Legislature leaves Olympia with work left undone: No water rights fix, no capital budget. Will they be back before January?

Things did not end well in Olympia last night. The third special session came to an end with lawmakers unable to pass a capital budget or a water rights fix to the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision. The Associated Press reports the unhappy final hours of a record-long legislative session.

The political rancor at the state Legislature went right to the bitter end Thursday night, with lawmakers adjourning their third overtime session while blame flew back and forth across the rotunda over the inability to pass a new construction budget.

Legislative leaders had said they were likely to adjourn earlier in the day after negotiations broke down earlier in the week down on a water-rights bill. That bill was tied to passage of the two-year capital budget that would have spent more than $4 billion on projects across the state.

As we wrote earlier this week, Senate Republicans wanted a Hirst fix before they would pass a capital budget. House Democrats did not agree to the Senate’s water rights legislation. Efforts to reach agreement this week foundered. The AP continues,

Inslee on Wednesday supported House Democrats’ latest offer allowing property owners impacted by the Hirst ruling to obtain building permits for 24 months. It would also create a legislative task force to work on long-term solutions.

But Republicans in the House and Senate argue a permanent fix is needed now and instead wanted to pass a bill passed four times by the Senate aimed at reversing key elements of the Hirst decision.

Although the governor said he would not call lawmakers back immediately, he held open the possibility of another session later this year. (Press conference video here.) The Spokesman-Review reports,

Inslee said he would not call legislators back until they reach an agreement on a major change to state water rights law – something Senate Republicans say must pass before they will allow a vote on the construction budget.

In news conferences and official statements, Republicans blamed Democrats and vice versa. Efforts to find an agreement to a major change in state water rights law will continue. But not right away.

There are adverse consequences to the failure to reach agreement on these two unresolved issues. As the AP reports,

Democrats argued that new money for local water and sewer projects, school construction, mental-health facilities and other construction across the state remains in limbo, and state employees who are currently being paid by existing agency funds ultimately face layoffs without a new capital budget enacted. Republicans said they also want a capital budget, but that they needed leverage to ensure the water-rights issue was addressed this year.

Lawmakers accomplished much this year, including funding basic education to satisfy the McCleary mandate and passing paid family leave. The two chambers largely agree on the capital budget. Agreement on a Hirst fix should be within reach. Negotiations will continue and we wish the negotiators well.