Archive for the Policy Category

US Census Bureau Quick Facts

Posted in Economics, Policy, Science with tags , on January 21, 2010 by Josh Wittner

While I was doing some research today I found this super cool (for dorks like me) Us Census Bureau site that gives quick facts about states and cities:

US Census Bureau: Quick Facts

Here’s Washington and Seattle.

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Open Letter Regarding Education

Posted in Economics, education, Policy, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by Josh Wittner

I recently sent the below letter (as an email) to my state representatives, if you have an interest in this issue I encourage you to ask similar questions and/or help me track this down.

Dear Senator and Representatives,

During my perusal of Governor Gregoire’s proposed education plan, which seeks to take steps to meet the standards necessary for receiving funding from President Obama’s Race to the Top program I found myself deeply fascinated about our current education expenditures, in particular respect to K-12 education. During my research on the state Office of Financial Management website I ran across several graphs that show that since 2000 Washington State has fallen, and continues to fall more and more, behind the national average of per capita and per $1000 of income spending on K-12 education. Why is this? Are there specific policy changes or lack of policy changes that are directly responsible for this? Do we know why this is happening? Are the numbers misleading, and if so, in what ways?

If we don’t know, how do I go about encouraging research into finding the answers? If I were to go about researching this, would you be interested in the results?

In my opinion education is the most powerful tool we have for improving the general welfare, empowering individuals, reducing income disparity, and expanding Washington’s economic prowess. If we’ve begun to slack in this regard, as it appears we have, I’d like to know why.

Thank you very much for your time,
Your respectful constituent,
Josh Wittner

WA State: No Weed For You

Posted in Life, Policy, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 20, 2010 by Josh Wittner

I just watched on TVW the voting down of a marijuana legalization bill and then subsequently the voting down of a much less controversial decriminalization bill by the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee (what a name). Legalization was rejected with a 7-2 vote and decriminalization with a 5-3 vote.

The interesting part of the legalization vote was Rep. Steve Kirby’s statement about the flaws in this particular bill and how if they could be resolved he would gladly vote for it:

“I could vote for a bill like this. It’s kind of a big deal, it really is, to go from having a substance that when I was in school they used to show us videos in school of people jumping out of buildings. Reefer Madness, do you remember that?” He said it might come as a shock to people in the room, “but I actually know people who use marijuana on a regular basis,” he said. But, he said, this bill lacks the clarity he’s looking for. “It’s close, but it lacks details that are important to me.” He told the crowd: “Don’t count me all the way out, but count me out today.”

The decriminalization vote turned on all the old out-dated disproved or illogical arguments. Rep. Chris Hurst voted against the bill because it would be confusing for people to have state laws and federal laws differ from each other. That’s essentially telling those that the state arrest for marijuana possession, “Yes, I know its not that bad of a drug and yes I think it should be decriminalized, but you’re gonna have to go to jail, because, well, that’s just confusing.”

The other profoundly irrational argument came from Rep. Kirk Pearson who argued that he’s seen evidence that telling kids that marijuana isn’t going to destroy your life (ignore that all of the seriously destructive elements come from its illegality) increases the number of kids who smoke marijuana. Yes, Rep. Pearson we should continue to put adults in jail and give them criminal records which can ruin their lives so that parents don’t have to watch out for marijuana just like they have to for cigarettes and alcohol.

On that note, here’s the best marijuana advice for children I’ve ever heard. It comes from South park:

The truth is, marijuana probably isn’t going to make you kill people. Most likely isn’t going to fund terrorists, but pot makes you feel fine with being bored and it’s when you’re bored that you should be learning a new skill or some new science or being creative. If you smoke pot you may grow up to find out that you’re not good at anything.

From the numbers I’ve seen kids find out about marijuana around ages 12-13 and at that age it seems to me we’d be better off informing our kids about drugs and sex, instead of lying to them.

Texas School Boards are Dumb

Posted in education, Policy with tags , , on January 15, 2010 by Josh Wittner

I hardly read anything about Texas without getting upset these days. I don’t know if I have ever read anything about a Texas school board that didn’t piss me off. This week a Dallas school board voted to suspend a 4-year old boy from prekindergarten because he had what they referred to as “Beatles” hair. Their argument was that the dress code was there to limit distractions in the classroom. My question is whether his hair had distracted anyone besides the school board. This quote was particularly telling:

“It’s a trade-off,” said one board member, Gary Bingham, an insurance agent, in an interview. “Do the parents value his education more than they value a 4-year-old’s decision to make his own grooming choices?”

The real trade off is whether they value his education in a system that so frequently fails to do the reasonable thing and their right to respect their child’s decisions about his looks.

Also, lets not forget that we’re talking about the length of a child’s hair. Did I miss something? Did we all get time warped to the 1950’s?

State Attorney General and Eminent Domain

Posted in Policy, Politics with tags , , , , on January 15, 2010 by Josh Wittner

Yesterday the State Attorney General Robert McKenna introduced his bill to reduce the state’s power to execute eminent domain. Eminent domain, basically, means that the government can make the decision that the needs of the community are such that the government has the right to take property away from individuals to direct its use to serve community needs. The bills proposed (House Bill 2425 and Senate Bill 6200) mainly seek to clarify the rules by which the state can make these decisions.

A really interesting topic with many valid arguments on both sides. For the preeminent Supreme Court case involving the use of eminent domain, see here.

State Considers a New Tobacco Tax

Posted in Policy, Politics with tags , , , on January 15, 2010 by Josh Wittner

Yesterday the state House Finance and Health Care Committee considered a bill to increase taxes on tobacco products.  I’m always torn on these kinds of sin taxes. On the one hand they increase revenue, which is especially nice in light of the state’s $2.6 billion budget short fall, and they create incentives for people to quit smoking, which saves lives and lowers health care costs. On the other hand they’re terribly regressive taxes, which is especially atrocious in the state with by far the most regressive tax code in the nation.

Your thoughts?