Local Lawmakers Say Capital Budget Could be Approved in November


Lawmakers from the 19th and 20th legislative districts provided an update at the annual Lewis Economic Development Council luncheon at the Riverside Golf Club Thursday, expressing hope that a capital budget could be approved in November.

After three legislative sessions, a capital budget was not approved by the Legislature, complicating some construction projects locally and around the state that were expected to receive funding.

“That’s the most asked question in the state and one that we don’t have an answer to,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said about the capital budget timeline. 

The best case scenario would involve approval of the budget in September, but Braun said he expects it will happen later than that, possibly sometime in November.

The capital budget was put on hold after lawmakers left Olympia unable to come to an agreement on a fix for the Hirst decision, a court ruling that, among other things, determined residents and counties must provide water surveys when drilling new wells. Data from the Department of Ecology had previously been used. The Republican-led Senate Majority Caucus insisted on having a fix, arguing the decision overburdens residents and chokes out economic development in rural areas. 

Democrats in the House offered a two-year delay to the ruling, but ultimately the two sides were unable to come to an agreement. 

“We still don’t have a capital budget and I think that’s an important budget for this state,” Blake, D-Aberdeen, said. Blake stated the Hirst decision needs to be resolved because it doesn’t work for the 19th or 20th districts specifically.

Rep. Jim Walsh, also of the 19th district, said Legislators could convene in a one-day fourth special session to negotiate the budget, which he said was delayed in part because parliamentary procedures were not properly followed on the last day of the session. 

“We were really there, we were very close,” he said. “Both on June 30 and then later in July around the 20th when we had the last session, we were very close to getting these things done,” 

Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said distrust began to filter into negotiations after Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a manufacturers’ tax break included in the budget. 

“The distrust spilled over into negotiations going on with the capital budget and the Hirst fix,” he said. “So that set things sideways and unfortunately we’re still stuck with the last two pieces that are not done.”

Locally, many projects won’t be funded without a capital budget, among them the construction of a second new school for the Chehalis School District. 

The Legislature did approve the state transportation and operating budgets and approved school funding to address the McCleary Decision.

Braun lauded those accomplishments, citing the $7.3 billion of additional money that was funneled into the K-12 system. He said fully funding teacher salaries is an important component as is a new per pupil funding model that helps make things more equitable around the state. 

The levy tax reform, which all three legislators said they supported, will help equalize levy rates around the state, Braun said, resulting in a net reduction for 72 percent of the people in Washington state. The maximum tax rate around the state was set at $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value, or $2,500 per student.

There was also money allocated for mental health care, another important step by the Legislature, according to Braun.

“If this was not a K-12 year, we would call it a mental health year,” Braun said. Money was budgeted to move those affected with mental health issues out of big hospitals, like Western State, and back into local communities where they are closer to friends and family. 

It includes an increase in beds for those individuals and six crisis walk-in centers will also be created around the state.