OLYMPIA – A Spokane-area delegation on its annual pilgrimage to the state capital got a consistently downbeat message this week: Don’t expect money for new programs or projects.
“The message is being reinforced: There is no money,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said as she waited outside the marble-walled state reception room. It’s a message that comes as no surprise, but may be good for some people to hear repeated, she said.
With Washington state’s well-publicized budget woes, the message was expected, said Rich Hadley, president of Greater Spokane Incorporated, which organized the trip.
“We’re trying to protect (what we have) to prevent damage from being done,” Hadley said during a break between presentations from leaders of both parties and both legislative houses.
The group of more than 50 local government officials and business leaders want work to continue on the North Spokane corridor and higher education programs to keep pace at the Riverpoint campus. They wonder about the talk of tax increases to close some of the $2.6 billion gap between projected revenues and programmed expenses.
The governor and legislators are talking about incentives to businesses to create jobs as a way to ease the recession, Hadley said, but at the same time could remove tax breaks designed to do the same thing: “One could run counter to the other.”
Public colleges and universities could lose some state money, but could get more “flexibility” to raise tuition, said Sen. Rodney Tom, the Democrat who serves as vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
That didn’t sit well with Eastern Washington University President Rodolfo Arevalo.
“If you cut all the universities 20 percent, some universities can make up the difference by raising tuition and some cannot. Mine cannot,” Arevalo said. EWU has more students from low- and moderate-income families who can’t afford a tuition hike, he said.