When I pulled the pickup truck into Olympia in early January, I was hopeful this “short” 60-day legislative session would truly be just that — 60 days.
However, here I am at my Newhouse Building desk on day 60-something, with the Senate and House still miles apart on supplemental operating and capital budgets.
These supplemental budgets should be straightforward: We open up the two-year budget approved last year, make adjustments to account for events not seen in our budget-writing crystal ball (the cost of fighting summer wildfires being a traditional example), then close it up for another year.
News reports that the Legislature hasn’t reached an agreement on the “budget” are typically referring to the operating budget that pays for day-to-day state government activity, including public schools.
As chairman of the capital budget – the brick-and-mortar complement to the operating budget – the biggest part of my job is to compile a list of construction, remodeling and repair projects.
The projects that appear in a final capital-budget list may range from developing Naches Rail to Trail to directing funds toward demolition of Sunnyside’s old Carnation milk-processing plant.
Because items covered by the capital budget are tangible – things that can be touched, seen and pointed to – many lawmakers seek to get as many of their local projects on the capital-budget list as possible.
That’s why, early in my tenure as chairman, I began requiring my fellow senators to explain in writing what a requested project would cost and how it would benefit the community.
This year, I shared additional requirements with my colleagues to reinforce this is a supplemental budget year, not time to unroll the Christmas list.
To even be considered, a request had to address an emergency, address an unanticipated change in a previously-approved capital-budget program, correct a technical error or represent an opportunity that would be forever lost if not acted upon this year.
The result is the true supplemental capital budget passed by the Senate on Feb. 26. A broad bipartisan majority of my Senate colleagues agreed with my common-sense approach, which bumped the size of the budget by a modest $87 million while directing even more money toward building new K-3 classrooms, as well as supplementing mental-health housing and addressing public-health emergencies like a failing water system in Pierce County
The House has not voted on a capital-budget proposal; its version only cleared the budget committee, but I agreed to start negotiating anyway.
It immediately became apparent that “supplemental” means something different to House members – on both sides of the political aisle.
If you know what is meant by “bringing home the bacon” and “pork project” you’ll understand what I have been up against during our budget talks.
Both House and Senate budgets spend about the same amount, but the House budget priorities are not on building classrooms or addressing true emergencies. It would, however, do a dandy job of letting House members bring projects home to their districts.
There is little sign of the self-control reflected in the Senate proposal.
I hope we are able to negotiate a capital budget that is truly supplemental. If we fail and do not have a supplemental budget the existing underlying budget continues as we agreed upon last year.
I’m proud of how the Senate supplemental capital budget shows respect for taxpayers. It’s a shame my counterparts in the House want to put pet projects ahead of the best interests of the people of Washington.
The original article, published March 11, 2016, can be viewed here.