UW north campus plans going nowhere
A looming shortfall plus bickering over a location have made action on a new Snohomish County branch campus unlikely in this legislative session.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Plans to build a University of Washington branch campus in Everett or elsewhere in Snohomish County appear all but dead for this legislative session.
Bickering among lawmakers over where a campus should be located has contributed to a stalemate in the Legislature. And a new forecast of a potential $2.4 billion state budget shortfall next year is making the idea less palatable for many.
"There's a pretty big train wreck in next year's biennial budget," said UW lobbyist Randy Hodgins. "There are a number of things which seem to be stacked against this little school — not the least of which is money."
Hodgins and others say it will be hard to justify building a new campus if universities around the state are facing cutbacks in other programs.
"Until everybody feels more comfortable about the long-term funding for higher education, it's going to be difficult," Hodgins said.
A recent study estimated it would cost up to $803 million to build a fully formed branch campus in Everett. Many assume that amount would rise to more than $1 billion by the time construction got under way.
Some lawmakers have questioned why the idea is even being considered when the UW branch campuses in Tacoma and Bothell have failed to live up to initial enrollment expectations.
In the Legislature, three separate bills promoting different locations for a UW north branch died last week after failing to make it out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. Also, the House voted to include just $100,000 to create an academic plan for a north campus, after Gov. Christine Gregoire had earlier proposed $1.1 million to begin classes in the north.
And a House bill authorizing an Everett branch campus failed to reach a vote by a Tuesday deadline. Bill sponsor Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, pointed out the bill technically remains alive because of the money allocated in the House budget.
But Dunshee, a leading proponent of a north campus, acknowledged that the bickering has hurt the chances of getting anything done. Last fall, consultants recommended a site in downtown Everett, but the communities of Marysville and Lake Stevens have continued to lobby for the campus.
"If we had been together, it would have helped," he said. "We'd be in a much stronger position."
Dunshee said he would continue to fight for a campus even if lawmakers fail to act this year: "It's not blown in the sense that we are done. We're not done," he said.
Deb Merle, the governor's higher-education policy adviser, said Gregoire is not going to push for the $1.1 million or any other money to be reinstated into the budget until lawmakers can at least decide on a location.
Merle said that while it's not looking hopeful for anything to be decided this session, it's too early to declare the idea of a branch campus dead because "there are a lot of people who care a lot about this."
People throughout Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties want to know how the Legislature will handle a growing population and an increasing demand for education, said Pat McClain, Everett's director of governmental affairs.
"How does the Legislature intend to provide greater access to students, whether it's here or elsewhere?" McClain said. "That is a very profound question to ask."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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