The year ahead promises to be a mix of hope and hard times in Snohomish County.
While the world awaits the Boeing Co’s. new 787 jetliner, which will move closer to the open market in 2009, thousands of county residents just want to hang on to their homes and wait out an anemic economy.
Enrollment is likely to increase at community colleges, where idled workers seek retraining. But so is tuition.
New public works projects will be proposed locally under a federal stimulus package aimed at creating jobs. Yet major state projects could be delayed because of a lack of money.
The WASL, a statewide exam given to elementary and secondary students, will be put to the test under a new state schools superintendent who wants an overhaul.
Amid all the belt tightening, many county residents are looking with keen interest at a leadership change at the top — the very top.
Cascade High School senior Carl Manhardt, 18, voted for the first time in November and will be in Washington, D.C., next month with dreams of witnessing the inauguration of Barack Obama.
He looks forward to it but knows the new president will rule a divided nation.
“The popular vote didn’t show the same picture that electoral (college) map did,” Manhardt said. “We are still a purple country. We are not red and we are not blue.” To Manhardt, that means Obama will need to take a moderate approach to solving the nation’s ills, a process that will start but not end in 2009. It doesn’t dampen his hope for the year ahead.
“Anyone who can bring new life to the American political system like he did gives me reason to be optimistic,” he said.
Here’s a peek ahead at what’s in store in 2009:
Money, or more accurately the lack of it, will dominate the 2009 legislative session.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and state lawmakers will be writing a new budget that has a projected $5.7 billion deficit.
Gregoire has already proposed spending less on education, health care, social services and pensions to cover more than half the shortfall.
Her plan, for example, will eliminate pay raises for teachers and state workers and lead to layoffs for up to 2,600 teachers and employees. Her proposed budget may mean colleges raise tuition, parks close and Washington’s poorest residents receive less aid.
The House of Representatives and the Senate will each craft their own version of a budget. Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers, will be doing most of the writing.
They will be pressed by constituents to ease the pain of cuts by coming up with new revenue through higher taxes or eliminating tax breaks. There is talk among some interest groups of asking voters to approve a statewide sales tax hike for schools.
The session begins Jan. 12 and is scheduled to run 105 days.
That may not be enough time given the budget challenge. Some lawmakers say at least one special session may be needed to forge agreement on a final spending plan.
The WASL could wilt in 2009.
The Washington Assessment of Student Learning, a series of statewide exams given to elementary through high school students, was once seen as a cornerstone to education reform and making schools more accountable. However, new state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn promised an overhaul during his campaign to defeat incumbent Terry Bergeson.
Lynnwood High School students can look forward to a exploring a new $99.8 campus next fall while construction crews will continue building a second large high school in Marysville that could open in the fall of 2010.
At the same time, two elementary schools could close in the Edmonds School District because of declining enrollment. The decision already has been made to close Woodway Elementary School and is pending on Evergreen Elementary School in Mountlake Terrace.
School boards can expect to face tough decisions on which programs to keep intact and which to trim. Gregoire’s proposed budget carves $406 million from elementary and secondary schools and saves another $360 million by not giving teachers pay raises.
Efforts to plant the flag of the University of Washington in Snohomish County will continue this year.
Lawmakers will seek legislation authorizing a state-funded college in the county in the future. The bill won’t set a start-up date or identify a location.
Others will try to lay the foundation for an independently run polytechnic university. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, is pushing a bill to let Snohomish County levy a tax to help build and operate the college.
More and more students will be able to stay close to home while earning bachelor’s degrees through the University Center of North Puget Sound, which offers classes and some diplomas from all six of the state’s public universities. Everett Community College will open a $49 million Gray Wolf Hall undergraduate center and is expanding agreements with universities that will offer classes in the new building.
The coming year is shaping up as a big one for transportation. The state is planning 15 road projects for Snohomish County, including the $27 million installation of concrete median barriers along I-5 in Marysville and Arlington.
The barriers will replace cable barriers on the northbound side of a 10-mile section of the freeway where eight people have died in cross-median crashes since 2000.
Cities in Snohomish County and Sound Transit also are busy preparing wish lists for the economic stimulus infrastructure package being promised by the incoming Obama administration. So far the lists include many road-improvement projects.
Resolution is expected on proposals by two airlines to provide passenger service at Paine Field.
Negotiations with Allegiant Air, based in Las Vegas, and Horizon Air of Seattle will begin in earnest after the first of the year, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said. The county owns and operates the airport.
The county is obligated by law to negotiate in good faith with any potential air carrier as long as the county receives federal funds for airport improvement. The county is not required, however, to pay for upgrades needed to provide air service.
“We want to make sure that any deal’s a fair deal,” Reardon said. “We have constituents and taxpayers who own that airport. I think we’ll know what’s going to happen within the coming year.”
A lack of money may force the state to slow down or postpone work on one key project in the county.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is proposing to delay widening Highway 522 from the Snohomish River to Monroe until 2015. Bids for the work, which includes replacing the bridge crossing the river, are now scheduled to be accepted in late 2009, with construction to begin in 2010.
Building of a 64-car Island Home-class ferry will continue next year and finish in 2010. It will be deployed on the Keystone-Port Townsend route, replacing the Steel Electric-class vessels pulled from the run in November 2007 and later retired.
This could be one of the last ferries the state builds for a while. Lawmakers and Gregoire will consider changing how the state ferry system is operated for the foreseeable future. Cutting service and constructing fewer boats are possibilities to offset a looming multibillion-dollar deficit.
Voters can expect a year of relative quiet compared with the noise, excitement and history of 2008.
No legislative seats or statewide offices are up for election. Expect an initiative or two to qualify for the ballot.
Mukilteo’s Tim Eyman will likely circulate petitions for something that aims to cut taxes. Meanwhile, educators, health care workers and liberal Democrats are talking about pursuing a statewide tax hike to avoid deep cuts in programs for students, the poor and the infirm.
In Snohomish County, a majority of the County Council is up for another term. Council members Dave Somers, John Koster and Dave Gossett now plan on seeking re-election.
Everett’s horizon in 2009 is busy with new buildings and major infrastructure investments.
In late March, the city is expected to open a new $8.4 million regional Animal Shelter near Langus Park on Smith Island. The current shelter will be demolished as part of a planned $500 million outdoor shopping mall and residential neighborhood known as the Everett Riverfront District.
OliverMcMillan, the San Diego developer that is spearheading that mixed-use project, expects it will spend the year getting permits so it can build on the former industrial site. The new development is slated to open in 2011.
In Marysville, the city plans to significantly expand its borders to bring in 2,846 acres and 20,000 residents. Cities get a tax break from the state for adding at least 10,000 residents at a time, and that tax break is set to expire in 2010.
Marysville also hopes to break ground on a new city hall in 2009 and will continue developing plans to spur redevelopment of the downtown and riverfront area.
Lake Stevens also could add to its population and take advantage of the tax break. The city has been analyzing an annexation of 10,000 residents on the southwest side of the lake and a decision is expected in January, city administrator Jan Berg said.
Snohomish wants to take better advantage of the Snohomish River coursing by its downtown, which now faces away from the water. The city in 2009 will look for ways to orient the downtown toward the river, particularly between Avenue D and Cady Park. It recently set up a blog on its Web site to invite public comment.
Herald writers David Chircop, Bill Sheets and Debra Smith contributed to this story.
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.