Session ends with Hirst unresolved, budget not passed

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers ended the longest legislative session in state history Thursday without resolving a water rights dispute or passing a capital budget to fund school construction, affordable housing and a slew of community projects throughout Washington.

Most legislators departed the Capitol by dinnertime and leaders formally adjourned before 8 p.m., concluding a marathon lasting 105 days of regular session and three month-long extra sessions.

Along the way, lawmakers barely averted a partial government shutdown, enacted a huge increase in the state property tax to fund schools, and approved one of the nation’s most generous paid leave programs and one of its toughest distracted driving laws.

But their inability to settle on a response to the Hirst decision from the state Supreme Court last fall leaves thousands of rural property owners wondering if they’ll be able to build a home and drill a well.

That ruling said counties must determine whether there’s enough water available for a new well. Each county must come up with its own system for predicting the impact on water flowing to nearby streams or available to existing wells.

Leaders of the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-controlled House declared an impasse in negotiations on possible fixes Wednesday. There were no breakthroughs Thursday though Democrats pushed a last-ditch plan for a 24-month delay in rules that Republicans rejected as inadequate.

As a result, a proposed $4.2 billion capital construction budget would not be acted on because all along Senate Republicans have refused to vote on this spending until there was an agreement on Hirst.

“This was the only way we could really address this issue,” Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, said of the linkage. “This problem was created by the state Supreme Court when it pulled the rug out from under thousands of people in our state who now may not be able to develop their property.”

Rep. John Koster, R-Arlington, said the problem demanded a permanent solution not a temporary one.

“It’s frustrating but this is a forever decision,” he said. “It has to be done properly. No fix is better than a bad fix.”

Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, was discouraged by the outcome.

“I’m disappointed in the Senate Republicans for holding up all these construction projects over the Hirst decision,” he said.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said the “Republican intransigence” leaves a “sour note” at the end of a year filled with bipartisan achievements. He cited accomplishments such as boosting public school funding, improving mental health treatment services, expanding early education opportunities and launching a paid family leave program.

“The Legislature got a lot done this year,” he said at a Thursday evening news conference. “But they did not add to those successes tonight, unfortunately.

“This ‘my way or the highway’ attitude did prevent the construction of schools … it prevented the construction of colleges that everyone agreed to and it prevented people from being able to drill wells for the next two years,” he said.

Lawmakers said they’ll keep talking about Hirst. Inslee said he’ll call them back for another special session if they come up with an accord that ensures passage of the capital budget.

Dozens of projects in Snohomish County were in line for an infusion of state funds from the budget that never came up for a final vote in both chambers.

It contained $2.25 million for a new waterfront center in Edmonds, $721,000 for restoration of Japanese Gulch Creek in Mukilteo and $120,000 for expansion of the teen center at the Lake Stevens Boys & Girls Club.

It also pledged roughly $27 million toward building or replacing of elementary schools in Lake Stevens, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, and Madrona K-8 School in Edmonds.

Edmonds Community College might have suffered the biggest blow. It would have received $37.8 million for a new Science, Engineering and Technology building, this year’s top construction priority of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

“We’re ready to go to bid. Without the money there is not going to be a building,” said Kevin McKay, vice president of finance and operations for the community college. “The need for this building has existed for a long time. This is just another setback.”

The longer the delay, the more expensive it may get because the current boom in building in the Puget Sound region is causing bids to escalate, he said.

“It costs us and ultimately the taxpayer a lot more money to delay this project any further,” he said.

In Everett, the city, Everett Public Schools and an array of nonprofits all stood to receive state funds for projects.

There was $2.76 million earmarked for Housing Hope’s HopeWorks Station Project in Everett and a total of $2.1 million for Cocoon House, of which a portion is for its planned Colby Avenue Youth Center.

And the school district would have received $2 million for its planned Pathways to Medical Professions program.

“The capital budget includes funding that’s critical to addressing homelessness and addiction challenges in Everett, along with other important needs,” said Bob Bolerjack, executive director of government affairs for the city. “We encourage legislators to continue working toward resolution of outstanding issues so a capital budget vote can take place as soon as possible.”

As a result of the inaction, Arlington Boys & Girls Club won’t be getting $99,000 to help in addition of a gym and the city won’t be receiving $46,000 for use in developing a small park downtown.

“I know it means a lot to a lot of people but we’re back down here in five months and hopefully taking another shot at this,” Koster said. “I am disappointed in the outcome but we did the right thing.”

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

Unfunded projects

Here is a partial list of projects that would have received funding in a new two-year state capital budget:

$37.8 million for a Science, Engineering and Technology building at Edmonds Community College

$10 million for the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization, half of which would be for remodel of the Denney Juvenile Justice Center

$3.1 million for the Lake Stevens Civic Center project

$2.76 million for Housing Hope HopeWorks Station Project in Everett

$2.1 million for Cocoon House for services and the Colby Avenue Youth Center in Everett

$2 million for development of the Pathways to Medical Professions program in Everett Public Schools

$2.25 million for a waterfront community center in Edmonds

$1 million for the Ebey Waterfront Trail and shoreline access in Marysville

$800,000 for all-weather playing fields at Lake Tye Park in Monroe

$721,000 for the Japanese Gulch Creek Restoration Project in Mukilteo

$500,000 for Phil Johnson ballfields in Everett

$391,000 to replace the roof on the Frances Anderson Center in Edmonds

$300,000 for the Lake Stevens Food Bank

$257,000 for the next phase of remediation at the Mukilteo Tank Farm

$120,000 for an expansion of the teen center of the Lake Stevens Boys & Girls Club

$99,000 for a new gym in the Arlington Boys & Girls Club

$46,000 for a pocket park in downtown Arlington

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