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Failure by Legislature to pass capital budget puts schools, road construction and jobs in jeopardy

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Tens of thousands of state contract jobs and more than a billion dollars in school construction and renovations are in jeopardy in our state.
Although lawmakers have passed the operating budget to run the state for the next two years, there is still unfinished business and that is the capital budget.

The capital budget deals with the construction of schools, parks and roads.

As of Thursday evening, the partisan divide was deep and the lawmakers went home, allowing the third special legislative session to expire at midnight.

It's the first time since the 1980s that the state has not passed a capital budget. Not only are tens of thousands of jobs in jeopardy but many state workers will be unemployed by Friday morning.

“We are stuck,” Rep. Larry Springer said.

Stuck on the capital budget, all because of water rights.

“These two bills should not be connected to one another, you got a $4 billion-plus capital budget literally tens of thousands of jobs at stake,” Springer said.

“There isn’t a capital budget unless this gets fixed,” Sen. Dino Rossi said.

Republicans want a permanent fix to how water rights are distributed after a ruling last year by the state Supreme Court.

The ruling, called the Hirst decision, put permitting for water drilling back in the hands of counties, drastically reducing residential wells. It stopped many people from building homes especially in rural areas.

Supporters say the ruling protects rivers and salmon runs but opponents call it a travesty.

“The emotional toll is immeasurable,” Zach Nutting said.

Nutting says the ruling stopped his family from building a home and he supports a bill to suspend the ruling for 2 years.

Springer is behind the idea to suspend the Hirst decision, saying it will help a lot of property owners in limbo. But Republicans say there is too much at stake for a temporary fix.

“We are losing a lot more jobs and we are losing family dreams and county tax bases,” Sen. Mark Schoelser said.

Schoesler says 2 years is not enough in counties where it takes a long time to even get a building permit. He also says lenders and counties want certainty when it comes to the issue.

 

Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted,  "At this point, the best option for the entire state of Washington is the 24-month delay on Hirst as supported by Zach Nutting."

The disagreement means many school districts planning on building new schools will have to put projects on hold.

School districts in counties like Skagit, Snohomish and Kitsap will be hit especially hard.

Also $100 million for the state’s mental health system is in jeopardy and $18 million to help fight wildfires.

Springer also said he is now concerned about the McCleary issue -- something lawmakers agreed on weeks ago.

In the McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court gave lawmakers until this year to come up with a plan to fully fund public education. Lawmakers agreed on a fix on the same day they passed the operating budget. But now that the capital budget is affecting school construction dollars, Springer fears the court would see that as not being in compliance with its ruling.

Inslee said if lawmakers can work out a deal while at home, he will call the legislators back to Olympia for a fourth special legislative session so they can vote on a capital budget.