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No movement on $4 billion construction budget or water-rights law

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 9, 2017, 10:21 p.m.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, listens as he meets with staff members in his office as they review the state operating budget passed by the Legislature earlier in the day, Friday, June 30, 2017, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, listens as he meets with staff members in his office as they review the state operating budget passed by the Legislature earlier in the day, Friday, June 30, 2017, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Lawmakers aren’t likely to vote on the state’s $4 billion construction budget before September – and possibly not even then – as they continue to struggle with a workable change to Washington water law.

Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate and House met with representatives of Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Ecology for more than an hour Wednesday behind closed doors. Afterward legislators agreed they had not come up with a way to address a 2016 court ruling on water rights that is stalling development in some parts of the state.

They reviewed where things were on July 20, when the Legislature adjourned at the end of its third special session without passing a two-year capital construction budget that had near unanimous support in both chambers, or a fix to the water-rights ruling that had split the parties in each chamber.

Republicans who control the Senate have said for months that they will not allow a final vote on the capital budget until a solution is found to the court ruling.

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, the author of a proposed water-rights fix that passed the Senate four times but never got a vote in the House, said Wednesday’s meeting didn’t produce any new ideas. “It was definitely a reset of the conversation” before the Legislature adjourned, she said.

They agreed to keep talking, but didn’t set a date for the next meeting. Warnick said she doubted whether they’d have a proposal for the Legislature and the governor to consider before early September.

Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said he expected negotiators would need meetings in September, and possibly October, to come up with a workable change to the state’s complicated water laws. “On the other hand, it might be January,” he added.

“We have to be very careful about what we do, lest management of state water resources is changed forever,” he said.