Spokane groups seek funding, relief in upcoming state legislative session
Transportation, education requests here top $1 billionDecember 6th, 2012
The Washington Legislature will face big challenges in the 2013 session, including a court order to increase public school funding, new national health care mandates, putting together a transportation package, and recovering from revenue shortfalls, says Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated.
Meantime, entities here are preparing to submit their funding priorities, which total more than $1 billion, although most of that would be for multiyear transportation and capital projects.
GSI, the combined chamber of commerce and economic development agency here, is asking in its legislative agenda that the Legislature avoid burdening small businesses with higher taxes and increased regulations, Hadley says.
"As the Legislature faces decisions, we're saying be careful of adding additional regulations and putting additional expenses on small businesses," he says, asserting that such moves would slow economic recovery.
Hadley says the state should address projected deficits by encouraging economic development to increase revenues and by reducing spending, rather than through new taxes and fees.
During the upcoming session, the state will have to address provisions of Obamacare, which requires that state health insurance exchanges be in place by 2014. Under the concept, a health insurance exchange will ensure that participating private insurance carriers provide state-regulated and standardized health-care plans to individuals eligible for federal subsidies, regardless of pre-existing conditions.
GSI opposes policies that increase the costs to businesses for providing health-care coverage for its employees, and the group encourages the state to establish policies that promote an efficient, cost-effective system for employers and their employees, Hadley says.
Another key issue for the legislature will be funding basic education, which the state Supreme Court ruled early this year is inadequately funded. Under the court ruling, the state is required to meet adequate funding standards by 2018 and show annual progress toward meeting that goal until then.
"The state Legislature needs to be serious about K-12 education funding," Hadley says. "That will be a major discussion in this session."
Mark Anderson, Spokane Public Schools' associate superintendent, views the district's highest legislative priority as ensuring that the state progresses toward adequate funding.
While there's not much consensus yet on how to do that, two items identified in the state's definition of basic education appear to be in the forefront of funding reform, Anderson says. One is funding full-day kindergarten throughout the state, and the other is fully funding student transportation to and from schools, he says.
"Currently, the state only funds full-day kindergarten at schools that serve high-poverty neighborhoods," he says.
In the Spokane Public Schools district, that equates to 12 of its 34 elementary schools. Another $3.5 million would be needed from the state annually to fund full-day kindergarten at all of the district's elementary schools, says Linda McDermott, the district's executive finance director.
Spokane Public Schools currently spends $3 million to transport students to and from school, McDermott says.
"That's really a state obligation," Anderson says.
The school district also wants the state to protect levy equalization, a process through which the state augments funding to schools located in areas with below-average property assessments.
"That's been on and off the chopping block" for a number of years, Anderson says. "All Spokane County schools get some form of levy equalization. For us, that's $14 million a year that the state picks up."
The district also is requesting that the state restore salary allocations the Legislature reduced in 2011 and this year.
Last year, to keep from cutting teachers' pay, the district "backfilled" their salaries through a levy, at a cost of $2.2 million, while administrators took a pay cut, Anderson says.
Spokane Public Schools also has applied for $12.5 million in construction funding for its planned 36,000-square-foot NewTech Skills Center addition in Hillyard. The district hopes to expand its health-services curriculum and culinary arts program in the planned new space, which would be attached to the center at 4141 N. Regal.
In other priorities GSI supports, Washington State University is requesting $5 million in the state's biennial budget to continue to expand medical education and biomedical research on the Spokane campus and an allocation of $2 million to buy scientific instrumentation to support instruction and research.
WSU also is requesting $7.2 million to employ new faculty and staff at its School of Global Animal Health on its Pullman campus.
Eastern Washington University is requesting $4.5 million for the design of a new science building to increase capacity to meet the increased demand in science and engineering degrees. The total construction cost is estimated at $40 million, which would be requested in a future capital budget, Hadley says.
GSI and Community Colleges of Spokane are seeking funding support for growing enrollment in high-demand programs that would align workforce development through career placement and capital improvements at both the Spokane and Spokane Falls community college campuses.
The Spokane Valley Technical Creative Council is seeking $2.5 million to complete the second phase of construction at Spokane Valley Tech, which would include the addition of 19,000 square feet of instructional and program space to serve students in Spokane Valley and surrounding school districts.
Hadley says that the Legislature likely will work in the 2013 session on a major transportation funding package that would propose gas or vehicle-use taxes ultimately to be decided by voters.
GSI is requesting that any statewide transportation package include $750 million in funding to complete the North Spokane Corridor project from Francis Avenue on the north side to Interstate 90.
"This is our mega project," Hadley says. "The goal is to get it connected so the corridor begins to carry traffic and freight we've been planning on."
The North Spokane Corridor, also known as the north-south freeway, is the top priority of the Eastern Region of the Washington state Department of Transportation, says Al Gilson, spokesman for the department.
DOT also is looking to continue widening I-90 from Barker Road in Spokane Valley to Harvard Road in Liberty Lake, at an estimated cost of $85 million, Gilson says.
West of Spokane, DOT has identified needs to improve the Medical Lake and Geiger interchanges on I-90, both on the West Plains, at an estimated total cost of $40 million. The improvements would address current and anticipated growth and accommodate expansion of the aerospace industry there, Gilson says.
Also on the horizon, the department is looking to construct interchanges at Hatch and Meadow Lane roads on U.S. 195, both in the Latah Valley area, at a combined estimated cost of $75 million.
Other transportation priorities on various entities' wish lists include:
Securing $4 million for the city of Spokane Valley to complete funding needed for a $19.7 million project to replace the two-lane Sullivan Bridge spanning the Spokane River with a four-lane bridge, improving traffic flow in the industrial zone and accommodating pedestrian traffic.
Widening SR 904 to five lanes from two between Four Lakes and the city of Cheney at an estimated cost of $15 million to $18 million.
Spokane Transit Authority's request for $8 million in the 2013-15 biennium for the design and construction of a transit center with 100 parking stalls for bus and vanpool commuters near the Interstate 90-Medical Lake exit on the West Plains. STA also is seeking $500,000 for engineering and design of a proposed electric trolley system in central Spokane.
GSI is seeking further reforms in workers compensation and unemployment insurance to increase efficiency and reduce costs of both programs, Hadley says.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Washington State Historical Society and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is requesting general-fund support of $3 million over the next biennium to preserve, exhibit, and provide public access to materials of historical and cultural significance.
The city of Spokane is seeking legislative support of a renewable energy designation for electricity generated at Spokane's waste-to-energy facility.
The Spokane Public Facilities District, which operates the Spokane Convention Center, the INB Performing Arts Center, and the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, is seeking a 15-year extension of the state sales tax credit of 0.033 percent that was authorized by the Legislature in 2002.
Spokane Public Radio is requesting $1.5 million to renovate and construct new studios at Browne Street and Pacific Avenue.