Factions in Everett and Marysville competing for UW branch no closer to consensus

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers said little Wednesday after hearing about an unsuccessful attempt to find agreement on where a proposed university should be built in Snohomish County.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board tried last year to mediate among factions of legislators split on whether a proposed University of Washington branch campus should land in Everett or Marysville.

But it didn’t work, Don Bennett, the agency’s executive deputy director, told the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.

“The short story about the consensus effort is there is not a consensus,” summed up the panel chairman, Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.

No one addressed the committee other than Bennett.

The Legislature provided $100,000 to the Higher Education Coordinating Board to take on the role of mediator. The board hired Bill Wilkerson, who in turn spent 10 weeks trying to negotiate among leaders in Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties.

He prepared a brief report in December and that work is what Bennett shared with the committee.

Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, a committee member, pressed Bennett on what he thought the next steps should be in the process.

Bennett deferred.

“We tried to stay focused on the very narrow charge” to try to settle the dispute, he said.

Pursuit of a university is continuing, he said, through several different bills.

Legislation has been introduced in the House and the Senate to authorize a UW branch campus in the county — without specifying a location. As of Wednesday no hearing had been set for either bill.

Meanwhile, on Friday, two other pieces of legislation aimed at starting a college not linked to the UW will be discussed by the Senate higher education committee. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.

Senate Bill 5625, sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, is intended to secure in law that the state will one day launch a college in Snohomish County

It authorizes a four-year university without specifying it be a branch campus of any existing state-funded college. It also does not identify a site or set a date for classes to begin.

The second piece of legislation, Senate Bill 5106, seeks to establish an independent four-year polytechnic university.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, authored this bill to let the Snohomish County Council or voters increase the sale tax and use the money to build and operate the university. Council members could choose a location, and a board of directors appointed by them would run the college.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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