Gov. Chris Gregoire signed more than $1 billion in public works spending into law Monday, including money to refurbish state-run living quarters for the developmentally disabled that the governor had planned to veto until the last minute.
Bipartisan writers in the Legislature intended the public works projects as an economic stimulus that will jolt hiring in the hard-hit construction industry while also cleaning up polluted waters and building government facilities – including a $39 million health careers center at Tacoma Community College, where Gregoire signed the legislation.
The college will get a new home for its nursing, radiology, ultrasound and medical-office programs that it hopes to open by January 2014 after construction that could start this summer and employ 200 people.
The expanded labs will allow students to make more extensive use of dummy “patients” that provide hands-on experience.
“They have pulses, their eyes blink, they puke, they have babies, they can go into cardiac arrest,” said Dan Small, the college’s vice president for institutional advancement, before showing off the existing lab strewn with mannequins and their body parts. Best of all: “If they kill them in a simulated exercise, they’re not killing a real patient.”
REPRIEVE FOR RAINIER
Lawmakers pushed for $3 million for Rainier School improvements partly as a strategy to insulate the Buckley facility from closure.
“Once we start making financial commitments to Rainier then we will get the target off the back,” Auburn Sen. Pam Roach said.
But Gregoire, who reconsidered her initial decision to veto the project, said the work wouldn’t preclude eventually closing the facility, as she has proposed.
“They should be part of our community, not sitting in an institution,” she said of the developmentally disabled at the facility.
Gregoire hopes closing the facility is what a study due in December from a legislative task force will conclude. And she said she will veto $600,000 that was put into the state’s main budget for studying future uses of Rainier School, another attempt to keep it viable. She said there’s no need for a second study.
Lawmakers such as Roach, a Republican, and Rep. Chris Hurst, an Enumclaw Democrat, have pushed to keep the facility open and say families should have the choice of whether to keep their loved ones there.
Roach’s role as a toss-up vote this year in the narrowly divided Senate might have helped secure the money.
It started appearing in versions of the capital budget after March 2, when Republicans took over the Senate budget process with the bare minimum 25 votes, including three Democrats and Roach, who had been on the outs with Senate GOP leaders.
The work will pay for replacing banged-up doors and frames, floors and cabinets that have been warped by water leaks, and other worn parts of four to eight of the roughly two dozen cottage dormitories. The facility is home to more than 300 residents.
Lawmakers pass a capital-construction budget most years but this time had to get creative with financing to take on more debt at a time when traditional borrowing methods are limited by lower revenue.
At the demand of Republicans, they also paired the bonds and cash with a constitutional amendment that will gradually lower the state’s debt limit if voters approve it.
Sen. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Gig Harbor who was one of the lead authors of the spending plan, said it would spur an immediate 18,000 jobs and 8,000 more in the long term.
“The state should make strategic investments like these in tough economic times, and it can do so without creating an undue burden of debt,” Kilmer said.
Some of the projects could help crowded schools admit more students. TCC says its lottery system turns away about 700 qualified students a year from health programs and the new 70,000-square-foot facility will help.
It took three terms of applying before certified nursing assistant Alyssa Lynn of Tacoma was accepted into the program that will steer her toward becoming a registered nurse. “I actually started to apply out of state,” said Lynn, who has had the necessary prerequisites for a year.
The largest private gift ever received by the college, from retired developer H.C. “Joe” Harned, will pay to outfit the building’s labs with more of the patient simulators – guys like Bob, a $90,000 mannequin who can sweat, cry, even talk when simulation technician Fred Howard voices him through a microphone in a control room.
The larger labs will allow expansion of the most high-tech simulations to involve multiple patients.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics Twitter: @Jordan_Schrader
OTHER LOCAL PROJECTS
A few of the projects in the capital budget for Pierce County:
• $4.8 million to finish remodeling a building for the Pierce County Skills Center that will be used to teach aerospace machining and automotive technology classes.
• $5 million for soil remediation and development for a future University of Washington Tacoma project.
• $3.6 million for a clean water initiative by UWT and Washington State University Pierce County Extension.
• $2 million to replace asbestos-containing water mains in Gig Harbor.
• $75,000 for a historic heritage project in Wilkeson.
• $13 million for work at Voights Creek Hatchery in Orting.
• $7.2 million for work at Tacoma’s Point Ruston.
Jordan Schrader and Brad Shannon, staff writers