Funding for Sewer, Water Projects Hangs in Balance of Washington State Budget

OLYMPIA (AP)— About $4 billion in new school construction and other projects throughout the state remain on hold six months after a water-related dispute stalled passage of the state’s two-year construction budget.

Lawmakers have been working on a compromise. But top Republican and Democratic leaders still appeared to be divided on the issue.

Republicans have insisted on getting legislation to fix the so-called Hirst court decision before passing the capital budget. That 2016 state Supreme Court ruling effectively restricted new household wells in rural areas if they affect water kept in streams for fish or other senior water rights.

Democratic leaders said Thursday the capital budget is a priority and shouldn’t be linked to complex water issues.

“Clearly we’re going to move forward on the capital budget,” House Speaker Frank Chopp, a Seattle Democrat, told reporters at AP’s legislative preview Thursday. He added that “it was not the right thing to do to link the capital budget to a separate issue.”

Chopp said Democrats have been working for months on a good-faith compromise and hoped his Republican colleagues will consider it.

But Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler said “the Hirst fix is as critical to our state’s economy and housing as anything we can do.”

“Certainly we want a capital budget as much as anybody,” said Schoesler, a Ritzville Republican. But he and others say there are huge economic consequences — including plummeting land values and lost jobs — if rural communities aren’t allowed to tap small household wells to build homes.

Democrats hold a slim 52-48 majority in the House and a 25-24 majority in the Senate. They’ll need bipartisan support to pass the capital budget since the bond bill needed to pay for construction projects requires a 60 percent majority vote.

Without a capital budget, new money for local water and sewer projects, school construction, mental-health facilities and other construction across the state remains in limbo.

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