A number of Spokane-area entities hope state legislators will advocate to sustain funding for many programs and projects here during the recently convened special legislative session called by Washington state Gov.
Christine Gregoire to balance the state's budget. More than $2 billion in spending cuts are on the table.
Entities here are requesting that the state maintain its current levels of funding for public education, both for kindergarten-through-12th grade and the state's higher education facilities. Gregoire has proposed reducing state funding for both by a combined total of $500 million.
For Greater Spokane Incorporated, looking also toward the regular legislative session that begins next month, the highest priority for newly allocated funding is Washington State University's planned $78 million Biomedical and Health Sciences Building on the Riverpoint campus, says GSI's President and CEO Rich Hadley.
"The top priority for us continues to be the biomedical building and getting the $35 million to complete the building," Hadley says. "We're hoping to get the balance to keep construction and jobs continuous and get us to the point of being able to house the medical and pharmacy programs there by 2013."
Other funding preservation requests outlined by Greater Spokane Incorporated in its 2012 legislative agenda involve the maintenance of state money allocated toward economic development and job creation in the Inland Northwest.
GSI's legislative agenda also includes a combined total of about $490 million in new funds to continue or start work on a number of sizable transportation projects in Eastern Washington. Those projects include continuation of work on the North Spokane Corridor and the widening of Interstate 90 between Spokane Valley and the Idaho state line.
The economic development agency also wants legislators to reduce expenses for Washington business owners, Hadley says.
"We continue to advocate for investing in creating jobs and business, and making improvements to unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, and reducing regulations as to standardized permitting," he says.
Hadley says GSI also continues to advocate for measures that might help leaders here convince Boeing Co. to locate new 737 jetliner production facilities on the West Plains.
He adds that Gov. Gregoire recently issued to the legislature a series of recommendations and proposed investments that are intended to help improve the likelihood that Boeing will select Washington as the location for those manufacturing operations.
Several issues that could affect publicly-funded education are to be discussed by legislators at the already convened special session and during the legislature's regular session, which starts Jan. 9.
One of the proposals made by Gregoire in an effort to balance the state's budget, if passed by legislators, significantly could reduce the amount of state funding allocated to Spokane Public Schools, says the district's Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson.
That proposal, he says, could reduce by up to 65 percent or more the amount that the state contributes in levy equalization assistance funds for school districts with average assessed property values that are lower than the state's overall assessed property value average, Anderson says.
In districts such as Spokane Public Schools and many others in Eastern Washington, the state makes up the difference in levy funding between what's collected from property taxes by each school district and what the funding would be if based on the state's assessed property value average, he says.
Anderson says that if a 65 percent cut to levy equalization assistance were to take place, the district here could stand to lose nearly $10 million in state funding each of those three years that then could be shifted to taxpayers in the district to make up.
While the district's bond measure passed in 2009 for capital facilities improvements also is funded by property taxes, school levies pay for public schools' educational programs, he says.
The hope, Anderson says, is that the legislature doesn't opt to reduce levy equalization by as much as the proposed 65 percent. He adds, though, that any reduction in support would be a blow to the district and its taxpayers.
Aside from Spokane Public Schools' concern regarding what could be a sizable reduction in levy equalization assistance, Anderson says the district also is worried it might not receive state match dollars for some of its upcoming capital projects, including improvements to Salk Middle School, and several elementary schools.
Other options being considered as potential reductions to state funding for public education include reducing the school year by four days, and cutting teacher's compensation for the fifth consecutive year, Anderson says.
Concerns also are being felt by regional higher education institutions, with Gregoire proposing a reduction in state funding for the state's public colleges and universities of between 13 percent and 17 percent.
"We've had cuts in the public part of our funding of 52 percent in the last three years, and that cost is shifted to families," says WSU Spokane spokeswoman Barb Chamberlain.
Chamberlain also echoes GSI's sentiments regarding the project that recently broke ground to construct WSU's new health sciences building.
"The other half of construction funding is critical to keep on track with the project," she says. "If we have to pause the project, that increases some costs because you have to remobilize everything."
She adds, "In addition to that, it's also what goes on in the building itself that has the larger long-term payback to the economybringing the pharmacy researchers from Pullman to be with the medical facility research."
Chamberlain says WSU also will be watching closely the legislature's decisions regarding aerospace industry expansion efforts here, including proposed state assistance to increase engineering degree offerings at WSU's Pullman and Vancouver campuses.
Eastern Washington University will be seeking a total of about $14 million for several projects, including funds needed to design a new instructional building to accommodate an increasing demand for science degree offerings there.
Community Colleges of Spokane, which oversees Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane Community College, and the Institute for Extended Learning, is asking that legislators allow it to manage its own budget cuts, as well as that the state maintain current funding levels for need grants and work study programs.
The Washington state Department of Transportation is seeking state funding for a number of sizable and ongoing projects, including the North Spokane Corridor, which is one of the highest priorities of the agency's Spokane office, says DOT spokesman Al Gilson.
An estimated $260 million is needed to complete the design and construction of a 3.5-mile section of the freeway from Francis Avenue to just north of the Spokane River, he says.
At this time, 5.7 miles of the north-south freeway mostly is complete between Farwell Road, in Mead, and just north of the Francis and Freya Street intersection.
The $260 million being sought by the DOT in the upcoming legislative session would fund four separate phases of work extending from Francis to the river.
The first upcoming leg of work is a $38 million project to construct a wider overpass for Francis where it crosses the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad tracks, which the freeway will parallel. Design work already is under way for that structure, and its construction will be funded using savings from lower-than-expected bids for earlier phases of the north-south freeway.
Not included in the current request is the roughly $1 billion in funding that currently is expected to be needed to build the interchanges to connect the North Spokane Corridor with Interstate 90.
Another high-priority project here that the DOT is seeking $85 million in state funding for is a continuing effort to reconstruct and widen I-90 between Sullivan Road in Spokane Valley and the Washington-Idaho state line.
Work on that project currently is under way between Sullivan and Barker roads as part of a $15 million contract. The DOT's new request would pay for the design and construction of the freeway's widening from two lanes to three lanes in each direction between Barker and Harvard roads. That phase of work also is planned to include a reconstruction of the I-90 and Harvard interchange in Liberty Lake.
Last year the DOT unsuccessfully sought the same amount of state funding for that project.
Another high-priority project in southwest Spokane that the state agency is hoping to receive funds for involves the design and construction of two interchanges on U.S. Highway 195 at its intersections with Hatch and Meadowlane roads. An estimated $71 million is needed to design and construct those interchanges, which are intended to improve safety along that stretch of the road.
Work on a third interchange, at U.S. 195 and Cheney-Spokane Road, for which the $11 million in needed state funding has been secured, is expected to begin in the spring, Gilson says.
Another high-priority mobility project seeking state funding and that's listed on GSI's legislative agenda is an about $46 million effort to improve the capacity of a section of the Sullivan Road corridor, between Wellesley and Indiana avenues in Spokane Valley, that largely is used by freight and industrial traffic.
The amount sought would include the replacement of the currently structurally deficient southbound Sullivan Road bridge, which crosses the Spokane River just north of the road's intersection with Indiana.
The city of Airway Heights is asking the state to provide $1.6 million to develop the first phase of a new city park facility to be called Aspen Grove.
Additionally, Spokane Public Radio is seeking $1.5 million in state dollars to create a new sustainable production facility in downtown Spokane. The organization unsuccessfully had sought the same amount of funding for that project last year.
Mobius Science Center is asking that the legislature maintain its previously committed state funds totaling $3.4 million for the remodel of its new 25,000-square-foot center downtown on the ground floor of a building at 809 W. Main, across from River Park Square. The new interactive science center is planned to open in the fall of 2012.
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is asking state legislators to equitably continue allocating Heritage Center Funds to the state's history museums and other historical facilities.
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