Keep it simple, Senator

Posted 28 January 2009 by

It was said that during the first Bill Clinton presidential campaign there was sign posted to remind everyone what was important:

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

It worked to keep the campaign on task and on message.

This sign was a take-off of another popular saying:

“Keep it simple, stupid.”

How often do we allow scope creep to turn a simple idea or project into a bowl of spaghetti without end? There is a whole discipline found in business dedicated to keeping projects on-track, on-schedule, and on-time: project management. Just as writers need editors (occasionally), projects need managers.

State Senator Steve Hobbs (44-D) from Lake Stevens, Washington, has an idea to move forward the idea of building a 4-year state technical college in Snohomish County. We need good ideas right now. There is no money, but Washington has a need.

This is not to say that engineering and science programs at the University of Washington or Washington State University are only average or worse. They are good programs, but they are at institutions that have to focus on multiple goals.

The idea of a dedicated technical college or university is not new in the United States. I can think of such institutions in states such as Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Colorado, and South Dakota. Then there is the granddaddy of them all in this country, my alma mater, the Missouri University of Science and Technology (originally the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy).

This idea isn’t something for Snohomish County. This idea is something for the state of Washington. Our Silicon Forest, bio-tech industry, and aerospace industry needs a top-flight research institution dedicated to technology.

Still, if it is going to be built anywhere, let’s take advantage of this opportunity and build it here. We already have the industry in this region. Let’s keep industry here and help it grow.

This is why there is something very good in Sen. Hobbs idea to use a local taxing district to fund the erection of the buildings for this institution in Snohomish County.

While the idea has good intentions, the plan Sen. Hobbs presented at a meeting of the 38th Legislative District Democrats would take an institution of national importance and turn it into something else–if the institution would ever open. As I understand it, he wants to reserve 50% of the slots at this college for residents of Snohomish County. These reserved slots would open up only when local residents didn’t fill them. This adds an unnecessary uncertainty for those applying from outside the county.

Even if Snohomish County taxpayers build the buildings, why would the legislators from other counties take scarce operational money away from UW and WSU to run the campus? What’s in it for legislators from other counties when their constituents can’t get into UW and WSU due to lack funding? This means the campus probably wouldn’t be built.

There is a simpler way to repay the debt. In return for building the campus, give Snohomish County residents a percentage tuition break in return for our investment. How long and how much of a tuition break can be negotiated. I would think Snohomish County residents could get a combined tuition break at least equal to the amount of money we invest to build the campus. Probably more, since the institution wouldn’t exist without us.

There is something in it for everyone.

So, while a local taxing district to build the campus has merit, I have a piece of advice to Mr. Hobbs:

“Keep it simple, Senator.”

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