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A Peek Ahead Points to Issues of ’11

Money matters - who has it, who doesn't - but it isn't all

The Columbian
Published:

“When a thing is done, it’s done. Don’t look back. Look forward to your next objective.”

— Gen. George C. Marshall

Marshall commanded the U.S. Army to victory in World War II, then engineered the plan to rebuild Europe in the war’s aftermath. Before all that, he was the commanding officer at Vancouver Barracks.

So we’ll take his advice.

We can’t actually predict the future (the power of the press isn’t what it used to be), but it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see a few issues that are likely to generate headlines in 2011.

In no particular order:

Casino

Public debate over a tribal casino proposed near La Center had quieted considerably in 2010.

Then, on Dec. 23, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs granted the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s application to establish a 152-acre reservation near Interstate 5 and build a casino on it.

Expect major reverberations in 2011.

Opponents have already threatened lawsuits challenging the BIA’s decision. The tribe’s Connecticut-based business partner, Mohegan Tribal Gaming, is straining under $2.1 billion in debt. And the news was unpopular in La Center, where taxes on the city’s four nontribal cardrooms account for about 75 percent of the city’s $4 million in general-fund revenue.

Yet the prospect of 4,400 construction jobs over two years may prompt some area politicians to reconsider their previous opposition to a $510 million casino-hotel complex — especially with Clark County’s state-high unemployment rate stuck at 13 percent.

Cut, cut, cut

School districts are likely to face deep cuts after this school year wraps up in June.

Times were tough, but the oft-criticized federal economic stimulus law of early 2009 provided a lifeline for school districts and states for the past two years. Now, that lifeline runs out.

Area school boards will be directing deep cuts when they write budgets for the 2011-12 school year.

Fee for service

Government will struggle to reshape the way it delivers services, potentially melding park departments in cities outside Vancouver.

As part of that reshaping, Vancouver residents can expect to see the city asking for money in one way or another.

With streets pockmarked by potholes, Vancouver is looking into forming a Transportation Benefit District that would increase car license fees in the city by $20. “We need to engage the community … and ultimately, we will need to talk to them about ways they can invest in their community,” said City Manager Eric Holmes.

New library

In one case, the community already did.

Fort Vancouver Regional Library voters who approved a $44 million construction bond issue in September 2006 — just before the economy began its steep nose dive — will see the final pay-off with the dedication of a gleaming four-story library at the corner of Evergreen Boulevard and C Street in Vancouver.

The $38 million building is due to open in mid-July, replacing the current 1960s-era Vancouver Community Library a few blocks away.

Light rail

Even though it’s the year between the mid-term and presidential elections, this November is likely to take on the complexion of a major campaign season.

Voters within C-Tran’s service territory will be asked to boost the sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent to pay for the cost of operating an extension of Portland’s light-rail transit system across a new Interstate 5 bridge.

The issue is likely to become a proxy for the entire $3.6 billion plan to replace the twin three-lane drawbridges across the Columbia River, improve five miles of freeway and extend light rail. Funding to construct the project would come from the states, the federal government and local money generated by bridge tolls.

Coal fight

Cowlitz County recently decided to permit a coal-exporting terminal in Longview, but the controversy that has ensued is likely to continue — and quite possibly spill over to Vancouver.

Coal mined in Wyoming and Montana already makes its way through Vancouver by train on its way to the state’s single major coal-burning plant in Centralia. The debate in Longview underscores concern by environmental groups that it’s not enough to clamp down on coal plants locally — coal exported and burned in China adds to greenhouse gases warming the entire globe.

Staff writers Erik Robinson, Howard Buck, Andrea Damewood, Marissa Harshman and Stephanie Rice contributed to this report.

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