Rossi and Gregoire differ on local UW

Remember when politicians around here couldn’t stop talking about a proposed four-year college in Snohomish County?

This campus will fly the flag of the University of Washington and graduate the next generation of scientists and engineers, they crowed.

Boosters excitedly prepared to paint “Coming Soon” billboards in purple and gold as soon as those legislators came to consensus on where to build.

They’re still waiting, paint brushes in hand as those dickering lawmakers try to end their stalemate on selecting a location for the UW branch campus.

Conversations under way may produce agreement next month.

Even then, none of the lawmakers involved presumes next year’s Legislature will be quick to provide money for this higher education endeavor. They will surely need the next governor’s help in pouring the political foundation for the institution.

Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and “Prefers G.O.P. Party” challenger Dino Rossi may not respond with the same amount of gubernatorial muscle.

Gregoire’s support of the college is unquestioned. Getting it open is a priority and seeing the effort stalled a disappointment.

In 2005, she approved a $500,000 study that showed student demand exists for a new university.

In 2007, she agreed to spend $4 million on finding a site and deciding what classes to teach. There was money to start classes at a temporary site — if a permanent home was selected.

It wasn’t. Area legislators have been deadlocked for a year on whether to build in Everett or Marysville. As a result, no classes and no money as the Legislature took back nearly $3 million in unspent dough.

Gregoire could have picked a site to try to force an end to the stalemate. She didn’t. Though she’s been criticized by a few in Everett, she insists unity among communities and their leaders is crucial for securing funds from the Legislature and for the college’s future success.

She’ll be pressed to intercede if problems persist.

“I am trying to let the process take its course. If they start to fail, I’m ready to come in,” she said.

Rossi’s approach is that of a cautious investor eyeing a potential deal.

His backing for the college is conditioned. He wants proof there is enough demand from students. And he wants calculations of how taxpayers will be served and the state will benefit from a new university.

“What’s in the best interests of the taxpayers,” he said. “In tough times that we’re in right now, that is the prism we need to be looking through.

“Is (the college) going to help move the economy forward or is it going to move it backwards? Is it going to help create jobs or not? What is it really going to do on the ground?” he said.

Rossi insisted choosing a site wouldn’t be a stumbling block.

He said he would gather all the information he can, speak with interested parties and decide where it should be built.

“Then it’s my job to sell it to the public,” he said.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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