By Todd Myers
Despite billions of dollars more in revenue, Puget Sound cleanup takes a cut. More for his priorities, less for salmon and orcas.
I’m not talking about President Trump’s budget. I’m talking about Gov. Jay Inslee’s.
Last December, the governor proposed a budget that added more than $4 billion in new taxes, but spending on projects for Puget Sound and stormwater were actually lower than his previous request. Funding for salmon recovery fell from $100 million for the biennium, down to $80 million. He proposed $50 million for projects to treat stormwater, down from his $74 million request two years ago.
Overall, the governor is requesting $45 million less this time for salmon and stormwater than in the last state budget, much as the president is doing in his.
Where was the outrage, or the flurry of press releases from politicians? The environmental community was silent when Inslee reduced his funding proposal, much as they have been silent on King County’s massive spill of raw sewage into Puget Sound.
Politicians are quick to attack a politically convenient opponent, as President Trump is in Washington state, but silent when their friends make similar choices. They hope citizens focus on their outraged press releases and not on their actual budgets.
The governor certainly isn’t the only guilty one in this regard.
King County Executive Dow Constantine just asked for a $67 million a year tax increase for the arts. That’s twice the size of the president’s cuts, and yet, the County Executive offers none of that increase to Puget Sound or salmon. He has other priorities.
In Snohomish County, the 2017 budget cuts funding for the Conservation Future Tax Fund in half, even though general fund expenditures actually increased 3.5 percent.
All of these reductions will have an impact. Projects to help the sound will be delayed or canceled. Progress on reducing stormwater pollution, protecting and restoring wildlife habitat and other efforts will slow.
Of course, the response from the governor and county executives will be that there are other priorities and demands for funding. President Trump would say the same thing. They are all correct.
One should not, however, call the kettle black and not expect people to point out the hypocrisy.
This doesn’t mention the waste and delays that have characterized too many environmental efforts. For years, under the Obama Administration, the regional EPA office participated in the Puget Sound Partnership’s effort to set science-based cleanup priorities. Despite that, EPA staff then launched their own, separate process, wasting time and money to duplicate decisions that had already been made. More than one person working on Puget Sound cleanup told me they felt the EPA was “arrogant.”
Caring about the environment doesn’t mean you care only when you can attack your political opponents. That, however, is how politicians and some greens treat environmental concerns. When companies spill hundreds of gallons of fuel into the water, press releases are sent and statements are made. When government spills hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into the water, there is silence.
I am not defending the president’s budgeting. Nor, however, should those who call themselves environmentalists defend the decisions of Gov. Inslee to reduce funding for Puget Sound cleanup. We should not defend County Executive Constantine who demands more for other priorities, but nothing more for Puget Sound. We should not ignore the money wasted in process and bureaucracy at the EPA.
Unfortunately, we are not there yet.
Until we put the environment ahead of partisan loyalty, we shouldn’t be surprised at future funding cuts for Puget Sound. The president’s budget will have an impact, but don’t let the smokescreen from local politicians fool us — they aren’t making Puget Sound a priority either.
Todd Myers is the director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment.