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House budget good for schools

Thu., Feb. 21, 2008

OLYMPIA – Despite a lean budget year, the House of Representatives’ budget proposals unveiled Wednesday include millions of construction dollars for Spokane-area projects.

The main operating budget would spend an extra $287 million statewide over the current two-year spending level of $33 billion. Among lawmakers’ priorities: education, campus safety, long-term care and climate change.

The budget includes a nearly 5 percent raise for teachers, costing about $75 million. But it would suspend a planned expansion of all-day kindergarten at high-poverty schools, saving $16 million.

“The salary is basic education,” said Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. “The expansion of all-day kindergarten is not basic education.”

The budget leaves $750 million in savings, which Gov. Chris Gregoire said is too little in a softening economy. But budget writers said they were severely limited by recent news that they had $522 million less than expected to work with.

“Given that, it would have been sort of ridiculous to say we could save $1 billion,” as lawmakers originally hoped, Kessler said.

And “$750 million is not chump change,” added Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.

Republicans criticized the plan, saying Washington should be spending much less.

“This is an irresponsible approach that ignores economic realities, and I’m worried about what it will mean for families in the future,” said Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia. He and other Republicans cite nonpartisan budget writers’ predictions that the state will face a serious budget deficit in the coming years.

Locally, the House budget plan included:

•$1.1 million more for the Mobius science center.

•$1 million for a YWCA/YMCA facility in Spokane.

•$300,000 to repair and upgrade aging ski and snowboarding lodges on Mount Spokane.

•$500,000 for Greenacres Neighborhood Park.

•$100,000 for a proposed $10 million Armed Forces and Aerospace Museum. “We want to be able to give them the opportunity to go out and seek funding sources,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, vice chairman of the House construction-budget committee. “It’s important to a lot of folks at home.”

The plan also calls for:

•$2 million to start design work on a $83.5 million veterinary medical research building at Washington State University’s main campus in Pullman.

•$2.2 million for work on Ritzville’s wastewater treatment facility.

•More than $14 million to finish buying – and start repairing – the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad.

Of the railroad money, $2 million would complete the purchase of the line from a private owner, and $3.6 million would pay for rehabilitation work overseen by the state Department of Transportation. The bulk of the cash, about $8.6 million, would pay for rehabilitation work only after a local public entity takes over operation of the state-owned rail system.

When weighing local construction proposals, Ormsby said, House budget writers tried to focus on emergencies or on projects that would otherwise be missed opportunities.

“We were very clear that this was going to be an austere budget,” he said.

The Mount Spokane lodges, for example, are “crumbling” and are extremely popular. And he said lawmakers particularly liked the idea of pairing a new elementary school with the Greenacres park.

The House is expected to approve the budget proposal Friday, and the Senate will release its plan after that. Lawmakers are more than halfway through this year’s short 60-day legislative session.



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