Historic $5.7 billion construction budget rebuilds economy, invests in broadband 

OLYMPIA—The proposed state construction budget by House Capital Budget Chair Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) would fund $5.7 billion in construction projects throughout the state, including a massive investment to boost broadband internet access. 

“We reached out to listen to the needs of our communities,” Tharinger said. “This proposal would create family wage construction jobs to build the infrastructure to help meet all of those needsfrom education to housing to protecting the environment. One issue that kept coming up was fast internet access, which is no longer a luxury, but a basic service like power and water. 

The proposed budget (House Bill 1080) includes $400 million in federal funding for investments in water, sewer, and broadband service along with $189 million for critical capital budget projects enabling work, education, health monitoring, and other items related to responding to the pandemic. 

Broadband: A new effort puts $155 million toward expanding access to broadband internet throughout the state.

Housing: $175 million is proposed for the Housing Trust Fund, $120.9 million for affordable housing and emergency homeless shelter, and $10 million for cottages. 

Clean energy, energy efficiency, and weatherization: $103.6 million is authorized for a variety of efforts on this front, including $21.5 million for grid-modernization grants for projects that advance clean energy and renewables, $10.8 million in grants for new and emerging clean energy technologies, $25 million for weatherization/home rehabilitation, and $5 million in new rural clean energy innovation grants. 

Early learning: A total of $48.5 million would go toward grants and loans for early learning facilities. 

Schools and colleges: Public schools, colleges, and universities will receive almost $2 billion in construction funding. That includes $969.9 million for local public schools, mostly in School Construction Assistance Program grants ($781.7 million) to build new schools. There is also $65.1 million for 12 seismic retrofitting projects at schools in very high-risk zones and $14.5 million in funding for regional skills centers. 

Public colleges and universities receive $978.7 million, with that funding split between community colleges ($299.8 million) and universities ($678.9 million). The largest project the construction of the Behavioral Health Teaching Facility at the University of Washington ($191.3 million). 

Behavioral health: $96.8 million is dedicated to community based behavioral health beds, with $73 million of that in competitive grants for such facilities and $23.8 million for a variety of community projects on this front including triage, crisis diversion, detox, adolescent services, and long-term civil commitments. 

Toxic cleanup and prevention: $249.5 million would go toward this effort. 

Recreation and conservation: The proposal includes $382.3 million for environmental protection, outdoor recreation, and salmon recovery.  

That is in additional to funding for the Department of Fish and Wildlife for fish hatcheries ($20.4 million) and hatchery improvements to help orca populations ($8.4 million). State Parks receive $56.7 million for projects around the state. 

Equity and opportunity: $5 million in grants would go to planning, technical assistance, and pre-design grants for projects that would directly benefit communities that have been historically underserved by Department of commerce capital grant policies and programs, with a focus on small, rural communities and diverse neighborhoods within densely populated areas. 

“After the pandemic, it will take this level of funding to put men and women in hard hats to work rebuilding our economy,” Tharinger said. “We listened to each other and worked as a team to write this budget, and I believe that teamwork is reflected in how the House budget puts serious funding toward solving so many of our common challenges throughout the state.” 

A public hearing on the bill, along with a related bill that issues bonds to pay for the projects, is scheduled in the House Capital Budget Committee on Monday, March. 29. 

Full details about the budget are available here: http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/budget/detail/2021/hc2123Bien.asp 

For project lists and maps, go here: http://fiscal.wa.gov/CapitalDistrictMap.aspx