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Published on Friday, July 7, 2017

Capital budget fate still unclear and linked to water rights fight

Legislators continue to try to find consensus on a controversial water rights fight holding up the adoption of the state's capital budget. During budget negotiations on the final day of the fiscal year, a tentative deal fell apart in the early hours of the morning. The proposal (amendment to SB 5239) would have permanently addressed the Hirst case and clarified that local governments can rely on the state to regulate water availability. The proposal included a significant new fee for well drilling that, combined with capital budget investments, would have resulted in major new permanent funding for stream flow restoration efforts.

The proposal regrettably did not include any resolution of the Foster case – leaving municipal providers who need to secure water for future growth in a precarious position and unable to move forward. Tribal interests fought vigorously against this deal. Ultimately neither chamber brought up or passed legislation that would have fixed it.

Negotiations on the capital budget were postponed by the Senate majority until the water issues were dealt with to their satisfaction. The House Democrats and House Republicans sent over a new capital budget very late in the night that represented what a negotiated budget could look like. The Senate declined to take this budget up.

The path forward from here remains unclear. Somehow both chambers must figure out how to find common ground on this divisive topic or the state faces the very real risk of not passing a capital budget.

Categories: Infrastructure