Today marks Day 1 of a scheduled 60-day regular session of the Legislature. Two key pieces of unfinished business from the record-long 2017 session sit at the top of the short legislative session: Fixing the Hirst water rights decision and adopting a capital budget. While voter expectations for the 2018 Legislature are low, lawmakers should be able to reach agreement on these two items.
The Seattle Times editorial board includes both on the paper’s list of priorities.
Passing a capital budget. Lawmakers in 2017 failed to approve a $4 billion capital budget to pay for building projects, which would have included about $1 billion for school construction. Without these dollars, many school districts will struggle to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, one of the requirements of the McCleary lawsuit. The lack of a capital budget has also stalled sewer replacements and other essential infrastructure projects throughout the state.
Resolving the Hirst water-rights issue. Disagreement over how to address the 2016 water-rights decision known as Hirst ended up killing the capital budget last year. Lawmakers should work toward responding to the Hirst ruling in a way that allows rural landowners to build and protects their properties’ value, while also safeguarding stream flows…
The Columbian editorial board also has Hirst and the capital budget on the short list.
The Associated Press reports that lawmakers are still divided on how to resolve the water-rights impasse and the two parties will have to work together to get the job done.
Republicans — who were in the majority in the Senate last year, but are the minority party this year — have insisted on a fix to the ruling, known as the Hirst ruling, before they agree to pass the two-year budget that affects projects in districts across the state, including $1 billion for K-12 school construction and money to help build facilities for the state’s mental health system. It also pays the salaries of hundreds of state workers in various departments. Even though Democrats control both the House and the Senate now, they still need Republican votes to pass a bond bill necessary to implement the budget.
Most previews of the 2018 session also mention the state Supreme Court’s call for an additional $1 billion for McCleary compliance. The court, however, found that the state had met all of the key McCleary requirements. The problem, in the court’s view, is that the state missed its deadline for full funding of salaries. With the state on track to meet the funding requirement a year later, it’s unclear whether lawmakers will make advancing the funding a priority and, if they do, where they will find the money. Here’s how the Northwest News Network reports on the issue:
Perhaps the biggest decision facing lawmakers in 2018 is how to address a state Supreme Court order that says their plan to fully fund schools by next school year is $1 billion short. Inslee wants to dip into state reserves to come up with the money.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a fellow Democrat, said he’s open to that idea…
But it doesn’t sit well with John Braun, the ranking Republican on the Senate’s budget committee…
There’s even a debate about whether to comply with the Supreme Court at all.
The Tri-City Herald editorial board is skeptical about the use of reserves.
State Treasurer Duane Davidson met with the Herald editorial board last month when he returned home for the holidays to discuss his first year on the job. Among other things, he talked about his concern over the governor’s idea to tap into the rainy day account.
Davidson was Benton County treasurer for 13 years when he won the 2016 election for the state treasurer’s job. We’ve always known him to be a solid, reliable manager of the people’s money, and we think his opinion on this issue should carry the most weight.
If he says raiding the rainy day fund is a bad idea, lawmakers should listen.
The new Senate Ways and Means leader, Sen. Christine Rolfes, says finding the $1 billion is an open question.
In an interview, Rolfes wouldn’t commit to whether lawmakers should put $1 billion more into schools, as suggested by the court. “We’re going to talk about it,” she said.
There’s going to be a lot to talk about. But not a lot of time available for talk.