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Proposals boost school, university, affordable-housing projects

Proposals boost school, university, affordable housing construction projects

Construction of schools, university building, public housing, local government projects and more could get a boost in the next couple of years. Citing COVID-19’s impact on the economy, Governor Inslee has proposed what he calls an extra-large capital budget for the next two years that will stimulate economic growth while also addressing key infrastructure needs in communities across the state.

The governor proposes tapping future bond capacity now to help stimulate the economy and retain construction jobs. The governor’s proposal increases the state’s total bond capacity by $1.25 billion, to nearly $4.7 billion for the 2021–23 capital budget. Including other state and federal fund sources, the governor’s capital budget for the next two years totals nearly $6.2 billion.

In essence, the governor is proposing to start work sooner on numerous projects statewide — at a time when interest rates are low and the state needs economic stimulus. According to the governor’s office, the budget will support an estimated 36,000 jobs per year statewide over the course of the biennium.

Under the governor’s budget, the state will jumpstart work on a backlog of infrastructure needs on college and university campuses. For example, the budget includes $360 million for modernizing and building more instructional space at 10 community and technical colleges. And the budget includes funding for new engineering buildings at Western Washington University and the University of Washington, and new science buildings at Washington State University and Eastern Washington University.

To help address the state’s homelessness crisis, which has been compounded by the pandemic, the budget includes nearly $400 million to build more affordable housing units and preserve the state’s existing housing stock.

The budget sends $150 million to the state’s Public Works Assistance Program, which provides low- or no-interest loans that local governments can use to repair everything from bridges and roads to water and sewer systems.

The capital budget also includes: 

  • Over $800 million for 80 school projects statewide.
  • $45 million to expand broadband access for underserved homes and businesses.
  • $39 million to construct the new Nisqually State Park and fund major improvement projects at three other parks.
  • $51 million to fund design work and site demolition for a new 350-bed forensic psychiatric hospital on the Western State Hospital campus.
  • Nearly $120 million to design and construct a new 120-bed nursing facility to care for clients with intellectual and physical disabilities.
  • Nearly $27 million to improve the health of 58,000 acres of Washington forests to reduce wildfire risk and severity and develop healthy, resilient forests for the future.

Separate from the Governor’s capital budget proposal, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) recently made proposals to increase state funding for school construction, change formulas for how funding is distributed, and make it easier to pass school construction bonds at the ballot.

Elements of the $111 million funding request that was recently presented to the House Capital Budget Committee include:

  • Increases the student space allocation for K-6 classrooms from 90 square feet to 120 square feet by FY 2023.
  • Raises the state funding assistance percentage from 20% to 30%.
  • A competitive grant program that fully funds state capital facility modernizations and building system repairs. The additional funding would support the 28 districts that received planning grants last biennium but did not receive construction grants.
  • Reduce the threshold to pass a capital bond at the ballot from 60% to 50%.  OSPI noted that In 2020 23 school districts attempted to pass a capital bond measure and 65% of school district bond measures failed.

The Legislature convenes on January 11, 2021, so all of these proposals still have a long journey through the legislative process.

For questions, contact AGC Chief Lobbyist Jerry VanderWood, 360-352-5000.

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