Basic education ruling will affect issues Tri-Citians care about, official says

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldDecember 5, 2012 

A Washington State Supreme Court mandate to pay for basic education will affect other issues Tri-Citians care about this coming legislative session.

Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association, predicted this would be the focus of the upcoming state budget debate during the Tri-Ports meeting at Pasco's Red Lion on Tuesday.

Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, told port and public officials and business leaders that the estimated $1 billion hole in the state budget seems to change daily.

While the state has until 2018 to fully implement the court's decision, Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, said she expects to see it done in incremental stages.

Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, said she wants to see more bipartisan work this session. People want to see something done, she said.

She said the state needs to be careful with cuts made to the social services, especially decisions that affect the developmentally disabled.

Johnson told legislators the ports want to see Community Economic Revitalization Board funding, which helps to create jobs. The program does not have a permanent funding source, he said.

The money helped pay for the Pasco Processing Center, which added about $150 million to the tax rolls, said Jim Toomey, Port of Pasco executive director.

Larry Peterson, Port of Kennewick director of planning and development, said a rail loop project in Finley that received some of the money in 1994 is still helping to create jobs.

Diahann Howard, Port of Benton director of economic development and governmental affairs, said the port hopes for a $950,000 capital appropriation to help finish Prosser's Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center.

Lori Mattson, Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said businesses want to see legislators address the requirements of Initiative 937 that will cause utilities to buy renewable energy credits they don't need. That means the cost will be passed on to utilities' customers, she said.

And Dick Pratt, Washington State University Tri-Cities interim chancellor, said the university is hoping to avoid cuts. People with degrees from higher education are the ones getting jobs now, he said.

If no state cuts occur, WSU has pledged to not pass cost increases on to students, Pratt said.

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