Commentary: Capital budget standoff delaying work across state

By Jean Hernandez

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief late last month when the Legislature finally passed a two-year state operating budget and avoided a government shutdown.

Now people are once again holding their breath — this time for a capital budget. The capital budget is a two-year spending plan for land purchases and construction projects. Now in its third special session, the Legislature has yet to pass the capital budget.

Caught up in the legislative impasse is a project to build a Science, Engineering, Technology building at Edmonds Community College. This project would help prepare Snohomish County’s growing population for high-demand occupations and house programs such as engineering, nursing, math, chemistry and physics.

It’s no wonder the project is one of the top priorities for Washington’s community and technical college system. EdCC plays a key role in providing STEM education and employee training for the growing high-tech, industrial and health services economy of the North I-5 corridor.

Without a capital budget, we also have to put off much-needed repairs to existing buildings. Ideally, these items should be fixed before our 11,000 students return this fall.

Every delay in a construction project means rescheduled work and money lost. Contractors typically work in sequence; a delay in one area causes a rescheduling of all the others. It’s like delaying the first runner in a relay race.

Edmonds Community College is just one victim of the budget delay. Our 33 fellow community and technical colleges — along with K-12 schools, universities, parks and prisons — are also feeling the pinch. For community and technical colleges, the problem is made worse by years’ worth of low state funding. State capital funds for community and technical colleges has dropped by nearly 50 percent since the Great Recession.

The impact on the state’s economy will be monumental if the capital budget or improvements at Washington’s community and technical college districts are not approved. Failing to pass the $4.2 billion construction budget will deny Washington communities of more than 1,400 projects and more than 19,000 jobs across the state.

Capital projects are about much more than bricks and mortar. They create safe, modern learning spaces for students and generate well-paying construction jobs in communities across Washington.

Construction season in Washington — particularly Western Washington — is not long. We have already lost precious time. Certainly, the Legislature deserves credit for all its hard work on the operating budget. Now it’s time to do the last, heavy lifting on the capital budget and turn legislative quicksand into concrete action.

My colleagues and I are asking our legislators to cease the political negotiations and partisan strategizing and work together to pass a comprehensive capital budget for 2017-19. We need the help of our Legislature to provide our communities with the infrastructure and services needed to keep Washington competitive and thriving.

Jean Hernandez is the president of Edmonds Community College.

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