Washington lawmakers are still gunning for a deal on rural water use, which could also lead to agreement on a capital construction budget. But they face a tight deadline: Olympia’s third special legislative session ends Thursday.
OLYMPIA — A handful of Washington lawmakers hope to reach a last-minute deal to end the lingering — and consequential — stalemate over rural water-use and a capital-construction budget.
Without a deal, rural property owners building homes could see their projects remain in limbo.
Meanwhile, Washington residents everywhere could miss out on billions of dollars for school construction, wildfire prevention and money to shore up the state’s troubled mental-health system.
A group of legislators were to meet Tuesday to see if they can reach an agreement on water-use legislation to address the state Supreme Court’s 2016 Hirst decision.
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That ruling effectively stopped the drilling of certain domestic water wells and put the brakes on some rural home construction.
Senate Republicans have said they will not vote to approve a construction budget without legislation to address Hirst.
With the Legislature’s third overtime session slated to end Thursday, there’s not much time left.
Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, and one of the lawmakers now involved in the water-use talks, said Monday he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
“I would say I’m confident that we have a path” to a deal, said Taylor. In a best-case scenario, lawmakers could return to Olympia on Wednesday for a vote, he added.
Taylor and Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, both said they will be in Tuesday’s meeting, and that there are still disagreements to be worked out.
But, “I’m more optimistic today [Monday] than I was last Friday,” Springer said.
If a rural water-use agreement is reached, a capital-budget deal could come together quickly, according to Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s office is “staying apprised of the talks,” on the water bill, spokeswoman Jaime Smith wrote in an email. But as of Monday, she wrote, “there’s no agreed-to proposal or bill language … so it’s premature to talk about bill action.”
Earlier this year, the GOP proposed effectively rolling back the Hirst decision.
Meanwhile, some Democrats, and Washington’s Native American tribes have opposed a complete rollback.
The tribes have said they are concerned about the overuse of water, which they say could hurt their treaty rights and fisheries.
A version of the new, two-year capital-construction budget that passed the House earlier this month totals about $4.2 billion.
Nearly $1 billion of that would go toward school construction and renovations around the state.
It contains more than $100 million to build out Washington’s troubled mental health system and $18 million to help prevent wildfires.
Locked in disagreement over this and other issues, lawmakers have already set a record this year for the most time ever spent in session.
They just narrowly avoided a July 1 partial government shutdown with a state operating budget agreement that came together later than any in recent memory.