Who is “LEEDing” the Way?

Put "green" and "government" in the same sentence and the story is usually about funding fights in our nation’s capital. In this case, Washington, D.C. has been recognized as having the most LEED-certified green buildings per capita. More than 100 are used by the federal government. Colorado is the top state. Governing reports: 

The District of Columbia and Colorado have the most LEED-certified commercial and institutional green buildings per capita in the United States, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

D.C. easily led the nation with 31.5-square-feet of LEED-certified space per capita as of 2011, according to the report. The council highlighted the renovation of the U.S. Treasury Building, which became the oldest LEED-certified building in the country, as an example of the city’s work toward becoming a more sustainable community. More than 100 D.C. buildings used by the federal government are LEED-certified, according to a complete list of LEED projects in the United States provided by the USGBC, along with dozens of local government, private and non-profit buildings.

The city’s green-building efforts began in 2006, when the city council passed a bill requiring that all publicly-owned commercial projects be LEED-certified, according to a USGBC database of policies in all 50 states. D.C. also initiated an incentive program in 2009 for private and residential buildings to pursue LEED certification.

"This is a great accomplishment for the D.C. metropolitan region and a testament to the drive, commitment and leadership of all those who live, work and play in our community," Mike Babcock, board chair of the National Capital Region Chapter of USGBC, said in a statement. "We also realize there is still more to do and hope to effectively guide the effort by engaging, educating and encouraging the dialogue around the value of sustainability."

Colorado ranked as the top state with 2.74 square-feet of LEED space per resident. Former Gov. Bill Owens issued an executive order in 2005 requiring that all state buildings be LEED-certified, according to the USGBC. Former Gov. Bill Ritter signed legislation in 2007 that required any project receiving 25 percent or more of its funding from the state to be designed and built to high-performance green-building standards, such as LEED. Numerous municipalities, including Denver, have adopted their own green-building statutes.

Illinois (2.69 sq. ft. per capita), Virginia (2.42), Washington (2.18) and Maryland (2.07) rounded out the top five. Delaware (0.03), West Virginia (0.14) and Mississippi (0.21) sat at the bottom.

"Our local green building chapters from around the country have been instrumental in accelerating the adoption of green building policies and initiatives that drive construction locally," Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the USGBC, said in a statement. "These states should be recognized for working to reinvent their local building landscapes with buildings that enliven and bolster the health of our environment, communities and local economies."

Surface Funds Go Far Beyond the Surface

When is federal transportation funding not really transportation funding? According to the Heritage Foundation, it’s when 35% of the allotted funds that come from our gasoline taxes are "diverted to high-cost, underutilized programs like trolley cars, transit, covered bridges, hiking trails, earmarks, administrative overhead, streetscapes, flower planting, hiking and bicycle paths, museums, transportation enhancements, tourist attractions and archaeology."

I don’t think Heritage or anyone else is questioning the need for at least some of the initiatives identified above. The concern, a legitimate one, is where should the money come from. Interested to hear your perspective on this one?

Below is an explanation from Heritage about the requirement to divert funds, the 12 categories eligible for diversion and how one state has used its funding:  

Under current law, each state is required to devote 10 percent of the Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds it receives each year from the federal highway trust fund to eligible enhancement projects as defined in existing statutes. Under legislation extended by SAFETEA-LU (P.L. 109-59), fiscal year 2012 spending authorizations for the STP will total $9.3 billion, implying that enhancement spending would then total $930 million that year.

According to current law, enhancement program spending must be limited to the following 12 purposes:

  • Provision of facilities for pedestrians and bicycles;

  • Provision of safety and educational activities for pedestrians and bicyclists;

  • Acquisition of scenic easements and scenic or historic sites (including historic battlefields);

  • Scenic or historic highway programs (including the provision of tourist and welcome center facilities);

  • Landscaping and other scenic beautification;

  • Historic preservation;

  • Rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities;

  • Preservation of abandoned railway corridors;

  • Inventory, control, and removal of outdoor advertising;

  • Archaeological planning and research;

  • Environmental mitigation; and

  • Establishment of transportation museums. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation provides detailed information on its enhancement projects, and its annual list illustrates just how silly the program can get, as measured by the misspending on approved projects using scarce federal transportation dollars. Among the 82 approved projects costing $30.2 million for FY 2012 are the restoration of the historic Bull Mill in Scott County, a hiking trail on an abandoned rail bed in Buchanan County, renovation of a former rail passenger waiting area in Danville, renovation of the LaCrosse Hotel, restoration of the Assateague and Cape Henry lighthouses, construction of a pilot schooner for a Norfolk museum, smartphone-based battlefield tours, and gateway signs to various Virginia wine regions.


Hoosier Leading Effort to Enhance Regional Identities

When asked, most Americans are likely to define themselves more as a product of their state or city. For example: "I’m from Indiana and I’m a Hoosier." "I’m from Brooklyn and I’m a New Yorker." "I’m from Boston and I’m a Bostonian." "I’m from Melmac and I eat cats." (That last one would be, of course, "Alf" — aka Gordon Shumway.)

But President Obama has enlisted his Asst. Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development (and former Bloomington Mayor) John Fernandez to get the nation to consider its regional identity and success (as opposed to that of states or cities) when competing for economic development projects.

Stateline asked Fernandez how hard it will be to persuade states, which are used to competing against each other, to think in terms of collaborating regions even when those regions cross state lines. He was realistic about the difficulty of changing the culture, both at his appearance before the group of legislators April 9 in Washington and in a  speech in Chicago in January.

“It’s a new way to keep score,” he says. “In the past, there was only one metric that mattered: the number of jobs created in my town [or state]. If you created a job, it had to be in your backyard to score points.”

“We need a new way to measure success,” he says. “If the city next door creates 1,000 jobs, it doesn’t mean you lost—it means the region won.  Jobs are not the only number. We need to rate our elected officials not just by the jobs they bring in today but by the jobs they make possible tomorrow.”

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty are keeping score the old way. The leaders of a region that overlaps three jurisdictions are demonstrating right in Obama’s backyard the difficulty of changing the one metric that matters, especially in an election year: job creation.

Northrop Grumman, the giant defense contractor, is planning to move its corporate headquarters from Los Angeles to the Washington area, and that has touched off a brawl among O’Malley and Fenty, both Democrats, and McDonnell, a Republican. Each jurisdiction wants Northrop Grumman’s high-paying jobs, and has offered the company millions of dollars in tax breaks so executives will choose them. O’Malley and Fenty are seeking re-election later this year; McDonnell was elected in November on a job-creation platform. (According to the Washington Post, Northrop Grumman has eliminated D.C. from contention.)

Civic Education: Teacher Denied Paid Leave to Serve in Legislature

A Virginia school teacher is running to become a state legislator. However, his superintendent has notified him that he would not be receiving paid leave for the two-month session. So now it’s up to the school board to determine if he’ll receive unpaid leave (should he win):

House District 20 Republican candidate Dickie Bell has been told he will not be granted paid leave from his Augusta County teaching position to serve in the General Assembly should he be elected.

Bell said he would accept an unpaid leave and that is what he requested, but was told by letter by Superintendent Gary McQuain last week that a paid leave would not be granted for the two-month session that starts in January 2010.

If he wins the House 20 race against Democrat Erik Curren in November, Bell has asked to speak to the Augusta County School Board at its Nov. 5 meeting. The meeting is two days after the election.

Should the school board not agree to an unpaid leave for 39 school days in 2010, Bell has said he would have to consider “retiring or resigning’’ as a teacher. Bell said he plans to serve as a delegate if elected.

Both political experts and elected officials say Virginia’s part-time citizen legislature has great benefits, because it keeps representatives closer to their constituents.

But the experts say the entry to the legislature is often limited to those who have the resources and flexibility to do it.

So, harkening back to Monday Night Football games of my youth, let’s try a quick game of "You Make the Call!" Is this an appropriate example of a school district attempting to save money, or a blatant lack of judgment in not encouraging a teacher to perform a civic duty (and serve as a positive role model for America’s youth)? Or is unpaid leave appropriate here as he’d be earning a legislator’s stipend? Interested in your thoughts.