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Funding for EWU, SCC projects remains stalled in Washington Legislature over water rights law

UPDATED: Tue., July 11, 2017, 11:15 p.m.

Artist’s rendition of the planned Interdisciplinary Science Center for Eastern Washington University which has construction funds in all versions of the 2017-19 capital budget proposal. But the funding is now stalled as the Legislature is at impasse on another issue. (Courtesy of Eastern Washington University)
Artist’s rendition of the planned Interdisciplinary Science Center for Eastern Washington University which has construction funds in all versions of the 2017-19 capital budget proposal. But the funding is now stalled as the Legislature is at impasse on another issue. (Courtesy of Eastern Washington University)

OLYMPIA – Lawmakers continued to huddle Tuesday on possible ways to clear the logjam keeping the state’s $4 billion capital construction budget from a final vote.

They are not yet scheduled to return to the Capitol before the third special session is scheduled to end on July 20, and Gov. Jay Inslee has dismissed the prospect of a record fourth consecutive special session if they can’t work out a deal.

Key to that vote, Senate Republicans have said for months, is a bill that would address a controversial Washington Supreme Court ruling on water rights that has complicated construction projects in rural and suburban areas around the state. The Senate has passed such a bill four times this year, but House Democrats have been divided on a solution and haven’t passed any.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said Tuesday they are discussing several possible solutions to the water rights issue, commonly known as the Hirst decision after the name on the court case. But they have not yet reached an agreement that would lead to bringing the House back for a vote.

Democrats also would like to “de-link” legislation on water rights from the capital budget, Chopp said.

Technically, the full House does not need to return to Olympia to pass the capital budget. It passed the latest version of that spending plan 92-1 in the early hours of July 1, after both chambers had passed the $43.7 billion operating budget and a string of connected bills.

The Senate, however, adjourned for the morning without voting on the capital budget, and neither chamber has met in regular session since.

If the House does return, it could take up any legislation still under consideration from a marathon session, which on Wednesday will hit a record 185 straight days. Senate Republicans also could try to override the governor’s veto of a change to the state business and occupation tax that would have reduced the rate all manufacturers pay to the lower limit offered to the Boeing Co. and other aerospace companies. That tax break was part of a package included in a negotiated agreement among lawmakers on the operating budget and passed both chambers overwhelmingly on June 30. It was removed by Inslee last Friday through a line-item veto.

Inslee, meanwhile, has taken to social media to try to underscore support for the capital budget and accuse Senate Republicans of “playing politics” for their refusal to vote on it. In a two-minute video and a series of posts on Twitter, he lists many of the projects included in the budget, including some $1.4 billion in public school construction, the $60 million Interdisciplinary Science Center at Eastern Washington University and some $6 million in improvements at Eastern State Hospital.

Inslee has not ruled out the prospect of calling a fourth special session to pass a capital budget, although he typically waits until time has almost run out in one session before committing to another. He has said it was “morally repugnant” for Senate Republicans to refuse to pass the budget that contains the money for extra classrooms that the new state education policies require.

Senate Republicans counter that a revision to water rights laws that address the Hirst decision are needed throughout the state, and they’ve been clear for months that it was a requirement for their vote on the capital budget.