KENNEWICK — The November congressional election yielded the best of all possible worlds for the Tri-Cities, said Tim Peckinpaugh, a partner in K&L Gates.
The longtime lobbyist for the Tri-City Development Council talked to the Herald editorial board and at a breakfast meeting Wednesday in Richland.
But despite the clout that leaders representing the Tri-Cities will wield in Washington, D.C., federal projects that help drive the Tri-City economy will be looking at some challenging budget years, Peckinpaugh said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was re-elected and again will be No. 4 in Democratic leadership with the Democrats still in control. She will continue to serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where funding decisions are made.
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“Her seniority will continue to rise,” Peckinpaugh said.
With Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is well positioned, Peckinpaugh said. He’ll lead the House Natural Resources Committee, which will give him strong influence on federal land issues.
That will range from influence on such broad topics as federal irrigation issues and such narrow local interests as public access to Rattlesnake Mountain, where he’s pushed for.
Murray and Hastings have successfully worked for Hanford budgets to keep environmental cleanup on track in past years, but cutbacks in spending for DOE cleanup are expected in fiscal 2012, Peckinpaugh said.
Fiscal 2011 started last month, with budgets based on a continuing resolution that allows spending at 2010 levels.
That means at least for now, and possibly all year, Hanford won’t get the increases that were expected in the fiscal 2011 budget.
The proposed 2011 congressional budget included an increase of $50 million for the Hanford vitrification plant and an additional $50 million more than the Obama administration sought for other Hanford projects.
The fiscal 2012 budget is of more concern, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs. Unless some of Hanford’s $1.96 billion in economic stimulus money is carried over, that money will be spent and a 5 percent reduction in most federal spending is being discussed because of large federal deficits.
The House nuclear caucus led by Hastings will continue to be influential, Peckinpaugh said. It galvanizes those who represent DOE cleanup sites and their staffs to work as a team to nationally promote the importance of the cleanup program, he said.
Early retirement packages for Hanford workers remain a possibility as federal economic stimulus money is spent and additional positions it paid for are cut over the next year or so, Peckinpaugh said.
Retirement incentives would save DOE money, Petersen said. Workers with traditional retirement packages would be encouraged to retire before they qualify for higher retirement pay, and many new workers do not qualify for a traditional retirement package. In addition, Hanford could retain trained workers and eliminate the need to again train workers as more employees retire in the next few years.
DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland also could face some pressure as the federal budget is tightened, Peckinpaugh said.
It competes for much of its research money, but there could be less federal money available to compete for, said Carl Adrian, TRIDEC president.
The lab has built a diverse research portfolio, which should help it weather cuts in research areas that receive less federal money, Peckinpaugh said.
Peckinpaugh also discussed one of the nation’s major political changes, the rise of the tea party movement. The challenge for Republicans is to integrate tea party supporters and officials as part of the GOP team, he said.
“It is very potent politically,” he said. “Those who don’t acknowledge it do so at their peril.”
* Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.