A pending request for a $25.1 million subsidy to cover lease payments on the $255 million State Data Center is just a fraction of the information technology requests going to lawmakers this year.
In recent testimony before House and Senate budget committees, the state’s new chief information officer, Michael Cockrill, presented an overview suggesting there are close to $400 million in new spending requests for hardware, software and telecommunications projects. Projects on the list are ranked, and Cockrill says security is his first priority after serious data-hacking incidents in other states in recent months.
Washington spends close to $1 billion a year on IT services, staffing and technology, according to the state’s technology strategy outlined last year by the Office of the Chief Information Officer.
Cockrill said technology can help make employees more efficient, but large agencies — Department of Revenue and Employment Security are two he mentioned — are still stuck in old programs that use computer code from previous generations.
“Our old systems are locking us into being very slow to move and costly to change,’’ Cockrill told one committee.
Lawmakers are not making commitments to the requests other than acknowledging they have no choice about paying debt service on the data center.
Key lawmakers — House Appropriations Committee chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina; Rep. Gary Alexander, a Thurston County Republican and the ranking House Republican on budget; and Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Spokane Republican and vice chairman of Senate Ways and Means – all say it is too early to know what will happen to all the IT spending requests they have received.
Hunter has said that some IT investments save money, a point also made by Cockrill and other tech experts who spoke to lawmakers in recent weeks. But funding could compete with other vital programs such as K-12 public schools and universities.
Of the $378 million former Gov. Chris Gregoire included in her last budget, $61 million would come out of the state’s general fund that also pays for public schools, prisons and many general government-agency functions.
Some of the proposals would be paid by certificates of participation, a financing tool that in effect charges state agencies increased rents or user fees to pay for projects.
But Hunter said he is “not excited” by the prospect of using those certificates, which avoid the state debt limit.