OLYMPIA — Those fighting to bring a University of Washington branch campus to Snohomish County suffered a setback Tuesday when a Senate committee bottled up legislation dealing with where to build the college.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee failed to act by a Tuesday deadline on competing bills to bring the university to Everett, Marysville or Lake Stevens, effectively killing them in the Senate this session.
“We are not going to jump into any kind of decision prematurely,” said the powerful chairwoman, Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton. “This is a decision we take very seriously and we don’t want to blow it.”
While she said she can wait until 2009 to decide on a site and classes, the launch of a college is still possible this session.
“It just makes it tougher,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett. “Nothing is impossible here.”
Sells is focused on pushing through a bill to establish the college in Everett.
Monday night, the House Appropriations Committee approved the legislation, House Bill 2548, on a 19-13 vote.
It is now one step from a vote of the full House. Success there is far from guaranteed because many members are unsure they want to make the commitment to what could, over time, be a $1 billion investment.
Should it pass, it would eventually wind up in Prentice’s committee and, she acknowledged, could suffer the same fate as did the other bills Tuesday.
She said there are questions to be answered on what is the right choice for the right program for the state. She said she wants to tour the sites and hear more discussion on the academic programs before deciding.
The Legislature allotted $4 million last year to search out possible sites and begin designing an academic program for a new branch campus. This year, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed spending $1.1 million on classes this year if a location is chosen.
Communities in Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties are divided on the question of where to build.
A consultant study that ranked Everett Station ahead of property in the Marysville-Smokey Point area has been criticized by leaders of those communities north of Everett. They say it contains inaccurate information, making the scoring that placed the Everett site on top incorrect.
Prentice held a public hearing Tuesday on each of three Senate bills dealing with siting. In the meeting, Arlington Mayor Margaret Larson delivered a letter to lawmakers asking them to reevaluate the scoring with updated information on the locations.
Afterward, Larson and others who signed the letter said they were glad Prentice will be deliberate in making a decision even though it may result in no college this year.
“If it means that ultimately we’re going to get a college in north Snohomish County then this is probably a better chance than what we were looking at before today,” Larson said.
Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall said the Senate panel inaction means “we don’t get anything, unfortunately. That was not our goal. Our goal was to get it in Snohomish County and get it moving.”
Joel Hylback of Mount Vernon said the Legislature can still make a decision if it wants. Rescoring the site analysis is not a lot of effort and the lawmakers could then move forward, if they choose.
Sells said unfortunately too much energy is spent fighting about a location. He said the bigger obstacle has been figuring out how to pay for the building and operation of a college.
Lawmakers worried about the potential costs may view the turf battle as further reason to not make a decision this session, he said.
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, whose bill was one of those that died in the process Tuesday, said waiting until next year will provide the needed time to answer questions of place and financing.
“This session I think it’s not realistic. It is not dead. If you think I’m going to let this die, you’re kidding,” she vowed.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or email@example.com.