Even with a budget crunch and a coalition of Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats controlling the Washington Senate, the green groups that lobby every year as the Environmental Priorities Coalition seems likely to get a good deal of its "Conservation Works" shopping list funded through the next state capital budget.
The list includes money for Puget Sound, including stormwater management and flood plain restoration; forest health; and the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which provides money for habitat and parks. At least some money for these programs appears in capital budgets put forward by the Governor, the House and even the Senate.
Not surprisingly, the Senate budget contains the least support for environmental measures and the House budget the most. The "big highlight" of the House budget, veteran Nature Conservancy government relations director Bill Robinson says, is that it would provide all of the proposed $100 million for controlling stormwater. Not only would the money be there, it would — as the Environmental Priorities Coalition proposed — be allocated through a competitive grant program rather than politically. "[That's] really key for us," Robinson explains.
The House budget would also provide $33 million for what the coalition calls "coordinated investment for Puget Sound floodplains," which would basically force all of the different agencies working on floodplains to work together. Robinson says this approach would be revolutionary. The man behind it? The Environmental Priorities proposal was pushed by former Puget Sound Partnership head Tony Wright, according to Robinson.
"There are a number of state programs that fund restoration work, but they're all very single-purpose," Robinson explains. "The idea is to . . . have two or three agencies working together and get two or three benefits." State law makes that difficult now, and "rather than going in and changing all the . . . laws, this [funding] will be the bridge that will tie all these projects together." Neither the Senate nor the Governor ponyed up for the effort in their budgets.
Nor would the Senate pony up for the wildlife part of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The money included in the Senate budget would go only to recreation. Inslee has proposed $75 million, the House $70 million, the Senate $39.9 million. "Not only is the [Senate's] dollar amount lower," Robinson says, "they completely changed the character of that program." The Senate, he says, seemed "ideologically driven in that it opposed any land acquisitions."
Normally, Robinson says, when House and Senate negotiators go over the capital budget, it tends to grow. Projects are important to specific legislators or their constituents, and the tendency is to add, rather than subtract.
This year, with the Senate coalition in a position to call a lot of shots, he's not sure it will work out that way. But all in all, he says, "I'm optimistic."