable options.

Obama believes that government should require insurers to accept all applicants and would force insurers to charge basically the same premium for everyone, regardless of age, gender, occupation, or pre-existing conditions. A healthy young person would pay about the same as a 62-year-old with heart disease and diabetes.

Obama wants a national "pay or play" mandate, forcing employers to cover a preset percentage of their workers' health insurance or pay a fine. Some businesses would be partially subsidized, but that would mean significant federal oversight of all employer health spending.

He would expand Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and would create a new program modeled on Medicare. That would force private health plans to compete with a taxpayer-supported public insurance program which has federal policing authority and the ability to impose price controls--hardly a level playing field.

Congress will wrestle with the intricacies of reform, but in this election year, the vision is the key, and the contrast between the visions that Obama and McCain offer is stark. The bottom line question will be whether individuals or government will be in control of health care in the future.

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit research organization focusing on free-market solutions to health reform. For more information visit

Friday, May 9, 2008

Washington State: It's Time to Get Off the Budget Rollercoaster

by John Barnes
Communications Director, Washington Policy Center

Some people like the thrill of rollercoasters. Our lawmakers must love it becaue the biggest rollercoaster in Washington is owned and operated by the state. It's called the budget.

Lawmakers and the governor have grown state spending by 33% in the last two budgets. Now the Senate Ways & Means Committee is projecting a $2.5 billion deficit next year and a $5.3 billion shortfall for the 2011-13 biennium. Taxpayers are getting nauseas.

As a rule of thumb, the state budget is the opposite of gravity. Gravity pulls things down, while all of the spending pressure on the state budget is upwards. That's right--the swarms of lobbyists roaming the halls of the state capitol are not there asking lawmakers to spend less money. It should come as no surprise, then, that state spending growth tends to outpace population growth and inflation.

Thanks to a strong economy, revenue has grown well beyond inflation for the past few years. Even amidst the talk of a revenue decline, it's only a cut in the rate of increase--revenue is still projected to grow beyond inflation. State lawmakers do not have a revenue problem. They have a spending problem.

Let's say I buy a lottery ticket today and win $500. Does it make sense for me to then buy a car with a $500-per-month payment? That's what lawmakers in Olympia have done in the last few years. They've used one-time revenues during boom years to make the down payments on new spending programs, with no way to make the long-term payments.

It's basic math: the bigger the budget this year, the more it costs to maintain next year. Adding to the budget only compounds that problem.

We hear a lot about a "revenue problem" (usually code talk for "we need an income tax"). But is that really the issue? The natural tendency is for government spending to grow, not shrink, and history has shown that no matter how flush with cash state coffers are, lawmakers will always push to spend more. Their appetite for spending appears insatiable, so more revenue will only lead to more spending.

Not content with a 33% increase in state spending over four years, some lawmakers and special interest groups have proposed the state spend more in the face of projected deficits caused by overspending.

Still others argue that speeding up government spending on rebuilding infrastructure will provide jobs now and help keep the economy strong. But this is an absurd argument. It's like saying burning down my neighbor's house is good for the economy because it will keep local builders in business. The only way the government can "create" a job is by taking money away from someone else.

These proposals might make for good election-year politics but they're bad policy that will only make matters worse in the long run.

House Speaker Frank Chopp has admitted that tax increases may be necessary to balance next year's state budget, which is projected to run a $2.5 billion deficit thanks to recent spending increases. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown is suing to overturn I-601, which was approved by voters in 1993 and requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes. Legislative leaders can't be any clearer that they plan to resort to tax increases to bail out their overspending.

The sound approach to the state's budget woes is a meaningful constitutional spending limit. The state's I-601 spending limit is so riddled with holes that it's now meaningless. Clearly a statutory restraint is not enough. The state needs a meaningful spending limit that makes allowances for genuine emergencies, much like the rainy day amendment that voters approved in November, but cannot be gamed and sidestepped by fund transfers and off-budget spending, as lawmakers have done over the last few years.

The real problem is on the spending side of the state's ledger, not the revenue side. Lawmakers must learn to prioritize expenditures, realizing that not every project or program (no matter how attractive) can be a priority. That's how people budget in the real world.

Unless lawmakers change the way they budget taxpayer dollars, the fundamental problem will remain and the rollercoaster ride will continue.

John Barnes is Communications Director for Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan public policy research organization in Seattle and Olympia.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Celebrate Earth Day by Giving Up Eco-fads

by Todd Myers, Washington Policy Center, Director, Center for the Environment

This Earth Day we are likely to be greeted by images of Hollywood stars doing their part to save the planet. We will be encouraged to follow their lead. After all, if Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt are doing it, it can’t be just a fad, right?

The problem these days is that ecofads aren't just being embraced by celebrities, but by politicians and policymakers too. Of course we take the proclamations made by movie stars about going green with a grain of salt as we watch them jet across the globe. We understand that they are better at symbolism than substance.

Unfortunately many of the ideas advocated by pop stars find their way into policy. Not surprisingly these ideas fail to achieve the desired result and, in a number of cases, actually end up doing more harm than good.

This Earth Day we have an opportunity to move beyond environmental symbolism by rejecting ecofads and demanding policies that engage the creative economy to improve energy efficiency and environmental quality.

In 2006 Washington passed legislation requiring the use of biofuels in all vehicles. Politicians jumped at the chance to promote this trendy and popular solution.

Just two years later some significant problems have emerged.

Government subsidies cause farmers to plant on marginal land. Often it takes more energy to produce the crop than it yields in biofuel. Subsidies for biofuel exports have led overseas produces to ship biofuels to the U.S. for final mixing so their product can collect the subsidy, then be shipped overseas again. One can only imagine the additional greenhouse gas emissions involved in this remarkably counterproductive result of political efforts to jump on the biofuel bandwagon.

This is not to say that biofuels don't hold promise. The problem is that politicians looking to score quick political points fell prey to a fad and made bad decisions.

Or consider compact florescent lightbulbs.

For years environmental activists gave strong warnings about mercury in the environment, even encouraging pregnant women to avoid fish due to concerns about mercury. Even after a massive study in the British medical journal The Lancet demonstrated that fish, consumed in any quantity during pregnancy was good for the baby, activists continued to warn against the impact of mercury.

Now that climate change is the environmental cause du jour, many of those same activists are suddenly glib about the risks of mercury. Compact florescent lightbulbs (CFLs), which contain mercury, they now argue, are good for the environment. The EPA, however, provides this guidance for when one of the lightbulbs breaks: "Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one."

The City of Seattle offers subsidies to residents to buy CFLs. Meanwhile, the state is considering adding a fee for the bulbs to fund mercury disposal.

Finally, Brad Pitt isn't the only one promoting "green" buildings these days. Washington law now requires new state buildings meet the silver level of one "green" building system known as LEED. The justification for these standards, however, had more to do with following fads than science.

One reason given for supporting green buildings is that they didn't use old growth timber. This reasoning, however, is meaningless. There isn't a builder in Washington today, green or otherwise, who uses old growth lumber. Old growth is scarce and the cost is extremely high. LEED promoters don't know this, but rely instead on trendy, but incorrect, justifications for their favored policy.

As a result, "green" schools have become yet another ecofad.

Each of these approaches holds promise. The problem arises when politicians grab on to what is trendy and forget the science and economics.

Everywhere we look, market-based environmental solutions that harness market creativity and incentives are improving the efficiency of cars, reducing energy use and producing technologies that use resources more carefully (for example, aluminum cans use 35 percent less aluminum today than in 1972).

Earth Day is a good day to examine what we do to leave a sustainable legacy for the future. It is also a good day to tell policymakers to avoid ecofads that often do more damage than good.

Todd Myers is director of the Center for the Environment at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan public policy research organization in Seattle and Olympia. For more information visit

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008: Predictions of Environmental Disater Were Wrong

“By 1985...air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight
reaching the earth by one half” – Life magazine, January 1970

Seattle – Another Earth Day is upon us. This is a good time to look back at predictions made on the original Earth Day about environmental disasters that were about to hit the planet.

Most Earth Day predictions turned out to be stunningly wrong. In 1970, environmentalists said there would soon be a new ice age and massive deaths from air pollution. The New York Times foresaw the extinction of the human race. Widely-quoted biologist Paul Ehrlich predicted worldwide starvation by 1975. Documented examples are below.

On this Earth Day 2008, new predictions will again be made about looming environmental disasters about to strike our planet. If past experience is any guide, most of these predictions are wrong. People concerned about our planet’s future should be wary of statements from activists and other interested groups, so we stay focused on real environmental concerns, and don’t waste time on fearsome predictions that will never happen.

· “...civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,” biologist George Wald, Harvard University, April 19, 1970.

· By 1995, “...somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, quoting Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, Look magazine, April 1970.

· Because of increased dust, cloud cover and water vapor “...the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born,” Newsweek magazine, January 26, 1970.

· The world will be “...eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970.

· “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” biologist Barry Commoner, University of Washington, writing in the journal Environment, April 1970.

· “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from the intolerable deteriorations and possible extinction,” The New York Times editorial, April 20, 1970.

· “By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...” Life magazine, January 1970.

· “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.

· “...air certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone,” Paul Ehrlich, interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.

· Ehrlich also predicted that in 1973, 200,000 Americans would die from air pollution, and that by 1980 the life expectancy of Americans would be 42 years.

· “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

· “By the year 2000...the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America and Australia, will be in famine,” Peter Gunter, North Texas State University, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

Our purpose on Earth Day 2008 is not simply to point out how often environmental activists have been wrong, but to learn from the mistakes made during past Earth Days. Learning from the past will give us a better understanding of our world and the threats that face it.

By being skeptical about routine portents of doom, we can stay focused on the real threats that face our planet, and on the reasonable and achievable actions we as a society can take to meet them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Dino Rossi Plan -- Providing Vital Transportation Funding

The state needs a major investment to pay for important transportation projects statewide. In the past, gas tax increases have been used to fund new transportation projects. But the gas tax has run out of gas as a source of revenue. Revenues are declining as vehicle mileage improves and more people begin to drive hybrid vehicles. A new source of revenue is needed to move important transportation projects forward. Rossi will provide this necessary funding that will strengthen our economy now and in the future.

• Less than half of revenue from vehicle sales taxes

The Rossi plan will dedicate less than half (40%) of the revenue from state sales taxes on new and used vehicles for 30 years to transportation projects. This provides approximately $7.711 billion in revenue. It is logical to invest a portion of transportation associated revenue back into our transportation system.

• Stop charging state sales tax on transportation projects

The practice of charging state sales tax on transportation projects made sense decades ago when the federal government provided the majority of funding for most transportation projects. But as the burden to pay for projects has shifted more and more to the state, it is no longer practical to continue charging ourselves state sales tax. This provides approximately $2.433 billion in savings.

• Half of the current and future eastside subarea equity Sound Transit surplus

The Rossi plan will dedicate half of the current and future eastside subarea equity Sound Transit surplus to HOV projects on I-405 and S.R. 520. Sound Transit’s accruing eastside subarea surplus should be used for what it was intended - to finance transit related infrastructure on the eastside. This provides approximately $690 million.

• Reasonable tolling

Reasonable tolls on the S.R. 520 bridge will be charged as a way to help fund the new replacement bridge. Tolls may be necessary to help pay for new infrastructure, but should not be used on existing roads and bridges. Tolls will not start until the project is delivered, will only be used to pay for specific projects and will end once the project has been paid for. Tolls should not be used to control driving behaviors or as a way to force people out of their cars.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Crush or Flush Community Predicts Obama to win Pennsylvania

It is interesting to see mobile communities being used for polling. While I think the prediction is wrong, it seems to match well with the demographic who uses their cell phone for daily activities. I think we are going to see a lot more polls using cell phones for gathering information.

The Crush or Flush community of nearly one million registered mobile members in the U.S. has spoken - Obama will win Pennsylvania in the state’s primary tomorrow by a 55% to 45% margin. Over the last two weeks, Crush or Flush community members where shown two distinct branded picture profiles of both candidates asking them who will win the Pennsylvania state primary. The real time data was queried directly from our database and aggregated at a macro level to ensure the privacy of each community member.

Members also voted on which candidate was more ‘out of touch’ and which candidate was ‘more honest.’ Interestingly, Obama was considered more out of touch at 53:47 yet only slightly more honest than Clinton at 51:49. One would have expected Obama to fair better on these questions given his overall favored margin. These are the facts as we are reporting them from our database… please don’t be bitter with the results.

Crush or Flush is a social network where members meet people, chat and flirt by browsing real picture profiles and decide whether to ‘Crush’ or ‘Flush’ them. The Crush or Flush community is 59% male, 41% female, and 60% are between the ages of 18 and 30. Golden Ticket sponsored profiles consist of a photo of the brand or person and descriptive tags.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Gettysburg Address

By Abraham Lincoln

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Attorney General Rob McKenna's March 2008 "Must Read" Report

March 2008


It’s been nothing short of an extraordinary month here at the Attorney General’s Office. We had a productive 2008 Legislative Session, our high-tech unit tracked down another spyware bandit, we received national recognition for excellence in government technology and, of course, we won the Top-Two Primary case!

Citizens’ Victory: Top-Two Primary Reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court
On March 18th, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Washington’s top-two primary by a 7-2 vote, reinstating the wide-open primary system that voters overwhelming approved in 2004. The State has been enjoined from implementing the top-two primary since shortly after it was enacted. Washington has conducted a pick-a-party primary since September 2004, which requires voters to affiliate with one of the major political parties and limit their primary voting to that party’s slate of candidates. Washington will conduct its first top-two primary this August, allowing voters to choose their favorite candidate for each office without being limited to one party. The top two vote getters will advance to the general election, regardless of party. In the Supreme Court decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that overturning the top-two initiative would be an “extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people." Having personally argued this case before the Court last October 1st, I couldn’t agree more.

Legislators Adopts AGO Bills to Protect Communities and Strengthen Consumer ProtectionWe’ve also been celebrating the Legislature’s passage of some important new laws that we wrote and requested. Our bills assist victims of ID theft, target mortgage foreclosure “rescue” scams, shut down spyware, protect the privacy of cell phone numbers and provide shared leave benefits to victims of domestic violence. We were disappointed that, after passing the House with overwhelming support, the Senate failed to vote on our bill that would have made viewing child pornography a felony, and given law enforcement greater ability to investigate child pornography crimes. This request was an important recommendation of our Youth Internet Safety Task Force’s law enforcement group, and we will pursue it again in 2009.

We also will again pursue legislation recommended by my Eminent Domain Task Force, focusing on protecting private property owners from broad application of the state’s “community renewal” redevelopment law and supporting Rep. Springer’s bill that would provide private owners a right of first refusal to buy back their property when government takes it but then auctions it without putting it to a public use (as the Seattle Monorail Authority did, many times). Click here for more information on these bills.

New Division Formed to Handle Increasing AGO Criminal Justice Caseloads Also in March, in response to the growing size and complexity of our criminal justice caseloads, we reorganized our Criminal Justice Division and formed a new Corrections Division. The new division serves the Department of Corrections, Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, Washington State Patrol, Governor’s Clemency and Pardons Board, and the Governor’s Office on extraditions and detainers. It also responds to habeas corpus petitions by prisoners in the state system. The Division is led by Tim Lang and is based in Olympia.

The Criminal Justice Division includes the Criminal Litigation Unit, which prosecutes cases at the request of county prosecutors and the Governor, the Sexually Violent Predator Unit, the Homicide Investigation and Tracking System Unit (HITS) and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. Lana Weinmann leads the Division from our Seattle office. Lana and her colleagues will continue to work closely with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

AGO Makes National “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers” listThis list was created in 2002 by media company Government Technology to showcase the work of public-sector professionals from around the country who have strived to implement change while overcoming obstacles such as tight budgets and politics. A few weeks ago, the company honored my work on identity theft, spyware and related high-tech crimes. Andy Hill, our Information Services Director, was separately honored for his efforts in creating a standard by which Washington could manage digital records. Our office-wide vision is to be the best public law office in America, and receiving recognition like this underscores the national reputation we have acquired for innovation and leadership.

National Sunshine Week.
Once again this year, I was very active with National Sunshine Week activities, promoting the importance of open and accountable government through robust public records and open public meetings laws. I served on the Washington Coalition for Open Government’s Sunshine Week Panel with Auditor Brian Sonntag, Secretary of State Sam Reed and House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, among others, and teamed up with Sonntag and Kessler on a bill requiring audio taping of executive (closed) sessions of public bodies that are required to hold public meetings.

Looking Ahead
In April, we’ll be launching another Guard It! Washington tour to educate citizens and businesses across the state about identity theft. Last year’s tour was a huge success, and I’m looking forward to hitting the streets once more to engage as many communities as possible in the fight against identity theft. Also, we’ll be releasing the findings of our Gas Price study in a few weeks. Meanwhile, more information on these and many more AGO issues and cases can be found on our new website which was recognized last summer as the best in the west by the Conference of Western Attorneys General.

Rob McKenna
Attorney General

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mercer Island School District’s Capital Levy Passes

By Island Republican

On March 11, 2008, Mercer Island residents were asked to approve a four-year, $9.9 million levy to fund major maintenance projects and technology improvements. The measure will pay for security and fire-alarm upgrades across the district, roof replacement, interior and exterior painting, and field upgrades. Technology projects include new classroom document cameras and interactive whiteboards, and teacher and staff training in their use; replacement of outdated computers; and upgrades to the district network.

The effect on property taxes is the total school tax will be $183 per $100,000 assessed value annually, an increase of $10 over the current rate. For average the Mercer Island resident with a home value in excess of $1,000,000, the property tax amount will be more than $1830.00 annually.

Ballots Cast – 5,388 out 15,870 registered voters (33.95%)

Yes – 3,714 – 68.98%
No – 1,670 – 31.02%