Differences between the House and Senate versions of the state’s capital budget for the coming two years still need to be hammered out. But the preliminary budgets – which passed unanimously in both chambers – provide some sense of how the Legislature expects to guide the state beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
The biennial capital budget for construction projects does not receive the attention of the two-year operating budget, but wise spending on construction will be essential for helping Washington recover from the pandemic. Capital projects not only provide the infrastructure for a prosperous future, they put people to work in constructing that future.
With a boost from federal stimulus money, the Senate proposal would spend $6.2 billion – an increase of more than 25 percent from the 2019-21 capital budget. The House proposal would spend $5.7 billion.
Part of the difference can be found in Clark County, where the Senate budget contains $44 million for a new academic and physical education building at the Washington School for the Deaf. That item is not included in the House budget.
Among more than two dozen other projects earmarked for Southwest Washington, similarities include:
• $53.2 million for an instructional building at Clark College’s north county satellite campus.
• $52.6 million for construction of a Life Sciences Building at Washington State University Vancouver (the state’s website erroneously lists it as University of Washington Vancouver).
• And $37.7 million for construction of a state-owned behavioral health facility.
Other items range from $7.6 million to house residents for a training program at the Washington State School for the Blind to $60,000 for high-priority site repair in the state’s community/technical college system. A complete list of the proposals is available online.
Statewide, one of the biggest investments is earmarked for the State Broadband Office, designed to expand high-speed internet accessibility, particularly in underserved areas.
Unlike the operating budget, the capital budget is a biennial exercise in old-fashioned political horse trading. Lawmakers advocate for needed projects in their districts, and common ground typically is easy to find.
As Rep. Mike Steele of Chelan, ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee, said: “It’s truly a 100 percent bipartisan effort – something that can’t be said about the state’s other spending plans, which usually devolve into partisan disagreements on policies and priorities.”
Discussions about the two-year operating budget are certain to devolve in the coming weeks. With Democrats holding a majority in both chambers, they have proposed a spending increase funded in part by a 7 percent tax on capital gains of more than $250,000.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver and her party’s leader on the Ways and Means Committee, said that by including “an unnecessary, unconstitutional tax that was already rejected by Republicans, the Democrats have guaranteed the Senate budget will be purely partisan.”
Such rancor is not evident this year in negotiations for the capital budget. That budget reflects an investment in the state through the construction of schools and state-run facilities, the upkeep of institutions and structural enhancements to environmental projects.
That money will help put Washington residents to work, providing a foundation for the state’s recovery from the pandemic.