Historic support for broadband in final capital budget

Schools, behavioral-health services and housing affordability are also big winners in compromise budget; funds 11 hatchery projects

Today the Legislature rolled out its final, agreed-to capital budget for 2021-23. The $6.3 billion bipartisan spending plan would invest a record $413 million toward the expansion of broadband, including $50 million in bonds for Sen. Jim Honeyford’s new program dedicated to seeking potential federal match opportunities (SB 5357).

“This budget is designed to meet many of the pressing needs that have perhaps always existed, but have been highlighted by the pandemic,” said Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. “What we were able to accomplish in the area of broadband is nothing short of historic.”

The capital budget’s funding for broadband includes:

  • $326 million for the State Broadband Office;
  • $60 million to the Public Works Board specifically for broadband;
  • $25 million to the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB); and,
  • $2 million for the Department of Natural Resources for broadband-related projects.

“Everything from e-commerce and education to telemedicine and precision farming has come to rely on equitable access to broadband,” said Honeyford. “Addressing the broadband needs of our communities has been one of my top priorities this session, so I’m happy to say that this budget provides the funds to face this problem head-on.”

The funding for broadband supports the goals of  Substitute Senate Bill 5357, Honeyford’s legislation to create a competitive-grant program in the Statewide Broadband Office. Grants made through the program would match funds required to participate in federal broadband-infrastructure programs, with priority given to projects in unserved areas.

The compromise capital budget (Substitute House Bill 1080, as amended) appropriates a total of $6.3 billion for the 2021-23 fiscal biennium. Of this amount, $3.9 billion is financed with general-obligation bonds. The remaining $2.4 billion consists of $589 million in federal stimulus funds, $275 million in Model Toxic Control Accounts, $255 million in alternative financing authorizations, and $1.2 billion in other funds.

Approximately $82 million in bond capacity is reserved for a supplemental capital budget.

Honeyford, who as Senate Republican capital budget lead is one of the chief architects of the plan, said the heavy investment in broadband, along with more than $428 million toward behavioral-health services and nearly $350 million for affordable housing, directly address three areas identified as priorities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to broadband, the capital budget prioritizes school construction and projects that focus on mitigating the damage of environmental disasters and preserving and developing existing properties – all while leaving capacity in the budget to address unforeseen future needs.

Honeyford noted that he was particularly happy that the state Department of Agriculture is provided $8 million to award competitive grants to state agricultural fairs for access and safety improvement projects.

“Agricultural fairs are critical to our ag communities and local economies,” said Honeyford. “This budget will provide the resources necessary to make sure fairs will be able to recommence in a safe and responsible manner.”

The capital budget would provide $930 million for K-12 school construction and modernization. It also includes $1.25 billion in total appropriations and alternative financing authority for higher education facilities, including $512.3 million for the community and technical college system and $732.6 million for four-year institutions.

“This budget continues the Legislature’s commitment to building new schools and new classrooms around the state in both urban and rural areas,” said Honeyford. “At the same time, it adds critical investments to our four-year universities and in our community and technical college system. This is a student-oriented budget that attempts to address students’ needs for safe, healthy school buildings, access to critical broadband, and facilities needed to address any behavioral concerns.”

Affordable-housing loans and grants is another area of emphasis. The budget includes:

  • $20 million to preserve aging affordable-housing units to continue to serve low-income residents;
  • $100.8 million for the purchase of homeless or emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing, or affordable housing for low-income people;
  • $42 million for grants to local governments and public utility districts to assist in the cost of utility improvements or connections to new affordable-housing projects; and
  • $5 million for housing for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Other highlights of the Senate capital-budget agreement include:

  • $243 million for local and community projects;
  • $36 million for 11 hatchery projects;
  • $7.6 million for the Washington State School for the Blind;
  • $49.4 million for Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth;
  • $81.3 million for clean-energy technology, energy efficiency grants, weatherization, and housing rehabilitation;
  • $121 million for developmental-disability services;
  • $491.3 million for water quality and supply programs, including:
    • $315 million for the Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund Program;
    • $40 million for the Centennial Clean Water Program;
    • $70 million for the Chehalis Basin Strategy;
    • $45 million for the Columbia River Water Supply Development Program;
    • $42 million for the Yakima River Basin Water Supply Program;
    • $4.3 million for projects related to the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District projects; and
    • $5 million for a water banking pilot program to implement strategies to meet local water needs;
  • $253.9 million for toxics cleanup and prevention;
  • $76.2 million for state parks;
  • $120.9 million for flood-risk reduction and floodplain habitat restoration projects;
  • $386.2 million for recreation, conservation, and salmon recovery; and
  • $26 million for wildfire suppression and forest health.

The Senate is expected to consider the capital-budget agreement on Friday, with the House expected to follow shortly after.