Politics blog

Outages ahead? Legislature left TVW in $2.8M lurch for cameras needed for Capitol coverage

OlympianMarch 22, 2014 

In the end, the state Legislature left Olympia on March 13 without passing a supplemental capital construction budget – just as it also failed to act on a transportation funding package or take major steps toward better public school funding. 

Among those left in the lurch was TVW, the public-affairs network whose executive leader Greg Lane had sought a $2.8 million state investment to help the non-profit network replace its failing camera system at the Capitol. One of TVW’s slogans is gavel-to-gavel coverage of state government, courts and the Legislature, but that now looks in jeopardy.

Three cameras broke last year and five more this year, Lane says. Because the technology is two decades old, Lane is unable to replace cameras with similar equipment. That means a new-generation upgrade costing $5.2 million is needed – or triage will be used to keep cameras in the highest-interest venues.

“Next legislative session it’s very likely there will be some committee meetings [where] we will not have video coverage for the public,” Lane said Friday. “For us, that would be a very unfortunate situation. We believe the public has the right to see these committee hearings taking place.’’

TVW has raised $1 million privately in recent years for its eventual $2.4 million share of the upgrade. But the lack of state funding has slowed private fundraising, Lane said, and absent a fat gift from an angel donor, the network needs help from taxpayers.

There was an effort late in the session to find money for the camera replacement project. Because lawmakers were leery of using 20-year bonds to pay for equipment that might last only 10 or 15 years, both Democratic Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish and Republican Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis were crafting a seven-year loan proposal that would have been paid back out of budgets for government agencies.

Dunshee, who is House Capital Budget Committee chairman, and DeBolt, the ranking minority who worked with Dunshee on their bipartisan capital budget proposal, would have levied a 50-cents per employee charge against state agencies, the executive branch and courts based on their workforce in Thurston County. 

The Senate appeared willing to help TVW, too. It amended its draft capital budget to include money for TVW.

But everything fell through. Dunshee and his Republican Senate counterpart, Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside, could not agree on whether to do a capital budget. Honeyford favored a scaled-back budget this year, and he objected to many projects in the House plan; in particular he wanted to halt what he saw as a too costly State Patrol headquarters project in the works near the Capitol. 

“I think there was just a whole lot of personality going on. There were some definite philosophical issues between Sen. Honeyford and Rep. Dunshee,” DeBolt said. “I appreciated Hans letting me in and negotiating a budget that was bipartisan … We were able to put our [GOP] priorities on it; for some reason the that didn’t work for the Senate.’’

So nothing got done. On any capital budget.

On Friday during a visit to The Olympian’s editorial board, one of TVW’s two co-founders, Denny Heck, sharply criticized lawmakers for not doing better by TVW. Heck and former state agency executive Stan Marshburn created the network in 1993. Speaking in response to a question from the board, Heck said the budget request was a “paltry” sum for what TVW does.

Heck, as a 10th district congressman from Olympia, himself serves in a body that has trouble getting things done, too. But he didn’t hold much back.

“Shame on the state Legislature. Shame on them,” Heck said “For all the good TVW has done for the people throughout the state and saved money and made people’s lives better because they didn’t have to drive down (to Olympia) … For all the unbelievable amounts of money that the presence of TVW has saved this state, for them to turn their back on a paltry … appropriation is frankly shameful. Obviously there is some pride of authorship here.”

Heck said he thinks TVW is one of three great innovations his generation produced in Washington through what he described as NGOs, or non-governmental organizations. He mentioned two others - the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition that buys and preserves land; and the College Success Foundation that provides scholarship help to low-income students.

“These are great innovations that are keeping with our state’s progressive heritage,’’ he said.

Lane said former Gov. Chris Gregoire put money into her budget as she prepared to leave office in early 2013. But neither the Senate nor House followed through in a year that saw budget cuts and raids of capital funds to pay for government operations. 

“This is a project we started talking with [the Office of Financial Management] about five years ago. This was not something people haven’t known was becoming a more challenging issue for us. The vast majority of equipment is original equipment that Denny [Heck] himself purchased back in 1995,” Lane said. “That’s why we can’t replace things as they break. I can’t buy similar technology to replace what is breaking … So we have to do everything at once.’’

Stay tuned – if cameras are working during capital budget hearings next January. 

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