Thursday, May 29, 2008

ROW vs. Wading

It seems like our potholes and rough street repairs form pools sufficient for wading or even rowing. And that lack of quality has the City Council's attention.

The Tacoma City Council Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday (5-28-08) afternoon discussed a new, state-of-the-art policy aimed at preserving Tacoma's investment in roads.

As part of the City's overall direction to improve streets, the Council committee is too considering how utility cuts for access for maintenance, repairs and installation of new services impacts these roads. Cuts and trenches are made for Internet and TV cable, telephone lines, electric power lines, natural gas pipelines, potable water, storm and sanitary sewer collection.

City Public Works/Streets provided some estimates for how much the proposed changes would impact customers. The most common denominator is a mid-block (as opposed to corner lot) residential property needing to replace a 6" diameter sanitary sewer lateral. The homeowner is responsible for all costs from his/her home, including the riser, to the sewer lateral. The assumption is that the street is 30' wide and existing asphalt is 4" deep. Following are the costs for street repair, not repairs to plumbing!
The standard practice is for 1' cutback. That requires an estimated $780 to repair.

The proposed rule is a 3' cutback & half street that must be repaved if disturbed. Since the cutback includes both halves of the street as this example has the sanitary sewer on the opposite lane, both sides are disturbed. Estimated cost of street repairs: $2,310.
Net difference between existing rule and proposed rule: $1,530, a 196% increase.

Although Tacoma Public Works (other than the streets department) and Tacoma Public Utilities are impacted by these requirements, none attended AND participated in the discussion of the impact of this proposal on customers. Only Comcast and Puget Sound Energy commented. All these public and private utilities might be expected to be disinterested in the imposition of such rules. They could be expected to pass those costs to all the ratepayers in the utility area, or have the costs accrue to the homeowners and not pass through the utility at all.

However, such is not the case with Puget Sound Energy. Reported earlier in this advocacy blog are reports on the expected declaration of the Tacoma metro area as a non-attainment area for PM2.5. The chief culprit for the region's poor air quality is conceded to be wood smoke from residential fireplaces or older, inefficient wood stoves. There are two likely fixes for the air quality problem. One is to subsidize the replacement of old stoves for homeowners.

The other is to assist in the conversion of homes to the most efficient fuel - natural gas or electricity. (There are strategic ramifications ((conservation and fish)) for increased demand of electricity as a fuel.) However, this street replacement rule will place substantial costs on homeowners desiring natural gas. For instance, Seattle adopted a similar street replacement rule about 18+ months ago. Since then, PSE has an 80% reduction in new customers (forcing even more of the market to electricity.) Thus, the unintended consequences of the proposed right-of-way (ROW) restoration is to block natural gas as an economical alternative to remedy the poor air quality of the region.

The Chamber spoke to the Council's committee members, about this particular unintended consequence. Additional points that were made were:
  1. The ROW replacement should be relevant to the disruption, not to a larger than necessary area;

  2. The ROW replacement should not be a defacto street renovation/maintenance program;
  3. The ROW replacement program should not seek to place costs on the utility ratepayer for costs that are the responsibility of general government to maintain streets;

  4. Public and private enterprises should be treated the same (a level playing field) in all requirements as to the program including fees and permitting.

It is the sense of this blogger that the Council's Environment and Public Works Committee wishes to recommend an aggressive ROW restoration program. The fairness of that program and the impacts on individual home and business owners and each utility's ratebase of customers remains to be seen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Advocating Local Procurement for Local Business

The Chamber has an active program to share with its membership business opportunities with all levels of government. An aspect of this advocacy is encouraging local governments to have an open and inclusive program for our local businesses.

Enclosed is an acknowledgement of the Pierce County procurement program. For FY 2007, Pierce County procured $200,686,316 in supplies-services-land-capital equipment-etc. More than 50% of those payments went to local providers.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Do You Mean IT or IT?

Most people don't connect international trade (IT) and information technology (IT).Yet today's "Exporting in a Free Trade World," a forum devoted to free trade agreements (FTA) and opening markets demonstrated that connection.

While the brief forum was necessarily limited to just two countries -- Canada and Colombia -- a broader discussion included some neighboring countries. Speakers, included Margaret Hanson-Muse, Counselor for Commercial Affairs, U.S. Embassy (Bogota) Colombia. She had participated in the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement negotiations (telecom and customs chapters), for which she was recognized by the Department of State with her second Superior Honor Award. In December 2006, Pfizer S.A. recognized Ms. Hanson-Muse with its first annual leadership award "for her exemplary support ... in defense of Intellectual Property rights."

Both Ms. Hanson-Muse and Matt Gaisford, Ecuador/Panama Desk, U.S. Department of Commerce attested that the proposed FTA for Colombia and Peru, as well as the existing Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) with Panama, included those countries acceptance of the Information Technology Agreement, basically allowing IT in duty-free.

For Panama, Washington's 2007 exports of computers and electronic products totaled $1.5 million. Washington's exporters of computers and other information technology equipment will benefit from the U.S.-Panama TPA tariff reductions. Certain U.S. exports of information technology equipment will receive duty-free treatment immediately upon entry into force of the Agreement, including DVDs, telephone and fax equipment, semiconductors and medical and lab instruments.

Washington's manufactured-export category for computers and electronic products was $3.3 billion in 2007. The U.S.-Colombia TPA improves market access for Washington's information technology goods and service providers. Nearly 100% of U.S.exports of products covered by the Information Technology Agreement, including important exports of computer equipment and communications equipment, will receive duty-free treatment immediately upon entry into force of the agreement. With the immediate removal of most tariffs, U.S. exports will become much more competitive and affordable to Colombians.

Now, the benefit is mostly one-way with Colombia enjoying access to the U.S. market duty-free. The top U.S. exports in this sector include computers, computer parts and radio and TV broadcasting equipment. Adoption of the U.S.-Colombia FTA has been put on hold through action of the administration to hurriedly place the issue before Congress, and Congressional leadership's action to void time commitments to delay the issue past elections.

Our thanks to the FTA forum sponsors: U.S. Commercial Service, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, World Trade Center Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma for bringing this discussion of the facts on this public policy issue to the community.

US-Korea FTA Coalition Forges Ahead

As part of its 23rd annual Washington-to-Washington, D.C. advocacy trip, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber attended the U.S.-Korea FTA Business Coalition meeting May 12.

Held in the offices of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the full Coalition's meeting featured remarks by Korean Minister Choi Seok-young. During those remarks, Minister Choi confirmed his country's commitment to full implementation of the FTA protocols despite the demonstrations at home of those opposed to the beef agreement reached with the U.S. agricultural interests.

It was noted during the meeting that both the Presidential Campaign and the Congressional calendar are working against the U.S.-Korea FTA's adoption. Even though political and administrative matters are working against ratification, the Congress did plan a hearing on the FTA Tuesday.

Washington, which is represented by several pro-trade Democrats (logically), is one of 13 key states. Others are: CA, NY, OR, CO, IA, WY, PA, MN, WV, OH and NJ.