Our Voice: Thumbs up to prepaid tuition; down to handicapped-parking abusers

September 16, 2013 

Thumbs up to the state's Guaranteed Education Tuition program for returning to solvency.

A new financial analysis of the state's prepaid tuition program says GET improved its financial stability and should be able to cover all its obligations for many years into the future.

The report from State Actuary Matt Smith says he expects the program will return to fully funded status by 2018. The report said it is now 94 percent funded.

Last year, the actuary estimated the probability of insolvency for the program in the next 50 years at 1 percent, and the Legislature debated closing the program.

This year, that probability of insolvency has improved to 0.1 percent. Also this year, the cost of a GET unit won't increase for the first time in the program's 16-year history.

Washington's prepaid tuition program is a state-run 529 college savings plan. Investors are guaranteed they will be able to pay for an academic year of tuition and mandatory fees at the state's most expensive public college or university with 100 units.

This year, the cost of a unit is $172, which comes to $17,200 for a year of tuition and state mandated fees at the University of Washington or Washington State University.

It's an excellent way for young families to save for their children's college costs. Participants are betting that college tuition cost will rise fast enough to make that $17,200 for a year of tuition seem like a bargain.

For parents of infants, that's a safe bet. The older the child, the more parents need to look at the numbers.

The program's restored fiscal health is great news for middle-class families struggling to provide for their children.

Thumbs down to the abuse of handicapped parking placards.

In Portland's annual survey of about 9,000 downtown meters, about 1,000 vehicles had disabled placards in October 2012, a 72 percent increase in five years, according to The Associated Press.

In the core area of downtown, a third of the vehicles had placards.

Anyone with a placard who has tried to find a handicapped space at Costco or Columbia Center mall can testify that the trend isn't limited to Portland.

In many cities, it's a financial problem because drivers with placards can park for free and for as long as they want. Portland lost an estimated $2.4 million in meter revenue last year, the AP reported.

It's a problem for businesses because cars with placards stay camped in front of their stores for the entire business day.

A parking study in Los Angeles found that on one block in the financial district, placards consumed 80 percent of the total meter hours.

In the Tri-Cities, where metered parking isn't an issue, we're more concerned about the inconvenience to the severely handicapped who may not be able to find a parking spot.

The problem only will get worse as baby boomers get older. In California, the number of placards issued jumped 350 percent from 1990 to 2010.

If a disability limits your mobility, there's nothing wrong with obtaining a placard and using a parking space reserved for handicapped drivers.

But if it's no hardship to park farther away, even if you've been issued a placard, leave the spot for someone who really needs it.

The walk will do you good.

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