U.S. 101 widening survives budget cuts

The U.S. Highway 101 widening project remains funded but that's about where the good news stops after last week's release of Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed 2009-2011 state budget.

"It's going to be a very brutal session and the budget will dominate all other news. There's so much on the chopping block, it's hard to wrap your mind around it, said Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, Dec. 19.

Kessler, along with Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represents the 24 District which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and one third of Grays Harbor County.

The 2009 Legislature's 105-day session begins Jan. 12 and is scheduled to adjourn on April 26.

Lawmakers will be writing a two-year state operating budget for July 2009-June 2011 as well as budgets for capital projects and transportation.

"I just got out of a budget meeting and we talked about how to get out by April 26. It will take a lot of discipline," Kessler said on Friday.

The House of Representatives will release its budget as soon as the Senate sends over its budget, she said.

"Then we'll pass ours and then negotiate a final one to send to the governor. This budget the governor released isn't our budget," Kessler said.

"The good news is the U.S. Highway 101 widening project is on time and in the budget. I wanted to make sure that didn't get left out," she said.

The $50 million project will widen 2.5 miles of U.S. Highway 101 to four lanes between Kitchen-Dick and Shore roads. It includes spending $19 million in the 2009-2011 biennium for preliminary engineering, environmental work and buying rights of way. Another $22 million is budgeted for 2011-2013 for the actual roadway widening, followed by $9 million in 2013-2015.

"I think everyone will be happy to know that money's still in there. The bad news is there's no money for the second ferry on the Port Townsend-Keystone route. There's just the 60-car one right now," Kessler said.

She's also asked the governor's office for a list of which of the state's 81 fish hatcheries are being proposed for closure, Kessler said.

Van De Wege agreed the upcoming session is going to be a tough one but also described the governor's budget that includes $2.5 billion in program cuts plus elimination of pay increases as rosier than it should have been.

"I think that was a mistake. She made it rosier than it needs to be. She should have cut more and not counted on any federal money. I don't want to give people false hope," he said.

"She created no new revenue by stopping tax breaks. She could have found something. I wish she would have some more of that. We're not going to cut school funding so Wall Street can make more money," Van De Wege said.

"The public doesn't grasp how tough a situation the state is in. There's only $4 billion in cuts now but it could be a whole lot worse," he said.

He also wants to talk with Hargrove (chairman of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee) about some of the proposed cuts in health and human services because some social programs work better than others, Van De Wege said.

"People should be excited that initiatives 728 and 732 will be funded at all. Even higher education could have been worse. K-12 was a 5-percent cut, which is not that bad," Van De Wege said.

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