Weekly B-MOW: Legislative Hearings on Higher Ed & Clean Tech

Back and better than ever, loyal readers, it’s your weekly look at the glamorous comings and goings of the humble economic development staff here at the Prosperity Partnership – a little segment we like to call “Best Meeting of the Week.” Now, this week’s B-MOW is a tie, which reminds me of the jazz album my friend Dan always joked about making, entitled “In the Event of a Tie.” There would be a picture of a necktie on the album cover, but with the clever double entendre of the sports reference. Of course, in the sports world, a tie is “like kissing your sister,” but here at the Prosperity Blog we have no such resistance. If two meetings are equally great, we’ll B-MOW them both. Which, without further ado, is exactly what’s going to happen now with “Weekly B-MOW: Legislative Hearings on Higher Ed & Clean Tech.”

To be accurate, we’re talking about not two meetings, but four. Yesterday (February 2) was a busy day, with a House Higher Education Committee Hearing on the Governor’s Task Force-based bill at 8 am, a Senate Higher Education Committee hearing on that bill at 1:30 pm, and then House & Senate Energy Committee hearings on the Clean Energy Leadership Council legislation both at 1:30 pm (we had to do the House one first and then all run over and do the same thing in the Senate…talk about scheduling efficiency!).

Let’s start with the CELC bill first, because it’s something we haven’t talked about too much here. But when we have talked about it, it’s been in the context of how well aligned it is with our BETI proposal. For the uninitiated, the Clean Energy Leadership Council is a public-private collaboration put together by the state to develop a “Washington clean energy economic development strategy”; over the past year, they identified three main focus areas for potential competitive advantage – biomass, building energy efficiency, and the transmission of intermittent renewable energy sources (i.e. -where smart grid meets wind) – and recommended policy and funding approaches that could help Washington lead the nation (and the world) in selling these technologies.

The CELC bill would create a permanent Clean Energy Partnership that would be responsible for coordinating all the different stakeholders and resources toward this focus. Again, the reason we’re excited about this is that this new approach would align state strategy with our work, and spur some pretty exciting opportunities for collaboration and leveraging. Back to the hearings themselves, I thought they went well, with Marc Cummings of Battelle/PNNL – the co-chair of the CELC – and Daniel Malarkey of the State Department of Commerce testifying on the process and the reasoning behind the work, and then a slew of stakeholders from WSU to McKinstry to Avista speaking in favor (including yours truly). Of course, things tend to go extra smoothly when the chairs of the committees (McCoy in the House and Rockefeller in the Senate) are the bill sponsors.

The Higher Education hearings were also great, although certainly more controversial. In each of the sessions, members of the Governor’s Higher Education Funding Task Force – including Microsoft, Boeing, the Washington Biotech and Biomed Association and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce – talked about their process and thereasoning behind their recommendations, and then a group of folks including us, the Technology Alliance and the Washington Roundtable discussed why this issue is so important.

There were definitely opponents to the higher ed proposal, however, and I tend to divide them into two groups. First are folks who are opposed to tuition increases – notably the student lobby – because they are against paying more for their education. They’re opposed because they can’t afford to pay more, they don’t want to pay more or they don’t think it’s necessary (because they think there are ways to provide the same education for less money instead).

Second are the “alternative approach” people, who think that the Governor’s Task Force proposal is wrong, incomplete, not innovative enough or too aggressive. For example, Representative Carlyle has his own thoughts on the issue, and I hear that Speaker Chopp is putting together a proposal as well. Or they want to focus more on one piece, like driving down costs or increasing financial aid.

But of course, we’ll see which of these approaches prevail and/or how these different approaches are melded into a compromise approach. There’s still a lot of legislative session yet to play out, and we’ll just have to see how things go. To use a sports analogy, that’s why they play the games.

And sometimes those games end in a tie.

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