OLYMPIA – Trying to kick-start the state’s lagging economy, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday unveiled a $1.2 billion proposal that includes more than $90 million in buildings at Spokane-area colleges, repaving local highways, and $15 million more for the North Spokane Corridor.
“We can quickly create thousands of new jobs this year and next by accelerating nearly $1 billion in public works projects,” the governor said. The plan would “create a legacy of roads, schools and green-collar jobs to thrust our state firmly into the 21st century.”
Her proposal is one of at least three brewing in Olympia. All are designed to complement a federal economic stimulus plan from Congress and the Obama administration. House Democrats in Washington, D.C., on Thursday proposed an $825 billion plan that includes construction, support for schools and tax cuts for families and business. Parts of the federal plan, such as a $6 billion proposal to expand rural high-speed Internet access, mirror what Democrats in Olympia have been discussing.
“We’re trying to maximize the benefits,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “We don’t know for sure what the federal stimulus package is going to look like yet.”
Gregoire’s plan calls for $427 million in construction projects that she says could begin within a few months, if lawmakers approve. Many of these projects were first proposed by Gregoire in December, although in some cases she wants to speed up construction timelines.
She also wants to spend another $390 million on ready-to-go transportation projects.
The plan – plus the 1,400 state-funded transportation projects already under way – would create about 20,000 jobs over the next two years, the governor said.
About a third of the money – $400 million – would come from Washington’s $4 billion unemployment insurance trust fund, which Gregoire yesterday said is the healthiest in the country.
Unemployment checks currently top out at $541 a week; Gregoire wants to add $45 to that. She also wants to tap the unemployment fund to pay for “a temporary, across-the-board tax reduction” for employers.
Gregoire also wants to:
•Expand eligibility for training benefits, a stipend that unemployed people can get while learning new skills or going to school. The benefits now are typically available only to dislocated workers. Gregoire wants to allow such payments to workers with disabilities, veterans and low-income people.
•Expand the “shared work” program, which pays unemployment benefits to workers whose hours have been reduced, but who are still on the job. Brown said the Senate’s interested in that idea as well.
From Gregoire’s project list:
•$15 million to continue work on the North Spokane Corridor, including grading and bridge construction.
•$29 million to build a new chemistry and life science building at Spokane Falls Community College.
•$13.8 million to renovate and expand the SFCC music building.
•$9.7 million to renovate the Spokane Community College science building and reconfigure it for new health programs.
•$32 million to construct a new technical education building at Spokane Community College.
•$6.5 million for maintenance and improvement projects at Eastern Washington University’s Cheney campus. Among them: replacing roofs, upgrading steam lines and updating elevator machinery.
•$1.3 million to remove PCBs from contaminated land now owned by the city of Spokane.
•Millions of dollars to repave local sections of U.S. Highway 195, U.S. Highway 395 and U.S. Highway 2.