Senators propose $3.9 billion construction budget, topping House's $3.8 billion plan

A bipartisan group of state senators rolled out a construction budget Wednesday that calls for $3.9 billion in capital spending over the next two years.

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The proposal is more than $100 million larger than the capital budget bill passed by the House last week. Both plans call for spending tens of millions of dollars on new mental-health facilities and hundreds of millions of dollars on education-related projects, as well as a range of other infrastructure construction.

Sen. Jim Honeyford, lead author of the chamber's capital budget, said the Senate plan includes complete funding for 80 parks and trails statewide.

"These destination sites will provide an economic boon to their communities while encouraging folks to get outdoors," Honeyford, R-Yakima, said in a news release.

However, the proposal's cut of a grant program for buying land under the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program drew immediate criticism from an outdoor recreation group. In an email shortly after the budget was announced, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition said the Senate proposal "undermines the program and threatens its existence."

Carrie Shaw, spokeswoman for the mostly Republican caucus that controls the Senate, said the land purchases are being paused for two years to divert money toward a backlog of construction for the program.

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The House capital budget bill passed in a 96-2 vote last Thursday. It included funding for some energy-efficiency proposals backed by Gov. Jay Inslee that the Senate proposal strips out, said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.

Dunshee, who assembled the House's capital budget bill, said at first glance, the Senate's construction budget bears several key similarities to the House version. Both plans focus on expanding capacity for mental health treatment, although the House bill funds one facility that is absent from the Senate version.

"I'm cautious, but I think what I see looks good," Dunshee said.

The Senate's proposed amendment to the House bill received its first public hearing Wednesday and is scheduled for a committee vote Thursday.