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Spokane to Lege: Finish the med school project

OLYMPIA -- Rain, snow and sleet is keeping postal carriers from completing some rounds in and around the capital, but it isn't deterring a delegation from Spokane from lobbying for key projects and issues with legislators.

A delegation of about 60 Spokane-area business and government leaders has been making the rounds for the last two days, getting briefings on capital, transportation and general budget conditions and an overview from the leaders of both parties in both chambers.

Rich Hadley, Greater Spokane Inc. president and chief executive officer, said the group's main emphasis this year, as it was last year, is securing state money for the Spokane medical school project  underway on the Riverpoint Campus. In meeting with the leaders of both chambers Capital Budget committees, the group made a push that the $35 million needed to complete the project, officially known as the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, which is scheduled to start accepting students in September 2013.

The project is in line with both parties' push for more jobs and improved infrastructure, Hadley said: "On both the Senate and House side, they are looking for projects transformational to the economy" for a bond issue that could be proposed later in the session. "The rest of the medical school project is likely to be in a program like that."

Budget negotiators are also looking for projects that are "shovel-ready", that is, they don't need extensive studies or engineering but can be built right away. The second half of the health sciences and medical school building would qualify because it's already under construction.

After extensive lobbying by Spokane officials and a push by the Spokane-area delegation, the Legislature agreed to put aside $35 million last year for the first half of the project, which wasn't on Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial capital projects list. There was an expectation, but no promise, that money to complete the building would be available when needed.

Since that time, the state's finances have dropped as the economy continues to stall, and competition for state money continues to be fierce. But that's been true since 2009, Hadley said

Also on the "wish list" for the Spokane contingent is more money for ongoing construction of the North Spokane corridor, support for aerospace jobs and training, and opposition to any cuts to levy equalization, a system by which the state sends money to poorer school districts to cut their funding disparity with districts that have higher property values.

The delegation managed to start their visit on Wednesday, when Olympia got about 12 inches of snow, and continued Thursday when it was covered by freezing rain. But the meetings with legislative leaders went off as scheduled and "they were very respectful of the fact that we're committed."

The group has a reception at the Governor's Mansion Thursday evening and a briefing from the state budget director Friday morning.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.