WA Senate pitches new spending for school construction, housing and 2026 World Cup

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Elementary schoolchildren, unhoused residents, electric vehicle owners and soccer fans are all covered in the Washington Senate’s capital budget proposal.

Budget writers on Thursday released their $1.3 billion plan, which funds construction and infrastructure projects across the state. It includes new money for affordable housing, K-12 schools and behavioral health facilities, with increases of more than $100 million in each of those areas.

Nearly half the money in the plan comes from the state’s new auction of air pollution allowances to businesses with carbon emissions. A looming Republican-backed initiative to repeal the Climate Commitment Act threatens to jeopardize these funds in the future.

Lawmakers proposed pushing back the start of some new climate projects until January 2025, in case voters approve the initiative in November.

The spending blueprint treats capital gains tax dollars similarly. It does not fund anything with that revenue past 2024, in case voters approve a separate initiative to repeal the tax – which brings in dollars for school construction and early learning.

Noteworthy for soccer fans: lawmakers included $20 million to help cover the cost of the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Seattle, which will host six matches.

Washington’s capital budget is one of three state budgets lawmakers must pass every other year. In off years, like this one, they pass a supplemental budget, which adjusts the two-year spending plan passed the year before. The supplemental plan would cover spending through June 30 next year, when the upcoming fiscal year ends.

The $1.3 billion would come atop $9 billion in capital spending lawmakers allocated last year through 2025.

“On all the key issues before us, I think this budget will do a lot of good,” Sen. Mark Mullet, Democrats’ lead on the capital budget, said.

The proposal also has Republican support. Sen. Mark Schoesler, GOP leader on the Senate capital budget, praised the plan for tending to a variety of needs statewide.

House lawmakers will release their capital budget proposal next week. Both proposals will have to be consolidated into one and approved by both chambers by the end of the legislative session on March 7.

Housing

The Housing Trust Fund, the largest pot of state money available to build more affordable housing, would get another $111 million. Some of that money would flow to competitive grants. Other chunks would go to specific projects in places like Kenmore and Leavenworth.

This money would be in addition to the record $400 million set aside for the trust fund last year. Most of that money has already been allocated.

Lawmakers took a slightly different path on housing than the one outlined in Gov. Jay Inslee’s spending plan, released in December.

He wants to dedicate $100 million to the state’s Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition fund, which pays for emergency housing like tiny home villages or motels. The Senate’s budget puts their funding for housing into the Housing Trust Fund instead. Grants from the fund can go to help build projects like tiny home villages.

“Any housing is good housing,” Inslee told reporters on Thursday, but added that the state needs to put more money into buying emergency housing to help with his initiative to remove people living in encampments along roadsides.

He said there could be a way to pay for that program through the transportation budget. Legislators’ transportation spending proposals will be released next week.

K-12 schools

Senators set aside $121.5 million for construction, maintenance and improvements for K-12 schools. That’s on top of the more than $871 million set aside last year.

The new funding would go toward new modernization projects for small districts and tribal schools and it includes new funding for job skills centers and other facilities for career and technical education.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in September that the state is not required to fully cover school construction costs, dealing a blow to districts unable to raise the local tax dollars they need for new buildings and other facility upgrades.

Mullet acknowledged that the state won the lawsuit – brought by the Wahkiakum School District, but said “it doesn’t diminish our responsibility to do more to help every kid in every school district have a safe, modern building where they can learn and succeed.”

Climate programs

The Climate Commitment Act auctions provide $663 million across the budget.

This money funds things like electric vehicle chargers, solar panels, and new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in communities where climate change is hitting hardest. It will also help pay for training people to work in the clean energy sector and restoring land after wildfires.

Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma, noted that many of the programs in the capital budget would not be possible without the Climate Commitment Act revenue.

Other spending

Also included in the Senate plan is almost $45 million to modernize the Olympic Heritage Behavioral Health Hospital in Tukwila, which the state purchased last year, and almost $45 million for treatment centers in tribal government. It also specifically earmarks money for the Colville, Jamestown S’Klallam, Kalispel, Lummi, Quinault and Suquamish tribes.

The proposal funds hundreds of local projects across Washington as well.

For example, there’s funding for a community food hub in South Seattle, a child care center in Waitsburg, a police station in Stanwood, and new trails, sports facilities and entertainment centers in communities across the state.

For a full list of projects, visit fiscal.wa.gov.

by Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

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