Senate capital budget would boost schools, recreation, economic development

The Senate’s bipartisan capital-budget proposal for 2015-17 would build over 2,100 classrooms, fully fund 80 parks and trails, and devote $60 million to local-government infrastructure projects statewide.

The $3.9 billion plan was released today by Sen. Jim Honeyford, capital-budget chair; Sen. Karen Keiser, Democratic capital-budget leader; Sen. Bruce Dammeier, vice chair of education finance on the Senate budget committee; and Sen. Steve Conway. They led development of the budget, which will fund the acquisition, construction and maintenance of capital assets across Washington – such as schools and projects with recreational and economic-development value.

“This proposal is not only an investment in the state of Washington but also an investment in the people of Washington. Our plan provides complete funding for 80 parks and trails around the state. These destination sites will provide an economic boon to their communities while encouraging folks to get outdoors and explore a new corner of our state – a win-win,” said Honeyford, R-Yakima.

The proposal seeks to address the mental-health crisis in our state in part by including a $30 million grant that would expand the number of community behavioral health beds.

“This budget provides important investments in our citizens’ future not only by funding construction for K-3 class size reduction , but we also stepped up to fund our highly successful skills centers and vital projects at UW, WSU and WWU,” said Keiser, D-Kent. “We also provide substantial new investments for needed community mental health facilities.”

With $254 million more directed to public schools than the House proposal, the Senate plan seeks to support student-achievement efforts by building additional classrooms, the largest chunk being aimed at kindergarten through third grade.

“We all want to make sure our youngest students get the strongest possible start to their education.  Our operating budget makes an investment in ensuring we have quality teachers for these kindergarten through 3rd graders.  Now, this capital budget invests nearly $1 billion over the next six years to build over 2,100 classrooms for these students.  A quality teacher and a classroom for every 17 students will provide them a solid foundation for the rest of their future,” said Dammeier, R-Puyallup.

All public-works-board list projects are funded through the Senate proposal, which supports local infrastructure and provides family-wage construction jobs.

“This proposal is a good start and I am confident that we will negotiate a final product with the House that gets people working and drives our economy,” said Conway, D-South Tacoma. “The capital budget is a major creator of construction jobs, which are critical to strengthening our middle-class.”

The legislation will be a striking amendment to Engrossed House Bill 1115. A public hearing is scheduled for noon today in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.