Local projects are worthy of state funding

The five local projects approved as part of the capital budget are a wise use of public money.

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All levels of government -- from local to federal -- must be extremely careful how our tax dollars are spent.

But that doesn't mean government shouldn't spend money on anything. It just means government officials must target needed projects if -- and only if -- money is available to fund them.

The Washington state Legislature seems to have done that in its approval of five local projects to be funded from the capital budget. Now, we concede we tend to see the projects as worthy because they are in our backyard, but then again we understand the need and the impact they will have.

And so do the state legislators who represent us. This is why Sen. Mike Hewitt, Rep. Maureen Walsh and Rep. Terry Nealey worked to gain approval for the projects. If these projects were boondoggles we would expect -- based on their history of fiscal responsibility -- they would oppose them.

"We were very fortunate in the capital budget," Nealey said. "We felt very good about what we were able to get out of the budget."

The local projects funded from the $1 billion capital budget were the Walla Walla State Veterans Home at the VA Medical Center ($14.4 million), Southeast Area Technical Skills Center at Walla Walla Community College ($10.35 million), an alternative energy training and innovation center involving WWCC ($3.67 million), Railex warehouse infrastructure near Burbank ($2.75 million) and the city of Walla Walla 13th Avenue stormwater project ($290,000).

We have strongly advocated for the skills center and nursing home in the past.

The skills center will be a branch campus of the Tri-Tech Skills Center of the Kennewick School District and serve Walla Walla public high school students. This center will give students options who are interested in various trade. Training workers is good for the state and local economy.

The nursing home at the VA Medical Center is a key part of the upgrade at the federal facility that serves veterans throughout the region. It means veterans can get the medical services they earned closer to home.

The nursing home, a joint project of the state and federal governments, is expected to provide 93 permanent jobs in the community.

Some might wonder how the state can afford to spend $1 billion on capital projects when the Legislature has to scramble to fill a $1 billion hole in the state's operating budget.

This can be done because the state wisely sets money aside from tax collections and other sources specifically for long-term capital -- building -- projects. That money cannot be used for the day-to-day operations of state government no matter how dire the financial picture.

This benefits the public over the long term because it ensures the state can continue to move forward in improving the infrastructure. This means things get done that need to be done and it helps drive the economy in a positive direction.

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