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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Olympia

Sen. Murray: Stimulus package was best Congress could do, but will take time to work…

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (Rich Roesler / The Spokesman-Review)
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (Rich Roesler / The Spokesman-Review)

The $787 billion economic stimulus bill to be signed tomorrow by President Obama “is not the end of what we need to do,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said Monday.

She said the package, which includes billions for transportation, education, unemployment benefits and other help, was the best compromise on a controversial plan. But more remains to be done, she said, to shore up the banking industry and deal with the rapid increase in home foreclosures. Members of Congress have been warned that Obama's budget proposal, to be released soon, will be a tough budget “in terms of cutbacks,” she said.

Murray was in Olympia Monday, meeting with Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Speaker Frank Chopp and other state officials.

The plan will help state budget writers somewhat. It includes $2 billion in new money for Medicaid, $2 billion for cleanup work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, as well as $812 million in state stabilization money, most of it for education.

“That was a significant debate,” Murray said of the stabilization money. Key lawmakers, she said, were concerned about accountability over how that state money gets spent.

“There was a lot of concern among them about sending money out to the state that wasn't going to be accountable, and having, a year from now, midnight basketball thrown back at us if that's what the money was spent for,” she said.

And with the state wrestling with a budget shortfall estimated at at least $6 billion, Murray said that state lawmakers will still have tough choices to make. Lawmakers were clearly hoping for more state dollars, she said, but are grateful for the federal help nonetheless.

Some $500 million in new cash for the state's roads and bridges will be largely up to the state Department of Transportation and local transportation authorities to divide up, she said.

But Murray urged patience, saying the money will take time to work its way into the economy.
“I think my worst fear is people are going to think things are better next Friday,” she said. Some economists, she cautioned, say that the stimulus might not start turning around the economy until the end of the year.

“But the alternative of doing nothing,” she said, “we would see an impact almost immediately.

Short takes and breaking news from the Washington Legislature and the state capital.