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UPDATE: House, Senate capital budgets fund Bates college building, trail; differ on Pierce County Skills Center

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 10, 2013 at 8:22 am with No Comments »
April 10, 2013 3:19 pm

REVISED 3:15 p.m. with House details.

Budgeters are offering to spend at least $23 million for a building to house communications technology programs at Bates Technical College’s Mohler campus in central Tacoma and $2.5 million for a pedestrian link between Ruston Way and Point Defiance Park.

Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside

Those are two Pierce County projects where the House and Senate capital-construction budgets line up. They would also devote state money to security cameras and fire alarms at the women’s prison in Purdy ($6.4 million in the Senate, $6 million in the House); a plant to clean up storm water in South Tacoma ($4 million in the Senate, $2 million in the House); storm water improvements in Puyallup ($2.2 million in the Senate, $1.5 million in the House); and projects at Tacoma’s Pantages Theater ($1 million in the Senate, $1.3 million in the House), the Tacoma Art Museum ($1 million in both) and Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park ($400,000 in both).

Those are all part of two plans for spending $3.6 billion released Tuesday by the Senate and Wednesday by the House.

Some differences: Senate Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford‘s plan has $1 million for facilities at Ashford County Park near Mount Rainier. The House plan authored by Democrat Hans Dunshee and Republican Judy Warnick has $500,000 for the renovation of People’s Pool at a community center in Tacoma’s Hilltop, and $1.2 million to buy land next to the planned Nisqually State Park near Eatonville.

Overall, the Senate plan offers less than the House on land projects, and an environmental coalition faulted it for bypassing some projects for others. Honeyford said he tried to steer clear of more land acquisition because of worries in Eastern Washington that too much land is being closed to development.

Lawmakers are complaining to Honeyford about a lack of funding for school districts’ technical skills centers, he said. They were left out of both former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget and the Senate plan, including a third building for the Pierce County Skills Center at a cost of nearly $12 million.

The House budget would spend $11.6 million on the Pierce County center in Frederickson and would also fund Spokane-area and Clark County centers.

Past capital budgets funded the first two buildings at the Frederickson center and the new one would house classes on culinary arts, hotel and restaurant management, financial services and medical assistance. Tom Seigel, superintendent of the Bethel School District and chairman of the governing board for the skills center, called the Senate omission “disheartening.”

“I don’t know what was really going on behind the scenes, but it’s really strange and its really contrary to the best interests of kids and, frankly, business,” Seigel said.

Pierce County lawmakers have backed the skills center and a member of the coalition running the Senate, Republican Sen. Randi Becker, has called it her top capital-budget priority, especially because her rural Pierce-Thurston district has no colleges. “I’m not going to take my foot off of that one no matter what,” she said at a meeting last month. She didn’t return a phone call Tuesday.

Honeyford sympathizes with lawmakers who want the centers. “I think they’re great,” he said of skills centers, “but at the same time I think the Legislature needs to set some parameters and guidelines.”

His budget calls for a study comparing different kinds of school settings including skills centers. Among other factors, he’s worried that skills centers can cost more to build and operate than other facilities.


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