Senator Murray visits border, meets with mayors

Published on Thu, Mar 28, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Senator Murray visits border, meets with mayors

By Meg Olson

United States Senator Patty Murray was in Blaine Monday to talk about interconnected issues of border security, transportation improvements and how they tie into the health of the local economy.

�The bottom line is we need to get the economy back up and running,� Murray said to a gathering of Whatcom County mayors hosted at city hall by Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt. �Washington has the second highest unemployment rate after Oregon and Whatcom County has been one of the hardest hit areas.�

Murray said that her east coast counterparts had trouble seeing how the September 11 attacks could have such an impact across the country. �They don�t realize our economy is so dependent on getting goods and people back and forth across this border,� she said. Murray started her visit touring local border facilities and talking with customs, immigration, border patrol and national guard members. Cars at the Peace Arch crossing, backed up right out of the park, gave her a first hand view of the impact of limited border resources. Three of the facility�s eight lanes were open and Terrie LaPorte, president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce, missed the city hall meeting with Murray, waiting two and a half hours in line.

�We�ve been able to get more dollars but it will take time for that to get in place,� Murray said of additional manpower at the borders authorized by Congress. �We don�t want to stop people and commerce from moving back and forth. Just the few we don�t want.� Murray said her office was now focused on getting the NEXUS commuter lanes in place. �We�re really pushing them to get that up and running as soon as possible because we know how much these communities depend on it,� she said. The INS has said it hopes to have the system operational before July.

Sumas mayor Robert Bromley thanked Murray for working to get more funding for border personnel but urged her to use her position as chair of the Senate transportation committee to insure dollars kept flowing to allow infrastructure to catch up � from roads to higher capacity commercial inspection facilities. �Transportation is critical to how we develop,� agreed Bellingham mayor Mark Asmundson. �If we attend to our infrastructure needs, when the economy gets a little more robust we�ll roar back.�

�I can only get federal funds here with matching state funds,� Murray said. �I hope the voters do the right thing.� At the close of the state legislative session two weeks ago, legislators agreed to put an $8 billion transportation capital improvement plan up for voter approval in November. Funding for the transportation plan would come from a nine cent per gallon gas tax increase.

Each of the mayors brought their own community�s needs into the mix, Schugt using the occasion to get in a plug for a special appropriation in the federal budget to pay for a regional sewer system. �We have made it a priority for our office,� Murray said. �We will be putting it in as one of our requests.�

Murray added they should know in a matter of weeks whether the special appropriation was a go or not, but was cautious about it�s chances of success.

�I know you all have infrastructure needs, from sewers to roads to medical facilities. At the federal level right now, if it doesn�t say national security and war on terror, it�s hard to fund.�

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