April 20, 2009 in City, Region

Lawmakers OK bill funding U District improvements

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – Spokane’s University District and the area between Pullman and Moscow stand to get millions of dollars in improvements under a bill lawmakers approved Monday.

Senate Bill 5045 now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire to be signed into law.

The bill allows local governments to designate “revitalization areas.” It essentially recycles some tax dollars: Improvements spur economic growth, generating more taxes, which then are used to pay off the improvements.

The law allows work on public infrastructure such as roads, pedestrian bridges, landscaping, sidewalks and utilities.

The bill authorizes seven demonstration projects:

• A Spokane University District project, to get up to $250,000 a year.

• A Whitman County Pullman/Moscow corridor improvement project, up to $200,000 a year.

• Projects in University Place, Tacoma, Bremerton, Auburn and Vancouver.

Those dollars could be used to pay off long-term bonds, so it can pay for millions of dollars in work.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the money will help foster the University District, home to health care, education and research programs.

“The University District is sort of the centerpiece of our economic development strategy in Spokane,” Brown said.

The bill also establishes a process for other local governments to set up their own revitalization districts.

The plan is a form of tax increment financing, which is more widely used in other states. First approved by Washington lawmakers in 1982, the law triggered a lawsuit in 1995, when a Spokane property owner sued over plans to use a share of tax dollars to fund redevelopment of the area around Bernard Street. In 1995, the state Supreme Court vetoed the redevelopment plan, saying it wrongfully spent tax dollars intended for schools.

In 2001 and 2006, lawmakers approved modified versions that allowed some tax increment financing with new property taxes and a slice of the state sales tax. Several local areas have been set up, including ones in West Plains, Liberty Lake, Spokane and Medical Lake.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or at richr@spokesman.com. For more news from Olympia, please see www.eyeonolympia.com.


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