Vote for a better Washington

Regardless of the outsized attention that the presidential election draws, your vote matters as much if not more in local and state elections, this year determining who represents you on city councils, school boards, fire districts and more and next year as you elect legislators and other state officials.

So, allow us one more reminder to mark and get your ballots in by 8 tonight if you haven’t already. Not to be scolds, but judging by the ballots returned thus far, there are still plenty who haven’t. As of Monday afternoon only 19 percent of registered voters statewide had returned their ballots and only 14.3 percent in Snohomish County had done so.

Here’s where your vote ultimately can have an influence: Opportunity Washington, a joint project of the Association of Washington Business, Washington Roundtable, Washington Research Council and Enterprise Washington, has released the fall update of its Opportunity Index, Washington state’s rankings against the other 49 states in regard to education, transportation and economic climate.

Although focused on the Evergreen State, the index ranks all 50 states using data from public and private sources. The index, launched earlier this year, assigns the 10th-ranked state a score of 100 and sets the median at 75. Washington state, according to the index, combing scores for the three areas, ranks just above the median with a score of 79 and a ranking of 24.

It’s highest score, 82 for education, ranks it 18th and is based on the performance for fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade math and number of associate’s degrees earned. Holding back the score were the high school graduation rate, which is 40th in the nation, and our bottom-half ranking for number of bachelor’s and advance degrees issued to residents.

For its economic climate the state scored 78 with a ranking of 23, helped by strong private sector research and development, entrepreneurial activity and low energy costs but dragged down by higher than average businesses costs from taxes and unemployment insurance.

Transportation is where the state suffers most, scoring only 48 and ranking 38th, based on poor commute times and road and bridge quality.

Having set a baseline this year, the index can now be used to measure how well our decisions move those three needles.

With the Legislature having passed a $16.1 billion transportation package this summer, $670 million of which will be spent in Snohomish County, we should expect to see gradual improvement for that area, particularly if Congress is soon able to pass a six-year highway spending bill now under consideration.

The passage of the state transportation package is proof that officials, with some public pressure, can make positive changes. And it also shows how the index might best be used.

Steve Mullin, president of Washington Roundtable, said the index is meant to inform public policy rather than suggest specific legislation. His group and others put an emphasis on transportation issues this year. In the coming legislation session, the focus will certainly be on resolving education funding issues as the state continues to rack up $100,000-a-day fines for failing to meet its obligations under the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate.

The state’s education ranking will improve as it better prepares students to graduate who are ready for college and career. Not every graduate has to go to college, but those who are ready for college will have the skills they need for today’s careers. And those skills are especially important as Boeing and other employers look to hire new employees as current employees enter retirement, Mullin said.

The state’s rankings in those three areas — education, transportation and economic climate — are something to consider, not just by elected officials, but also for voters as they choose our elected officials.

Where we rank

To review Washington state’s performance on the Opportunity Index and find out which states made the top 10 — and the bottom 10 — go to opportunitywa.org.

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