OLYMPIA — Lawmakers approved a $3.6 billion capital budget Saturday that includes money for water management, schools, prisons and one of the largest land purchases in state history.
Budget writers in both parties believe the plan will help create 30,000 to 40,000 jobs. The most prominent item in the package is the start of a long-term effort to help manage water in the Yakima River Basin — a plan that stakeholders have been considering for years and is eventually projected to cost up to $5 billion in the coming decades.
“It’s been a 30-year effort to get this accomplished,” said Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake.
The plan will bring stability to farmers, tribal interests and municipalities dealing with growth.
In a news release Saturday, Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, sponsor of the House companion measure to the Senate bill, said he was pleased to see the bill move forward.
The land purchase is for about 50,000 acres in upper Kittitas County and is valued at about $100 million. Warnick said the land is at the headwaters of the Yakima River Basin and was the perfect opportunity to begin working on water issues in the region.
“It has taken our region, and really the entire state, a long time to coalesce around an agreed-upon strategy for managing our water in the Yakima Basin. Moving this legislation forward is essential for our state. It would not have been possible without the commitment of the people of Central Washington,” Chandler said. “Washington has less water storage capacity than other Western states. More effective water management will better prepare our state for a serious drought.”
One component of the plan is adding storage.
According to Chandler, the Senate amended the bill to:
• Require half of the costs of the projects to come from nonstate sources.
• Require a cost-benefit analysis by the Washington Water Resource Center for any components costing more than $100 million.
• Cause land purchases to be held in the community forest trust.
• Require the Department of Natural Resources to develop a transitional plan for managing land with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
• Require land not remaining in the community forest trust to be placed in the common school trust.
• Make the land subject to payment in lieu of taxes and exempt from compensating tax provisions.
The Yakima Basin plan has broad, bipartisan support and consensus with a diverse set of interest groups and local governments.
Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee said he was also pleased that the construction aspects of the capital budget would begin focusing on buildings that are designed to have low cost of operations. He said much of the cost of a building is in the years it operates, so it’s important for officials to shift their focus to take into account that long-term cost.
Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, touted the education projects in the bill. It includes building renovations at the University of Washington, $30 million for a clean technology laboratory at Washington State University and more than $60 million for a science building at Central Washington University.
“It’s full of all kinds of good projects,” Honeyford said.
The budget includes millions for camera systems in state prisons. Lawmakers said that was partially in response to the 2011 strangling death of prison guard Jayme Biendl, who was killed in a prison chapel.
In order to help balance the state’s operating budget, lawmakers had swept a large chunk of money out of an account that aids public works projects. The capital budget refills some of that money.
The Senate approved the capital budget unanimously, while the measure received just four no votes in the House.