Lawmakers budget according to state values on capital spending. Let’s see the same effort on the biennial operations budget.
SCHOOL officials have been telling the Legislature they need more than teachers to fulfill the state’s commitment to smaller classes and all-day kindergarten for all kids.
They also need more classroom space to fulfill the requirements of the Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision.
The Legislature seems to be listening to schools on this issue. A bipartisan plan for the state capital budget sets aside $1 billion to build new schools, plus money for preschools, colleges and universities. This positive development shows that lawmakers in both parties and both houses understand the importance of helping more children graduate from high school prepared for college or career.
The House and the Senate have passed similar capital budgets but still need to compromise on the details.
The capital budget proposals also include money for community mental health facilities, supportive housing for the chronically mentally ill and renovations at state mental-health facilities.
With these capital-budget proposals, the Legislature demonstrates it can budget with the state’s values in mind. More of the same approach in the operations budget for the next two years would be most welcome.
The capital budget also shows some fiscal restraint. Although the proposal approved almost unanimously by the House on Wednesday would authorize spending $3.99 billion, about $2.7 billion is reappropriated from previous capital projects.
One section of the House version of the capital budget that deserves another look involves money set aside for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The House budget offers about $12 million less than the Senate’s $80 million for acquiring or improving recreation and conservation land.
While schools are the state’s No. 1 priority, the Legislature should not forget how much Washington’s citizens value their public land. The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program has put more than $1.3 billion in public dollars toward 1,200 projects since 1989. The program buys, develops and restores land for animal habitat as well as hiking, hunting, fishing and other recreation.
Although the House and Senate versions of the capital budget disagree by millions of dollars in some areas, both houses seem motivated to reach a compromise on this part of the state budget. Lawmakers should be commended for this effort. Now they should apply the same enthusiasm toward reaching a compromise on the operations side of the state biennial budget.