Making progress in a state of gloom

Auburn Reporter

By Mark Klaas

As discouraging as the state's sour economy and bleak fiscal forecast might be, first-year lawmakers representing Auburn and southeast King County remain cautiously optimistic that better days are ahead.

Amid all the program slashing and emotional spending debates, the Auburn area gained some measure of success from the latest Legislative session.

The late-hour passage of the capital budget left some room for Auburn-area projects. The budget was caught up in negotiations over legislation that would cap the state's debt limit.

"It was touch and go for a while there," said Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, who supported a 7-percent debt cap, which the Legislature approved in the waning hours of the special session. "We have to end the boom-and-bust cycle of government funding. When times are tough and the construction industry is in decline, that's when government needs to have resources ready to invest in infrastructure."

Fain, who represents the 47th Legislative District which includes Auburn, joined others to push through some much-needed work in the area.

"We had some good wins for Auburn," Fain said. "In a lean year, we were able to win some projects for the district."

Among the projects that will receive state funding are:

• Green River Gorge and Icy Creek Trail ($540,828). Controversy arose when some in the Legislature sought to break with the recommendations of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. Fain joined Redmond Sen. Andy Hill and Mercer Island Sen. Steve Litzow to support the WWRP process, ensuring funds for the Icy Creek Trail project.

• Green River Community College's science, math and technology building. "This aging facility is close to 40 years old and lacks many of the safety and instructional amenities students should expect," Fain said.

• M Street Southeast. The City of Auburn will receive $6.8 million from the state to continue the grade-separation project along M Street and the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe railway near Highway 18.

"Transportation infrastructure is the key to our local economy," Fain said. "Separating rail from car and pedestrian traffic will not only improve safety but also continue investments in freight mobility that aid our local manufacturing and warehousing companies."

• Levee funding. The Green River Valley cities had joined forces in calling for funds to shore up failing levees along the Green River. The state budget included an additional $4 million for capital construction, a necessary step to ensure the safety of area homes and businesses.

"With thousands of homes and businesses located in the valley and billions of dollars in economic activity generated here, there is no higher priority than protecting our communities from flood," Fain said.

Rep. Katrina Asay, R-Milton, who represents a chunk of King County in the 30th Legislative District, was generally pleased with her first go-around in Olympia.

Lawmakers made progress across party lines, Asay said, more so than the public realizes.

"There was a lot of bipartisan support. Almost everyone there is there for the right reason, in my opinion," Asay said. "They just want to work with people and make things better. They just have different ideas on what that actually is ... and how to get there."

Still, there is much division between parties, and more fighting looms on the Senate and House floors.

"There's plenty of that," Asay said. "(But) when it comes to getting stuff done, where the rubber meets the road, it amazed me how the majority party would come and talk to us and see how we could make this more powerful. They were willing to make concessions. ... I guess, that's how it is supposed to work."

Like Fain, Asay came away with some successful moments. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation into law to address a home burglary epidemic. She also made progress in her fight for fiscal responsibility and accountability in state government, as well as secure some fiscal relief for city government, her area of expertise.

But Asay wasn't supportive of the final state budget, which reflected a lopsided reduction in education spending. Other struggling programs also were unnecessarily supported, she said.

"By keeping those programs on life support, you're just prolonging the problems," she said. "There is going to come a time when they are going to have to say goodbye to some of these programs. The longer it's prolonged, the more pain it's going to cause."

The pain will continue unless Olympia finds a more permanent revenue source. And Asay, Fain and others are not supportive of an income tax to get there. More creativity, fresh ideas are needed.

"It's not going to be a magical answer that Olympia keeps thinking it will be," Asay said.

Fains understands more cuts might have to be made if projected revenues fall short.

"But the encouraging thing is we are working together," Fain said. "We kept the bipartisan working process alive. I am hopeful that the same working environment will continue in the future."