Wash. House budget threatens Gorge funding
Money for commission that oversees scenic area would be eliminated
Friday, February 26, 2010
Southwest Washington legislators hope to come to the rescue of the Columbia River Gorge Commission after the House 2010-11 supplemental budget released Tuesday eliminated its funding.
The action came after a House bill that called for repealing the Columbia River Gorge Compact and cutting off funding for the bistate commission got bottled up in the House Rules Committee and never made it to the House floor.
But now, the House budget proposes to eliminate the commission’s funding anyway beginning July 1, except for the payment of one-time costs to buy out the commission’s office lease and cover unemployment benefits for the commission staff.
The cut would save the state about $300,000 between now and June 30, 2011.
The Senate budget pares just $14,000 from Washington’s share of the commission budget, leaving $872,000 for the full two-year budget cycle.
State Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said retaining that funding in the final budget is one of his top priorities.
“To my knowledge, everyone in the delegation supports this,” he said.
The Oregon Legislature also fully funded the commission in its 2010-11 supplemental budget.
Under the Columbia River Gorge Compact, ratified by both states in 1987, the commission’s budget and expenditures “shall be apportioned equally between the states.” That means if Washington refused to fund the commission’s operations, Oregon’s contribution would be nullified.
That’s not something the Washington Legislature can legally do, said Jill Arens, the commission’s executive director.
Arens said she understands that legislators “are all in a bad bind because of the budget deficit.” House members were looking at boards and commissions they could cut, mainly state commissions, she said.
But the Gorge Commission is different, Arens said.
“Because we’re a bistate commission, you can’t just walk away from that compact,” she said. “There is no termination clause in the compact. Congress set this scenic area up with the regulatory body of the Gorge Commission as a robust and effective” governing board.
“Without a commission, there really isn’t a way to implement the law in a consistent and coordinated way,” Arens said. “To defund it would be a breach of contract between the two states.”
The 13-member commission implements the management plan that regulates development in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The scenic area, established by Congress in 1986, covers 292,500 acres and stretches 85 miles across portions of six counties in Washington and Oregon, including a small portion of Clark County.
Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.