OLYMPIA – Finally, some good budget news out of Olympia.
State lawmakers on Wednesday proposed billions of dollars of construction spending over the next two years, including millions for local universities, community colleges, schools and other projects.
“Today we introduce a happy budget,” said state Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.
Both budgets are smaller than the last construction budgets lawmakers approved, back in 2007. That’s partly due to the soft economy and partly because lawmakers plan to use hundreds of millions of construction dollars to prop up the state’s battered operating budget.
Nonetheless, both the House and Senate plans include hundreds of millions for school construction and repairs and millions more for weatherization work, sewer and water projects, and numerous local community groups, such as $4.3 million for the YMCA/YWCA facility in central Spokane.
The $3.3 billion Senate budget is much more generous toward higher education, with tens of millions of dollars more for the Spokane region’s two four-year state universities.
Most of the money would come from bonds, meaning the state will pay off the debt in future years. Some would come from building fees paid by students.
While the Senate proposes adding classrooms and labs to colleges, it’s also proposing deep cuts in the same colleges’ operating budgets. That’s partly because the money comes from different sources: long-term debt for buildings and taxes for operating costs. But lawmakers said the plan also positions the colleges for a post-recession boom. As the economy improves, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said, schools will need those classrooms, labs and technological upgrades.
“We’re trying to build the economy of the future,” said Fraser.
Lawmakers also say their plans are expected to create – or save – 25,000 to 30,000 jobs.
Many local projects are in both plans. Among them:
•$29 million for a new chemistry and life sciences building at Spokane Falls Community College.
•$14 million to renovate SFCC’s music building.
•$10 million to renovate Spokane Community College’s Building 7.
•$32 million for a new SCC technical education building to house training programs such as welding, machining and hydraulics.
•$6.2 million to $10 million toward a new animal diagnostic and research lab at Washington State University.
•$1 million for water treatment at Airway Heights.
•$500,000 to restore historic features of the Spokane County Courthouse.
•$401,000 for the Emmanuel Family Life Center in Spokane.
•$79,000 for the Riverwalk Point community building.
•$40,000 for lighting at Colfax’s McDonald Park.
•$350,000 to replace the elevators in Spokane’s historic Masonic Temple building.
By far the biggest local recipients would be Washington State University and Eastern Washington University, and Spokane’s two community colleges. But the House and Senate proposals are very different in how they treat the four-year schools.
The Senate plan, which would spend more than $1 billion on higher education, includes money for several major new projects. At WSU, it includes: $4.3 million to start work on a biomedical building at the Riverpoint campus, $7.4 million toward a biomedical sciences building in Pullman, and $39 million for a new technology building at WSU’s Vancouver campus. At Eastern, the Senate plan calls for $28 million to renovate and expand Patterson Hall.
None of those is in the slimmer House plan, which instead focuses heavily on maintenance and repairs of existing buildings.
“My father always used to say it’s better to fix what you have than buy a new one,” said the House construction budget chairman, state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.
The House version would send far less money to both schools: $13 million for Eastern, compared with the Senate’s $51 million. At WSU, the House would spend $58 million, compared to the Senate’s $116 million.
Money earmarked for local community projects, typically at a lawmaker’s request, is dramatically lower in the $3 billion House version.
“This is a tough budget for tough times,” said state Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane.
The differences will be hashed out by lawmakers in the next few weeks.
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