OLYMPIAWhen a group of about 50 Spokane-area government, business, and academic leaders united in this bustling capital city last week to lobby for a host of Spokane priorities, the loudest and most united pitch came for the Inland Northwest Technology Education Center (INTEC).
At nearly a dozen briefings attended by Spokane Regional and Spokane Valley chambers of commerce members as part of an annual joint legislative trip, cell phones rang and notes were passed, many of them by INTEC supporters strategizing and scrambling to set up appointments with legislators. Their effortand the efforts of the delegation as a wholewere noticed.
I know of no other organization that puts together a group of such size and diversity. I want to thank you for coming, said Rep. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor.
INTEC, which is seeking $3.3 million from the Legislature, is a young education and training program that aims to provide quick, market-driven training focused on the telecommunications, biotechnology, and information-technology industries.
The Spokane group also championed:
Funding for Eastern Washington Universitys Cheney Hall technology project, for another academic building at the Riverpoint Higher Education Park, and for Mirabeau Point in the Spokane Valley.
Operational funding for the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute (SIRTI) and a biotechnology initiative proposed by Washington State University at Spokane.
Funding for the north-south freeway, more widening of Interstate 90 in the Valley, and construction of a road-rail grade separation throughout the Valley.
Some type of tax-increment financing.
The group kept up its enthusiasm despite a grueling two-day schedule that began with check-in at Spokane International Airport at 5:30 a.m. and concluded with touchdown back in Spokane at 8 oclock the next night.
To ensure that they would hit the ground running, four INTEC advocates traveled to Olympia a day ahead of the rest of the Spokane delegation to buttonhole legislators and members of Gov. Gary Lockes staff. The four, Community Colleges of Spokane Chancellor Charles Taylor; Kim Pearman-Gillman, a senior vice president at Avista Development; Lewis Rumpler, INTECs industry sector specialist; and Bill Kalivas, a senior account manager with Cisco Systems Inc., joined the Spokane group halfway through its first briefing session. Following that session, the group showed just how much the Spokane business community has come to support INTEC by swarming Taylor and Pearman-Gillman to hear how the effort to gain legislative support was going.
Taylor said INTEC had been well-received so far by legislators, but admitted that hurdles to funding remainnamely the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, both of which work on operating budgets for the next biennium.
Locke left INTEC out of his budget proposal, but when he addressed the Spokane delegation in a meeting room in the Olympia WestCoast Hotel last week, he discussed a need for the state to increase technical training at the higher-education level. He said higher education needs to offer short-term courses that are adaptive and flexible to fit peoples schedulesa role that INTEC hopes to fill.
During the first day of the trip, most of the delegations meetings were held at the hotel, concluding with a buffet reception for legislators from 6 to 8 p.m. The next morning at 6:45, the group met with Spokane-area legislators for breakfast, then spent most of the day in a legislative building adjacent to the capitol, attending additional briefings and lobbying for individual initiatives. For the most part, delegation members stuck together as legislators and other officials came to talk to them, but INTECs key supporters left periodically for sessions with lawmakers, and other delegation members came and went at times to deal with other matters.
The fervor for INTEC never let up during the trip. Pearman-Gillman, Rumpler, and Roger Ingbretsen, of Itron Inc., met with legislators up until the last momentand ended up running to the Horizon Air gate at Sea-Tac airport to catch the flight.
Similarly, a bus that took the Spokane delegation from the hotel to the airport was delayed briefly as the group waited for Rich Hadley, president of the Spokane Regional Chamber, and Don Barbieri, chairman and CEO of WestCoast Hospitality Corp. and the chambers chairman-elect, to return from a meeting with Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. As Hadley boarded the bus, he shook both fists in the air in triumph. He later described the meeting that he, Barbieri, and Spokane Mayor John Powers had with Brown as very positive and said it involved finding funding for INTEC.
INTEC had been mentioned by Brown, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and Seattle Rep. Helen Sommers, co-chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, when they addressed the entire Spokane delegation on the second day of the trip and answered questions about various budgeting issues.
I dont claim to know a lot about INTEC yet, but I was particularly interested in the one-page write-up I received about it, said Sommers. Thats the kind of partnership we need to promote.
Lack of available funds
Sommers also said, however, that shes afraid higher education will be in jeopardy when it comes to operational funding this year. The money just isnt there, she said.
Other legislators echoed warnings about the lack of available operating funds this year. Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Issaquah, received a chuckle from the Spokane group when he said he wanted to put a sign above his door that reads, Operator has no cash.
Sommers statements disheartened WSU-Spokane Dean Bill Gray, who said that he doesnt anticipate that WSUs Spokane campus will get much in operational funds for its biotechnology initiative, which would continue to provide a biotechnology-health sciences coordinator position at the campus to stimulate cooperative research projects.
Also due to the tight budget, its unclear whether SIRTI will receive the $3.96 million in operational funds that its seeking. Locke included the funds in his proposed budget, but Sharon Kophs, SIRTIs senior policy analyst, predicted that keeping the funding in the final operating budget will be a fightmuch like it is every year.
Gray says he expects, however, that WSU-Spokane will receive some funding from the capital budget this year to design another academic building that it plans to build at the Riverpoint Higher Education Park. More than $3 million was included in the governors budget for each of the university projectsthe WSU-Spokane academic building and EWUs Cheney Hall, which will house technology programs.
During a meeting with Sens. Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton, and Joseph Zarelli, R-Vancouver, both of whom also are on the Ways and Means Committee, CCSs Taylor stepped forward to emphasize the collaboration among the colleges and universities in the Spokane area. Showing that the schools can help one another out, he then made a presentation on the details of EWUs proposed Cheney Hall technology project on behalf of EWU President Stephen Jordan, who didnt make the trip.
Itrons Ingbretsen threw in on behalf of the private sector, also speaking in favor of the EWU project, saying he wanted to voice strong support from the business community. He said that the Cheney Hall project was not just a college-driven initiative, but one that benefited companies such as Itron, which has hired a number of employees out of the EWU programs.
The rubber also met the road for the Spokane delegation on transportation, which was the subject of a half-dozen meetings, and some alternative sessions were held on another legislative crisisenergy.
Delegation members walked away from the transportation meetings with a feeling of optimism that both the north-south freeway and the I-90 widening project would continue to receive fundingespecially since those projects received funds last biennium.
Transportation, like energy, ranks high on the priority lists of both Republicans and Democrats in Olympia this session. As a result of a report prepared by the Blue Ribbon Commission, several bills have been introduced to establish benchmarks, to improve efficiencies, and to raise more funds through a variety of taxes and fees. Many legislators believe that a revenue package likely will be presented to the public for a vote this fall.
Locke has told legislators that he wont let them leave this years session until a concrete plan has been put in place to deal with the worsening transportation crisis in the state. During his address to the Spokane delegation, Locke said theres less money available for transportation needs now than 10 years ago, but in the interim, the population in the state has grown, and its continuing to grow. He said that within the next 20 years, its expected that more than 2 million vehicles will be using Washington roads.
In addition to listening to the Spokane delegations requests for funding, Sen. Rossi asked the group what it thought needed to be done to move the Spokane economy forward. Barbieri immediately said that some type of tax-increment financing is one arrow the Spokane area is missing in its quiver.
At a later meeting, Farmers & Merchant Banks Frank Tombari asked Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane, whether he thought tax-increment financing might be approved this year.
West said the chances for passage this year are better than in years past. Im real hopeful that we can get something through.
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