Shared sacrifices were sprinkled throughout our state government last week as lawmakers went about closing a $5.1 billion deficit. As expected, the forced austerity showed up in the area of bricks and mortar, funded by the capital budget.
The $1.1 billion capital budget for 2011-2013 might look like a lot of money (and it is), but it’s the smallest capital budget in 10 years, according to state Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee. It’s also lower than the $1.4 billion plan originally approved by the House.
That being said, when you look at the actual projects that were approved, there is justification for Southwest Washingtonians to respond with a collective “Whew!” Our corner of the state could have fared much worse in the distribution of state funds, considering the menacing deficit. Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes went a step further and call the new capital budget “Great news!” He’s pleased primarily because the spending plan delivers $500,000 for design and permitting of Vancouver’s Waterfront Park project. Millions more have been directed toward public works and land conversation projects in Clark County and the Columbia River Gorge.
For this bricks-and-mortar success, relative to the economic crisis, credit is due Clark County’s legislative delegation, notably state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who serves on the Capital Budget Committee. Moeller explained in a statement last week that the two-year capital budget “pays for buying, constructing and repairing the state public offices and facilities … everything from prisons, juvenile rehabilitation centers … to mental health facilities, military readiness centers and higher education facilities.”
The funding for Vancouver’s Waterfront Park project is critical in sustaining progress toward what will become the most powerful component in downtown revitalization. Those half-million dollars, however, pale in comparison with three massive construction projects:
$10 million for the new Interstate 5-Salmon Creek interchange.
$10 million for the Ridgefield regional sewage trunk line and pump station.
$9.5 million for improvements to the Clark Public Utilities water system.
Other large expenditures include $2.6 million for the Northwest 38th Avenue improvements in Camas, $1.7 million for Washougal’s west-side well field disinfection improvement project and $996,000 for improvements to pump stations in Washougal.
Lesser amounts — nonetheless eminently valuable to the recipients — were directed to the Clark County Skills Center and to Share, which serves Vancouver’s homeless population. The Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver and the Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss each received funding in the half-million-dollar range.
Several local and area projects in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program were paid for, including the Washougal Oaks Natural Area and rare plant habitat restoration at Camas Meadows. Vancouver-based Columbia Land Trust received $665,857 for farmland preservation work in Trout Lake Valley.
Considering the challenge of overcoming the immense deficit, local and regional recipients of capital budget money fared rather well. And that is why voters send legislators to Olympia, to make difficult decisions and to prioritize spending, especially under the toughest circumstances.