Legislature’s budget deals boost Whatcom County, Ericksen says

— $3 million for Alcoa worker training
— Finishes Guide Meridian Road project, builds Thornton Road overpass in Ferndale
— Toxics cleanup get priority, benefitting Bellingham Bay and Blaine Harbor

OLYMPIA – A final agreement in this year’s Legislature on the state operating budget invests $3 million in the survival of Alcoa’s Intalco Works at Ferndale.

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said the allocation for worker training demonstrates this year’s Legislature did right by Whatcom County. Lawmakers also approved a capital budget ensuring toxic waste cleanup is a top state priority, important for the continuation of projects in Bellingham Bay and Blaine Harbor. A transportation budget approved earlier this month provides money for two important area road projects.

“We did very well for Whatcom County and the state of Washington,” Ericksen said. “Obviously there were some things we needed to do to contain spending. But where we were able to address important needs, we did right by our corner of the state.”

Legislative budget negotiators revealed details of their session-ending budget deals Tuesday. New items this year include:

— $3 million for on-site worker training and skills enhancement training for Alcoa aluminum smelter workers whose jobs have been harmed by foreign trade.
— $40 million to finish improvements to Guide Meridian Road (Highway 539) between 2023 and 2027.
— $19 million to build a Thornton Road overpass in Ferndale, carrying traffic over BNSF railway tracks and connecting with the Portal Way roundabout. Work will get under way during the current biennium.
— Reprioritizing spending from the state’s hazardous substance tax so that toxic waste cleanup remains the state’s top priority, limiting delays and interruptions to cleanup projects statewide at a time when tax revenue has declined. Projects that benefit include Bellingham Bay and Blaine Harbor.

This was a supplemental budget year, meaning that lawmakers made relatively minor adjustments to the two-year budgets they adopted last year for 2015-17. New items in this year’s supplemental budgets were limited.

Lawmakers were forced into overtime by a House proposal for a budget that would have forced dramatic increases in short-term spending and would have used one-time money from the state’s rainy-day fund for ongoing expenses. Both would have set the state up for a tax increase next year. The final deal rejected those ideas, while addressing urgent needs for fire protection and mental health services.