The Legislature blew it when they failed to pass a capital budget.
THE state Legislature’s historic 2017 session, when it finally overhauled education financing to benefit 1.1 million school kids, ended with remarkable dysfunction on Thursday. Lawmakers failed to pass a construction budget to help pay for the new school buildings themselves.
That failure of leadership — a function of partisan bickering, simmering urban-rural tensions and distrust stirred by a governor’s veto — must be fixed.
The capital budgetmust be approved — and soon — even though that will require Gov. Jay Inslee to call a record fourth special overtime session.
The third overtime session ended with a whimper because the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House could not reach compromise on a necessary but complicated change to state water policy.
This dispute is exacerbated by grudges from a session that has dragged on since January, including Inslee’s veto of a manufacturing tax credit included in the earlier, bipartisan deal on the operating budget.
The $4 billion, two-year capital budget that lawmakers let fall to the floor is not some extraneous item. Supreme Court justices resorted to holding the state in contempt with a $100,000-a-day fine to force school finance reform. The 75 new or remodeled schools included in the capital budget are important to finally complying with the court’s McCleary ruling by enabling class-size reductions.
The capital budget also includes about $65 million in funding for badly needed new mental-health facilities.
On that point, a federal court also has held the state in contempt for allowing mentally ill inmates to languish in jails without needed treatment. Leaving Olympia without the capital budget only deepens the state’s moral abandonment of its vulnerable citizens.
Senate Republicans yoked their approval of the capital budget to the water policy bill, known in Olympia as the “Hirst fix” because a state Supreme Court ruling by that name effectively shut down well drilling in many rural parts of the state. As a result, rural landowners have seen their investment in well-dependent properties jeopardized.
Fixing the Hirst ruling is like three-dimensional chess — senior water rights held by Native American tribes, farms and municipalities are pitted against the longstanding expectation of landowners and homebuilders to be able to develop their properties by drilling wells. It is a highly complex dispute that needs careful negotiations.
Leaders in the GOP-controlled Senate should have accepted an offer by leaders in the Democrat-led House to suspend the Hirst ruling for two years. Wells and construction projects could proceed with water rights that vest once a permit is issued — and cannot be taken away.
But lawmakers should hammer out a longterm fix by the end of their 2018 session.
Inslee should haul quarreling awmakers back to Olympia one more time. They need to do their duty to school kids and mentally ill patients and pass a capital budget — or at the very least, a smaller budget that covers the needs of school and mental health facilities.
Additionally, they must enact a temporary Hirst solution. Then everyone needs to go home, finally.