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Our 2010 agenda for community action

Post by Kim Bradford on Jan. 2, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
January 2, 2010 8:01 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Human needs, education should be top priorties

Yes, The News Tribune’s editorial board does have an agenda. And here it is.

The guiding principles behind our editorials are no secret. We publish them at the beginning of January, each and every year.

This civic agenda is our way of emphasizing priorities we consider essential to the health of the South Sound’s communities.

It evolves each year to reflect changing circumstances, but the underlying principles largely remain the same: educational opportunity, responsive and responsible government, the protection of natural resources, help for the hurting. No region can prosper if such fundamentals are neglected.

The dawn of a new year is a fitting occasion to take stock of the progress made in the last 12 months and set sights for the coming year.

Here’s to 2010 and the new opportunities it provides to address the South Sound’s most pressing concerns.

Help the less fortunate

• Protect the “safety net”: The state Legislature deserves credit for blunting the blow last year’s $9 billion budget shortfall had on the poor, sick, disabled and elderly. Now lawmakers face another $2.6 billion gap and fewer options for closing it. They’ll have to redouble efforts to protect social services.

• Foster charity: Some South Sound charities saw individual donors step up their giving to help buffer the double whammy of increased need and reduced support from public and private institutions. The area’s nonprofits will continue to depend on such generosity from individuals and businesses alike in the recession’s aftermath.

Invest in lifelong education

• Support early learning: Ideally, parents provide the nurturing and stimulation that young brains need to create connections critical for learning. When they don’t, we all pay the consequences. Abandoning programs to reach at-risk kids and their families provide short-term savings and long-term costs.

• Keep rigorous graduation requirements. Washington students proved they were up to the task of demonstrating reading and writing proficiency. Now will the state demand that they also master math and science skills? Lawmakers should be leery of delaying the long overdue job of making high school diplomas genuine credentials of learning.

• Embrace education reforms: The Obama administration, by way of its Race to the Top initiative, has exposed how behind the curve this state is. Washington hasn’t adopted best practices – such as offering genuine performance pay for high-caliber teachers and using data to identify the most (and least) effective educators – that would qualify it for additional federal money. The state can no longer afford to avoid genuine reform.

• Protect college and university enrollments: Higher education barely survived last year’s budget massacre by successfully lobbying for big tuition increases – but it remains a prominent target. Economic recovery depends on preserving access to the institutions that build a skilled workforce.

Support veterans

• Ease the transition to civilian life: Three months after the 81st Brigade Combat Team of the Washington National Guard returned from Iraq last year, 40 percent of its members were still looking for work. They were not alone: The unemployment rate for veterans who left the military during the past three years is nearly twice the national average.

That’s a sad show of appreciation for those who make great sacrifices to defend this country. As the economy sputters back to life and employers begin hiring again, businesses should give extra attention to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Preserve the environment

• Protect growth management and anti-sprawl policies: Economic recovery will likely unleash pent-up demand among developers and renew pressure to ease land use restrictions, but smart planning is no less important in good times. It is crucial to livable communities.

• Champion solutions that benefit landowners and developers alike: A 2-year-old Pierce County program that seeks to harness real estate market forces to promote conservation is slowly finding its legs. It will need additional support in the coming years to fulfill its promise of providing financial incentives to preserve open space while promoting density in urban areas.

Foster open government

• Heed the Sunshine Committee’s recommendations: The Legislature created an advisory panel to review public disclosure exceptions – and then promptly set about ignoring its advice. Two key recommendations await lawmakers: eliminating a loophole that allows public agencies to keep records secret by getting a lawyer involved and requiring state legislators to abide by the same rules that govern their local government counterparts.

• Clarify that court administrative records are public: Judges have created a huge exemption to the Public Records Act for themselves. The result is that courts can refuse to release the kinds of e-mails and other documents that citizens and reporters need to keep judges accountable. Lawmakers should eliminate judges’ excuse by modifying the law to specifically include court administrative records.

• Hold local governments responsible for preserving digital documents and for using technology to aid disclosure: Untold numbers of public documents are lost every year because public agencies haven’t taken adequate steps to preserve e-mails and other electronic records. Digital archives are also an answer for local governments that profess to be overwhelmed by voluminous records requests.

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