Although we face huge money crisis, camp is vital for Naselle, county and stateThe scale of the fiscal disaster facing Washington state is becoming clearer. State Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, was quoted in the Willapa Harbor Herald last week saying "If we took all the funds from our higher education system - all our colleges - and all our correctional system, we would still have a deficit."

The state is projected to be at least $6 billion in the red when the Legislature convenes in January to chew on Washington's budget for the next two years. With job losses mounting and real estate values rolling backward, even this pessimistic estimate may prove to be overly sunny.

Like most states, Washington doesn't permit itself to run a deficit. And thanks to voter initiatives, raising taxes requires a 75 percent majority in the Legislature - an insurmountable obstacle even if a tax hike were advisable in the midst of a deep recession, which it isn't.

Based on discussions last week between President-elect Barack Obama and the nation's governors, it is certain the federal government will step into the breach to some extent. But whether such help will come in time to stave off harsh spending cuts is anybody's guess.

Washington's southwest corner has struggled economically for decades, often so far under Puget Sound's shadow as to be almost invisible. That has been changing in recent years, thanks to Gov. Chris Gregoire and a series of highly effective legislators that began with Sid Snyder and continues today with State Sen. Brian Hatfield, Rep. Dean Takko and Blake. That progress is now in question.

Pacific County's major state facility, Naselle Youth Camp, is at considerable risk. Although officials with the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration painted a rather positive picture of NYC's future when the Chinook Observer called asking for comments, the camp's superintendent was much more cautionary in a report sent to employees.

He stressed that it is not his agenda to see NYC closed and that such a decision is entirely up to the Legislature. We take him at his word.

But it would be naïve for Pacific County to overlook years of murmuring by JRA that appear to paint Naselle camp as more of an appendage than an asset. It faced a serious risk of closure the last time the state got into budget trouble, despite a long history of hard work and success by its students and employees alike. Meanwhile, much money has flowed to JRA's Green Hill School in Chehalis, which is suspiciously convenient to Olympia.

Local economic needs shouldn't ever be the sole driver of state facility decisions, but here we are speaking about one of the top five employers in a chronically depressed county, a facility that functions well.

Legislators and JRA should take every possible step to preserve Naselle Youth Camp, giving it all the resources it needs to prosper. Closing it, or cutting it anymore than it already has been, would be extremely shortsighted and destructive.

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