OLYMPIA – Negotiators representing all four legislative caucuses reached an agreement on Tuesday evening on a proposed $4 billion capital budget, which funds construction projects for schools, colleges, parks, and the environment around the state. Tens of thousands of jobs are at risk—and a construction season lost—if the budget is not approved by Thursday.
“The construction budget would build $1 billion in new public schools and create tens of thousands of jobs from Aberdeen to Spokane,” said Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Sequim), chair of the House Capital Budget Committee. “Those projects and jobs are especially important to families in timber and farm country, which doesn’t have the infrastructure and white-hot economy of the Seattle-Everett-Tacoma core. This budget builds that infrastructure—schools and colleges, dental clinics and mental health facilities, early learning and local water projects—so that every community in the great state of Washington has a chance to thrive.”
The four-corner agreement is a key breakthrough because the capital budget, which makes infrastructure investments in all parts of the state, is typically a bipartisan effort throughout the entire legislative process. This year, however, Senate Republicans refused to negotiate with the House for more than four months.
The agreement means lawmakers could vote on the capital budget on Thursday before they adjourn for the year.
Up until this past Tuesday, Senate Republicans refused to meet on the capital budget until an agreement was reached on a water rights dispute regarding the state Supreme Court’s “Hirst” decision.
“We’ve negotiated in good faith with Republicans on solving the water issue,” said Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland). “Democrats have made several offers that come to the middle on this issue and provide immediate relief to land owners, but Republicans have refused. They will not move off of their position, a position that will most certainly result in further litigation, requiring another legislative fix.”
Most recently Democrats offered to provide immediate relief for the next two years for every property owner currently in limbo over the Hirst issue, which would give lawmakers and key stakeholders additional time to find a long-term solution agreeable to all sides.
“I understand the importance of addressing the water issue,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington). “Even though it affects a relatively small number of property owners, lawmakers should adopt a long-term fix. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of critical school investments for 1.1 million kids and tens of thousands of construction jobs all across the state.”
“We have a solution on the table right now that works for everyone,” said Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell). “Our 24-month delay provides immediate relief for property owners. This is a reasonable approach that gives lawmakers more time to work on this complex issue.”
While much of the attention on the education funding debate has been focused on the operating budget, approving a capital budget is an essential piece of addressing the McCleary ruling. The agreed-to capital budget would provide over $1 billion in new school construction funding to reduce class sizes, provide additional resources for rural and depressed schools, and boost investments in STEM education.
Bipartisan capital budget highlights:
• 75,000 jobs in construction, engineering and natural resources
• A record $1 billion to build new public schools, which would help satisfy the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund our schools—you can’t hire new teachers without building new classrooms for our state’s 1.1 million school kids
• $800 million in projects at our colleges and universities
• Improvements to state and community mental health facilities
• Local construction projects in every corner of the state
• Affordable housing funding when the housing crisis is reaching its peak
• Projects to bring safe, clean water to communities throughout Washington