Communities and schools across Washington state are getting some welcome news. After a months-long delay, lawmakers Thursday night passed a $4.3 billion, two year state construction budget.
"It is good news for Washingtonians that the Legislature passed the long-overdue construction budget," Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement. "This allows us to restart hundreds of stalled projects at schools and mental health facilities and build more affordable housing--as well as put thousands of Washingtonians to work."
Chehalis School Superintendent Ed Rothlin was among those celebrating the end to a stalemate in Olympia that put the capital construction budget on ice.
“We’ve been hoping for this day for the past four and a half months,” he said.
Rothlin said the unsticking of the capital budget means his district can go out to bid for a much-needed new elementary school. But the delay will likely result in a higher price tag for that project.
“The cost of doing business is about $600,000 to $700,000 more based on our estimate,” Rothlin said.
The budget is also good news for the tiny town of Carbonado, Washington. Carbonado has been dealing with a failing sewer system that runs under people’s homes.
Daillene Argo is the town’s clerk-treasurer. She said the century-old lines have collapsed in some places.
“So we’re not just leaking gray water, we’ve actually got blockages,” Argo said. “We’re not real sure how the solids are getting through—just kind of hanging up in there.”
Plans to replace the sewer system along with adjacent water lines were put on hold last year after the Washington Legislature failed to pass the capital construction budget.
Argo is pleased the $1.5 million in the budget for her town will soon be coming their way. But she said the six-month delay will likely drive up the cost of the $13 million project.
However, she said, there could be a silver lining to the delay. The project in Carbonado may now spill into the next capital budget cycle. If that happens, town officials could ask lawmakers for additional money to offset loan payments for the project.
Passage of the construction budget has been held up since last spring while lawmakers tried to broker a solution to a thorny water rights issue involving wells on private property. A Supreme Court decision changed the rules for these non-permitted wells and resulted in some rural residents being unable to build homes.
That logjam was finally broken this week with a compromise deal. Republicans had insisted on solving the water issue before they would pass the capital construction budget.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a Democrat, said the two issues never should have been linked.
“Hopefully this doesn’t set a precedent where in the future people will decide from any party to link policy bills to budget bills because it’s really not helpful and it slows things down,” he said. “It looks more like that D.C.-style politics.”
In an interview on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program, House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen defended linking the capital construction budget and the well issue.
“We wanted to make sure that we’re not just giving permission for government to build buildings in communities, but we’re also allowing for the citizens who live in those communities to have access to water to be able to build in those same communities,” he said.
In addition to $1 billion for school construction projects, the capital budget will fund more psychiatric beds, environmental cleanup and many other projects around the state.