All the stuff you need to know (and some you don't) to get your ballot in by November 2
Click on each box for the skinny on the November ballot's big races.
The U.S. Senate's fourth-most-powerful Dem, three-term Senator Patty Murray, faces Republican Dino Rossi, a real estate developer who served seven years in the Olympia statehouse. As he doesn't have an extensive record to attack, Murray has accused him (often in a surprisingly nasty fashion) of regressive politics and shady financial dealings. Rossi, meanwhile, has tried to funnel anti-Obama rage toward Murray, blaming her for a lot of things - reforming the health care system, saving Wall Street, funding local stimulus projects - that she and some Democrats are actually quite proud of. Read more
Two years ago, Walt Minnick - a Vietnam vet and former forester - accomplished a rare feat: He was elected to Congress as an Idaho Democrat. Since then, however, he's been one of the party's most conservative, nonpartisan members. During his re-election campaign this year, he hasn't looked like a Democrat at all. Minnick, who faces far-right immigration lawyer Raul Labrador, is distancing himself from all of the president's major policies and is endorsed by everybody from the Tea Party Express to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Citizens Against Government Waste. (See "Election Notebook.") Read more
In 16 years, Cathy McMorris Rodgers has gone from a Kettle Falls apple orchardist to a Republican state representative to a set piece at Congressional Republicans' recent announcement of their "Pledge to America." Nice work. She hasn't exactly been challenged, though. The last two elections, Democrats have fielded - and then not funded - political newbies, including former KREM weathercaster (and current farmer) Daryl Romeyn, who has been practically invisible. Looks like the Bush-style Republican will walk away with another one. Read more
"Balance," if anything, has been the campaign slogan for County Commissioner Bonnie Mager's re-election bid. The lone Democrat on the board, she won her first election promising smart growth and a counterpoint to a board full of Republicans. She says that without her voice, the county would write a blank check for developers and other special interests. (She was the only commissioner to oppose county possession of the racetrack.) Her challenger is Republican Al French, a former two-term Spokane City Councilman who ran for mayor in 2007. He's been endorsed by his would-be colleagues on the board of commissioners (Mark Richard and Todd Mielke), but he says he brings something to the board none of the current commissioners does: previous experience in municipal government. Not only does he know the ropes, he says, but he's got a bulging Rolodex from his city council years. Read more
"Anyone but Tucker" was the battle cry going into the August primary, in which Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Tucker faced four candidates, all of whom characterized him as an opportunistic absentee administrator who spends more time on the links than in the court room. The challenger to make it through to the general was the race's sole Democrat, 67-year-old private attorney Frank Malone, who promises to shoulder his own caseload and to call for independent outside investigations of police-involved fatalities. Tucker, who has run the prosecutor's office for 12 years, was a state trooper for 11 years before that and graduated from Gonzaga Law in 1984. Read more
As with the prosecutor race, the primary for Spokane County assessor fielded an unusually large group of challengers angry with the incumbent. Ralph Baker says he has turned his office around, whittling down a two-year backlog in paperwork, but a KREM report has accused his office of leaving certain high-profile properties off the tax rolls. His challenger is also his employee: Vicki Horton, an appraiser with 15 years of experience. She claims Baker's lack of appraisal experience causes errors, and his management style has driven office morale into the ground. Read more
One of the costliest and most closely watched contests in Washington has devolved into ugly ads and name-calling. Which is a shame, as both are strong, competent candidates. Marr is a centrist Democrat who ran an auto business in Spokane before winning his seat in the crimson 6th District in 2006 and becoming a leader in Olympia. Baumgartner, a small-government Republican, is a political neophyte, but with Harvard credentials and gigs as an advisor to the State Department in the Middle East. Read more
The three Democrats who ran for this seat in the primary scored almost 70 percent of the votes, but that doesn't mean it'll be a cakewalk for Andy Billig, the one who advanced. Yes, the seat was safely held by a Dem (Rep. Alex Wood) for years. And yes, Billig is young, charismatic, well-connected and the president of the well-liked Spokane Indians baseball team. But he actually won fewer votes than the unknown Republican candidate, Dave White - a sewer inspector and former small business owner. And the "D" next to Billig's name could stand for "detriment" in this topsy-turvy year. Read more
After eight years in state government, Republican John Ahern was turned out of office by a mere 72 votes in 2008, losing to Democratic newcomer John Driscoll. But now Ahern wants his job back. The rematch could split down the middle the centrist Republicans who voted for the GOP's Shelly O'Quinn in the primary: Do they go with the new, moderate, anti-tax Democratic incumbent, or the old, far-right Republican one? Read more
Seven-year incumbent Democrat Timm Ormsby is being challenged by Republican Morgan Oyler, a 28-year-old Gonzaga history major fighting for jobs, education and public safety, but without the blessing of the Spokane County GOP. By contrast, Ormsby (a quiet leader in Olympia) enjoys the blessings and funds of the majority party. Read more
Gov. Butch Otter's first term has been marked by inaction and negative moves - opposing federal health care reform, cutting school funding, grousing about stimulus dollars. His Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, should be a real contender, then. He's a fifth-generation Idahoan who taught government at Harvard and founded a nonpartisan think tank to stem the influence of special interests in politics. But he likely won't get the consideration he deserves, considering Idaho's habit of picking Republicans for governors. As Allred has lagged in the polls, the campaign has turned into a contest to see who can out-cowboy the other - a contest the Republican usually wins. Read more
This initiative would stipulate that for any vote to raise taxes, the Legislature has to cobble together a difficult two-thirds majority, rather than a simple majority. Sound familiar? Initiative czar Tim Eyman has pitched this same initiative three times - in 1993, 1998 and 2007. He was successful each time, but each time the Legislature rolled the requirement back as soon as it was allowed to, arguing it's undemocratic and introduces California-style legislative gridlock.
Today, businesses have two options when it comes to paying workers' compensation insurance: expensive self-insurance, or a state-administered solution funded by the Labor and Industries tax deducted from your paycheck. I-1082 would establish a third, private alternative, which proponents say will increase competition, drive down premiums and provide tax relief. Opponents argue it gives preferential treatment to the private insurance companies, which would be allowed to set their own rates with little oversight.
This initiative, championed by Bill Gates Sr. and endorsed by his son, would reduce property taxes and the number of businesses paying B&O taxes while levying a new income tax on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of Washingtonians. Opponents (especially the super-rich) say it would make the state less competitive (though their ads merely exploit a mistrust of government). Supporters say it will raise up to $2 billion a year for key services and will improve a tax system that currently puts an extra burden on the poor. Read more
One of two competing initiatives that would get the state out of the alcohol business, 1100 does so more completely - dismantling Prohibition-era liquor laws, shuttering the state's liquor stores and distribution system in favor of private sales and distribution, and doing away with regulations like price controls on beer, wine and liquor. Opponents say it will give big retailers like Costco a leg up (it will), moral chaos will ensue (it won't), and the state budget will suffer at a difficult time (it might). Supporters, though, say the government shouldn't be in the booze business. And hey, whiskey at Rosauers! Read more
Like 1100, this measure would allow private stores to sell liquor, but it doesn't touch beer and wine sales. Also, while 1100 cuts out the middleman, allowing retailers to buy beer, wine and spirits directly from those who make it, 1105 preserves the requirement to purchase through a distributor - no surprise, given that big distributors bankrolled the measure. Read more
Facing a daunting budget this year, lawmakers in Olympia passed a temporary, few-cents tax on soda, bottled water, candy and other processed foodstuffs. The tax was supposed to raise $300 million over five years, saving social programs and helping to fund green school construction. (See notes on R-52, below.) This measure, hugely funded by soda-makers, would repeal the tax.
Voting "yes" here would allow the state to issue bonds for energy-efficient construction at state schools - creating jobs, building new green infrastructure and saving money in the long run. It would also make permanent the tax on bottled water (see notes on Initiative 1107), which would help fund these projects. (Note: The projects would continue even if 1107 passes.) Opponents say now's not the time to rack up more debt.
This measure wouldn't change the amount of debt that Washington is allowed to carry - it would just allow it to calculate that debt differently, so as to take advantage of some federal funding. Opponents call it an "accounting gimmick."
State law allows judges to deny bail only for those charged with aggravated first-degree murder. But this would also make that option available for those charged with crimes "punishable by the possibility of life in prison" and who exhibit a propensity for violence. The measure is a reaction to last year's shooting of four Lakewood police officers by a guy on bail with nine pending felony charges. Opponents, though, say it's unnecessary and undermines the "innocent-until-proven guilty" presumption.
This local measure would create a $5 million annual Children's Investment Fund, aimed at reducing the city's dropout rate by as much as 20 percent. The measure would raise Spokane property taxes by 35 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value (about $69 annually for the average house) and create a pool of funding for programs dealing with abuse and neglect, early childhood learning, mentoring and after-school education. It could be a tough sell in an anti-tax year, but proponents say the alternative is paying $400,000 in social services expenditures for every kid who drops out of school. Read more
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Elections are always about where a candidate comes from - that's one predictor of where he or she might be going. In the case of Michael Baumgartner, it's been a little hard to pin down, as his website tells us that he's always considered Spokane his home, despite being from Pullman.
Now he tells voters he's an Eastern Washingtonian - and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, Baumgartner's not the only one to move somewhere to run for office - Hillary Clinton moved to New York to run for U.S. Senate, and Dino Rossi moved from Magnolia to Sammamish, many believe, to find a more Republican base from which to launch his political career. (But Rossi did wait 18 months before running for office.)
Spokane always welcomes new talent, and Michael Baumgartner has an interesting set of experiences in business overseas and as a State Department official in Iraq. But admitting you are not exactly from here can be tough on a candidate.
Nobody knows that better than local Republican Party officials. Back in 2000, when George Nethercutt was running for a fourth term - after famously promising the 5th District he'd only serve three - a guy named Tom Keefe moved to Spokane from not far away in North Idaho to run against him. The Republican campaign eviscerated Keefe for "carpetbagging," and he couldn't beat Nethercutt when the congressman was at his weakest. Read more
We'll spare you the baseball cliches, but as president of the Spokane Indians, Andy Billig has been one of the region's most dynamic business leaders for the past couple decades. It's great to see him trying to make a move up to the big leagues in Olympia. (OK, just one baseball cliche.) Billig is exactly the kind of candidate we need to see more of as we work toward a brighter future during these difficult times.
With his own roots in construction work, Timm Ormsby's focus has been on the middle class in his district. His perspective is just the kind we need in Olympia to get proper representation of all the state's citizens.
In a rematch of the close race of two years ago, John Driscoll is the clear choice. He's been independent in Olympia, voting against the Democrats' final budget, but he has also applied the compassion and knowledge gained as a health administrator (for the nonprofit Project Access) to his work. His opponent, for a second time, is John Ahern, who, as a state representative, compulsively voted no, often leaving his district and Spokane out of some important funding discussions. Driscoll brings the kind of temperament and personal convictions needed to succeed in Olympia.
It's a sign of just how archaic our system of three county commissioners is that we are deciding a race based on how the balance of power will be affected more than the issues themselves. As the system stands, any two commissioners can make a decision that will affect 500,000 people. You read that right - our system, born in the 19th century, puts all that power over our lives in just four hands. Additionally, any two commissioners cannot even have coffee to discuss policy without running awry of state open-meetings laws. It's goofy.
So Bonnie Mager's re-election campaign is being boiled down to fighting the good fight, holding up the losing end of some key 2-1 votes. The resulting sparks offer citizens the appearance of democracy in action. In a normal, 21 st - century government, being the lonely "no" wouldn't be much of a re-election theme. Still, to her credit, Mager has shown skill at creating more openness at commissioner meetings and by prying into the budget with new perspectives.
Al French showed himself to be a very savvy politician on the Spokane City Council, and his municipal understanding is as deep as you'll find. Some of his ideas - like a regional planning center and looking for ways to consolidate services among the various jurisdictions - are worth a look, but in general, he'd be a third vote for what tends to be an already monolithic board.
We don't need more 3-0 votes on the board of commissioners; what we need are two more commissioners. Short of that, providing checks and balances to this two-person majority - even if it is just via the bully pulpit and in the media - is enough to earn Mager four more years.
One of the big disappointments coming out of the primary election this summer was that neither of the best candidates to replace Steve Tucker - Chris Bugbee and Dave Stevens - advanced to the general election. Frank Malone has issues - he's a little older than is ideal and has never been a prosecutor - but he could champion the kinds of reforms the prosecutor's office needs.
Those reforms start at the top. Rather than pursuing justice, we have a prosecutor who pursues keeping his job. Again and again, in high-profile decisions to prosecute or not, he chooses the path of least resistance. If voters weren't clear on this, it's been confirmed by his apparent choice to make no decision on whether to prosecute Sheriff's Deputy Brian Hirzel for the shooting death of Pastor Wayne Scott Creach prior to the election. Instead, Steve Tucker will wait until his decision won't affect him either way. The office should not be about his needs, but the needs of community members seeking closure and peace.
Justice is hard, and prosecutors must routinely make tough calls and be able to defend them in the court of public opinion. Being denied transparent, timely decisions only adds to our overall dissatisfaction with some parts of the local criminal justice system. Malone may just be setting the table for the next person, but that is four years we can't waste waiting for Tucker to retire.
Rhetoric, meet reality. Last month, Dino Rossi ran into an unscripted campaign moment when he took a trip out to Whidbey Island. The plan was to get him out among the real people making the economy work without help from those big spenders in Washington, D.C. During a stop at Nichols Brothers shipyard, where state ferries are built, his stump speech was derailed a bit when he found out federal stimulus money was keeping 80 people employed there who might otherwise be out of work. At his next stop, Krieg Concrete, the CEO joined in Rossi's rant against federal wastefulness. Whoops! Local media pointed out later that even Krieg Concrete benefited from a new road paid for by the stimulus package.
Dino Rossi picked a strange place to pitch his "small government" philosophy,- opined the local Whidbey News-Times. The Navy's Whidbey Air Station is the island's biggest economic generator - fully paid for by U.S. citizens. Rossi didn't stop there to decry federal spending.
Rossi's eye-opening trip underlines how his campaign's theme - against everything President Obama and Sen. Patty Murray have done - isn't the slamdunk his GOP cronies hoped it to be as they all agreed with each other during back-room strategy sessions.
Rossi has made this election pretty simple: Read more
One of the odd byproducts of so much anger at Washington, D.C., has been that statehouses may be eluding the voters' harsh glare. And one prime beneficiary seems to be Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who looks set for another term despite a performance that typifies the problems with incumbents. He can't even get his own pet projects enacted in Boise. In a state that needs a fresh approach to old problems like education funding, neither the Legislature nor the governor had much to offer.
Keith Allred's long-shot candidacy failed to catch fire, especially in North Idaho, where he has been less visible. But in the evolution of things, perhaps a good number of Idahoans will learn there are different ideas out there about how to govern, and some of them come from - gasp! - Democrats.
We knew Walt Minnick was a conservative kind of guy, but nobody could foresee how much he would borrow from the GOP playbook in his bid for the all-important first re-election. His TV ads have been pretty distasteful, grinding Raul Labrador into dust over his profession in immigration law. Winning with divisiveness is never a good recipe for bringing people together, but it is winning. And unfortunately, in our current political climate, that's the point.
But Labrador isn't an option, as he has already said he would use the job to advocate for far-out ideas like dismantling the Department of Education and repealing the 17th Amendment so state legislatures could choose their senators again - a practice ended because of widespread interference by lobbyists.
Minnick, known as an advocate for wise environmental balance and state business interests, will continue to represent Idaho well. And as an Idaho Democrat, he's also a living oxymoron who has an important symbolic role to play. He proves that even in these partisan times, people vote for the person, not the party. And that independent streak is admirable in Idaho voters.
Democrats of the 5th District, you have been forsaken - left for dead. The national and state parties have thrown in the towel, and Daryl Romeyn is the latest Don Quixote to take up the lance. It's not all that out of the ordinary, as party honchos have carved up the nation's congressional districts to create as many safe districts as they can; Jim McDermott in Seattle and Cathy McMorris Rodgers here are the beneficiaries in this state.
Rodgers likes to say Republicans lost their way under George W. Bush, and we couldn't agree more (although, if memory serves, she was right there with him, voting the party line). The trouble is, they're still lost - it's just say 'no' on everything, with hopes of regaining a majority. It's a cynical, sad strategy when you consider how badly the nation needs all its leaders to work together to meet our considerable challenges.
If the GOP is successful and retakes the House, we'll see Rodgers up there with the other leaders as they seek to dismantle the work of the past two years. That's reason enough to choose Romeyn; we need to preserve the progress that's been made. But if Republicans do not win the majority back, Rodgers' anti-Obama stance will keep her on the outside of the action, unable to accomplish much for the district. In that case, she could focus her efforts on bringing people together on local issues facing Eastern Washington. She could be a leader in Spokane, but we haven't seen enough of her here - except during the months leading up to her campaigns. That was precisely the trap old Tom Foley fell into - he got complacent because he never had a serious challenge and allowed his focus to shift to the other Washington too much.
In these times of politicians allergic to compromise and who "just say no" to most everything, getting a majority plus one vote is harder than ever. That means solving the state's problems is getting harder, too. So now we have Tim Eyman's latest effort to paralyze the state - Initiative 1053, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass any changes to taxes or fees.
These past couple years have been among the most challenging in our state's fiscal history, and while there have been some less-than-inspiring solutions, our legislators have, by and large, done the best they can with a very difficult situation. But in times like these, to hamstring lawmakers on details as tiny as a 25-cent user fee on 911 calls, to name but one example, simply seems perverse.
Additionally, I-1053 violates a basic premise of the American system. By allowing a small group of legislators to control the state's future - just one-third of either the House or Senate plus one vote - we allow a minority to rule the majority. Forget about the legislator you sent to Olympia; under Eyman's plan, it would only take 17 individuals to hold up progress for the state's nearly 7 million citizens. That is nothing like the democracy we all hold so dear.
Our legislators are very mindful of the mood against new spending - and the need to avoid it. If you think they are not, you are free to vote them out of office.
One citizen sized up Initiative 1082 this way recently: "If you like dealing with claims on your auto insurance and your health insurance, you'll LOVE filing a workers' comp claim under 1082!" What protections will workers have under a private insurance system? The answer could be as impossible to know as learning the reason for being denied coverage on your health policy. This effort is a play to open a new market to large insurance companies, meaning higher costs will fall on small businesses and their employees hardest, as the biggest companies in Washington already self-insure.
Proponents talk about Oregon, and it's true that Oregon does some things very well with private insurers in the mix, but theirs is also a more expensive system; Washington is among the 15 cheapest states for industrial insurance.
Privatization is good in some cases, and our state's Department of Labor and Industries needs targeted reform. But this is not reform - this is just a grab for market share by big insurance companies.
Like most states, Washington is in an economic crisis. Higher education keeps getting more expensive, and our social safety net is failing. In times like these, everyone is making sacrifices. Think of Initiative 1098 this way: It requires the richest citizens of our state to pitch in, too.
These talented people have been successful because of their own business acumen, but they have also been given a big assist by the state - in the form of an education, a pool of smart potential employees and a quality of life among the best in the nation. I-1098 would implement an income tax on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of citizens - just 38,400 taxpayers out of 3.2 million in the state. That would raise $2 billion per year to help keep the state dynamic enough to continue to provide an economic foundation for future growth for their companies and other endeavors. Only individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making over $400,000 a year would be taxed - and then only on the amount above those numbers.
Critics say it's class warfare and soaking the rich. With headlines screaming about bank bailouts (funded by you), the corporate outsourcing of our jobs and still more of those obscene bonuses - not the rule for our state's firms - maybe the rich are due for a little soaking? But this is not it. A couple earning $500,000 a year would pay $5,000 under I-1098. On the soak-the-rich scale, that's closer to the raindrop end of the spectrum.
I-1098 is also a shot at making our state's tax system less punitive toward the poor - which shouldn't be hard, as it ranks dead last for tax fairness. Lower-income workers might pay up to 20 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the highest-income earners could have a state and local tax burden as low as 2 percent. The only reason we are having this discussion is because our tax system is an uneven mess that the Legislature, in session after session, fails to address. I-1098 goes a long way toward cleaning it up, and if it passes, it will also level the playing field, creating across-the-board tax breaks for most of us. There will be a 20 percent cut to the state's share of property tax collections, and it will eliminate the state B&O tax completely for 80 percent of businesses. If you've been wanting to vote yourself a tax cut, here's your chance.
Such an elegantly simple and common-sense solution has critics (aka, people who make a ton of money) scrambling for arguments that will convince the rest of us. One that comes up a lot is that the rich will simply leave the state rather than pay an income tax. OK, but to where? Only seven states don't have an income tax, so rich refugees will get a similar tax bill in 43 other states, including Idaho and Oregon.
This is a game-changer for the state of Washington - one that reshuffles the deck to make it more equitable for everyone. And it allows Washington to remain the kind of dynamic place that will grow entrepreneurs who can work their way up into that exalted income level well into the future.
Of course living in America would seem to guarantee your being able to buy Grey Goose vodka by the vat at Costco, but there are tradeoffs - and in the case of these proposals, they would be very costly. (These are separate but related proposals: Initiative 1100 would end the state's liquor sales monopoly and allow retailers like Costco and WalMart to set up their own distribution networks; Initiative 1105 would end the monopoly but maintain the existing distribution networks, which deliver some dollars to state coffers.)
To begin with, common sense tells us that expanding the availability of liquor could cause more problems related to alcohol abuse. That alone is a good reason to question the wisdom of these measures. The state has a duty to regulate certain, potentially dangerous businesses.
But additionally, by putting the state out of the liquor sales business, as initiatives 1100 and 1105 would do, we would be punching a hole in our state budget to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The proponents don't seem to care about what these shortfalls will do to education and health care.
You could argue that the state should not be in the liquor sales business, and you would be onto something quite valid there - Washington has a goofy hodgepodge of ways to fund its budget. But how we pay for our state's services is a discussion we never seem to have until somebody pays to collect a bunch of signatures and forces the issue. That is a failing in state leadership.
As with other ballot initiatives this season, I-1100 and I-1105 are really about massive corporations attempting to pry open new profit centers.
Make no mistake, the push for this initiative - from gathering signatures to all those deceptive TV ads - is not coming from the mom-and-pop retailers of the state. No, it's coming from out of state, primarily the American Beverage Association. There's been an epic disconnect among proponents when they tell voters how selling soda is such a low-margin business, and yet the ABA has found $14 million laying around from that low-margin business to fund this battle.
Big Soda is terrified that their product will become the next focus for sin taxes that legislatures use to balance their books (like tobacco before it). So when Washington state went there, the ABA threw everything it could at drawing a line in the sand to keep it from becoming a national trend.
Despite this citizen-free backstory, the package of taxes our leaders pulled together as a kind of legislative Hail Mary pass - on everything from soda to bottled water to (some) candy bars - was flat-out bad policy. They knew it wasn't a long-term solution; in fact, the Band-Aid package would expire in 2013.
These are the worst of the regressive taxes Washington is known for. Big Soda doesn't pay a penny; it gets passed along to consumers, hitting those who can least afford it hardest. And in border counties, it's tough to compete with Idaho and Oregon.
Initiative 1098, a responsible income tax on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of our citizens, which we recommend you support, is a much more progressive way to fund the crucial services our state performs.
If you ever wonder about the impact of all the crazy spending in Washington, D.C. - the wars, the bailouts, the new entitlements for seniors - take a look at our kids. In recent years, funding for early childhood programs - programs which, research tells us, work very well - has been drying up. The result? Kids are more likely to fall behind, drop out of school, wind up out of work or even land in jail.
The message from D.C. to cities and states is clear: Keep sending the money, but we have less to send back. A lot less.
In short, help is not on the way. We're on our own. And the problems are only getting worse. Our schools are doing what they can to address the issue of too many kids dropping out, but they only have them six hours a day. Too many are coming to school not ready to learn. And yes, the schools do need reform - not wholesale, but the kinds passed (without funding to enact them) in this last legislative session. But Proposition 1 is not about education reform.
In response to the growing realization that what happens early in a kid's life makes a massive difference, community leaders in cities like Seattle, Portland and Miami got to work. They were motivated by shocking numbers: For example, dropouts are 63 times more likely to end up in jail or a mental institution than kids who stay in school. So they developed special funds to attack the problems. Local social service agencies - many of which have watched their grants disappear - compete for those funds. Most efforts are aimed at young kids, getting them off to a good start so they stay in school. Both Portland and Seattle have liked the results enough to renew their funds for a second term.
Now community leaders in Spokane are doing the same, and voters get to decide whether to create the Children's Investment Fund - a $5 million annual fund for fighting the dropout problem, funded by an increase to property taxes. The plan is very well organized and responsible. Agencies must compete, and winners will be chosen by a panel of local leaders, based on the proven track record of their efforts. After six years, the fund will be up for voter renewal. Proponents expect to cut dropout rates by 20 percent; if they don't, voters can end the program. And if you are the type who just votes by the numbers, the investment will pay for itself: Research shows that every child who drops out can cost the public $400,000 in total social service expenditures. Every childhood the Fund helps to turn around is money saved.
This proposal isn't perfect, and perhaps we don't know all the outlines of the complex dropout problem. But we know enough. And choosing to do nothing, when we see a crisis right in front of our eyes, is a decision, too. That would be deciding to let it get worse. And that's not an option.