A more than $4 billion budget for capital projects in Washington has been taken hostage in a partisan fight over the permitting of wells in rural parts of the state.
This is unfortunate, and a sign that lawmaking in Olympia is slipping again into unnecessary partisanship.
If no construction budget is adopted at all, there will be delays or potentially a derailment of roughly 8,000 jobs that are created by the construction budget for small projects that really make a difference in communities, according to estimates by the governor’s Office of Financial Management for the first year of the new biennium that began July 1.
State lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-controlled House must look seriously at ways to move forward on both the construction budget and water issues. There is just a week left in their third special session.
Unfortunately, many Democrats want to just approve a capital budget and an interim solution to the water issue, but Republicans want first to see a permanent agreement that addresses local impacts of the state Supreme Court ruling in the water-use case known as Hirst.
Two weeks ago it looked as if the House was on the verge of dealing with both issues. House Bill 1075, the construction budget, passed by a resounding 92-1 margin in the House, and all Republican and Democratic representatives from districts touching Thurston County — the 22nd, 20th, 2nd and 35th — voted in favor of it.
At the time, Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, was helping to negotiate one tentative water rights agreement with key Senate members that provided a path forward. But Springer said a vote count showed too little support in the House Democratic Caucus, which had big concerns about tribal impacts.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said more recent offers of short term relief and further study are not enough.
In recent days, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic lawmakers have stepped up calls for a capital budget. They are right: It should be passed without strings attached.
But House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee also need to show commitment to helping rural areas respond to the rural water challenges.
Builders and some local governments complain that the court ruling in Hirst is freezing development in some areas or forcing property owners into costly studies before they can drill wells.
Springer said the tentative compromise created a way to help new well users by purchasing portions of existing water-right holders’ claims that were not being used.
Lawmakers should continue working for a solution that ensures there is enough water for new wells and that protects salmon runs precious to tribes. Schoesler says one House amendment to the capital budget would provide additional funds to help solve the problem.
Without a construction budget, the state budget office says more than a half-billion dollars of projects to keep up current state assets, including roof repairs and water-system repairs, would be delayed. Funds to match local school construction funds also go in limbo. And $163 million in federal matching funds are put at risk.
About $33 million of federal funds to replace antiquated National Guard armories in Olympia and Puyallup are put at risk. So are funds for grants assisting Olympia park projects, replacement of the Capitol Theater roof, rehabilitation work at the old Tumwater brew house and a few dozen other local projects.
Voters deserve better than this. The time for hostage-taking and delays is over.