The Washington State Legislature ended their third special session without passing a capital construction budget. This unprecedented situation impacts communities across our state — including critical conservation, habitat restoration, salmon recovery and parks and trails projects that have been put on hold and thrown into an uncertain future.
All four caucuses had reached agreement on a capital budget with significant funding for conservation. But that agreement was never brought to a vote because the legislature was unable to reach an agreement on a key water rights issue.
The bipartisan budget agreement included over $350 million for conservation. Given the budget challenges this session, we are very glad to see bipartisan support for conservation funding that benefits wildlife habitat, rural economic development, forest health, and outdoor recreation opportunities across the state.
However, the legislature could not reach agreement on a state Supreme Court ruling known as the Hirst decision, which relates to rural water rights. For background on the Hirst decision and how these negotiations played out, read these articles from the Capital Press, Seattle Times and Spokesman Review.
Until a capital budget is passed, important work to preserve working farmland, restore salmon habitat, protect Puget Sound, and reduce the threat of wildfire are on hold.
In addition, state agencies and their partners may be facing program and staff cuts due to lack of funds.
Capital budget funding includes critical programs like Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration, Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, Floodplains by Design, Washington Coast Restoration Initiative, Salmon Recovery funding and others.
The legislature took action on July 1 to ensure that projects funded in previous years can move forward. But new grant funds are on hold for the foreseeable future, and some grants that rely on federal match could be canceled.
Governor Inslee has stated that he would call legislators back for a fourth special session if they agree to vote on a capital budget. At this point, we do not know how long it may take to reach such an agreement. The legislature could wait until January 2018 – the next session – to continue work on a capital budget.
We are working with our state agency partners to get more specific details on how the lack of a capital budget will affect land trust projects. And we will continue to progress in Olympia. The good news is that after a long session, the legislature produced a capital budget that was positive for conservation. We hope to see a final solution soon that retains that investment for our state’s future.