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Capital budget’s impact on school construction funding

The third special session ended yesterday without the passage of the $4.2 billion capital budget.

Legislators were unable to agree on a water-rights bill to address the Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, an issue rural representatives had tried to raise repeatedly throughout the session.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before, but the stakes have never been so high,” said Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, chair of the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee. “Rural families will face bankruptcy and worse if this ruling is allowed to stand, and those who are not directly affected will see dramatic increases in their property taxes. Yet it has taken a threat to the capital budget to get the House to take notice.”

The failure to pass the budget means that counties will lose out on a total of $1.3 billion in funding for school construction projects, both new construction and modernization.

“We don’t know if these projects will be able to move forward without a capital budget because we are in uncharted territory,” said Aaron Wasser, Communications Director, Senate Democratic Caucus.

Without the capital budget, school construction projects in Franklin and Grays Harbor Counties stand to lose 90 percent of their funding. Projects in Seattle have the least to lose, with only 20 percent of funding at stake.

A complete breakdown of funding by project can be viewed here.

In a letter to legislators days before the session ended, Governor Inslee wrote:

Failure to pass the capital budget would have serious ramifications beyond the loss of jobs. Without your action by midnight Thursday, the State of Washington could face court sanctions, school districts would be put at financial risk, the health and safety of our citizens would be jeopardized and, frankly, you would signal a lack of commitment to equitable education of our state’s children.

Construction of new school buildings is essential if we are to meet our commitment to reduce class sizes. The operating budget you passed last month funds the hiring of more teachers so there would be fewer students in our kindergarten through third grade classrooms. But without construction funding, there would be no place for those students to be taught.

In addition, failure to provide state-secured school construction funding puts school districts in significant financial risk:

25 school districts have “front-funded” 44 projects, meaning they’ve already paid project costs for which they expect to be reimbursed;

9 school districts have “nonfront-funded” projects that can’t go to bid until state funds are secured, and postponing bids could result in unforeseen inflation costs and jeopardize projects;

11 school districts are overseeing state-funded projects that are currently in the design phase and awaiting funding for 2018. These projects may also face inflation costs if there’s a delay in funding.