OLYMPIA – A Spokane-area delegation on its annual pilgrimage to the state capital got a consistently downbeat message this week: Don’t expect money for new programs or projects.
"The message is being reinforced: There is no money," Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said. It's a message that comes as no surprise, but may good for some people to hear it repeated, she said..
With Washington state’s well-publicized budget woes, the message was expected, said Rich Hadley, president of the Greater Spokane Inc. which organized the trip.
“We’re trying to protect (what we have), to prevent damage from being done,” Hadley said during a break between presentations from leaders of both parties and both legislative houses.
The group of local government officials and business leaders want work to continue on the North Spokane corridor and higher education programs to keep pace at Riverpoint campus. They wonder about the talk of tax increases to close some of the $2.6 billion gap between projected revenues and programmed expenses.
The governor and legislators are talking about incentives to businesses to create jobs as a way to ease the recession, Hadley said, but at the same time could remove tax breaks designed to do the same thing: “One could run counter to the other.”
Public colleges and universities could lose some state money, but could get more “flexibility” to raise tuition, Sen. Rodney Tom, the Democrat who serves as vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee’s operating budget.
That didn’t sit well with Eastern Washington University President Rodolfo Arevalo.
“If you cut all the universities 20 percent, some universities can make up the difference by raising tuition and cannot. Mine cannot,” Arevolo said. EWU’s has more students from low and moderate income families who can’t afford a tuition hike, he said.
In the first week of a two-month session, the Legislature is still looking at several variations on which programs to cut and which taxes to raise. If the federal government provides enough stimulus money, the Legislature may not try a tax increase, but will still have to make major cuts to prepare for more lean years.
“It’s not a great session in many ways. The budget situation is still awfully bad,” Spokane Sen. Lisa Brown, the Senate majority leader, told the group Thursday.
On the plus side, there are opportunities to make changes in some legislation that doesn’t cost money, such as a proposal for a transportation benefit district the county and cities want, she said. “It’s early enough in the session that nothing’s gone too far awry.”