GOP refusal to work on capital budget threatens projects

OLYMPIA — With a critical deadline near, Senate Republicans’ refusal to negotiate a new capital budget could mean dozens of nonprofit groups and Edmonds Community College will not receive state funds they’ve sought to expand services and construct new buildings.

GOP senators are insisting an agreement be reached on water rights policy in the wake of the Hirst decision before they’ll engage in talks on a capital spending plan, a historic fount of funds for public schools and colleges, community groups and youth organizations throughout Washington.

But the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-controlled House entered the weekend at an impasse on a response to the court’s Hirst ruling, which effectively eliminated the ability of property owners to drill a well without a permit.

Now, with a potential shutdown looming this week, lawmakers could run out of time to iron out differences between the proposed capital budgets each chamber passed in April. This could lead them to enacting a budget that only funds previously approved contracts and makes no new appropriations.

Under this scenario, Edmonds Community College would wind up not getting $37.8 million to build a new Science, Engineering and Technology building and the city of Edmonds might lose out on $2.25 million for its planned waterfront community center.

Those are two of several projects in Snohomish County at risk of not receiving funds. Others include a pocket park in Arlington, restoration of Japanese Gulch Creek in Mukilteo, construction of a new civic center in Lake Stevens and expansion of Cocoon House services for homeless youth in Everett.

“I’m very frustrated,” said Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee. “If they continue to have that nexus with Hirst, it becomes pretty challenging.”

If senators want to make sure those organizations are supported, the two sides must settle on budget language by Wednesday, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, on Friday, did not forecast an outcome. He offered an assurance the building of new classrooms and schools would not be ignored.

“If for some reason things didn’t work out, we wouldn’t forget about school construction,” he said.

Tharinger said he’s not willing to do a partial budget with limited new appropriations. It’s either a bare-bones or complete budget, he said.

The capital budget is one of two spending plans lawmakers need to act on by midnight Friday to prevent any interruption in state-funded programs and services.

The other is the two-year operating budget that funds the day-to-day operations of state government. Lawmakers must deliver an operating budget to Gov. Jay Inslee before midnight Friday otherwise many government activities will halt and roughly 32,000 workers will be laid off starting Saturday.

House and Senate budget negotiators planned to work through the weekend to try to complete a deal.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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