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Inslee keeping open mind on Med School control

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s keeping an open mind about which state university should operate a medical school in Spokane, but he has no problem with the two school using state resources to make their case to the public.

Asked Thursday whether the University of Washington or Washington State University should run a new school to train physicians in Spokane, Inslee said other questions that are more important to answer first. Among them are the true need for additional doctors, the most cost-effective solution and the effects any new system would have on the current five-state consortium to train doctors that UW operates.

“I do not go into it with any preconceived notions,” Inslee said during a press conference that also discussed public school funding and the state’s economy. . . 

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Murray steers clear of med school controversy

SEATTLE – As she pushed for more graduate-level physician training in the region, Sen. Patty Murray did her best Wednesday to steer clear of the controversy over who should operate the fledgling medical school in Spokane.

Murray, who has introduced legislation to extend federal money for primary care residency programs, toured a south Seattle clinic that benefits from such a program. Specialists outnumber primary care and family doctors in America about 2-to-1, she was told, in part because specialists make more and have an easier time paying off the $250,000 in debts the average medical student has when finishing all training.

Washington could be short as many as 1,700 doctors by 2030, she said. The need for primary care physicians is already acute in poor urban neighborhoods like South Park, where she was visiting the Sea Mar Community Health Center, and rural areas.

Would that shortage be helped better by a second medical school in the state operated by Washington State University, or by having the Spokane-based school continue to be part of the control of the University of Washington's program, she was asked. . . 

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Inslee on Med School flap: We can work it out

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee downplayed any conflict between the state's two research universities over operations at the new joint medical school facility in Spokane, saying he wouldn't even call it a disagreement.

"I'm confident that we can find a way that Huskies and Cougars can work together on this," Inslee said during a press conference this afternoon.

As to whether the state would build a new, complete medical school in Spokane if the two universities can't come to an understanding, Inslee said that is "getting a thousand miles ahead of ourselves."

As reported in this morning's Spokesman-Review, Washington State University President Elson Floyd said the University of Washington is not sending enough second-year medical students to the new program at the Riverpoint campus in Spokane that the two are jointly operating. The school will have only 17 students for the 20 slots approved by the Legislature for a pilot program, and Floyd criticized UW for not recruiting enough students to fill the slots.

If UW won't cooperate, WSU will "plow our own way" and explore setting up its own four-year med school, Floyd said.

UW President Michael Young said only 17 students were interested in the Spokane program. To the suggestion that WSU would set up its own med school, Young said, "Good luck." Floyd doesn't understand how a med school is run.

Inslee said he talked to people about the med school when he was in Spokane over the weekend and "I'm confident in our ability to work through this."

Brown packs up for WSU-Spokane

Sen. Lisa Brown pauses while packing her office to take a phone call.

OLYMPIA – As she packed up the memorabilia from 20 years in the Legislature, Lisa Brown was preparing Thursday to take charge of a dream for Spokane that was even older.

In January, Brown will trade her role as Senate majority leader for the job of chancellor of the Washington State UniversitySpokane campus.

WSU President Elson Floyd informed some of Eastern Washington’s top political leaders Thursday afternoon that Brown, 56, was his choice to run the Riverpoint campus and its fledgling medical school – a school that she helped midwife by pushing key appropriations through the Legislature for projects like the Biomedical and Health Science Building now under construction.

“It’s going to be as challenging as being the leader of the Senate Democrats,” she said, although possibly with fewer cats to herd.

She’ll replace Brian Pitcher, who has served as WSU-Spokane chancellor since 2005. Pitcher, 63, will remain at WSU-Spokane in a “leadership role” and advise the university on its other urban campuses in the Tri-Cities and Vancouver, Floyd said.

Brown’s next job has been a subject of great speculation around the Capitol . . . 

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Brown to be WSU-Spokane chancellor

Sen. Lisa Brown will move from the leading Senate Democrats to leading the WSU-Spokane campus.

Brown was named chancellor of WSU-Spokane this afternoon by President Elson Floyd.

The Spokane Democrat did not seek re-election this year and retires in December after 20 years in the Legislature. During that time she worked to find state funding for the Riverpoint campus  just east of downtown Spokane, where WSU and Eastern Washington University share facilities with the community colleges, and Gonzaga and Whitworth universities also offer programs. 

The new anchor of the campus is a new medical school a collaboration between the Riverpoint institutions, the University of Washington and the program that trains physicians for Idaho, Alaska, Montana and Wyoming as well as Washington.

Spokane Med School on lists for big projects

OLYMPIA — The Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, a.k.a. the Spokane Med School building, is on lists in the House and Senate for big projects the state would do if the Legislature passes a major bond package.

The school is slated for $35 million on the House list of bonding projects released this morning by Rep. Hans Dunshee, the chairman of that chamber's Capital Budget Committee. A copy of the Senate list isn't as detailed, but the school is included in the $96 million that would go to four-year universities, a source confirmed.

Last year, the school got $35 million in the Capital Budget, which was enough for the first half of construction. Finishing the construction was the top priority for a group of Spokane area business and government leaders who lobbied legislators last week.

Being on both lists makes it more likely the med school would get the money if the bond program comes together. But there's a rub: This is not the standard Capital Budget supported by the General Fund. It's an attempt to pay for more projects by dipping into a series of special funds to sell bonds.

A coalition of unions, construction companies who employ union workers, church groups and progressive groups are pushing for a bond issue that will "jump start" the economy with more construction jobs to replace crumbling roads, bridges and water projects. But they want some $2 billion in projects, more than twice the amount in either the House or Senate proposals at this time.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, are cool to the idea of drawing down various funds for these bonds: We have a Capital Budget for infrastructure. They spent all their budget last year," House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said.

Spokane to Lege: Finish the med school project

OLYMPIA — Rain, snow and sleet is keeping postal carriers from completing some rounds in and around the capital, but it isn't deterring a delegation from Spokane from lobbying for key projects and issues with legislators.

A delegation of about 60 Spokane-area business and government leaders has been making the rounds for the last two days, getting briefings on capital, transportation and general budget conditions and an overview from the leaders of both parties in both chambers.

Rich Hadley, Greater Spokane Inc. president and chief executive officer, said the group's main emphasis this year, as it was last year, is securing state money for the Spokane medical school project  underway on the Riverpoint Campus. In meeting with the leaders of both chambers Capital Budget committees, the group made a push that the $35 million needed to complete the project, officially known as the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, which is scheduled to start accepting students in September 2013.

The project is in line with both parties' push for more jobs and improved infrastructure, Hadley said: "On both the Senate and House side, they are looking for projects transformational to the economy" for a bond issue that could be proposed later in the session. "The rest of the medical school project is likely to be in a program like that."

Budget negotiators are also looking for projects that are "shovel-ready", that is, they don't need extensive studies or engineering but can be built right away. The second half of the health sciences and medical school building would qualify because it's already under construction.

After extensive lobbying by Spokane officials and a push by the Spokane-area delegation, the Legislature agreed to put aside $35 million last year for the first half of the project, which wasn't on Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial capital projects list. There was an expectation, but no promise, that money to complete the building would be available when needed.

Since that time, the state's finances have dropped as the economy continues to stall, and competition for state money continues to be fierce. But that's been true since 2009, Hadley said

Also on the "wish list" for the Spokane contingent is more money for ongoing construction of the North Spokane corridor, support for aerospace jobs and training, and opposition to any cuts to levy equalization, a system by which the state sends money to poorer school districts to cut their funding disparity with districts that have higher property values.

The delegation managed to start their visit on Wednesday, when Olympia got about 12 inches of snow, and continued Thursday when it was covered by freezing rain. But the meetings with legislative leaders went off as scheduled and "they were very respectful of the fact that we're committed."

The group has a reception at the Governor's Mansion Thursday evening and a briefing from the state budget director Friday morning.

Spokane Med School will be in Capital Budget list out Wednesday

OLYMPIA – The state’s $2.8 billion Capital Budget will include $35 million to start construction on a new medical school in Spokane.
Legislative leaders announced Tuesday afternoon they have reached agreement on the Capital Budget and a contentious side issue involving limits to the amount of debt the state can take on.
The list of projects that will be covered by some $1.1 billion in bonds won’t be released until sometime this morning, but Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown confirmed the Washington State University Spokane Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Services Facility will be on that list.
“The pieces are coming together,” Brown, D-Spokane, said.
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Brown: Med School, other projects in jeopardy

OLYMPIA — A disagreement over how to set the state's debt limit could lead to billions in state projects, including the proposed Spokane Medical School, being delayed, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.

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WA Lege Day 18: Split the House districts?

OLYMPIA — Splitting the legislative districts in half, so that a different state representative is elected in each half, would  increase the contacts with constituents, the sponsor of the plan said.

But it would also cut in half each voter's representation in the House, and could result in a more narrow focus for each member, Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee argued.

"If you divide these districts in half, you increase your contact with your constituents," Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said of his proposal, HB 1092. But each representative would still have the needs of the large community in mind, he added.

"Spokane is after a building that would be in Riverpoint, but all their representatives are going to be for that building because of the economic benefit it would have," he said. "I would think you would care about your region.

Dunshee had just come from a meeting with about 90 business and government leaders from Spokane and the surrounding area, where he'd been asked about the $70.8 million building for a new medical school in Spokane. He told them the project couldn't get on the proposed Capital Budget without Republican help.

Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Bellingham, whose district adjoins Dunshee's, said he "took offense" with Dunshee referring during his presentation to some rural portions of the districts as "banjo areas".

"A little humor doesn't hurt anything," Dunshee replied. "I repsesnt more rural people than you do  now."

OFM: Spokane Med School not on list

OLYMPIA – A new medical school building in Spokane is not on the list of large construction projects being proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire for the next two years, a group of government and business leaders from Eastern Washington was told Wednesday.
Marty Brown, the state’s director of the Office of Financial Management, told Spokane-area residents in the capital on a lobbying trip that the proposed Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, with its $70.8 million price tag, was a good project that didn’t make the list for the proposed 2011-13 Capital Budget sent to the Legislature.
The governor’s long-term capital spending plan doesn’t have new money for a WSU-Spokane Health Sciences Building through the year 2021.
Community representatives said they were told the building came up number six on a list that took the top five. An analyst at OFM put it a different way: Because of the state’s decreased debt capacity, the state isn’t proposing money for any major projects in higher education above $40 million.
The Capital Budget is the source of money for major construction projects. Unlike the general fund operating budget, it relies on bond sales for the money to pay for its projects. But its size is tied to the operating budget and the state’s ability to repay the bonds.
Brian Pitcher, chancellor of WSU-Spokane, said he didn’t regard the news from OFM as a rejection of a Spokane med school, because Brown described it as a good project.  Rather, it’s a sign that local backers will need to work to build legislative support.
Rich Hadley, president of Greater Spokane Inc. which helped arrange the trip to Olympia for its chamber members and local government officials, said they will meet with legislators around the state to stress the need for more doctors to keep up with the state’s growing population.
Because the Capital Budget is typically approved near the end of a legislative session, supporters still have nearly three months to make their case.