State leg­is­la­tors may have been able to avoid a state gov­ern­ment shut­down by pass­ing an oper­at­ing bud­get on June 30th, but they are only hours away from fac­ing the con­se­quences of fail­ing to pass a 2017–2019 cap­i­tal bud­get, which will include lay­offs, project delays, and the con­tin­ued denial of an amply fund­ed pub­lic edu­ca­tion to hun­dreds of thou­sands of young Washingtonians.

A day remains before the clock runs out on the third con­sec­u­tive spe­cial ses­sion of the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture, which was neces­si­tat­ed by Sen­ate Repub­li­cans’ refusal to seri­ous­ly nego­ti­ate an oper­at­ing bud­get with House Democ­rats until a week pri­or to the end of the fis­cal biennium.

House Democ­rats announced today that the Leg­is­la­ture’s four cau­cus­es have reached agree­ment on what the final cap­i­tal bud­get should look like.

“The con­struc­tion bud­get would build $1 bil­lion in new pub­lic schools and cre­ate tens of thou­sands of jobs from Aberdeen to Spokane,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive 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,” Tharinger added.

“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 House vot­ed on its iter­a­tion of the cap­i­tal bud­get last month, but the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate has yet to act.

Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have been stalling for two rea­sons: first­ly, because run­ning out the clock is their favorite tried-and-test­ed tac­tic for gain­ing lever­age, and sec­ond­ly, because they are not in agree­ment among them­selves as to what they want.

Some of the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans would like to pass a cap­i­tal bud­get and go home.

But oth­er Sen­ate Repub­li­cans want to take a scorched earth approach, hold­ing the cap­i­tal bud­get hostage until they get Democ­rats to capit­u­late on oth­er issues, like a “fix” for the Supreme Court’s Hirst deci­sion, or an over­ride of Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s veto of a busi­ness and occu­pa­tion tax cut for manufacturers.

(In What­com Coun­ty v. Hirst, decid­ed last year, the state’s high­est court ruled that under the Growth Man­age­ment Act, coun­ty gov­ern­ments must inde­pen­dent­ly deter­mine if new wells would neg­a­tive­ly impact pro­tect­ed streams or senior water rights pri­or to approv­ing build­ing per­mits that rely on wells.)

Democ­rats have tried to engage with Sen­ate Repub­li­cans to fig­ure out how to respond to the Hirst deci­sion — to no avail.

Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have con­tin­u­al­ly said they want a “fix” in response to the court’s rul­ing, but haven’t actu­al­ly put a pro­pos­al on the table.

Mean­while, they have said “no” to poten­tial solu­tions float­ed by the House.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors on both sides of the dome tell NPI they are fed up.

Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee sig­naled in an after­noon press release that he has like­wise run out of patience with the Sen­ate Republicans.

“Leg­isla­tive lead­ers told me today they have reached an impasse on a bill to address the Hirst deci­sion,” Inslee’s state­ment began. “I asked Sen­ate Repub­li­cans if they would accept a 24-month delay to give prop­er­ty own­ers relief, but they told me they would not. There have been oth­er offers through­out this ses­sion, and as recent­ly as today the House pro­vid­ed the Sen­ate a per­ma­nent fix I would have sup­port­ed, but the Sen­ate has reject­ed those as well.”

“At this point, a twen­ty-four month delay is the best approach to give the Leg­is­la­ture time to eval­u­ate a per­ma­nent fix while giv­ing suf­fer­ing prop­er­ty own­ers imme­di­ate relief. Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have used the dra­mat­ic tes­ti­mo­ny of prop­er­ty own­ers such as Zack Nut­ting to make the case for a Hirst fix. And when my office spoke with Zack this week, he agreed that HB 2248, which would pro­vide a 24-month delay, would pro­vide that relief. The 24-month pro­pos­al would ease the uncer­tain­ty and suf­fer­ing of Zack and oth­ers caught in sim­i­lar­ly dif­fi­cult situations.”

His­tor­i­cal­ly, cap­i­tal bud­gets have been large­ly bipar­ti­san affairs, and have been adopt­ed with­out much acri­mo­ny or dif­fi­cul­ty. When the House vot­ed on its cap­i­tal bud­get bill last month, for exam­ple, it passed with only one dis­sent­ing vote.

The only rea­son the cap­i­tal bud­get has not made it the rest of the way to Gov­er­nor Inslee’s desk is that the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have refused to move it along.

As men­tioned, at least some of them want con­ces­sions in exchange for not gum­ming up state gov­ern­ment, but they can’t col­lec­tive­ly agree on what con­ces­sions they want. And so the Sen­ate is paralyzed.

The Repub­li­cans have the pow­er that comes with a Sen­ate major­i­ty — at least through Novem­ber of this year, when the major­i­ty may flip — but they can­not decide how to wield that pow­er while they still have it. They are fum­bling around in the third bout of over­time with­out a game plan, to bor­row a sports analogy.

There’s no excuse for such incom­pe­tence. Wash­ing­ton’s com­mu­ni­ties need the invest­ments this cap­i­tal bud­get would provide.

The ball is in the Repub­li­cans’ court and there’s no more oppor­tu­ni­ties for stalling or games­man­ship. Gov­er­nor Inslee has made it clear that if the Sen­ate does not vote on a cap­i­tal bud­get, then the state sim­ply won’t have one, at least not in the short term. And Sen­ate Repub­li­cans will take the blame (deserved­ly) for that. They will also take take the blame if the Leg­is­la­ture fails to buy itself some time to craft an envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble response to the Hirst decision.

Tick tock, Repub­li­cans. Time’s up. What are you going to do?

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Republican incompetence jeopardizing 2017–2019 capital budget for Washington State”

  1. I wish you and oth­er peo­ple would get your facts straight. Water is a state of Wash­ing­ton prob­lem not rur­al prop­er­ty owen­ers. Forc­ing rur­al prop­er­ty own­ers to pay fees or buy water bank shares is not a solu­tion. The hirst desi­sion changed years of water laws with a stroke of a pen with­out under­stand­ing the com­plex­i­ty of the prob­lem. Repub­li­cans have been up front on what they were going to do and the Demo­c­ra­t­ics have been stalling (springer). The last 5 years except last have been drought years and set up a per­fect storm for future wise to chal­lenge water in the courts and for them it’s not water it’s urban sprawl. Pop­u­la­tion is the prob­lem, more peo­ple that move into the state the more our resources are taxed.

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