Commentary: Wasted opportunity will hurt Washington’s kids, infrastructure and economy

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Rep. Strom Peterson

This is the first time in state history that lawmakers failed to pass a capital budget. The capital budget, sometimes known as the construction budget, creates tens of thousands of jobs across the state by investing in community construction projects. These resources build schools, colleges, state parks, dental clinics, and make improvements to our mental health facilities.

As a member of the negotiating team, I fought hard for projects in our district and projects important to our values, including record investments in mental health and affordable housing, while finding common ground on issues important to my Republican colleagues. I also helped ensure the House voted for the capital budget well before the end of the third special session, and it passed on a 92-1 vote. Eventually, negotiators representing both parties in the Senate and the House reached an agreement on a $4 billion capital budget. However, the Republican-led Senate killed that agreement by refusing to vote on the capital budget, tying it to an unrelated water rights dispute regarding the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision.

Hirst is a complex water issue that affects landowners, builders, tribes and the environment. House Democrats negotiated in good faith to solve the issue. Most recently, Democrats offered to provide immediate relief for the next two years for every property owner currently in limbo over the Hirst issue, giving lawmakers and stakeholders additional time to find a long-term solution, but Senate Republicans rejected all our proposals.

Holding the capital budget hostage in order to extract a policy concession elsewhere is counterproductive. Rejecting an agreed-to $4 billion investment in our state’s economy over the next two years will hurt Washington’s economy as a whole – including those looking for relief from Hirst.

Here are some of the critical infrastructure investments that were killed when the Republican-led Senate adjourned without voting on the capital budget:

– Tens of thousands of jobs in construction, engineering and natural resources
– A record $1 billion to build new public schools, which would help satisfy the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund our schools
– $800 million in projects at our colleges and universities
– Improvements to state and community mental health facilities
Investments needed to complete ongoing projects, such as the JBLM Traumatic Brain Injury Center
– Affordable housing funding when the housing crisis is reaching its peak
– Local construction projects in every corner of the state, such as the more than $4 million in community and conservation projects in our district
– Projects to bring safe, clean water to communities throughout Washington

While the actions of the Senate Republicans have the Legislature ending on a major down note, 2017 did have many wins. Those wins include a historic investment in K-12 education, the creation of the new Department of Children, Youth and Families and the passage of paid family and medical leave, which will help working families across the state.

Despite these successes, House Democrats understand how important the capital budget is and are committed to continue working on the water issue. We will gladly come back to pass a capital budget and a Hirst fix whenever the Senate Republicans are ready to compromise. Although the session is now officially over, if you care about this issue please call the Legislative Hotline (800-5620-6000) and let the Republican-led Senate know that they should vote for a capital budget that builds a better Washington.

— By Rep. Strom Peterson

Strom Peterson represents the 21st District in the Washington State Legislature.

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