OLYMPIA — A University of Washington branch campus will not open in Snohomish County this fall, but state lawmakers aren’t giving up on the idea.
Legislators are expected today to endorse spending $100,000 to try to resolve the feud between political and community leaders on where to build the college, a dispute blamed for dashing the dream.
The money is tucked into the proposed operating budget set for approval by the Democrat-controlled Legislature on this final scheduled day of their 2008 session.
Also today, lawmakers are set to ax $2.5 million from the capital budget inserted last year for the purpose of buying land for a campus and starting classes at an interim location.
The prospect of not securing a UW flag this year discouraged many of those deeply involved in pursuit of the university. They tried, with limited success, to find a sliver of silver lining.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said shortly after release of the two budgets.
“However, I hope that because we are continuing with the conversation (the college) is not dead,” he said. “We are further along than we were 10 years ago. They could have just killed it and they didn’t, thank God.”
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who pushed for money in the operating budget, said “these things take time. For anybody who had any questions, we’re going to answer them. We’re going to strengthen the proposal and we’re back next year.”
Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said: “Twas not to be.”
Scuffling on location dominated the 60-day session.
A $1 million study issued in November ranked acreage at Everett’s transit center slightly higher than an expanse of privately owned land in Smokey Point.
Dunshee and Sells pushed for Everett and worked with the city’s mayor and paid lobbyists to make it happen. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, wanted it in Marysville and got backing from other senators and lobbyists hired by the land owners.
While they battled each other’s legislative initiatives, the rest of the state’s lawmakers started getting cold feet. News of a cooling economy and tighter state budget dampened it further.
The $100,000 will go the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board to bring together “interested parties” of Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties to reach consensus on a single preferred site. The goal is to get a recommendation from the community by Dec. 1.
“This gives lawmakers time to continue the process and get people to get a decision,” Dunshee said.
Marty Brown, who is senior adviser to Gov. Chris Gregoire and who emceed several public meetings on the proposed college, said attaining unity on location is pivotal.
He’s hopeful it can happen. “I think the need for higher education in the area will overcome the divisions in the area,” he said.
Sells and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson didn’t sound as confident Thursday.
“I mean (the college) is still alive but you still have the same folks involved,” Sells said. “I think we need to rethink how we’re going to approach it, period.”
Stephanson questioned the role the education board could play given their lack of strong support for a new campus in 2006.
He said the city will continue its lobbying for Everett Station.
“I am committed to bringing it my community,” he said.
Haugen said Thursday she wasn’t disappointed by the failure to anchor the university somewhere. And she’s as committed as ever to keeping it out of Everett.
“Had we moved forward with that site, the people I represent would not have been served,” she said. “I don’t see it being gone in 2009. The need will be there and it will be even more. We’ll find a way to get resolution.”
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.