Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pew gives Gregoire, Washington State an "A" for government performance

From the Great News for Washington, Bad News for Dino Rossi Department: A new fifty state report card due to be released tomorrow by Pew Research gives Washington an "A" grade for government performance.

(The Pew accolade follows last year's gushing story in Forbes about Washington's excellent business climate, and Gregoire's appearance on the cover of Governing Magazine, which honored her as one of many Public Officials of the Year).

Report Card

The high score, awarded to only three states in total, provides fresh and convincing evidence that Governor Chris Gregoire and the Democratic legislature are doing a terrific job, despite what Republicans would have us all believe:
WASHINGTON [D.C.] March 3rd: All 50 states received report cards today evaluating each state government's performance in serving the public. Grading the States 2008 is the only 50-state assessment of its kind that evaluates and grades each state based on a range of areas, from budget and finance to roads and bridges. The report demonstrates the importance of state governments that work better and cost less, particularly in the wake of widespread budget deficits and a weakening national economy.

"Fostering meaningful change through fact-based research provides all states with useful knowledge to pursue innovative solutions that will strengthen performance and service to the public," said Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States. "State leaders and managers should look beyond the grade and pursue the opportunity that the report provides: to operate more efficiently and effectively, improve transparency, and be more accountable for results."

Overall state performance in 2008 ranged from A- (Utah, Virginia, and Washington) to D+ (New Hampshire). The national average among the 50 states was B-, which 18 states received. Thirteen states earned grades above the national average and 19 states' grades were below the national average.
While there's always room for improvement, getting an "A" grade is a huge vindication of the Gregoire record as chief executive. Washingtonians can be proud that our governor is one of the nation's best, most skilled public servants, and rest assured that the Evergreen State is competently and effectively managed under strong Democratic leadership.

The Washington page of the report is filled with glowing praise for Gregoire and her work as governor. A couple of choice excerpts (emphasis is mine):
Washington has been a consistent leader in results-based governance. It was ahead of nearly all other states in controlling spending by keeping track of where investments were and were not paying off.

Under Governor Christine Gregoire, Washington’s government has, if anything, moved further ahead on this front. Upon taking office, Gregoire instituted a Government Management Accountability and Performance program, or GMAP, which emphasizes periodic public forums during which key players on particular issues come together to problem-solve and report results to the governor and her leadership team. Participants walk away with well-formulated plans, due dates—and often commitments from the governor in exchange for vows for tangible improvements.


Bottom line: No state in the nation is better at developing and sharing information than Washington. That doesn’t mean it isn’t trying to expand its definition of excellence. A case in point is that the governor is pushing for more easily accessible financial data. “Even if I can figure out the right question to ask, I am all too often having them scramble to manually construct the data,” she says.
The Washington page ends with a quick reference to Tim Eyman's Initiative 960:
The two-thirds majority required in the legislature to increase taxes has made it difficult for state leaders to raise the funds necessary for balance at times when revenue dips.
Fortunately, that provision from I-960 will (likely) soon be off our books thanks to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane, who is filing a lawsuit tomorrow challenging the section's constitutionality before the state Supreme Court.

Here are the individual scores for Washington broken down by criteria:
People: A-
Money: A-
Infrastructure: B+
Information: A
It's no surprise that infrastructure would be our weakest category. We've only recently begun to strengthen our common wealth by investing in education, healthcare, and transportation - and we've still got a long way to go. But we're still above average compared to the rest of the country.

Other Pacific Northwest states barely received passing grades. After Washington, Idaho had the next highest score: a B minus. Oregon and Montana each received a C plus. Alaska trailed in last place with a C. Still, none of those results are as bad as "First in the Nation" New Hampshire's D plus.

The report cited Oregon's shaky tax structure as the biggest problem there, decried the negative effect of term limits in Montana (it makes for an inexperienced legislature), and admonished Alaska for not knowing how to spend its money wisely.

The report's introduction highlights Washington as an example of fiscal prudence in action, applauding the state for keeping its budget in line with "changing tides":
Washington State’s longterm perspective and sophisticated projections, for example, have helped it avoid unpleasant surprises. The state generates long-term budget outlooks — at least six years out — that are not just insider planning documents but, says Candace Espeseth, assistant director of the state’s budget division, something the legislature looks at, as well. “We have quarterly updates for many of our forecasts and our caseloads,” she says. “We’re constantly realigning.”
The Pew findings may come as a shock to Dino Rossi and his Republican cronies, who have assailed and repeatedly attacked the Governor as a complete failure. Here's our question tonight to Rossi backers - everyone from Luke Esser to Tim Eyman to Stefan Sharkansky - How are you going to spin an "A" grade for our state and its Democratic leadership as a failure?


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