State budget held hostage and Washington schools pay price

Democratic state Rep. Beth Doglio represents parts of Thurston County.
Democratic state Rep. Beth Doglio represents parts of Thurston County. courtesy photo

The start of the school year is always such a busy and fun time for my family. Anticipation and excitement abound.

Unfortunately for me as a first-term legislator, the excitement is dampened because for the first time in history, there’s no state construction budget.

That means we are not living up to our promise to ensure the best possible education for all kids in Washington.

Schools districts in every corner of the state are struggling without the state funding they need to fix leaky roofs and build new classrooms for 1.1 million students from the South Sound to Spokane.

As the News Tribune has reported in an excellent series of stories by Walker Orenstein and Lisa Pemberton, real damage is happening because of the lack of a capital budget.

Hard-working people are getting pink slips. Schools and colleges are dipping into reserves to finish half-completed projects instead of facing the high cost of breaking contracts. Taxpayers are paying more while students and families are left waiting.

Here’s the inside story on what happened to the capital budget — and why we must never repeat this disaster.

Historically, the transportation and capital budgets have always been bipartisan. Part of the reason is that both budgets need a 60 percent vote to pass the necessary funding mechanisms.

The other reason is the needs of the people in Washington state don’t begin and end at political boundaries. It wouldn’t work to have great highways in Republican districts and great universities in Democratic districts.

To have a functioning state that serves everyone well, we have to look at the whole state. So even when Republicans or Democrats had big majorities in the House and Senate, the transportation and capital budgets always remained bipartisan.

This year was different. Several Republicans in the Senate held the capital budget hostage by using an unconnected bill dealing with water policy.

It’s not for lack of agreement. Lawmakers have a deal. The last vote on the capital budget was overwhelmingly bipartisan; it passed the House 92-1.

I hope my GOP colleagues in the Senate are listening to the stories of constituents who have lost their jobs and communities that are frantically trying to address the budget shortfall. I hope they’ve seen the damage being done.

This is a self-inflicted wound. Everybody gets hurt and nobody benefits from a lack of a construction budget. It can’t become the new normal to play chicken with state budgets or hold budgets hostage for unrelated policy bills.

Though I’m new at this, veteran lawmakers have told me time and again that they’ve seen far too much Washington, D.C.-style dysfunction creeping into Olympia.

We aren’t a bickering Congress; we’re a proud Pacific Northwest state with a long history of working together and getting things done.

I don’t believe in the notion that the only thing that matters in politics is winning. This isn’t a game. This is public service.

Doing right by our children means passing a construction jobs budget that invests $1 billion in new schools and builds a better Washington for all of our families.

I want every child to have classrooms that aren’t overcrowded, cold or leaky. Because when they have that, our kids can focus on coming to school every morning excited to learn.

State Rep. Beth Doglio (D-Olympia) represents the 22nd Legislative District, which includes Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater. She serves on the House Capital Budget Committee. Reach her by email at beth.doglio@leg.wa.gov