It’s been nearly two months since the state Legislature retired from its third special session of the year, and Washingtonians still don’t have an adopted 2018-2019 capital budget.
While some readers may not realize it, that’s a big deal. The capital budget is the funding engine for construction projects around the state, paying for everything from improvements at school facilities to stuff like helping South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District develop its new campground and the Freeland Water and Sewer District build sewers in the downtown core. It also pays for other things, like jobs at our state parks and funding for facilities dedicated to mental health and drug addiction — things many Whidbey Island residents would argue are fairly important.
So what’s the hold up? Despite being one of the easier tasks lawmakers are required to accomplish during the state’s two-year budget cycle — it’s usually OK’d without incident — it’s the victim to a political standoff over water rights. It’s a complicated issue, but boiled down a court ruling known as the Hirst Decision puts the regulation of water resources in the hands of individual counties rather than with the state Department of Ecology. Some worry that it will lead to water shortages and other problems because of competing interests. The issue is seen as so important that Senate Republicans refused to approve the Democrat-controlled House’s approved capital budget until a permanent fix was in place.
In her July newsletter to constituents, Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, blamed Democrats for being unwilling to negotiate. Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, says it’s a rural versus urban debate, not a Republican versus Democrat standoff.
The truth is, it’s a failure on behalf of the entire Legislature to perform one of its basic and primary functions — adopting a budget. Lawmakers are supposed to represent their constituents, but a basic part of democracy is a willingness to compromise and realize you can’t get everything you want. The state’s and Congress’s increasing willingness to simply cross their arms and pout, effectively bringing government to a halt because one side or the other didn’t get what they want, is getting rather tiresome.
The Hirst Decision is an important issue. And it deserves much discussion, which it has. It’s now time state lawmakers grow up and act like adults. Bend. Compromise. Do your jobs. It’s what you were elected to do, and what your constituents deserve.