What’s to happen with funding for Puget Sound?

Finding money for Puget Sound restoration is likely to become more difficult next year as legislative power shifts to Republicans in the state Senate and the Legislature wrestles with funding for education.

The power shift follows the defection of two Democratic senators to effectively create a Republican majority in the Senate. See reporter Mike Baker’s story for the Associated Press.

The upcoming budget debate will no doubt revolve around new funding for education. The State Supreme Court has ruled that the Legislature must find more money to fund basic educational needs, as required by the Washington State Constitution. Gov. Chris Gregoire has been talking about proposing a new dedicated tax, but now opponents of tax increases will have a stronger position.

Gov.-elect Jay Inslee ran on a no-new-taxes pledge, so it is likely that all state programs will go back on the chopping block, and nobody can predict what will come out of the turmoil.

Inslee told me a month ago that he could not predict whether Puget Sound programs would get more or less money, but he considered the state’s “paramount duty” to be education. Please review the Kitsap Sun story on Nov. 15.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gregoire told Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber that her greatest disappointment was not getting more done to restore Puget Sound:

“Because that’s forever. That’s a big forever issue for this state. What I think happened… is we were on our way, and then we just got taken to our knees by the recession. While I kept funding it through other means, it didn’t get the focus I think it needs and deserves because I was so consumed by the recession.”

The governor told me during an interview last month that she still hopes the Legislature can find more money for Puget Sound — including a stable funding source — once the state gets to a stronger financial footing:

“We kept putting money in… I kept pushing for ongoing funding, and we will have to continue to do that for awhile.

“When the recession hit, I have to say that everybody’s attention got drawn away. People wondered, ‘Can I put food on the table? Am I going to lose my job?’ It was so all-consuming that I couldn’t focus on the sound.

“There was a lot of talk about a flush tax. We have never really done the research on it. The last couple of years was no time to be thinking about that. We have demands for education and transportation. But at some point we will have to find the ability to (pay for) more capital projects.

“I think we have held our own and made some improvement, but not the improvement we should have. We have to kick it up. The population continues to grow. We’re going to have to kick it up or we are going to lose ground. I’m not proud of the fact that we are kind of treading water right now.”

Gov. Gregoire also acknowledged to me that federal funding for Puget Sound could become more difficult with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who has been a powerful advocate for Puget Sound. On the other hand, she has hope that Norm’s effort through the years and the establishment of the Puget Sound Partnership with provide ongoing credibility for the program. She also believes that Norm’s replacement, Democrat Derek Kilmer, will be a strong advocate for Puget Sound, along with the state’s two U.S. senators.

Other comments from my interview with the governor were used in the first story in what will be an ongoing series about the Puget Sound Partnership’s ecosystem indicators. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 24.

Speaking of money for Puget Sound, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board has approved $19.2 million statewide for salmon projects next year. I focused my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun on estuary projects in Hood Canal, but the full list of projects (PDF 279 kb) can be downloaded from the website of the Recreation and Conservation Office.

It might be interesting to review the history of these grants, year by year. The following are the annual allocations with links to more details:

2013: $19.2 million. News release, Dec. 10, 2012

2012: $30 million. News release, Dec. 12, 2011

2011: $19.8 million. News release, Dec. 20, 2010

2010: $42.8 million. News release, Dec. 15, 2009

2009: $19.8 million. News release, Dec. 12, 2008

2008: $60 million. News release (PDF 360 kb), Dec. 19, 2007

2007: $16.6 million. News release (PDF 262 kb), Dec. 8, 2006

2006: $26.6 million. News release (PDF 262 kb), Jan. 11, 2006

2005: $26.7 million. News release (PDF 188 kb), Dec. 9, 2004 (Gov. Gary Locke)

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