Legislature takes step toward resolving capital budget issue

By Alex Visser

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — The state’s elusive capital budget has been brought closer to realization now that a Senate committee has approved a bill that allocates spending for the 2017-19 biennium.

Senate Bill 6090, a bipartisan-sponsored bill that is a step toward releasing capital budget funds, received unanimous approval in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Monday.

SB 6090 authorizes around $4.2 billion in new projects for the biennium, nearly a quarter of which would go to public schools.

The bill now awaits a signature from the Rules Committee, after which it will be sent to the Senate floor for deliberation.

The capital budget pays for state-authorized construction projects over a two-year period across Washington state. When the Legislature failed to pass a capital budget last year, many projects that were supposed to be funded were put on hold.

Much of the budget’s holdup is tied to the so-called Hirst decision, handed down by the state Supreme Court in 2016, which made it more expensive and difficult for landowners to drill wells for household use.

Although the two issues are not directly related, Republicans and Democrats last year were unable to come to terms on a Hirst fix, which in turn caused Republicans to rebuff attempts to settle on a capital budget.

Even with a new-found one-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats will need help from the other side of the aisle, as the passage of a capital budget requires a 60 percent vote in each chamber.

More than 20 people showed up to testify on the proposed capital budget at SB 6090’s first public hearing last Thursday, and all testified in support of its passage. Represented were public education, natural resources and other government sectors.

Taking to the microphone first was Mike Hrachovec, principal engineer with Natural Systems Design.

Hrachovec explained that his company is involved in river restoration projects across the state and was hoping to bring on four more staff members, but is now struggling just to maintain its current employees.

“If the capital budget doesn’t pass in two months, we’re going to be in a very desperate situation,” Hrachovec said. “There’s a lot of work we have to do to get people back to work; it’s time to get going.”

Walter Schact had similar fears regarding his organization, the American Institutes of Architects, where he serves on the Washington Council.

“The delay in the capital budget had a significant negative impact on the projects and on our firm,” he said. “We’ve already lost about 10 percent of our staff because there just isn’t work to do in the office.”

Schact said the institute works mostly on higher education projects, and that the delay of a single community college project last year has already resulted in millions of dollars in escalation costs.

He said if the budget doesn’t pass, the firm will have to decide whether to lay off its employees or go into debt to keep them around.

For the North Olympic Peninsula, projects in the House’s version of the capital budget include:

• $615,000 to replace the main intake at the Dungeness Hatchery.

• $2.9 million for World War I facilities preservation at Fort Flagler.

• $697,000 for repair or replacement of the pier at Fort Worden State Park.

• $1 million for the Jefferson Healthcare Dental Clinic.

• $610,000 for the North Olympic Healthcare Network in Port Angeles.

• $649,000 for the Spruce Railroad Trail and Daley Rankin Tunnel restoration.

• $1 million for the Port Angeles unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula.

• $3.4 million for a Chimacum Ridge forest pilot.

• $3 million and $1.8 million for fish passage barrier removals along Johnson Creek and an unnamed tributary, both in the Hoko Watershed in western Clallam County.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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