This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
Transit the big winner
on the 2008 agenda
A tough economy slowed progress in other important areas.
On Sunday, The News Tribune editorial board will publish its annual civic agenda for 2009. But as 2008 draws to a close, it’s time to look back at the progress – or lack of it – made on this year’s agenda.
Invest in transportation infrastructure
This was our top agenda item – and the one that met with the greatest success in 2008, thanks to voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.
Even though gas prices were still high and the economy spiraling down, voters recognized the importance of expanding mass transit in the Puget Sound region. On Nov. 3 they voted – resoundingly – to increase the sales tax to pay for a $17.9 billion Sound Transit ballot measure.
That investment, which will pay off in more bus, train and light rail service in the South Sound, is crucial to the region’s economic development and quality of life. Voters were wise to acknowledge that.
Repair urban centers
Given the state of the economy – it turns out that the nation was in recession the entire year – it’s not surprising that only incremental progress was made in this area.
In Tacoma, the Center for Urban Waters center hired a scientific director – University of Washington Tacoma professor Joel Baker – and moved forward into the design phase. The center, a joint project of Tacoma’s Environmental Services Division, the UWT and the state’s Puget Sound Partnership, will be built on the east side of the Foss Waterway beginning next year. Plans are for it to be a state-of-the-art "green" building.
Another plus for downtown Tacoma was news that work will begin on the Murray Morgan Bridge cables, allowing the span to reopen to pedestrian traffic. That’s the first step in a four-phase $80 million rehabilitation plan for the bridge that links downtown to the Tideflats.
Development plans slowed in several Pierce County suburban cities in large part because of the recession and tight credit. In University Place, the ambitious Town Center plan launched in 2003 remains on hold until a fourth potential developer can be brought in next year.
Downtown projects in Sumner and Federal Way are also being postponed until the economy improves, city officials say.
In Pierce County, progress was made on the Early Learning Consortium’s efforts to coordinate programs that help young children learn, grow and thrive. Lakewood came through this month with funding to leverage Gates Foundation money to help in the Clover Park School District. Similar initiatives are under way in the Tacoma, Bethel and Franklin Pierce school districts.
The Legislature held the line this year against efforts to relax rigorous high school graduation standards. But the Washington Assessment of Student Learning lost one of its staunchest defenders when Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson was defeated in November by Randy Dorn, whose support for serious standards has yet to be tested.
In higher education, the University of Washington Tacoma fared well in the 2008 legislative session, landing $3 million to expand its footprint and clean up contaminated groundwater and soil beneath existing UWT property. The William W. Philip Hall opened in October, providing a gathering place for students and seating up to 500 for campus and community events.
But the immediate future looks anything but bright for the state’s colleges. Higher ed took a big hit in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget, which attempts to address an estimated $5.7 billion deficit without raising taxes. Now college administrators are talking about significant tuition increases to offset some of the cuts her budget calls for.
The Legislature missed a golden opportunity to make government more accessible and accountable. It rejected a bill by state Attorney General Rob McKenna and Auditor Brian Sonntag that would have required executive sessions to be taped so that they could be reviewed at a later date by a judge. Too much government business needlessly takes place behind closed doors, and lawmakers should have made it easier to ferret out abuses.
The Tacoma School Board voted against televising its meetings or taping them for online viewing, even though many smaller school districts do.
On the positive side, the Port of Tacoma joined the 21st century by making its commission meetings available for online viewing. And a News Tribune report in March showed that local governments in the South Sound reacted to the newspaper’s public disclosure requests by supplying records 97 percent of the time, usually within two weeks.
Lift the less fortunate
As demand rose dramatically during the tough economic year, donations were down at charities. In November, the United Way of Pierce County warned local agencies to expect a 25 percent across-the-board cut next year due to declining workplace contributions. One major reason: Layoffs and financial stress at major Northwest businesses like Washington Mutual, Starbucks, Russell Investments and the Weyerhaeuser Co.
One initiative this year was taken by The News Tribune, with its Help Your Neighbor project. During the holiday season, the newspaper has published frequent articles about charitable needs in the community.
An online directory enables readers to search by community and/or the type of contribution they’d like to make as well as learn about volunteer opportunities. Go to wwwb.thenewstribune.com/charities to get involved.
COMING SUNDAY: The News Tribune editorial board’s agenda for action in 2009.