Patty in the News

Sammamish city leaders had the ear of arguably one of the 12 most important people in the country for an hour Aug. 17.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, on August recess, stopped by Sammamish City Hall to give her thoughts on the recent last-minute debt ceiling deal in Congress and her role as co-chair of a bipartisan “super-committee” of 12 representatives and senators tasked with cutting the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

Though spending is a bit of a dirty word in Washington these days, the senior senator spent much of the meeting listening to the wish list of city officials and Sammamish Chamber of Commerce members. Requests varied from federal grants for Town Center infrastructure, public transportation funding and Mayor Don Gerend’s seemingly dead on arrival request for a post office in Sammamish – a common complaint by Sammamish residents who tire of driving to Redmond or Issaquah.

The U.S. Postal Service is operating at a $8.5 billion annual loss and is poised to lay off up to a third of its work force and close hundreds of post offices around the country by 2015, but Murray was diplomatic.

“I’ve heard your request and it’s been passed on, but it’s a really challenging time,” Murray told the group.

Councilmembers praised Murray for her record of securing federal dollars for local projects, like the $813 million that is going to extend Sound Transit’s light rail line from downtown Seattle through Capitol Hill to the University of Washington. Deputy Mayor Tom Odell, a former Boeing executive, thanked the senator for her support of Boeing in recent military contracts.

Gerend and Odell emphasized how important the system of freeways in the area is to a commuting city like Sammamish and encouraged Murray to continue to push for funding of transportation projects on Interstate 90 and state Route 520.

“It’s hard to get back and forth (from the Eastside to Seattle),” Odell said. “I went to a ball game last night and it took me an hour to get across the lake.”

Murray also promised to have her staff look into whether Sammamish might qualify for grant money if they construct a potential community and aquatic center in a way that would allow it to be used as an emergency shelter following a natural disaster.

But with American markets volatile, Congressional approval ratings at microscopic levels and many experts fearing a double-dip recession, much of the meeting was spent discussing issues far larger than a Post Office or a freeway.

Congressional Republicans have been resolute in their opposition to Democratic plans to raise taxes on the wealthy or raise revenue by closing tax deductions; for their part, many Democrats have pledged to oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare.

Asked about the prospect of finding compromise after months of seemingly intractable debate, Murray said she was optimistic and said that changes to entitlement programs had to be on the table during negotiations.

“The whole time I’ve been back (in Washington State) I’ve been talking with people and I’ve not had anyone say ‘Don’t touch mine,’ which is reassuring to me,” Murray said. “I’m not drawing any lines in the sand and I’m asking other committee members not to as well.”

And though she’s being tasked with cutting the deficit while being known as a senator who is skilled at bringing home federal dollars for local projects, Murray said she and the rest of the committee members shouldn’t be “pigeonholed” based on their earlier actions.

“I’m asking the American people and pundits to give us some room, so that we can really rise to this challenge we’ve been given,” Murray said.

Sammamish councilmembers encouraged Murray to push for more of a long-term debt solution than the temporary measure that recently passed Congress, which punted most significant decisions to Murray’s committee.

Odell said he hoped Murray would push for the committee to find some solutions “on the revenue side of the equation” rather than just by cutting services. Councilwoman Nancy Whitten said she hoped the committee would be able to make changes to Social Security without completely privatizing it – she suggested raising the cap on taxable wages for the program, which currently sits at around $106,000.

Before leaving for her next appointment with constituents, the senator thanked Sammamish’s representatives for giving her a sense of how federal policies are playing out in her district.

“You’re at the end of the road,” she said. “What we do, you absorb in your streets and in your communities.”

- Sammamish Review