OLYMPIA – After hanging in the balance for weeks, Washington State University’s top priority in Olympia this year got a green light Friday from key state lawmakers.
The start of it, at least.
After repeatedly refusing to allow the school to use $63 million of its trust-land interest to build a life sciences research lab in Pullman, House construction budget chairman Rep. Hans Dunshee on Friday agreed to start the project this year with $10 million in state bonds.
“They get to start it,” said Dunshee, D-Snohomish. He has agreed to amend his own construction budget – probably Tuesday – to include the money.
Dunshee was under pressure from the Senate, governor, WSU President V. Lane Rawlins and House Speaker Frank Chopp to greenlight the project, but dug in his heels. The interest money should be used for building maintenance, not new buildings, he said.
And there was lingering tension over an unusual WSU building request midway through the state’s previous two-year budget cycle.
“They don’t get to jump the line again,” said Dunshee. He said the $10 million will get the project started, with more money to follow in next year’s budget.
“I think he (Dunshee) wanted to make sure his point got across and I think it did,” said Rep. David Buri, R-Colfax. “This is a good fix. It gets us through an impasse.”
The university says the new lab is critical to attracting top-tier researchers, grants and graduate students for the fast-growing field of biosciences.
“We’re good with it,” WSU’s Larry Ganders said of the deal, as he sat in the gallery overlooking the House chambers Friday afternoon. “It looks like that’s as far as we’re going to be able to go this session.”
The $10 million, he said, will get the foundation built, and the pilings set.
“And the state won’t walk away from that,” Ganders said.
Until Friday, it looked very much like the project might not happen at all this year. Dunshee repeatedly rebuffed appeals from Buri and fellow Colfax Rep. Don Cox.
Cox – a retired Republican school superintendent who’s widely respected on both sides of the aisle in Olympia – tried in a committee meeting Wednesday to add the $63 million into the budget. He planned to try again Friday, then the deal was reached.
“It (the $10 million) is not exactly what we wanted,” Cox said. “But it’s the agreement that we worked out.”
“It’s a good day,” Buri said Friday evening. “With our building season, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the whole thing this year anyway.”
Cox and Buri both said that House Democrats – some of whom are WSU grads or have children at school there – didn’t relish a floor vote that forced them to choose between backing up Dunshee or supporting WSU.
“There’s a lot of Cougars over there,” said Buri, nodding toward the Democrats.