Eye On Olympia

Transportation budget: good or bad for Spokane...

You'd be hard-pressed to find a point of sharper disagreement among Inland Northwest lawmakers than the issue of whether the state transportation budget approved this morning by the House of Representatives is a good thing or a bad thing for Spokane.

Local Democrats Chris Marr and Alex Wood say it's a good thing indeed. In a year when virtually all new money was spent just trying to keep cost-surging projects on track, anything new was a victory, they say. And the budget includes an extra $2 million for the Geiger rail spur and $860,000 to start a new rail loading facility, both near Spokane. And budget writers set aside $99 million to keep up with inflation on the first phase of the North Spokane Corridor, aka the North-South Freeway.

"I came to Olympia to make sure nothing interfered with the progress of the North South Freeway, so today was a very satisfying day," Marr said in a victory-lap press release Saturday.

Across the aisle, however, Republicans blasted the budget Saturday. Rep. Lynn Schindler said Democratic leaders broke a 1993 promise to devote a certain slice of the sales tax -- a-tens-of-millions-of-dollars slice -- to the North Spokane Corridor. Instead, much of that money has been shifted to Puget Sound projects, she said.

"We didn't get any new money for the major project that we need it for," Schindler told fellow House members Saturday. "Somebody has to finally stand up and protest that we are not getting our fair share."

Spokane is increasing a donor county, she said, watching its gas-tax dollars pay for projects elsewhere in the state.

"It's about time that somebody stood up and said `Enough is enough,'" she said.

Seconding that was Rep. John Ahern, who said he voted for the budget only because of the rail money.

"Seattle gets the gold mine and we get the short end of the stick," he said.

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