OLYMPIA – In preparing a $4.9 billion transportation budget, the Legislature set aside $100 million to begin replacing culverts that are blocking passage for salmon trying to get to spawning grounds from the Puget Sound or Pacific Ocean.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that’s not enough to satisfy a federal court order to replace those culverts. He ordered the state Transportation Department to spend another $175 million by shifting money from highway projects that will have some left over when the fiscal year ends June 30.
Inslee had called for $275 million in the next two years to make a start on a multibillion-dollar project to repair and replace the culverts. While the 2019-21 transportation budget has many good things, such as advancing the electrification of the state’s transportation system, the $100 million for culverts was “unacceptable,” he said.
“This is an emergency, and not just because the courts told us so,” Inslee said “The fate of our salmon is intrinsically tied to our tribes, our orcas, our economy and our very identity.”
After signing the transportation budget, he said he was using “budget flexibility” powers to add $175 million to the amount the new transportation budget allocates for culverts.
That money will be redirected from five Connecting Washington highway projects under construction – four in the Puget Sound corridor and one in Walla Walla – that have not spent all the money allocated for them over the past two years.
The money for those highway projects will have to be replaced in some future budget because the state isn’t saving money on those projects, it’s just behind schedule as far as paying for them. Money to design the culvert replacement project is being advanced from the underspent highway projects, the Department of Transportation said.
Inslee called it a “one-time down payment on the multibillion-dollar tab legislators left unpaid … It does not solve the problem. It does not get us off the hook.”
Legislators should give the culvert issue “serious consideration” in next year’s session, he added.
David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff, said any comparison between Inslee directing the Transportation Department to spend nearly twice as much on culverts as the Legislature authorized and President Trump directing the Defense Department and other federal agencies to spend money on a border wall that Congress didn’t authorize is “not a sophisticated view.”
Inslee has that authority under state law, he said.
“We’re using available funds to try to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order,” Postman said. “There’s no question that this needs to be done … I don’t think there’s any parallel at all.”
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