TONASKET – Washington State Senator John Smith (R-Colville), running for election next month after being appointed to fill Sen. Bob Morton’s seat upon his retirement, visited the Tuesday, Sept. 24, Tonasket City Council meeting.
Smith, accompanied by his wife Dezarae, both shared his vision and discussed questions posed to him by the Tonasket council members and Mayor Patrick Plumb.
Smith gave a brief rundown of what occurred during this year’s legislative session, which he said was the third longest in state history. The highlight, he said, was adding $1.6 billion to public school funding without raising taxes.
“I’m just finishing a tour of all 28 school districts in the 7th District,” he said. “That’s been quite a road trip but I appreciate connecting with the superintendents, the principals and teachers and finding out just what the impacts were.
“If you want one conclusion that I’ve gotten from traveling to all of the districts and seeing all the schools, it’s that every (school) district in the 7th District is different. The idea that we’re going to propose one size fits all solutions is absurd. The best thing we can hope to do is to continue to increase funding while continuing to enhance local control.”
The mayor and council asked Smith about the city’s chronic issues with the state Department of Transportation and their inability to get long-promised work on US-97 through town completed.
“We’ve been promised for the last 10 years that it’s going to get fixed,” Plumb said. “Like ground down and reconstructed. Then we were told they’re just going to do a chip seal. … It would be really cool if the DOT would see us as a viable partner instead of just another mile of road. For small businesses in our community.”
Smith, who sits on the state’s transportation committee, said he had recently been on an aerial tour of US-97 from Yakima to the Canadian border with co-chair Sen. Curtis King.
“When you look at the I-5 corridor, for economic stability the state needs another north-south corridor.” Smith said. “The failure (last May) of the Skagit Bridge on I-5 shows just how fragile that corridor is, both strategically and economically.
“I believe it’s essential to begin looking at moving freight north and south on the east side of the state as well as the west side. … 395 (near the Idaho border) and 97 carry more freight than any other corridor between I-5 and the middle of North Dakota. It already is a key north-south corridor and we need to make sure the DOT doesn’t forget that.”
Smith said working to have US-97 declared a heavy haul corridor could get much-needed work moved up the priority list.
“One of the things about the distinction of being that kind of corridor is that it does automatically provide additional funding for upgrades, improvements, resurfacing and other things,” Smith said. “Honestly right now, it’s just talk. But we’ll never get anywhere if we don’t talk. It’s a big deal and a big concern to me.”
Smith said he would be willing to assist the city in its attempts to reach an agreement with the railroad regarding a crossing at the south end of Chief Tonasket Park that could provide safer access to the park
“And,” Plumb said, tongue-in-cheek, “if you happen to have $2 million for the swimming pool, that’d be pretty cool, too.”